Failure to Halt Pakistan-Based Militants Is Linked to U.S. Terror Plots

RAND Review News for Summer 2010

The rising number of terrorist plots in the United States with links to Pakistan, including the failed May 1 car bombing in New York City, is partly the result of an unsuccessful strategy by Pakistan and the United States to weaken the militant groups operating in Pakistan, according to a RAND study of counterinsurgency efforts in the country.

The study finds that militant groups persist in Pakistan because Pakistani leaders continue to support some of the groups and have not yet developed a counterinsurgency strategy that successfully protects the local population, holds territory, and develops more-effective governance.

“While Pakistan has had some success halting militant groups since 2001, these groups continue to present a significant threat not only to Pakistan, but to the United States and a host of other countries,” said Seth Jones, the study’s coauthor and a RAND senior political scientist. “A number of militant networks — including al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Jaish-e-Mohammad — remain entrenched in Pakistan and pose a grave threat to the state and the region.”

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa Province Are Home to Many Militant Networks, Including al Qaeda and Other Foreign Fighters

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa Province Are Home to Many Militant Networks, Including al Qaeda and Other Foreign Fighters

SOURCE: Counterinsurgency in Pakistan, 2010.

Beyond al Qaeda, many foreign and domestic militant groups have established networks in Pakistan, especially in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa Province, formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province (see the map). Faisal Shahzad, the suspect in the attempted Times Square car bombing, reportedly had ties to several of these groups, such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Haqqani network.

The study highlights the short-term success of using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) against senior al Qaeda leaders and deems this strategy worthy of continued support — although it does not offer a long-term solution. The two nations have cooperated in using UAVs for intelligence gathering, surveillance, reconnaissance, and occasionally targeting militants.

According to the study, the long-term objective of developing a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy — one that includes rectifying deficiencies in local police forces, providing aid and assistance to displaced civilians, expanding development efforts, and creating new legal structures and improved governance — must take precedence over efforts to destroy the enemy if Pakistan is to end the militant threat.

Pakistan has long used its support of militant groups as a foreign policy tool, but that must come to an end, Jones argued. “The United States should restrict some military assistance to Pakistan until the nation ends its support of militant groups operating on Pakistani soil. U.S. strategy is focused too much on carrots and too little on sticks.” square

For more information:

Counterinsurgency in Pakistan, RAND/MG-982-RC, ISBN 978-0-8330-4976-6, 2010.