As Pakistan changes, should U.S. policy?

The US is increasingly out of sync with Pakistan's newly-elected government, say analysts.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/File
Job shuffle: Maj. Gen. Jay Hood's appointment as military envoy to Pakistan was withdrawn after criticism of his former role overseeing detainees at Guantánamo Bay.

The Bush administration's focus on military solutions against extremists in Pakistan has analysts concerned that the US is persisting in a failed policy with a critical ally at a time when changing circumstances in the region – including a newly elected government in Pakistan and heightened conflict in Afghanistan – demand a strategy shift.

Last week, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte called on Pakistan to drive extremism from its tribal areas, saying "we will not be satisfied" until all militant activity is under control. Mr. Negroponte, speaking in Washington, stressed the importance of maintaining a strong relationship between the two countries.

But critics say his remarks show the US stance toward Pakistan is not changing quickly enough to factor in the weakening of longtime ally President Pervez Musharraf and the emergence of a democratically elected government.

Recent events reflect increased dissension between the two countries since the new government took over earlier this year.

Pakistan has signaled it will negotiate with militants in a bid to calm the restive border region, a move Washington opposes. It has also frowned upon the US military's appointment of a senior American officer, Maj. Gen. Jay Hood, as military envoy to Islamabad.

"There is growing consensus that ... the war on terrorism must be maintained for the good of Pakistan," said Tariq Fatemi, a retired member of the Pakistani Foreign Service, speaking in Washington on Tuesday. "But the methodology which is to be used … has to be different."

There is widespread pressure in the US for Pakistan to use military options to address increased activity by extremist elements in the border region, including Al Qaeda and the Taliban, thought responsible for much of the rise in violence in neighboring Afghanistan.

But experts like Mr. Fatemi want to see the US focus more on political and economic efforts and less on military options.

The US may also need to wean itself from its ties to Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who may not survive the political transition to the new government. That would be the real test of a new American approach to Pakistan, according to Frederic Grare, a visiting scholar with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

The US military withdrew the appointment of General Hood after heavy criticism in the Pakistani media of his former role overseeing suspected war-on-terror detainees at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. US Central Command in Florida pulled Hood's name two weeks ago, saying Friday that he was being reassigned for a "job of greater importance."

"We consider it a very, very important position and building and maintaining a relationship with not only the government but the military," says Capt. James Graybeal, a spokesman for Central Command. "We are very committed to finding the right person."

Recent dissension between the US and Pakistan centers around the latter's negotiations of a peace accord along the border in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA.

American officials, who have long ruled out negotiation with terrorists, fear that Islamabad may be talking to militant leaders such as Baitullah Mehsud, who runs a terrorist network suspected of assassinating former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December.

Similar accords in 2005 and 2006 meant to reduce violence and stop cross-border attacks proved to be unenforceable and actually resulted in a spike of attacks in Afghanistan, American officials say.

The US holds that negotiations should only be held with tribal elders, not militants, and must be enforceable. "If these preconditions are met and they are included in the agreement, then I don't think there is any disagreement that that is part of the way forward," says the senior military official.

After experiencing an initial wave of goodwill from Pakistan following 9/11, the administration has become generally frustrated with the Pakistani government's inability to address security along its borders.

Last week, several members of Congress expressed concern that some of the billions of dollars in aid sent to Pakistan as part of the war on terror has been diverted, some perhaps to troops in Kashmir along the troubled border with India. The US has withheld some aid.

A Government Accountability Office report released last week also indicated that some reimbursement claims can't be easily verified, sparking outrage on Capitol Hill that the US is wasting its money with its South Asian ally.

The US has spent over $10 billion since 2001 in aid to Pakistan, about half of which is reimbursement for conducting operations against extremists on behalf of the US, especially in Afghanistan.

A Pentagon official defended the oversight process, saying reimbursement claims come from Pakistan every three months or so and go through rigorous checks across several agencies. "It's not as if someone at the Pentagon simply hands over a check," the official says.

At the same time, the Pentagon has stepped up assistance to the Pakistani military. Construction of a site to train Pakistan's Frontier Corps is nearing completion, and another is planned for Baluchistan. By fall, up to 30 US Special Forces soldiers will begin training these frontier troops to conduct counterinsurgency operations.

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