Securing Pakistan’s Tribal Belt (1)

Daniel Markey
Council on Foreign Relations
Special Report No. 36
August 2008



1. Introduction and Summary of Recommendations

2. Background and Context
A. The Land And People Of Pakistan’s Tribal Belt
B. Governing Institutions
C. Security Forces
D. Musharraf’s “Comprehensive Approach” And Post-Election Deal-Making
E. Pakistan-Afghanistan Relations
F. Mapping The Threats In Pakistan’s Tribal Areas
G. U.S. Policy In The Tribal Areas

3. A Comprehensive Strategy
A. Facing Up To The Immensity Of The Challenge
B. General Assumptions And Implications For U.S. Policy

4. A Long-Term, Phased Approach
A. Immediate: Manage The Most Urgent Security Crises In The Tribal Areas
– Counterterror Strikes
– Military Offensives, Law and Order, Border Control, and Negotiations
– Strategic Communications Gap
B. Short Term: Bring Rapid, Tangible Political Reforms And Economic Opportunities To Win Allies In The Tribal Areas
– Redressing Grievances to Undercut Extremist Appeal: Law and Order
– Redressing Grievances to Undercut Extremist Appeal: Governance
– Empowering Moderate Tribal Leaders
– Employing Young Men
C. Medium-To Long-Term Security: Build A Sustainable Pakistani Counterterror And Counterinsurgency Capacity
– Building More Effective Security Forces
– Enhancing the Legitimacy of Force
– Building Bilateral Confidence
– Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination
D. Medium-To Long-Term Political/economic: Transform Pakistan’s Tribal Areas
– FATA Integration
– Building an Economy
– The Business of Development

5. Conclusion: Expanded, Long-Term U.S. Commitment Needed
The Least Worst Option

About the Author

Advisory Committee


Pakistan constitutes one of the most important and difficult challenges facing U.S. foreign policy. What is at stake is considerable by any measure. Pakistan is the world’s second-most-populous Muslim-majority country, with nearly 170 million people. It shares borders with Afghanistan, where U.S. and allied forces are struggling to promote stability amid a continuing insurgency, and India, with which it has fought a series of conflicts. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and history of abetting proliferation put it in a position to dilute global efforts to stem the spread of nuclear materials and weapons. And it is host to local extremist groups, the Taliban, and global terrorist organizations, most notably al-Qaeda.

The relationship between the United States and Pakistan has long been characterized by cooperation and recrimination alike. Pakistan is a strategic friend of the United States, but one that often appears unable or unwilling to address a number of vexing security concerns. Political disarray has further hampered Islamabad’s capacity for strong and united action. The result in Washington is often frustration mixed with uncertainty about what to do about it.

Few dimensions of dealing with Pakistan are the source of as much frustration as the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, the subject of this Council Special Report commissioned by the Center for Preventive Action. Daniel Markey analyzes the unique challenges of this region, which has long been largely outside Pakistani government control. He argues that the United States must work with Islamabad to confront security threats and improve governance and economic opportunity in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), something that could reduce militancy. The report lays out a cooperative, incentives-based strategy for the United States that would aim to increase the capacity of the Pakistani government and its security institutions, foster political and economic reform, and build confidence in the bilateral relationship. At the same time, the report outlines alternatives to be considered should this positive approach fail to advance U.S. interests. These alternatives, be they coercive sanctions to induce Pakistan to act or unilateral U.S. action against security threats, could bring some short-term progress in dealing with significant threats-but at the cost of bringing about a more hostile Pakistan that would cease to be a partner of any sort.

There is no way to escape either the difficulties or the dilemmas. Securing Pakistan’s Tribal Belt is a thorough and knowledgeable examination of a critical set of issues involving Pakistan, the United States, and much more. The report offers detailed and wide-ranging recommendations for a country and a region that has long challenged U.S. leaders and that is sure to be a priority of the next U.S. administration as well.

Richard N. Haass
Council on Foreign Relations
July 2008


Source: Modified from http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/pakistan/pk00_07a.pdf.

Pakistan and the Surrounding Region

Source: Modified from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:NWFP_and_FATA.jpg.

