Thursday, January 31, 2008

New Bid to Control Pakistan's Tribal Areas

Today, one story in particular stood out to me - according to the Christian Science Monitor, "For the first time, the U.S. is putting public pressure on Pakistan by asking its leaders to let the U.S. help fight terrorists within the country. Though Pakistan has rebuffed these advances, it has shown signs of taking the terrorist threat more seriously, responding quickly and forcefully to militants' increasingly bold attacks. The monitor quoted Ismail Khan, a reporter with Dawn newspaper, who said, "There is a realization within the military establishment that the government has lost its authority in the tribal areas."

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]

1 comment:

Noor said...

I think it is clear that Pakistani authorities need help in combatting Islamist elements in the Pakistan/Afghanistan border region. The current US administration believes that the Musharaf led government is incapable of doing the job themselves. Therefore, US officals have offered to send military advisors to Pakistan to train the security forces. The last time the US sent military advisors abroad to help stabilize a friendly regime was a in a far off nation in Asia known at the time as South Vietnam.

Therefore, although it may be evident that Pakistan needs assistance in this matter, the real question at large is what the US and the international community can do to lend constructive support without infringing on Pakistan's national sovereignty and causing more probelms than they solve. I believe that sending US military advisors into Pakistan is not wise due to the anti-American sentiments cited in the article. Stirring up national resentment against the US is not in our best interest right now. However, something must be done and it falls on the Musharaf regime to take a more active and meaningful stance against Islamic militants within their own borders. The US and the international community should provide direct aid for development projects only when Pakistan can demonstrate a tangible willingness to take actions against Islamist elements. Foreign direct investment cannot be realistically expected at this time so the international community must ensure that any positive developments in the security arena are combined with similar development opportunities.