from Center for Preventive Action

Council Report Calls for New U.S.-Pakistan Partnership to Confront Militants in Tribal Areas

July 15, 2008

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The United States will need an adjusted, long-term commitment to Pakistan’s tribal regions in order to bolster U.S. security and eliminate national and international terrorist networks, says a new Council Special Report sponsored by the Council’s Center for Preventive Action. "The security challenges of Pakistan’s tribal areas lie at the center of broader regional and global threats to stability," the report says. "The best way to meet these challenges is through enhanced partnership with the political and security institutions of the Pakistani state, and the best way to improve this cooperation is by planning, organizing, and budgeting for a decades-long U.S. commitment to the region."

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The report, Securing Pakistan’s Tribal Belt, outlines the dangerous nature of terrorist insurgencies in Pakistan’s tribal areas, formulates strategies for addressing these challenges, and distills these strategies into realistic policy proposals for the next U.S. administration. The author of the report is former State Department official Daniel Markey, senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The tribal belt along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan faces the challenges of "harsh geography, poor education, and scarce infrastructure." At present, "the Pakistani government lacks the political, military, or bureaucratic capacity to fix the tribal areas on its own," the report concludes.

"The years since 9/11 have validated the fact that the pacification of Pakistan’s tribal belt represents a necessary (if insufficient) condition for eliminating al-Qaeda, enabling reconstruction in Afghanistan, and maintaining domestic stability in Pakistan. But the immense scale and complexity of this challenge is currently underappreciated in both Washington and Islamabad."

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The report argues for placing much greater attention and devoting more resources to this problem. "The new U.S. president should articulate a formal, comprehensive vision for U.S. policy in the tribal areas, one that prepares both Americans and Pakistanis for a cooperative effort that extends to other facets of the bilateral relationship and will—even if successful—far outlast the next administration. The U.S. government should place Pakistan/Afghanistan second only to Iraq in its prioritization of immediate national security issues, and should move quickly to reassess assistance programming and to invest in U.S. personnel and institutions required for a long-term commitment to the region."

The report lays out a cooperative, incentives-based strategy for the United States that would aim to increase the capacity of the Pakistani government and its security institutions, foster political and economic reform, and build confidence in the bilateral relationship. At the same time, the report outlines alternatives to be considered should this positive approach fail to advance U.S. interests. These alternatives, be they coercive sanctions to induce Pakistan to act or unilateral U.S. action against security threats, could bring some short-term progress in dealing with significant threats—but at the cost of bringing about a more hostile Pakistan that would cease to be a partner of any sort.

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"Unilateral U.S. actions, whether military, political, or economic, are by no means proscribed, but their tactical benefits must be weighed against the potential costs they impose upon the broader goal of bilateral U.S.-Pakistan cooperation. Whenever possible, Washington should work with and through Islamabad," the report says.

Among the report’s specific recommendations:

Strategic Shift: Formalize Directives and Refocus Bureaucracy

  • "Designate a new deputy cabinet-level coordinator for Pakistan-Afghanistan," and "build the United States’ capacity for maintaining a sustained commitment to Pakistan’s tribal areas by investing in expanded institutions and specialized personnel, particularly within the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Office of Defense Representative, Pakistan."

Bilateral Policy: Intensify Partnership with Pakistan and Build Capacity

  • "Establish a new U.S.-Pakistan Joint Security Coordination Committee to improve bilateral confidence and information sharing on political dynamics related to the tribal areas." The report also recommends the United States should help build "a civilian conservation corps" for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and should assist Pakistani efforts to "reform the judiciary and improve the government’s capacity to deliver services throughout the tribal areas."

Multilateral Policy: Coordinate with Other Concerned States

  • "Organize a multilateral donor/investor group, including China, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, and the European Union to improve coordination, transparency, and conditionality of assistance to Pakistan."

Resources: Treat Pakistan’s Tribal Areas as a Top-Tier National Security Threat

  • "Expand U.S. military assistance on equipment and training to bolster the Pakistani army’s commitment to counterterror and counterinsurgency missions," including a new, integrated helicopter fleet. The report also recommends the United States should "seek bipartisan congressional approval for long-term assistance guarantees to Pakistan for both military and civilian programming at or above existing levels," and "identify and fund high-profile ’U.S.-Pakistan Friendship’ development projects."

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

For full text of the report, visit

For additional background information and an interactive map of Pakistan’s tribal belt, visit

Daniel Markey is a senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. From 2003 to 2007, he held the South Asia portfolio on the policy planning staff at the U.S. Department of State. Prior to government service, Markey taught at Princeton University and served as the executive director of Princeton’s Research Program in International Security. In 2000 and 2001, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Olin Institute for Strategic Studies. He received a BA in international studies from Johns Hopkins University and a PhD from Princeton University’s Department of Politics.

Council Special Reports (CSRs) are concise policy briefs that provide timely responses to developing crises or contribute to debates on current policy dilemmas. CSRs are written by individual authors in consultation with an advisory committee. The content of the reports is the sole responsibility of the authors.

The Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher dedicated to being a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens in order to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries.


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