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Realigning Pakistan's Security Forces

Author: Jayshree Bajoria
June 18, 2009

Introduction

Growing militancy inside Pakistan has spotlighted the inability of the country's security forces to fight domestic insurgency. Militants have been expanding their reach: Large swaths of territory in northwestern Pakistan are out of government control; extremist groups across the country are working together; and suicide bombings frequently rock major cities like Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad. In May, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani described the fight against terrorism (AP) as a "war of the country's survival." The United States sees Pakistani cooperation to defeating its militants as crucial to winning the war in neighboring Afghanistan. The Obama administration, through its Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, is now focused on strengthening Pakistan's counterinsurgency capabilities, and it is pushing for increased assistance for equipment and training for Pakistani forces. But some analysts say Pakistani authorities, especially in the military, don't see the need to convert to a counterinsurgency force and continue to view India as the country's primary threat. Questions of continuing links between some militant groups and Pakistan's security forces--the army, the Frontier Corps, and the military intelligence agency known as the ISI--remain.

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Plans for Reform

Crisis Guide: Pakistan There has been some movement by the Pakistani government to tackle the growing insurgency. Early in 2009, it announced the creation of a national counterterrorism authority tasked with developing a counterterrorism strategy and acting as the focal point for coordinating counterterrorism efforts. A special force of eighty thousand troops will be recruited for the authority with funding from Pakistan's allies. But Hassan Abbas, research fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center, says the "real question is whether the requisite funds will be available soon and if this institution will be genuinely empowered by all the major pillars of the state to take up the gigantic task."

Thus far, Pakistan's military strategy to deal with the insurgency has involved peace deals with militants interspersed with military offensives that employ heavy force to clear militant-held areas. This has displaced over three million people in the northwest; the International Crisis Group warns that failure to address this humanitarian crisis could "reverse any gains on the battlefield and boost radical Islamist groups."

"[Of] the nearly $1.6 billion in Foreign Military Financing provided to Pakistan from FY2002-FY2008, more than half has been used by Islamabad to purchase weapons of limited use in the context of counterterrorism."- K. Alan Kronstadt, Congressional Research Service

A lack of consensus persists inside Pakistan on the country's counterinsurgency capabilities. While President Asif Ali Zardari, during his trip to London in May 2009, said Pakistan needed to develop its capabilities (The News) and required more military aid, Pakistani Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani said the country had developed (Daily Times) a full range of counterinsurgency training facilities for low-intensity conflicts. "[E]xcept for very specialized weapons and equipment and [advanced] technology, no generalized foreign training is required," he said. This reflects an overarching problem for U.S. policymakers, says the RAND Corporation's C. Christine Fair: "Pakistan's army does not want to become a counterinsurgency force." Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council of the United States and an expert on the Pakistani military, says the army hasn't made the decision yet to become a counterinsurgency force and instead only seeks better equipment from the United States for what it calls fighting a "low intensity" conflict.

U.S. officials are hoping to influence the direction of Pakistan's security forces through provisions in military aid. The Pentagon's 2009 budget for security-related aid to Pakistan is an estimated $1.93 billion. This includes $400 million for a new Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capabilities Fund, to be set up this year. The amount requested by Pentagon for fiscal year 2010 is $2.5 billion, including $700 million for the counterinsurgency fund. Most of the aid will focus on training and better equipment for Pakistan's security forces, including helicopters and night vision goggles. Pakistan welcomes the equipment, but there is less cooperation on training than Washington would like, say experts. Some of the plans for security-related cooperation between the two countries include:

Army: Pakistan has one of the largest armies in the world with over 600,000 active personnel. It is traditionally trained in conventional warfare, focused largely on India, with which it has fought three wars since 1947. But Zardari, in a May 2009 interview with PBS, downplayed Pakistan's security focus on India. He stressed that the army had already started moving some troops away from the Indian border to fight militants and that 125,000 troops were engaged in battling the militants in the northwest. Talat Masood, a retired lieutenant general from the Pakistani army, says this is only a tactical shift; for a genuine strategic shift where the Pakistani army stops seeing India as its primary threat, he says, there will need to be greater confidence between India and Pakistan and a resolution of long-standing conflicts, including Kashmir.

Interactive Map: Pakistan's Troubled Tribal Belt The United States has ramped up its efforts in the last few years to move Pakistan to focus more on its internal threat. Since 2006, Pakistan has received nearly $93 million (PDF) under a new training program. As part of the program, a small number of U.S. Army and Special Operations Forces have trained Pakistan's Special Services Group, a highly specialized commando unit that is expected to perform limited ground and air operations in and around the tribal region. K. Alan Kronstadt, a specialist in South Asian affairs at the Congressional Research Service, says there are about thirty U.S. trainers inside Pakistan and there is a possibility that this number may be doubled. However, because of increasing anti-Americanism in Pakistan, analysts say the United States is considering a "train the trainer" program in which U.S. military troops do not directly train the Pakistani ground troops.

Frontier Corps (FC): This federal paramilitary force (Jamestown) of eighty thousand troops has been heavily involved in military actions in the tribal belt since 2003. The force has suffered significant casualties fighting militants, which analysts attribute to the force's poor training and equipment. The United States has been working to reform the force with Pakistan's cooperation. In 2008, Pakistan received $75 million for establishing training centers, raising twelve new Frontier Corps units, and supporting so-called Border Coordination Centers that allow the Pakistani army to share intelligence and coordinate with the Frontier Corps. In 2009, the United States will provide $25 million for things such as soldier equipment, vehicles for medical help, and communications equipment to improve the FC's surveillance capabilities. But Nawaz says the training program is quite small and much too slow.

