October 26, 2006
By Lisa Curtis
recent upsurge in Taliban attacks against coalition forces in
Afghanistan and continuing links of global terrorist networks to
groups based in Pakistan are leading many in the United States to
question Islamabad's commitment to fighting the global war on
terrorism. Washington should review Pakistani efforts to deny
terrorists safe haven and its overall policy toward Pakistan, which
is at the center of international anti-terrorism
made invaluable contributions to combating al-Qaeda over the past
five years by capturing scores of key leaders and helping to
foil numerous deadly plots. However, Islamabad will need to adopt a
more comprehensive policy against violent extremism to fully deny
groups and individuals the use of Pakistani territory as a
base for global jihad.
traditionally relied on violent extremists to accomplish its
strategic objectives in both Afghanistan and India. Although
President Pervez Musharraf has articulated his desire to turn
Pakistan into a moderate and modern Islamic state, his
government has taken little concrete action to make the
country inhospitable for individuals and groups seeking to
destabilize Afghanistan or India and plotting international acts of
terrorism. Reports of links between those involved in the foiled
London airliner bomb plot in mid-August and Pakistani terrorist
groups that traditionally operate in Jammu and Kashmir
demonstrate the dangers of not cracking down on violent extremism
strengthen its policy toward Pakistan in ways that both demonstrate
long-term U.S. commitment to the relationship and press Pakistan to
expand its efforts against violent extremists. The best chance for
success against violent extremism in Pakistan lies in a
strategy that prioritizes economic and democratic development and
the pursuit of better relations with neighboring countries, namely
Afghanistan and India. Washington should support these
objectives and encourage greater economic interdependence among
these three South Asian countries.
the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Pakistan supported and
recognized Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Although Pakistani
officials largely disagreed with the Taliban's harsh
interpretation of Islam, they viewed the Taliban as their best
chance to achieve their own strategic objectives in the region and
believed that the international community would eventually
accept Taliban rule in Kabul as inevitable. Pakistan continued to
support the Taliban into the late 1990s, long after Osama bin Laden
took refuge there in 1996 and despite the growing problems that it
created in Pakistan's relations with Washington. Pakistan's
high-stakes policy vis-à-vis the Taliban derived from its
aims of denying India, as well as Iran and the Central Asian
countries, a strong foothold in Afghanistan and ensuring a
friendly regime in Kabul that would refrain from making territorial
claims on Pakistan's Pashtun areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan
attacks and their impact on U.S. foreign policy quickly
changed Pakistan's earlier calculations on the benefits of
supporting the Taliban. President Musharraf broke off official ties
with the Taliban, supported the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan,
and contributed substantially to breaking up the al-Qaeda network
in the region. Pakistan has captured and turned over to the U.S.
scores of senior al-Qaeda leaders and has helped to disrupt
terrorist plots that would have resulted in hundreds, possibly
thousands, of deaths.
the official break with the Taliban, Islamabad has failed to
crack down forcefully on Taliban leaders or actively disrupt their
activities in Pakistan. Officials of the Pakistani
Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate maintain relationships
with Taliban leaders and may see benefits in keeping good ties with
the Taliban in the expectation that the Taliban might again play a
role in Afghanistan's politics. Taliban leaders apparently roam
freely in Quetta, Baluchistan, and Taliban fighters shelter in
Pakistani border areas after attacking coalition forces in
attitude toward the Taliban has contributed to renewed Taliban
attacks in Afghanistan, but other factors are also
facilitating instability. U.S. Director of National
Intelligence John Negroponte says the Taliban is exploiting local
grievances on issues such as corruption and poor governance to
attract recruits and reestablish its power base. He also attributes
the recent increase in Taliban attacks to more NATO operations
along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Pakistan is not solely responsible for the increased Taliban
attacks, it could help to stem them by denying Taliban forces rest
and safe harbor on Pakistani soil. Washington should therefore make
the issue of denying terrorists safe haven in the border areas a
focal point of its partnership with Pakistan. The importance of
denying terrorists safe haven as part of an overall
counterterrorism strategy is well documented. In its July 2004
report, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the
United States highlighted the need to develop a "realistic strategy
to keep possible terrorists insecure and on the run."
The March 2006 National Security Strategy says that "we must
prevent terrorists from exploiting ungoverned areas,"
and the 2005 State Department counterterrorism report indicates
that "[d]enying terrorists safe haven plays a major role in
undermining terrorists' capacity to operate effectively, and thus
forms a key element of U.S. counterterrorism strategy."
Tribal Areas Deal: Curtailing or Emboldening Terrorism?
Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which consist of seven
semi-autonomous tribal agencies along the border with Afghanistan,
constitute one of the most dangerous terrorist safe havens in the
world today. According to the 2005 State Department
counterterrorism report, the FATA has been "a safe haven for al
Qaida and Taliban fighters since the fall of the Taliban in
The lack of central government authority in this region and the
fact that the local population shares a Pashtun identity with the
Taliban make it a particularly attractive location for the
Taliban and its al-Qaeda supporters to hide.
2004, the Pakistan military has deployed some 80,000 security
forces to the area to disrupt the terrorists, but these military
operations have also damaged traditional tribal institutions,
increased radicalism in the region, caused the deaths of several
hundred Pakistani soldiers, and met with increasing opposition from
the broader Pakistani population. Public opposition to the
military operations in the FATA spiked in late August
following the Pakistan military's unpopular assassination of
an elderly Baluch politician who had spearheaded a rebellion in
of the growing problems with the FATA military operations,
President Musharraf on September 5 announced a "peace deal"
with tribal leaders of the North Waziristan Agency that
includes an end to offensive Pakistani military operations in
exchange for the tribal rulers' cooperation in restricting Taliban
and al-Qaeda activities. The Pakistan government wants to restore
the traditional form of governance in the region and co-opt
the tribal elders and political representatives through an infusion
of economic assistance for new roads, hospitals, and schools. The
U.S. supports Pakistani efforts to bring more government services
to the region and to turn it into a regularly administered
province. Washington is also providing assistance to help Pakistan
control the region by equipping Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier
Corps, funding the construction of more than 100 border outposts,
providing high-tech equipment to help Pakistani forces better
locate terrorists attempting to cross the border, and funding an
air wing with helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
several months will be crucial in determining whether
Musharraf's Waziristan deal will advance U.S. interests by denying
safe haven to terrorists or enhance Taliban and al-Qaeda
influence in the region, making it easier for terrorists to plot,
organize, and train. Although President Musharraf denies that the
pact was made with the Taliban, reports that scores of Taliban
militants were recently released from Pakistani custody are
the pact effective, Islamabad will have to enforce its terms
strictly, which means coming down hard on any elements that
are found protecting or sheltering Taliban or al-Qaeda. This
may require Musharraf to punish lower-level individuals within his
own intelligence and security services who have helped Taliban
leaders evade capture by U.S. forces in the past. This is a tall
order for Musharraf, given the deep institutional links between the
intelligence and security services and the Taliban. He has
already faced at least two assassination attempts because of
his counterterrorism cooperation with the U.S. Although the U.S.
sees an urgent need to deny safe haven to terrorists along the
Pakistan-Afghan border, President Musharraf carefully
calculates each counterterrorism step that he takes to ensure his
Musharraf claims, the Waziristan pact is aimed at increasing
cooperation from the local tribes against the terrorists, Pakistan
should find it increasingly easier to close in on Taliban and
al-Qaeda hideouts. The U.S. will need to monitor the situation
closely and judge the merits of the pact based on whether it
results in fewer cross-border attacks into Afghanistan and
more information on Taliban/al-Qaeda activities and hiding places.
Washington needs to focus all of the tools and resources at its
disposal on dealing effectively with this troubled region.
Failure to do so will further destabilize Afghanistan and make
it easier for terrorists to plan and execute their next
Meeting: A Step in the Right Direction
recent tripartite meeting of Presidents George W. Bush, Hamid
Karzai, and Musharraf in Washington is a first step in defusing
tensions between the Afghan and Pakistani leaders resulting
from the increased Taliban attacks. It is now widely acknowledged
that the fate of Afghanistan is closely linked to Pakistan and the
policies that it pursues over the next several years. Therefore,
the U.S. needs to continue these high-level three-way meetings to
bring the countries into greater alignment and to build
economic and security linkages between their governments that will
make them increasingly interdependent and interested in their
mutual stability and security.
Administration is already moving in this direction with the pursuit
of reconstruction opportunity zones (ROZs) in the
Afghan-Pakistan border areas, which would allow products produced
in these remote areas to receive trade preferences in the U.S.
The U.S. Congress would need to pass legislation to implement the
ROZ program. The Bush Administration and the next U.S. Congress
should work together to fast-track implementation of the ROZs so
that Afghan and Pakistani leaders will immediately begin to benefit
from working cooperatively on peaceful trade-related
the tripartite meeting, Presidents Karzai and Musharraf also agreed
to establish tribal jirgas (gatherings) of Pashtun local leaders
from both sides of the border. President Karzai has commented that
he hopes the jirgas will provide assurances to both Islamabad and
Kabul that each country's peace and prosperity is good for the
Between Kashmiri Militancy and International Terrorism
between Pakistan-based Kashmiri militant groups and international
terrorist incidents further demonstrate the need for Islamabad to
adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward violent extremism. Reports
surfaced in mid-August that one of the prime suspects in the London
airliner bomb plot had family ties to Maulana Masood Azhar, the
leader of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), a radical Kashmiri terrorist
Indian security forces captured Azhar in Kashmir in the early 1990s
and then released him in 1999 during a hostage swap to free 155
passengers on a hijacked Indian plane that flew to Kandahar,
Afghanistan. The Indian government also released two other
suspected terrorists- British-born Omar Sheikh and Mushtaq Ahmed
Zargar-to end the hijacking crisis.
