The advance of pro-Taliban militants in northwest Pakistan,
fuelled by peace deals struck by the government three months ago,
is contributing to the Taliban's ability to strike at coalition
forces in Afghanistan, especially in the east just across the
Pakistani border. Given heightening U.S. casualties in
Afghanistan-nine American soldiers were killed Sunday by Taliban
militants at a U.S. base in Kunar Province bordering
Pakistan-Washington is less likely to acquiesce to Pakistani peace
deals with militants and instead insist on military operations.
Pakistan will have to confront domestic opposition and go back on
the military offensive in the tribal areas, working closely with
U.S. and NATO forces to control the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Although such operations may be unpopular in Pakistan in the
short-term, they are necessary if Pakistan wants to limit the
chances of future U.S. unilateral military strikes that could lead
to long-term destabilization of the country.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen's trip to
Pakistan over the weekend was aimed at conveying U.S. impatience
with Pakistan's lack of control over the border areas. In the past,
Washington has listened to Pakistani explanations of their
inability to control the militants in these areas and subsequently
refrained from pushing the Pakistani leadership harder for fear of
disrupting bilateral relations. However, U.S. commanders in
Afghanistan-who are bearing the brunt of the Taliban/al-Qaeda
sanctuary in Pakistan-now have a greater influence on U.S.
policymaking toward Pakistan. These commanders insist the situation
is untenable and that Pakistan's lack of an effective strategy
against the militants in the northwest is directly undermining
coalition efforts in Afghanistan.
The Taliban and al-Qaeda's increased latitude in Pakistan's
tribal areas has resulted in a surge of terrorist strikes
throughout the region, including recent suicide bombings in
Islamabad and in front of the Indian embassy in Kabul.
This flood of terrorist activity is also undermining U.S.
military operations in Afghanistan, where attacks against U.S. and
allied forces have spiked in recent months. For instance, U.S.
casualties in Afghanistan were roughly equivalent to those in Iraq
for the month of June, and U.S. commanders in Afghanistan say
attacks have increased in eastern Afghanistan by 40 percent since
Pakistan began pursuing peace deals in the region this past
A highly unstable and unpredictable political situation in
Pakistan is contributing to the lack of an effective policy against
the growing militant threat in the northwest. Pakistan faces severe
economic imbalances created by the unexpected high oil and food
prices that are threatening to lead to a foreign exchange crisis in
the next few months. Additionally, the two main governing coalition
partners-the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim
League/Nawaz (PML/N)-are still squabbling over the restoration of
judges deposed by Pervez Musharraf last year. There are signs the
two sides may soon reach an agreement that would allow the PML/N
ministers to be re-instated into the cabinet. Such an agreement
would be a positive step forward and help bolster the government
against the terrorism and economic challenges.
Anti-Americanism is also rising to dangerously high levels as
Pakistanis blame the current instability in their country on
Islamabad's counterterrorism cooperation with Washington. Continued
American support for President Musharraf amidst a growing chorus of
Pakistani voices favoring his resignation is also exacerbating
Pakistani resentment of U.S. policies in the region. This sentiment
was captured two weeks ago when several Pakistani commentators
rebuked U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central
Asia Richard Boucher for his remark that politicians should focus
on economic and terrorism problems rather than on removing
Musharraf from power.
U.S. Policy and Need for International
U.S. policy toward Pakistan is at a critical juncture. Despite
the threat from insurgents in the northwest, Pakistan's military
leadership is resisting direct U.S. assistance, partly because of
the political sensitivity of increasing cooperation when
anti-American sentiment is running high in the country and partly
because they remain suspicious of U.S. intentions in the region and
fear jeopardizing their own supreme national security interests,
which include denying India a firm foothold in Afghanistan.
Despite this resistance, the U.S. should assure the Pakistanis
of our long-term commitment to their own security and convince them
to perform joint operations involving closer coordination with U.S.
special operations forces and better communication regarding
Taliban cross-border infiltration into Afghanistan.
The U.S. also needs to assume a lower public profile on
Pakistani domestic political issues, carefully avoiding the
perception that we favor one leader or party over another.
Additionally, the U.S. should focus on recruiting international
partners to help bring the situation in Pakistan under control. By
working more closely with the Japanese and Europeans, the U.S. can
prod Pakistan in a more positive direction without risking greater
animus toward the U.S. The European countries face a significant
risk from homegrown terrorists with links to Pakistan, yet the
Europeans tend to view Pakistan as a "U.S. problem." We should work
with our allies in developing a policy that aims at stabilizing
Pakistan and bringing it into closer alignment with Western
objectives in Afghanistan. It is critical that Pakistan understand
the international community-not just the U.S.-has a stake in seeing
terrorism uprooted from its tribal border areas.
The core of a new, coalition-based approach to Pakistan should
- Recognition that events in Pakistan present a threat to global
security. The international community wants to assist Pakistan in
its battle with extremism and help it achieve political and
- Support for the newly elected civilian government with the
understanding that the democratic transition is an important part
of combating extremism and terrorism in Pakistan over the long
- Commitment to bringing stable democracy to Afghanistan, which
includes preventing the retrenchment of warlords, scaling back
poppy production, and avoiding a return to the Taliban's
repressive, extremist policies in any part of the country. Pakistan
must play its part in denying the Taliban safe harbor on its
territory by enforcing the rule of law in the tribal areas against
any elements supporting terrorism or cross-border operations into
- Support for the appointment of a U.S. presidential envoy
dedicated to the task of promoting better relations between
Pakistan and Afghanistan that will also coordinate closely with
- Support for a multilateral balance-of-payments support package
that helps stabilize Pakistan's economy in the short term but is
conditioned on Pakistan taking specific steps to address
longer-term economic imbalances.
- Support for high-level strategic dialogue with Pakistan on
Re-orienting Pakistan's Strategic
The frustration of U.S. officials with Pakistan's inability to
control militants on its side of the border is understandable. But
the U.S must weigh its options carefully, recognizing that
unilateral military operations carry the risk of losing Pakistani
partnership in the war on terror. For its part, Pakistan must shift
its strategy against the militants in a way that demonstrates it is
firmly on the side of the coalition forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan
can no longer afford to view the region from its own geo-strategic
perspective and must understand that unless it pursues a
zero-tolerance policy toward militancy, the government will almost
certainly lead the country down a path of destruction and
Washington can play a role in helping Pakistan re-orient its
strategic perceptions by focusing on defusing tensions between
Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as by stepping up diplomacy to
help prevent the derailment of Indo-Pakistani talks following the
attack on the Indian embassy in Afghanistan.
Lisa Curtis is Senior
Research Fellow on South Asia in the Asian Studies Center at The