RAND's Fair says the Pakistani army is wary of the U.S. military directly training FC troops. Those troops operating in North West Frontier Province and the tribal areas are largely Pashtun recruited from the region. Given the Pashtun separatist demands and historical problems the Pakistani state has had with the tribal region, Fair says the Pakistani army is "hesitant to let the Frontier Corps become more efficient." There are also questions of loyalty, as FC was historically used to train the Taliban. Some analysts say the organizational structure of the force, too, needs to change. At present, all senior command positions in the Frontier Corps are filled by regular Pakistani army officers who serve for a period of two to three years. CFR Senior Fellow Daniel Markey says the FC should be fully integrated into the Pakistani army so that it can have access to all the logistical training and help that regular army operations have.

Police and Law Enforcement: Most U.S. aid for Pakistan has favored the Pakistani military, but now there are calls from U.S. lawmakers and independent analysts to reallocate these resources to police and civilian intelligence agencies seen as crucial for maintaining internal security. Abbas, of Harvard's Belfer Center, writes that police and law enforcement agencies play a critical role as the first line of defense against terrorism threats and insurgencies. However, CFR's Markey notes that police do not operate in the tribal region, and in most other areas they have been ineffective. Traditionally, the police have also been charged with protecting important people of the state from the population, rather than protecting the population. Reforming the police into an institution that serves and protects citizens will require parliamentary oversight of police performance and accountability and the support of the international community, says a July 2008 report (PDF) from the International Crisis Group. The police force in Pakistan is also hugely underresourced, including lacking adequate number of personnel. Abbas points out that in the North West Frontier Province, the 55,000-member police force mans 217 police stations. In reality, he explains, this means only "one police station for every 133 square miles of some of the world's most dangerous terrain." The U.S. embassy in Islamabad announced its plan to provide police equipment to the province worth $4.1 million, but major reform challenges remain, say experts.

Abbas recommends that half of all U.S. funds allocated for counterinsurgency should be given to the police and other civilian law enforcement agencies. This would be a significant shift as the police and its affiliated intelligence agencies, such as the Federal Investigation Agency and the Intelligence Bureau, do not fall under the authority of the military, the traditional beneficiary of U.S. aid. Richard A. Boucher, U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, told a House subcommittee in April 2009 that the United States was working to finance a $65 million police training (PDF) program for 2009. A pending bill in the U.S. Senate for $ 7.5 billion over the next five years in nonmilitary assistance to Pakistan also puts aside $100 million a year for police reform, equipment, and training. But there are problems in the planning of such training, says Wendy J. Chamberlin, president of the Washington-based Middle East Institute and former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan. For one, the United States lacks a department or agency that could take up the responsibility of Pakistani police training.

The International Crisis Group report also calls for strengthening police and civilian intelligence agencies. It argues the domestic Intelligence Bureau, which falls under the police service and reports directly to the prime minister, should replace the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which is under military control, as the premier intelligence agency. Abbas says better coordination between the Intelligence Bureau and the police could help combat terrorism more effectively.

An Uneasy Relationship

Experts say Pakistan sees the United States as an unreliable partner. RAND's Fair, writing in an April 2009 Washington Quarterly article, argues that Pakistan's security elite and citizens "believe that the United States will abandon Pakistan again when Washington's security interests change" like it did after the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989. U.S. military actions such as the use of predator drone aircraft to target suspected terrorists in Pakistan's tribal region have fueled greater resentment against Washington. Meanwhile, in the United States, there are increasing concerns regarding lack of accountability for U.S. military assistance to Pakistan. Two pending bills in Congress, one sponsored by Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA) that was passed by the House and the other by Senator John Kerry (D-MA), tie military aid to Pakistan to Islamabad's performance on counterterrorism. Provisions made in Berman's bill, now attached to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, if enacted, will authorize $400 million in 2010 for security-related assistance, and $300 million in 2010 for the Counterinsurgency Capability Fund. The bill also seeks to prohibit the use of foreign military financing to buy or upgrade F-16 fighter jets.

"[T]he problem is that Pakistan's army does not want to become a counterinsurgency force." – C. Christine Fair, RAND

This gets to the heart of a major criticism of Pakistan's use of U.S. security assistance, that Islamabad is using this aid to bolster conventional capabilities against India while paying insufficient attention to counterinsurgency capacity. For example, "of the nearly $1.6 billion in Foreign Military Financing provided to Pakistan from FY2002-FY2008, more than half has been used by Islamabad to purchase weapons of limited use (PDF) in the context of counterterrorism," notes Kronstadt of the Congressional Research Service. These include maritime patrol aircraft, anti-armor missiles, surveillance radar, upgrade kits for F-16 combat aircraft, and self-propelled howitzers. Some experts argue equipment like F-16s may not be directly relevant to the fight against terrorism but must be provided to Pakistan because they have become connected to the Pakistani military's capacity to trust the U.S. military. "We may not like that or accept that but it is a fact from the Pakistani perspective," says CFR's Markey. "We ignore that fact at our own peril."

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