Flagging Ally: Pakistan's Lapses Are Hurting the War on Terror


Mar 18, 2007

This commentary originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune on March 18, 2007.

Pressure Musharraf to do more.

Vice President Dick Cheney's recent blunt warning to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to crack down on terrorism signals a growing consensus among U.S. policy-makers that Pakistan needs to do more to counter international terrorist groups operating on its soil. But there is still no consensus and few specifics on the most effective strategy.

Several weeks ago we visited southern and eastern Afghanistan to conduct research for the RAND Corp. and spoke with American, NATO and United Nations officials about possible solutions to the growing terrorist threat in Pakistan.

The nature of the problem is clear and has been well-documented. Much of al-Qaeda's core leadership—including Ayman al-Zawahri, Abu Layth al Libi and perhaps Osama bin Laden—is based in Pakistan. In addition, many of the Taliban's key leaders—including its head, Mullah Mohammed Omar—are widely believed to be based in the vicinity of Quetta, Pakistan. Pakistan is also home to a variety of other international terrorist organizations, such as Lashkhar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure), Harakat ul Mujahideen (Movement of Warriors) and Harakat al-Ansar (Movement of the Partisans).

An effective strategy is badly needed to undermine these groups. American, NATO and UN officials we spoke with in Afghanistan were in general agreement that three key steps are needed.

Tensions between India and Pakistan need to be addressed because they are a root cause of the terrorist problem in Pakistan. Pakistan and India have long been involved in a balance-of-power struggle in South Asia. Both lay claim to the Kashmir region, and have fought three wars over Kashmir since 1947.

Since 2001, India has become Afghanistan's closest strategic partner in the region. India has provided more than $1 billion in financial assistance to Afghanistan since 2001. It has funded a variety of reconstruction projects, including the new Afghan parliament building, and provided assistance to Afghan legislators. India has also established a number of consulates near the Afghan-Pakistani border. Pakistan has accused these consulates of collecting intelligence and helping foment unrest in the Pakistani province of Balochistan.

The Indian-Afghan alliance has left Pakistan deeply insecure. India has surrounded Pakistan on its main eastern and western flanks, which include 80 percent of Pakistan's border. This encirclement has caused the Pakistani government to support proxy groups operating out of the tribal areas and Kashmir.

Ameliorating Pakistan's security concerns is vital. One way of doing is to encourage India to scale back its financial and reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan. India could also close some of its consulates near the Afghan-Pakistani border. As long as Pakistan sees India as a threat on its eastern and western flanks, it will have significant incentives to establish proxy groups operating in the tribal areas and Balochistan province.

The development gap in Pakistan's Pashtun areas needs to be addressed. It is also a root cause of extremism. Government institutions in the tribal areas are weak, and social and economic conditions are among the lowest in the world. Currently, U.S. and international reconstruction and development assistance has focused on the Afghan side of the border. But this strategy is a half-measure. U.S. and other international assistance need to be directed toward Pakistan's tribal areas, not just Afghanistan.

As part of this broader development strategy, the United States could also encourage Afghanistan and Pakistan to settle their border disagreement, siding with Pakistan. No government of Afghanistan has ever formally recognized the British-drawn Durand Line, established in 1893, that divides control over Pashtun territories between Afghanistan and what was then British India. The Durand Line continues to be a source of tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The negotiations—which the United States and NATO can help facilitate—should ultimately aim to establish an outcome in which Afghanistan agrees to the current internationally recognized border, the tribal territories of Pakistan are integrated into and receive a full range of services from Pakistan, and the border area becomes a region for cooperative development rather than insecurity.

Pakistan needs to conduct a sustained campaign against key Taliban, al-Qaeda and other extremist forces residing in western Pakistan. This should be primarily a law enforcement and intelligence operation, not a military one. Sustained Pakistani military operations in the tribal areas would be too destabilizing, especially since the tribes often regard outside forces—including the Pakistani military—as unwelcome foreigners.

Cheney's recent trip to Pakistan reinforced the need for concrete actions. A few days after Cheney departed, Pakistani forces arrested Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, formerly the defense minster of the Taliban regime. He was arrested in Quetta, Pakistan, where many of the Taliban's key leaders are believed to reside. Obaidullah's arrest was significant, but it needs to be followed by sustained actions against Taliban leaders in Pakistan.

Pushing President Musharraf to conduct a sustained campaign against insurgents will also require finding pressure points that raise the costs of failure. Perhaps the most significant is tying current American assistance to cooperation. The United States gives Pakistan nearly $1 billion in military and economic assistance each year. This assistance covers such areas as health, economic development, trade and law enforcement.

The United States should tie assistance in some of these areas—as well as implicit American support in multilateral bodies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund—to progress in defeating Afghan insurgents and their support network.

Congressional Democrats have threatened to review military assistance and other aid to Pakistan unless they see evidence of aggressive attacks on terrorist groups. The House recently passed a measure linking future military aid to White House certification that Pakistan “is making all possible efforts to prevent the Taliban from operating in areas under its sovereign control.”

The United States and NATO can also focus on a second pressure point. President Musharraf wields power through a military government that seized control in 1999 following a bloodless coup. The Pakistani military continues to exercise control over the structures of government.

The United States has been remarkably quiet about the shortcomings of democracy in Pakistan. In the absence of cooperation against terrorist groups, the United States should increase pressure on Pakistan to pursue democratic reforms. The United States and European countries can encourage Musharraf to make the political process more inclusive, open and legitimate.

American, Afghan other Western officials need to recognize that a meaningful crackdown on extremist groups by the Pakistani government will have domestic political risks for President Musharraf. In that regard, a greater effort on Pakistan's part could and should be rewarded.

The violence in Iraq has resulted in more deaths, and has captured far greater media attention, than the continued fighting in Afghanistan. But the terrorist sanctuary in Pakistan may have graver consequences for the United States, since it remains the home of key al-Qaeda leaders. Indeed, extremist groups operating from Pakistan are attempting to destabilize not just Afghanistan, but countries around the world.

Of longer-term concern is the possibility that Pakistan could be destabilized from within as radical groups gain strength and influence in the country. The possibility of instability within Pakistan brings with it special concern because of the presence of nuclear weapons. Therefore, there is much more at stake in Pakistan than just reducing the strength of terrorist groups. Pakistan's viability as a state may be in jeopardy over the long run.

One Western government official noted to us that Pakistan's tribal areas have become a “Wal-Mart” for terrorist and insurgent activity, where everything from jihadist training to improvised explosive device components is available. Fixing this problem should be a top priority for U.S. policy-makers. A Pakistan that remains a haven for radical extremists is in no one's interest.

Jones is a political scientist at the RAND Corp., a nonprofit research organization, and author of “Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.” Gordon is a senior policy researcher at RAND and a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army.

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