A new report by U.S. government auditors has sharply criticized U.S. counterterrorism planning for Pakistan. The report says the United States has failed to produce a comprehensive plan to wipe out terrorist safe havens in Pakistan's rugged tribal areas along the Afghan border. As VOA correspondent Gary Thomas reports, the report comes as a new civilian government in Pakistan debates its own approach to fighting Islamic extremism and its relationship with Washington.
In a 33-page report, the General Accountability Office (GAO) says not only has the United States failed to meet its goal of eradicating terrorist safe havens in Pakistan's tribal regions, but also lacks a grand strategy for doing so.
The Bush Administration laid out a plan for a national counterterrorism strategy in 2003, and Congress passed legislation to implement it last year.
Charles Johnson, a GAO counterterrorism expert and chief author of the report, tells VOA that while different agencies have devised individual plans aimed at the Pakistani tribal areas, a comprehensive, coordinated plan is still lacking. He says the agencies, such as the CIA, State Department, Defense Department, and the National Counterterrorism Center, have not come together to thrash out a unified plan.
"It is our understanding that the parties have not yet sat down at the table and reached agreement on the final plan," he said. "We do understand that there is some effort underway now with respect to the various entities that we have mentioned to sort of begin that process and to reach some sort of agreement on where the plan is needed in terms of moving forward. However, we are concerned because we have not seen such a plan."
The report says nearly $6 billion of the $10.5 billion the U.S. has given Pakistan since 2002 is reimbursement for Pakistani military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. But U.S. officials say al-Qaida has regenerated in the safety of the tribal lands.
Asked about the GAO findings, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said it is clear that more work needs to be done in the Pakistani tribal areas.
"There is no question there is more to be done in that region," he said. "I think everyone who has spoken to that issue of the border has talked about what a difficult challenge it is. We have more work to there and we need to do it."
U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence officials who were contacted declined to comment on the report.
Robert Grenier, a former CIA counterterrorism chief and onetime station chief in Islamabad, says he is not surprised at the lack of progress on a coordinated plan.
"That is the same situation that we have confronting us in Afghanistan, where we've had an interagency effort since shortly after 9/11, and everybody is still working with their own furrow, working within their own stovepipes - to use militaryspeak - so I am not at all surprised that we should see the same problems manifested in a far more nascent program, under far more difficult conditions, in Pakistan," he said.
The report comes as Pakistan is making the transition from military rule to an elected civilian government. The new government has indicated it will seek a negotiated accommodation with Islamists who are not foreign al-Qaida fighters.
Christine Fair, a Pakistan affairs analyst at the RAND Corporation, says the political change adds potential complications to a comprehensive U.S. counterterrorism strategy in Pakistan because many Pakistanis are not happy about U.S.-Pakistani cooperation.
"Most Pakistanis don't believe it's their war," she explained. "They believe that they're fighting America's war. Increasingly, you find elites who don't share that view. So the political angle on this is really quite complicated, because the vast majority of Pakistanis are really tired of their armed forces being used to kill their own people."
Democratic Congressman Howard Berman, who commissioned the GAO report, called the findings "appalling" and said he will schedule hearings for next month on the matter.