Can US woo Al Qaeda's own haven?
In tribal Pakistan, some antiterror strategies are hung up on logistics.
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As part of a multibillion-dollar plan with the Pakistani government, the US would spend $150 million annually over the next five years on development in the tribal areas. The US would also provide more than $70 million a year toward the Pakistani government's $300 million plan to train the 85,000-strong Frontier Corps and to equip them with vehicles, communication devices, and other modern features. The corps has existed since British colonial times and is made up largely of local Pashtun tribesmen, which means they know the area and the people – an obvious plus.Skip to next paragraph
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Beyond simply providing the corps with better equipment, the force needs training to develop modern capabilities of mobility and communication, says Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs.
Congress, however, has outlawed funding paramilitary organizations except where a specific exception is granted. In addition, numerous US military and Pakistani sources charge that elements of the Frontier Corps assist and shelter Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters. Such reports raise the broader question of who would be America's partners as it seeks to transform the FATA from a hostile and highly insular region.
"This is an area where outsiders don't travel freely, but where civil society has very little presence," says Mr. Cohen. Noting that Mr. Boucher told Congress recently, "We can do business there," Cohen adds, "I hope so, but it's a bigger challenge than that comment would indicate."
The reality is that the US will have "little capacity for monitoring its money [and for] seeing if things are happening the way they are supposed to," says Mr. Markey, now at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
And the potential for "bad spending" is high when the money would go to support a program being implemented not by the US, but by the host government, experts say. "In practice, this kind of program has meant a great deal of money tending to go into the pockets of people who don't deliver what we thought or who we never wanted to get it," says Frederic Grare, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
The dilemma posed by transformation programs like the one the US is pursuing in Pakistan's tribal areas is that any positive results will come over the long term, while the threat they seek to address is "there and getting worse," Markey says.
One result is the current batch of warnings from the administration that the US is not ruling out military action in the area, particularly if the US has "actionable intelligence" for hitting Al Qaeda's leadership.
"The fact is that you need to move now against Al Qaeda," Mr. Grare says. "So while spending $750 million on development in these areas may be a good thing, it is not counterterrorism."
The real issue, he adds, is "convergence" between the US and Pakistani governments on addressing the actual terrorist threat.
Keeping up the pressure with veiled threats is fine, but "doing it publicly can make our task more difficult if it discourages cooperation," Markey says. "We should also remember that the kind of strikes people are talking about right now might not produce the intended results," he adds, "but would almost certainly inflame the region against us and encourage more recruits for the extremists."