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As Afghanistan Roils, Pakistan Draws Heat

Author: Jayshree Bajoria
July 15, 2008

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Patience with Pakistan appears to be fraying in Washington and Kabul, particularly over Islamabad's response to alleged cross-border infiltration by militants ensconced in its tribal areas. The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, expressed concern on a July 12 visit to Islamabad over what he termed Pakistan's lack of pressure on insurgents flowing into Afghanistan. Last month was the deadliest for U.S. troops (PDF) in Afghanistan since the war started in 2001, and NATO's commander in Afghanistan has attributed the surging violence to "sanctuary areas" in Pakistan's tribal lands. Afghan President Hamid Karzai even threatened to send troops (Guardian) into Pakistan to hunt for Taliban leaders, although most experts doubt the threat will amount to much.

Pakistani officials have rejected charges that their territory is a staging area for the insurgency in Afghanistan. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi stressed during a recent Washington visit that the increase in violence in Afghanistan is "not of Pakistan's creation" (Video). This has not assuaged concerns, however. Persistent reports (HChron) indicate U.S. officials may be considering invoking the "hot pursuit" doctrine to launch raids into Pakistani territory.

Analysts believe the United States has been beefing up its presence in the Afghan-Pakistan border region since the beginning of the year; news reports also suggest the U.S. military has increasingly been using pilotless Predator drone aircraft to strike suspected terrorist targets inside Pakistan. K. Alan Kronstadt of the U.S.-funded Congressional Research Service wrote in an April 2008 report (PDF) that "three Predators are said to be deployed at a secret Pakistani airbase and can be launched without specific permission from the Islamabad government." Pakistan officially denies hosting such a base; Islamabad has responded sharply to recent strikes, such as the one on June 10 (IHT) in which Pakistan's army said eleven of its soldiers died. Asked earlier this year about U.S.-Pakistan coordination in the tribal areas, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said: "What we do is in accord with the agreements that we've reached with the Pakistani government."

Yet some experts on the region caution against placing too much emphasis on a military solution to militancy in the tribal areas. A new Council Special Report by CFR Senior Fellow Daniel Markey says the potential repercussions of a unilteral U.S. approach mean that "patience and engagement remain far better tools with which to address the tribal areas." Markey recommends a more integrated and long-term approach than that employed by Washington so far, involving political and judicial reform, expanding economic opportunity, and building the counterterrorism capacity of Pakistan's security forces.

The growing focus over tribal land militancy takes place as power struggles between the two main political parties in Pakistan's ruling coalition continue to simmer. Experts say Pakistani leaders, preoccupied with internal politics, have failed to take proper steps to address thesecurity, economic, or development challenges plaguing the country. Jan Vandemoortele, a senior policy advisor at UNICEF, told an audience at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that Pakistan's recent economic success had produced "growth without development." Still, he argued that the international community should grant Pakistan the space necessary to chart its own security and economic reforms.

Pakistan's new political leadership, meanwhile, has been trying to negotiate peace deals with tribal leaders. A recent army offensive (BBC) in the tribal region's Khyber Agency, however, shows that force remains an option. A South Asia expert at Harvard's Belfer Center, Xenia Dormandy, writes that Pakistanis "need to continue their policy of carrots and sticks, reaching out to hearts and minds, while also applying the threat of military force when needed."

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