Counterterrorism help from Pakistan is insufficient, report finds

US officials recently praised Pakistan for taking the fight to extremist groups in its midst. Now, a report from the RAND Corp. says some official elements in Pakistan are still thwarting counterterrorism efforts – and that the US should withhold some aid as a result.

By , Staff writer

Pakistan, you say, is mounting a full-court press to defeat the home-grown extremist groups targeting regional governments – and even the US?

Not so fast.

Three months after US officials showered praise – and dollars – on Pakistan’s government and military for unprecedented offensives against the Taliban and Al Qaeda-aligned subversives, evidence is strong that some official elements in Pakistan are still working with and protecting the extremist networks in its midst, says a new study by the RAND Corp.

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Not only is the US failing to get the bang that it should for the billions of dollars in military and civilian development aid it has approved for battling Pakistan’s Islamist extremists, the report says. But those groups are also extending their reach far beyond Pakistan, as the failed May Day car bombing in New York’s Times Square suggests, the report adds.

“There is enormous danger for the region, for the Pakistanis themselves, and frankly for us if these links aren’t cut and some of these militant leaders we know are operating with official protection aren’t dealt with,” says Seth Jones, a RAND expert on Afghanistan and Pakistan. “That’s not going to happen unless there is much stronger pushing on this from the US.”

A key recommendation of the report’s authors, part of a group that advises the Pentagon on Pakistan policy, is that the US should hold back some of the billions in aid dollars promised to Pakistan until security and intelligence agencies make “discernible progress” in cutting ties to extremist groups.

“We’re not advocating a break” with Pakistan, says Mr. Jones, who co-authored the report with Christine Fair of Georgetown University. “But something has to be done about these links that are not just unhelpful but that threaten US interests,” he says.

As an example, Jones cites the US effort in next-door Afghanistan.

“The US simply can’t be fully successful in stabilizing Afghanistan with these groups continuing to enjoy the protection and support they get from Pakistani intelligence,” he says. One of the principal irritants the report cites is the Haqqani militant group, which the US military considers the source of numerous attacks on its forces in Afghanistan.

Alleged links between the suspected Times Square bomber and another Pakistani militant group also figure in the RAND report. The indictment of Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American charged with attempting to detonate a car bomb in New York, states that Mr. Shahzad received explosives training in Pakistan from the militant group Tehrik-e-Taliban in December 2009.

Shadowy links between Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency and extremist organizations have long been part of Pakistan’s strategy toward its regional arch rival, India. Some US officials have claimed progress in convincing the Pakistanis that such ties must be cut not only for regional considerations but because the groups are becoming a threat to Pakistan’s own stability.

When Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, visited Washington in March, both Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates praised Pakistan’s offensives into several militant strongholds – and offered the military drives as evidence that Pakistan deserved to see US aid expedited.

But the RAND study claims the Pakistani military has had only limited success in its offensives aimed at breaking the militants’ hold on areas such as the Swat Valley and south Waziristan.

The RAND report comes out just as another study, by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, concludes that Pakistani authorities are in danger of losing control over Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous region.

The study, by AEI research assistant Ahmad Majidyar, says that while militant activity in Pakistan’s remote tribal areas has been an “irritant” to the Pakistani government, extremist-based instability in Punjab “would rock the Pakistani state to its core.”

The study finds evidence that the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda are increasingly “teaming up” with Punjabi militant organizations in an attempt to destabilize the country’s political and economic heart.

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