Pakistan constitutes one of the most important and difficult challenges facing U.S. foreign policy. What is at stake is considerable by any measure. Pakistan is the world's second-most-populous Muslim-majority country, with nearly 170 million people. It shares borders with Afghanistan, where U.S. and allied forces are struggling to promote stability amid a continuing insurgency, and India, with which it has fought a series of conflicts. Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and history of abetting proliferation put it in a position to dilute global efforts to stem the spread of nuclear materials and weapons. And it is host to local extremist groups, the Taliban, and global terrorist organizations, most notably al-Qaeda.
The relationship between the United States and Pakistan has long been characterized by cooperation and recrimination alike. Pakistan is a strategic friend of the United States, but one that often appears unable or unwilling to address a number of vexing security concerns. Political disarray has further hampered Islamabad's capacity for strong and united action. The result in Washington is often frustration mixed with uncertainty about what to do about it.
Few dimensions of dealing with Pakistan are the source of as much frustration as the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, the subject of this Council Special Report commissioned by the Center for Preventive Action. Daniel Markey analyzes the unique challenges of this region, which has long been largely outside Pakistani government control. He argues that the United States must work with Islamabad to confront security threats and improve governance and economic opportunity in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), something that could reduce militancy. 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.
There is no way to escape either the difficulties or the dilemmas. Securing Pakistan's Tribal Belt is a thorough and knowledgeable examination of a critical set of issues involving Pakistan, the United States, and much more. The report offers detailed and wide-ranging recommendations for a country and a region that has long challenged U.S. leaders and that is sure to be a priority of the next U.S. administration as well.