New bid to control Pakistan’s tribal belt
US, Pakistan step up efforts to address the militant haven tied to global terror.
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He dismisses unilateral US action in Pakistan as implausible and counterproductive unless it is small, strictly targeted, and can be plausibly denied – the sort of operation Pakistan might secretly accept.Skip to next paragraph
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Already, the US is believed to launch periodic missiles into Pakistan from drone aircraft flying from Afghanistan. A Jan. 29 strike in North Waziristan was said by locals to have been one of these. The Pakistani government has also launched airstrikes in the region, but the US and Pakistan deny responsibility for such attacks, which have occurred periodically in recent years.
For its part, Pakistan has shown signs of dealing with its militants more decisively. Last week, militants in FATA hijacked four trucks filled with military materiel. In the past, militants have occupied a mosque in the capital, Islamabad, for months without a response from the military. But days after the hijacking, the Army sent tanks and troops to a nearby town where Taliban had walked the streets freely.
Earlier this month, Mr. Musharraf replaced the regional governor who oversees security in FATA. The previous governor, Ali Jan Aurakzai, engineered the withdrawal of the Pakistani Army from FATA in 2006 in exchange for a promise from local tribal leaders that they would expel any foreign militants. The plan is now widely viewed as a failure that greatly strengthened militants. The new governor, Owais Ahmad Ghazi, gained his reputation by putting down an insurgency in the neighboring province of Balochistan by force.
Many Pakistani analysts, however, doubt Pakistan's commitment rto stamping out militancy. They question whether it is merely going through these motions to ease international pressure, as they say it has before.
To some, the Army is still reluctant to turn against these extremists, whom it used before 9/11 to terrorize India and establish, through the Taliban, a pro-Pakistan government in Afghanistan. If it will not change this mind set, the current operations will fail, they say.
What is needed, they say, is for the US to use the same sophistication that it did in Iraq, where Marines in Anbar Province used their knowledge of the cultural landscape to fight a more nuanced and effective war.
In FATA, America cannot do the fighting, but it can use its influence to ensure that Pakistan fights more intelligently, says Ikram Sehgal, editor of Defence Journal. "The US needs to apply pressure, but it needs to apply the right kind of pressure."
The solution, he says, is not intensified operations, which are likely to alienate the fiercely independent tribal belt. Instead, the Army should use tribal chiefs to leverage the situation in their favor, supporting those who oppose the militants.
In an area such as FATA, intersecting allegiances of tribe and ethnicity create a patchwork of problems that can vary from one village to the next.
"You have to get into the micro-level to find what the problems are in each area and find the solutions to that," says Mr. Khan, the journalist.