US warns Pakistan to 'do more'

The Obama administration is pushing for an ever-more-aggressive counterterrorism strategy.

    The Pakistani army is already fighting in most of the tribal agencies, including South Waziristan [EPA]

    But will a more aggressive counterterrorism strategy in Pakistan be effective?

    Many analysts say that recent history is not encouraging: Drone strikes and several major Pakistani army offensives have succeeded in inflaming public opinion, but they have failed to dislodge the Taliban or al-Qaeda.

    Another FATA offensive

    Suspected drone attacks have occurred 35 times this year, compared to 53 in all of 2009

    North Waziristan, one of Pakistan's seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas, is a base for several regional militant groups.

    The Haqqani network - considered the most serious threat to US and Nato forces in Afghanistan - operates from Miranshah, the largest town in North Waziristan. So does Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the leader of a faction of Pakistan's Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP).

    General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, reportedly urged General Ashfaq Kayani, his Pakistani counterpart,to launch a military campaign in North Waziristan aimed at clearing out those various Taliban factions. McChrystal has since deniedthose reports.

    A story in the New York Times last week highlighted the growing debatewithin the Obama administration about sending more US troops to Pakistan - to train the Pakistani army for such a campaign.

    But analysts in Islamabad question whether a US training mission would convince the army to overcome its long-standing reluctance to launch a campaign in North Waziristan.

    "There's concern about becoming overstretched. And that's a plausible argument. They're already conducting operations in five of the seven tribal agencies, in the Swat Valley, and in Malakand [a district in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province]," said Cyril Almeida, a security analyst and columnist for Pakistan's Dawn newspaper.

    Pakistan is still struggling to deal with the aftermath of previous offensives in the northwest. The United Nations has registered more than 1.2 million internally displaced personsin Pakistan; more than 85,000 people fled the tribal agencies in April alone.

    The Swat Valley offensive last year displaced more than two million people from their homes. Most have returned, according to the Pakistani government - but many of the returnees say the government is not providing basic services, notably security and housing.

    Widespread insecurity has also allowed the Taliban to return to previously-cleared areasin the Swat Valley.

    Even if Pakistan launches an offensive there is no guarantee it will be able to hold and consolidate its gains - particularly if eastern Afghanistan, just across the border from North Waziristan, remains insecure.

    "The Pakistanis acknowledge that they haven't been able to do [counterinsurgency]. But the Nato failure on the other side of the border is just as obvious," said Hassan Abbas, a professor at Columbia University and a former Pakistani government official.

    A public backlash

    The US, meanwhile, has already accelerated its aerial bombing campaign in the tribal regions: Suspected drone strikes have already occurred 35 times this year, compared with 53 attacks in all of 2009, according to the Washington-based New America Foundation, which maintains a comprehensive databaseof the strikes.

    "That seems to be the alternative plan: In case the Pakistani army refuses to go into North Waziristan, the US will intensify its drone strikes," said Abdul Basit, a researcher at the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies in Islamabad.

    But the drone strikes have not decapitated the TTP; the group continues to terrorise Pakistan, and some US officials acknowledge that the drone strikes have made the Taliban more determined to strike targets in the US.

    What is more, the drone strikes are deeply unpopular in Pakistan - an Al Jazeera-Gallup poll conducted in August 2009found that just 9 per cent of the Pakistani public supported them - and there is growing debate in Washingtonabout whether the attacks create more militants than they kill.

    Faisal Shahzad, the man charged with attempting to plant a bomb in New York's Times Square, may himself have been influenced by the drone programme.

    It is too early to tell what caused his radicalisation, but there are reports that he was motivated - at least in part - by anger over US drone strikes.

    A larger US military presence in Pakistan could have a similarly negative effect on public opinion.

    "I don't see what more boots on the ground will do ... in terms of bolstering the military's capacity to fight the TTP," said Sameer Lalwani, a research fellow at the New America Foundation.

    "It's a question of marginal returns: Whether the benefits outweigh the inevitable public backlash ... it's not costless."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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