had apparently made an earlier unsuccessful attempt to free
Azhar by kidnapping five Western tourists, including American
citizen Donald Hutchings. One of the tourists was beheaded, and the
others were never found and are presumed dead. Pakistan officially
banned the JEM in 2002, but Azhar has never been formally charged
with a crime.
has also been linked to the kidnapping and brutal murder of Wall
Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in January 2002. Pearl's
kidnappers demanded the release of Pakistani prisoners from
Guantanamo Bay, an immediate end to the U.S. presence in Pakistan,
U.S. delivery of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, and the release of
Mullah Zaeef, the former Afghan ambassador of the Taliban regime to
Pakistan. Omar Sheikh later confessed to Pakistani authorities
that he masterminded Pearl's kidnapping. Sheikh was also
involved in the kidnappings of Westerners in India in 1994 that
were aimed at freeing Masood Azhar. In July 2002, Sheikh was
sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan.
has roots in the Afghan war against the Soviets, and its
cadres trained at Taliban camps in the late 1990s. The JEM
(then called the Harakat-Ul-Mujahideen) reportedly suffered several
casualties during the U.S. strikes on terrorist training camps in
Afghanistan in 1998 in retaliation for al-Qaeda bombings of two
U.S. embassies in Africa.
Attacks Jeopardize Indo-Pakistani Talks
allegations of Pakistani involvement in the July 11 Mumbai train
blasts, which killed nearly 200 people, are severely straining
Pakistan-India relations. On September 30, the Mumbai
police commissioner told a news conference that the authorities had
finished their investigations into the Mumbai blasts and had
concluded that the attack was planned by Pakistan's
intelligence service and carried out by the Pakistan-based
Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LET) and their operatives in India. He also
said that the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) had
assisted in the attacks. India has said that it will test Pakistani
resolve in countering terrorism through a joint mechanism agreed to
by the Indian and Pakistani leaders in Havana, Cuba, in late
September. President Musharraf has so far been reluctant to
take concrete steps to rein in jihadists that fight in Kashmir,
mainly because his government believes the militancy is Islamabad's
only way to keep pressure on India and to force New Delhi's
hand in negotiations over the contested territory.
considered labeling Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism for its
support to militant groups fighting in Kashmir in the early 1990s.
Although the Kashmir militancy erupted indigenously in
Srinagar-the Muslim-dominated summer capital of Jammu and
Kashmir on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LOC)-over
grievances related to political representation of the Muslim
community, Pakistan quickly took advantage of the situation
and provided support to Kashmiri militant groups.
again pressured Islamabad on its support to militants fighting
in Kashmir during the 2001-2002 military crisis between India and
Pakistan, in which a total 1 million troops were
mobilized on both sides of the border. To defuse that crisis,
then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage secured a
commitment from President Musharraf in early June 2002 to end the
infiltration of militants across the LOC, which divides Kashmir.
Armitage conveyed the Pakistani pledge to Indian Prime Minister
Atal Bihar Vajpayee, who subsequently agreed to pull back
Indian forces, ending the military standoff.
Despite reduced military tensions, India did not agree to resume
official dialogue until 18 months later in January
Musharraf would find it politically challenging to pursue a broader
crackdown on domestic terrorists that strike in India and abroad.
The religious parties would label such a crackdown as a surrender
to India over Kashmir. However, he could draw support for such a
crackdown from other parts of Pakistani society, such as the
secular political parties, the business community, and
Pakistanis who have been involved in people-to-people
exchanges with Indians over the past few years.
serious dialogue on Kashmir between India and Pakistan and deeper
engagement by the U.S. would help to give Pakistan confidence that
its viewpoint has been taken into account. The U.S. should not try
to involve itself directly in resolving the dispute, but it should
continue to talk about the issue separately with both sides and
inject ideas into their dialogue process. President Musharraf is
clearly hedging in talks with India by allowing Kashmiri militant
groups to continue to operate. The U.S. needs to convince Musharraf
to instead put his faith in the India-Pakistan dialogue.
peace process between New Delhi and a wide spectrum of Kashmiri
leaders that addresses political grievances and human rights issues
would also help to temper the Pakistani public's emotional
reactions to Kashmir and widen public support for a genuine
crackdown on violent groups. Encouraging travel back and forth
across the LOC (started by the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus link) and
greater interaction and cooperation between officials from both
sides of the LOC will widen the constituencies for peace and help
to isolate violent extremists.
