In recent weeks, the U.S. has offered military assistance to root out extremists in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) with combat troops, CIA operations, or training. Although President Pervez Musharraf has rejected the "invasion" of U.S. troops, Washington has become increasingly concerned with militant activity in the region, particularly in the porous border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to an article released by Reuters today, "The United States this year will start spending in earnest $750 million where its troops can't go in the hope of making Pakistan's unruly tribal lands less hospitable for Al Qaeda and the Taliban." If the U.S. succeeds in this mission, they hope other nations will help put up $2 billion for development and security in the semi-autonomous FATA. On the Pakistani military effort in the region so far, a U.S. official told Reuters, "The military campaign in FATA has not degraded extremist recruitment, training or operations."
The effort would and must be two-pronged: combining both development and security reforms, following the mantra, "you can't have development without security, and you can't have security without development." According to Reuters, overall literacy in the FATA region, consisting of a population of 3.2 million, is just 17 percent, compared to the national average of 56 percent. Moreover, there is reportedly only one doctor for every 6,750 people. Tribal communities in the area are tired of what they call the government's "empty promises," and a report from the International Crisis Group in late 2006 noted that "anticipation is turning into alienation." As a result, communities that may not inherently support extremism turn to these groups in this power vacuum. Following the earthquake in 2005, I went up north with my mother and sister and was more than a little surprised to see aid tents emblazoned with the titles of various Islamist groups.
The United States knows that it cannot personally implement the allocated funds to improve the FATA region. Raging anti-American sentiment in the area means the only realistic option is if reforms are carried out by Pakistani military and civil authorities. [Image courtesy of Reuters]