Whatever government is formed in Pakistan, it will have to deal with the growing domestic threat from religious extremism. Islamic militants are not only using sanctuaries on Pakistan's border to attack U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, but they are also launching suicide attacks in Pakistan itself. And the government will have to grapple with the politically sensitive issue of how much cooperation Pakistan should extend to U.S.-led anti-terrorism efforts.
Pakistan's recent parliamentary elections effectively ended nearly nine years of military rule under President Pervez Musharraf. But Bob Grenier, once the head of the CIA's Islamabad station, says the advent of an elected government complicates the U.S.-Pakistan counterterrorism relationship.
"It behooves us to stress quietly with elements in the government the ways in which we can help them to control Islamic extremism in their country for reasons that have everything to do with Pakistani national interests and not with U.S. national interests," says Garnier. "While at the same time making sure that our profile is kept low enough that we don't create domestic political problems for them."
Islamabad's cooperation with the United States in battling terrorism, particularly in the tribal belt along the Afghan border, is a sensitive and highly charged political issue in Pakistan. A recent poll of Pakistani voters by the U.S.-based International Republican Institute shows that while nearly three-quarters of the people are worried about Islamic extremism, only nine percent support Pakistan helping U.S. anti-terrorism efforts.
Feeding that sentiment, analysts say, is a recent series of air strikes on suspected al-Qaida havens in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where the militants have been reconstituted and reinvigorated. Some of the strikes have killed civilians as well as terrorist leaders. While no officials will publicly confirm who carried out the raids, numerous reports say, and most analysts agree, they were from missiles fired by CIA-operated Predator drone aircraft.
That perception is shared by many people in Pakistan. Alan Kronstadt, a Pakistan analyst for the non-partisan Congressional Research Service in Washington, says Pakistanis blame the Army in general and President Musharraf in particular for colluding in what they see as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.
"It's obvious that the Pakistani public, a large segment of the Pakistani public, sees the Army as complicit in carrying out what is a U.S. war on terrorism. And so to the extent that the Predator attacks are seen as U.S. policy, the Pakistan Army is in this perspective of allowing a sovereignty violation of the country," says Kronstadt. "There's a different perspective that says the Pakistan Army recognizes a militant threat and seeks assistance in its counterinsurgency efforts. And that's certainly the perspective that holds sway here in Washington."
Bob Grenier, who also headed the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, says that while such operations may have some negative consequences, they are also difficult to maintain on a regular basis because of the problem of getting timely intelligence.
"I think insofar as so-called remote operations [are concerned], that where the target is of sufficient importance and where the intelligence supports it, I think that those make sense, although there is a certain backlash," says Grenier. "I don't think that you're going to see a large number of sustained attacks simply because the realities on the ground will not support it, that providing that kind of information support, intelligence support, just isn't that easy. So I think that those attacks by their very nature will be few and far between."
But RAND Corporation analyst Christine Fair says the civilian casualties from such operations make the Predator attacks counterproductive to winning Pakistani support for U.S. anti-terrorist efforts. "I don't see the point in it. They've never been successful or they've been successful at such a cost that for every terrorist they've killed, they probably have made 20 [terrorists]. So I just don't understand this at all," says Fair. "It puts the [Pakistani] politicians in a place of having to say, 'This is about our sovereignty, we will not accept this,' which undermines the whole goal of bringing Pakistanis around to embrace their own war on terrorism. It undercuts that in the most visible and dramatic way."
Combatting the Growing Threat
Islamic militants have recently taken their efforts outside the tribal belt and have been attacking targets in Pakistan proper. Suicide bombings have risen dramatically in the past year. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was killed by a suicide bomber in December as she was leaving a political rally in Rawalpindi.
During the past six years, the United States has given Pakistan nearly six billion dollars for anti-terrorist efforts. But concerns have been raised in the U.S. Congress that Pakistan's army has been diverting some of those funds to its conventional military programs against India. The United States is now proposing to arm, equip and train the Frontier Corps -- a 60,000 member border paramilitary force that is under control of Pakistan's Interior Ministry, rather than the military command.
But analyst Christine Fair says the Frontier Corps, most of whose members are recruited locally, poses problems. "They're poorly equipped, they're poorly manned, with very low levels of sort of human capital stocks [i.e., poor quality personnel]," says Fair. "Many people believe that they are deeply compromised and infiltrated, with sympathies lying certainly with the purported enemy and in some cases with the insurgents themselves. So many critics of the plan say training doesn't fix the issue of infiltration and compromised loyalties."
But other analysts say that while the Frontier Corps presents problems, Washington says the potential gains outweigh the risks. As one analyst put it, "it is a low-profile effort, and it's better than doing nothing."
This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now
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