Extremism by Promoting Democracy
a more open and transparent political process in Pakistan will also
help to curb the influence of extremist groups, thereby
reducing support for terrorism. Before the 2002 elections,
religious parties that backed the Taliban traditionally received
less than 8 percent of the popular vote and had been marginalized
in the 1988, 1990, 1993, and 1997 national elections.
In the 2002 elections, however, the religious parties
performed well in the areas bordering Afghanistan and increased
their total vote share to about 11 percent, partly because of
changes in election rules that favored them over the secular
parties and partly because of anti-American sentiment in the
Afghanistan-Pakistan border provinces.
The secular Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which is led in
exile by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhuto, grabbed about 25
percent of the popular vote in the 2002 elections.
participation of the main secular democratic parties,
including the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), in the
2007 elections would provide more political choices to Pakistani
voters and instill greater confidence in Pakistan's democratic
process. Charges of corruption leveled against Benazir Bhutto and
her husband have tainted her personal reputation, but the PPP as a
party continues to attract individuals who support
secular-based policies. The PPP recently led efforts in the
Pakistani parliament to repeal the controversial Hudood ordinances
that discriminate against women. The Musharraf government has since
put efforts to repeal the controversial ordinances on hold as a
result of pressure from the religious parties.
Pakistan military's pervasive involvement in civilian affairs has
stifled the development of civil society and the establishment of
democratic institutions. Pakistan has been ruled by the
military for over half of its existence. Even during periods of
civilian rule, the military has wielded tremendous power over
decision-making. Although the military is unlikely to submit fully
to a civilian government in the near term, Washington should set
benchmarks that begin to restrict the military's role in
Pakistani politics. U.S. legislation prevents Washington from
providing assistance to a government put in place by a military
coup, but the Bush Administration has permitted assistance to
Pakistan since 9/11 under a waiver to this law. The annual
recertification of this waiver should be tied to free and fair
elections in 2007 and a return to civilian rule.
of U.S. Assistance in Countering Extremism
targeted U.S. aid programs can also help to counter anti-American
sentiment and limit the influence of radicals who use hatred of the
U.S. to mobilize political support. A visible U.S. aid presence in
the country will reassure the Pakistani population that Washington
is committed to average Pakistanis, not just to the military
leadership. U.S. assistance programs that focus on building
institutions and promoting human rights and democracy would also
show that the U.S. is committed to Pakistan's success as a
stable and prosperous country and deflate extremists'
arguments that Washington is interested only in exploiting
Pakistan for its own purposes. Washington must work to
overcome the suspicions of Pakistanis who remember when the U.S.
abruptly cut off its large-scale aid program because of Pakistan's
nuclear program in the early 1990s.
in Pakistan and other parts of the Muslim world has demonstrated
the significant impact that U.S. humanitarian aid has on peoples'
perceptions of America. A poll by Terror Free Tomorrow, a U.S.
nonprofit organization, indicated that favorable attitudes toward
America doubled following the U.S. response to the October 2005
earthquake in Pakistan.
The U.S. should search for ways to emulate the kind of humanitarian
programs that were employed following the earthquake on a more
permanent basis and to publicize more effectively the assistance
that Washington has already provided. Regrettably, security
concerns have forced the U.S. to limit the size and scope of its
assistance projects in the country. Most U.S. assistance to
Pakistan over the past five years has been in the form of budgetary
support and debt relief, which has helped Pakistan's macroeconomic
indicators but has limited the direct impact of U.S. aid on the
broader Pakistani population's attitudes toward America.
U.S. Should Do
strengthen U.S. policy toward Pakistan and to press Islamabad to
address the roots of violent extremism, the United States
in Afghanistan and in South Asia more generally is closely linked
to the policies that Islamabad pursues over the next few
years, including actions that limit the Taliban's ability to
operate on Pakistani soil, peace efforts with neighboring India,
exploration of trade and investment opportunities in the region,
and a return to democratic politics. The U.S. needs to pursue these
objectives with equal vigor to help Pakistan address the roots of
violent extremism and begin to contribute to greater stability
and peace in the region and beyond.
Curtis is Senior Research
Fellow for South Asia in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage
Stability in Afghanistan and South Asia generally is tied toPakistani action to limit the Taliban's ability to operate inPakistan, peace efforts with India, exploration of regional tradeand investment opportunities, and a return to democratic politics.The U.S. should pursue these objectives to help Pakistan addressthe roots of violent extremism and contribute to greater regionalstability and peace.
Senior Research Fellow
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