U.S. and Pakistan: different wars on terror

One seeks domestic security, the other stability for Afghans.


Tuesday at the United Nations President George Bush and his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, reaffirmed the alliance of two nations that, in some respects, are fighting two different wars under the single banner of the war on terror.

The United States has recently stepped up missile attacks against targets in Pakistan as Washington becomes convinced that the Pakistani Army lacks either the will or ability to neutralize domestic terrorists. Yet Pakistanis counter that their Army is currently engaged in two offensives so large that they have displaced 300,000 people in areas bordering Afghanistan.

The different assessments of Pakistan's effort reflect the two nations' different goals in fighting terrorism. Pakistan wants peace within its borders. America prioritizes peace in Afghanistan, where security has deteriorated significantly this year. The two aims are not always congruous, and this disconnect is a fundamental part of rising tensions between the allies.

"Within the broader interest of fighting terrorism, their goals are divergent," says Moeed Yusuf, an analyst at Boston University.

America wants Pakistan to target terrorists that Pakistan has long tolerated. Since militancy emerged in Pakistan in the 1980s – then significantly funded by the US in order to counter the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan – Pakistan has sought to manage certain terrorist networks, not destroy them. Often, these terrorists have no grievance with Pakistan but use Pakistan as a base to attack Afghanistan.

This practice continued during the regime of former President and Army chief Pervez Musharraf, with short military campaigns to chasten militants, followed by cease-fires that let them rebuild. Yet he went largely unchallenged because the US was focused on Iraq, and Afghanistan was peaceful by comparison.

In President Zardari, the US appears to have a willing partner. On Saturday he told parliament, "Pakistan must not allow its soil to be used for terrorist attacks on other countries."

Zardari's control over the Army is questionable, though. The Army has always been Pakistan's strongest institution and loath to accept civilian oversight, meaning it could set its own agenda, regardless of what Zardari wants. Neither of the Army's current offensives – in the tribal agency of Bajaur or the Swat Valley – was initiated by civilian leaders.

The Swat Valley is a primary example of a region seen as crucial to Pakistan but only marginally relevant to the US. The fact that militants control Swat, a prime tourism spot only 90 minutes from Islamabad, is an affront and a clear danger to the populous Pakistani heartland.

"From the Pakistani Army's perspective, Swat is a part of the country" that cannot be ceded to terrorists, says Daniel Markey, an analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

By contrast, "there is a greater internal debate" in the Army as to how the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) need to be pacified, says Mr. Markey. They are only tenuously governed by Pakistan and are seen as something of a "Wild West."

Yet America says they are the source of the instability that has radiated outward into Afghanistan, Swat, and beyond. There is increasing agreement on this. After the Marriott bombing in Islamabad, Rehman Malik, head of the Interior Ministry, told reporters: "All roads go to FATA."

When the Pakistani Army decided to enter Bajaur – one of FATA's seven precincts – it did so only on the condition that it not again be called off before the job is done, says Ikram Sehgal, editor of Defence Journal.

The offensive has divided Pakistanis, who generally acknowledge the threat of terrorism but believe that massive military actions accomplish little – only stirring militant anger and killing civilians.

"What is the difference" between civilians killed by the military and the 53 people killed in the Marriott bombing? asks Khalid Rehman, an analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies in Islamabad. he asks.

Given this lack of broad public support for the offensive in Bajaur – which Pakistanis think is just the sort of action America says it wants, Army officers are becoming disenchanted with America's lack of support, says Mr. Sehgal.

"All the militants that the Pakistani Army is fighting in FATA – how come America never targets them" with missile strikes? he asks.

While the targets of the missiles fired from American drone aircraft are not confirmed, reports suggest that there is indeed a divergence between who America is targeting and who Pakistan would like them to target.

The Sept. 8 attack clearly pinpointed Jalaluddin Haqqani: One of his daughters and one of his wives were killed. Mr. Haqqani is an example of a terrorist that Pakistan has tolerated, though his network was purportedly behind the assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Similarly, the US appears to be targeting Taliban leadership long ignored by Pakistan – something it "never did before," says Ahmed Rashid, author of "Taliban."

It suggests that America is no longer willing to wait for Pakistan. "They trusted Musharraf and he didn't deliver," says Mr. Yusuf of Boston University. "That frustration is playing in policy now."

Yet Pakistan cannot share America's desire for quick results if it is to succeed, says analyst Mr. Rehman. To defeat terrorism, Pakistan will have to win over its own people first, rather than make unilateral Army decisions under US pressure.

"They have to discuss everything in parliament and take the people along with them," says Rehman.

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