CENTCOM = United States Central Command
DCG = Defense Consultative Group
FATA = Federally Administered Tribal Areas
FC = Frontier Corps
FCR = Frontier Crimes Regulation
ISAF = International Security Assistance Force
ISI = Inter-Services Intelligence
JI = Jamaat-e-Islami
JUI-F = Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazlur Rehman faction)
LI = Lashkar-e-Islam
NATO = North Atlantic Treaty Organization
NSC = National Security Council
NWFP = North-West Frontier Province
ODRP = Office of Defense Representative, Pakistan
OTI = Office of Transition Initiatives
PATA = Provincially Administered Tribal Areas
ROZ = Reconstruction Opportunity Zone
TNSM = Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi
TTP = Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan
UAE = United Arab Emirates
USAID = United States Agency for International Development

1. Introduction

Today, few places on earth are as important to U.S. national security as the tribal belt along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. The region serves as a safe haven for a core group of nationally and internationally networked terrorists, a training and recruiting ground for Afghan Taliban, and, increasingly, a hotbed of indigenous militancy that threatens the stability of Pakistan’s own state and society. Should another 9/11-type attack take place in the United States, it will likely hav e its origins in this region. As long as Pakistan’s tribal areas are in turmoil, the mission of building a new, democratic, and stable Afghanistan cannot succeed.

Nearly seven years after 9/11, neither the United States nor Pakistan has fully come to terms with the enormity of the challenge in the tribal belt. Washington has failed to convince Pakistanis that the United States has positive intentions in the region and is committed to staying the course long enough to implement lasting, constructive change. Pakistan, for its part, has demonstrated a disturbing lack of capacity and, all too often, an apparent lack of will to tackle head-on the security, political, or developmental deficits that have produced an explosion of terrorism and extremism within its borders and beyond. Islamabad’s conflicted views and priorities with respect to this fight have deep roots; for much of its history, the Pakistani state has employed militants as tools to project power and influence throughout the region.(1)

In order to begin making progress in the tribal areas, the United States must build strong working relationships with Pakistani leaders and institutions, both military and civilian. The alternatives, ranging from reluctant, piecemeal cooperation to an outright rupture in bilateral relations, are bound to be far more costly and counterproductive to American interests over the long run. And despite the inevitable frustrations that will plague the U.S.-Pakistan partnership, it cannot be founded on coercive threats of U.S. sanctions or unilateral military activity . Such coercion is profoundly counterproductive because it empowers those in Pakistan who already suspect U.S. ill intentions and it undermines Washington’s real and potential allies in the Pakistani political system.

Rather than threats, Washington should employ a strategy of enhanced cooperation and structured inducements, in which the United States designs its assistance to bring U.S. and Pakistani officials closer together and prov ides Pakistan with the specific tools required to confront the threats posed by militancy, terrorism, and extremism.

In his first six months in office, the new U.S. president should articulate a formal, comprehensive vision for U.S. policy in the tribal areas, one that prepares both Americans and Pakistanis for a cooperative effort that extends to other facets of the bilateral relationship and will-even if successful-far outlast the next administration. The U.S. government should place Pakistan/ Afghanistan second only to Iraq in its prioritization of immediate national security issues, and should move quickly to reassess assistance programming and to invest in U.S. personnel and institutions required for a long-term commitment to the region.

This report aims to characterize the nature of the challenges in Pakistan’s tribal areas, formulate strategies for addressing these challenges, and distill these strategies into realistic policy proposals worthy of consideration by the incoming administration. It focuses mainly on U.S. policy, but recognizes that Washington’s choices must always be contingent upon Pakistan’s own course of action. The scope of this report is thus more constrained than exhaustive, and its recommendations for U.S. assistance programming are intended to provide strategic guidelines rather than narrow prescriptions.


1. For more on this issue, see Stephen P. Cohen, The Idea of Pakistan (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2004); Frederic Grare, Rethinking Western Strategies Toward Pakistan: An Action Agenda for the United States and Europe (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2007); Husain Haqqani, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005); Daniel Markey, “A False Choice in Pakistan,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 86, no. 4 (July/August 2007), pp. 85-102; Ashley J. Tellis, Pakistan and the War on Terror: Conflicted Goals, Compromised Performance (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2008).


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