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To stem terror in Pakistan, US looks beyond military

Washington is seeking to build the Pakistani state and its economy as a way to wean the country from Islamic extremism.

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Transforming the US-Pakistani relationship from a personal relationship with a military leader to a long-term relationship with an elected Pakistani government will require patience, says James Dobbins, a South Asia analyst at RAND Corp., a security consultancy in Arlington, Va.

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"This transformation won't change the relationship with [Pakistan] as quickly as we'd like," he says. "But both the increase in aid and a new direction are necessary for the stability of Afghanistan and critical for Pakistan itself."

The change in direction comes as the Obama administration gets its first taste of the complexities of Pakistan. The president's special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, offered unvarnished words for Pakistan's recent decision to bow to Taliban demands and cede a strategically important swatch of the nation to Islamic law. Mr. Holbrooke said the accord leaves the Swat Valley – not far from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad – in the hands of "murderers, thugs, and militants."

The Swat Valley accord has been met with deep skepticism among analysts, who note that such attempts to win over a moderate part of the militancy by working with it have only given extremists time and space to regroup.

"The history of these deals does not lead to a great deal of optimism," says Shuja Nawaz, director of Atlantic Council's South Asia Center in Washington.

The accord does not mean the Pakistani leadership is giving up the fight, says Mr. Nawaz. It is part of General Kayani's mission to secure better equipment like helicopters, detection devices, and night-vision goggles to take on "the hard-core militants," he adds.

But it does reflect a desire to separate moderate Islamists from the hardened jihadists, Nawaz says.

Pakistan vs. Iraq

The design mirrors counterinsurgency strategy the US employed with the Sunni population as part of the "surge" of troops in Iraq. Despite that basic similarity, however, the differences in the two cases are stark, says Mr. Dobbins, the RAND analyst.

"We never agreed to the application of sharia [Islamic] law in Sunni areas," he says, "and we insisted those areas had to remain integrated into the Iraqi state and under Iraqi law."

Nawaz warns that Pakistan could face economic collapse this year, and he says the kind of emergency financial aid Senator Kerry is proposing is needed fast. But he says that the longer-term need is for broader trade – in textiles, for example – among the US, Europe, and Pakistan. That will create jobs and stabilize Pakistani society, he says. Such a transformation in relations with Pakistan won't be easy, he adds, at a time of rising Western unemployment.