What was once dubbed the new Obama Administration's "AfPak" strategy to stop the emboldened Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan is increasingly turning into a frantic effort to find a new "PakAf" strategy to counter a growing extremist threat to the civilian government in Islamabad.
In April, Pakistani Taliban and other jihadi forces drove deeper and deeper into the heart of Pakistan, methodically expanding their presence from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to Northwest Frontier Province's (NWFP) Swat district. Emboldened by successive "peace" deals with the military in FATA, their advance into NWFP's settled areas also followed a military devised peace deal, backed by NWFP's Awami National Party-led government in February and reluctantly ratified by President Asif Ali Zardari in mid-April. . U.S. government private warnings and strong opposition to the deal were followed by repeated calls to Pakistan's civil and military leadership expressing concern, with JCS chairman Admiral Mike Mullen travelling several times to Islamabad. This week Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan President Zardari will be in Washington for a summit originally aimed at addressing the rising insurgency threat in Afghanistan, but which will now include looking for a strategy to fortify Pakistan's embattled elected government.
As in the case of FATA, the February 16 peace deal signed in the NWFP's Malakand district -- a region just 100 miles from Islamabad -- by the Pakistani Taliban with the province's elected government followed sporadic military operations that failed to subdue the militants. . In the deal, the Swat-based Sunni extremist Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), a militant group with ties to the Taliban, agreed to a ceasefire. in return for the government's acceptance of Sharia law there. Unfortunately the Taliban has a consistent history of breaking past agreements regardless of government concessions.
The deal also called for the government to release captured militants, including some guilty of public executions and rape. This accord is an even more serious capitulation to the militants than earlier deals by the military regime in FATA, because it entrenches Taliban rule in a once-flourishing part of Pakistan, undermines democratic governance and creates yet another sanctuary for Taliban forces dedicated to rigid Islamic power in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Obama Administration has rightfully called for a concerted response against the extremists but there is also a disquietening return, at least in the public pronouncements of key U.S. military leaders, to a misplaced faith in the Pakistan military's ability, and will, to deliver the counter-terrorism/counter-insurgency goods. Instead, what is urgently needed is a surge in U.S. support for civilian law enforcement, including supplying police in the four provinces the equipment, training and intelligence that they need to protect these communities against the armed Taliban. There is a need both for a robust capability--gendarmerie like--elite police force in each of the provinces, with equipment, bullet proof jackets, heavy weapons and mobility, under civilian control. There also is a need for community policing. Civilian police forces know their community, can be trained to defend it and can do so as a core pillar of the law. Relying largely on the military to combat a religious extremist insurgency in a country where the military has a history of collaboration with jihadi extremists, and violation of constitutional norms and corruption, is doomed to fail.
That new police force also needs to be part of an integrated rule of law approach--not just long-term but immediate. The new funding the Obama administration and the Congress are planning to funnel into the country should also go toward creating specialized forensic training programs, witness protection programs, and crime labs. Prosecutors and judges dealing with extremist groups and terrorist attackers should be provided the highest level of security protection. Starting with protected high impact courts, with selected prosecutors and the best police investigators able to bring to justice terrorist suspects can start to change the atmosphere of growing fear in Pakistan, perhaps nowhere more than in the FATA and the Northwest Frontier Province.
The FATA must be incorporated into the Northwest Frontier Province so the people of that region have the power of the constitution behind them. Instead of handing over the FATA, and NWFP's settled regions, to the Taliban militia forces and sharia law, it means defending the rights of the residents to basic protection and expanding police forces and the frontier constabulary's capacity there.
Over the past decade, the U.S. has channelled $11 billion in aid to Pakistan and Afghanistan, with virtually all of it going to the military. The Obama administration has said it will reverse that lopsided allocation. The latest attacks by the jihadi forces underscore the urgency of translating that promise into visible, on-the-ground investment in governance, including the rule of law, economic development, and social services. Nothing is more critical in a nuclear-armed country with 60% of its 170 million people living in poverty, than showing rapid signs of a "democracy dividend."
The best counter-insurgency response to Pakistan's Taliban threat coming out of the summit will not be the military aid package likely under discussion. Instead it will be newfound political will from the Pakistan government to reverse military-devised and military-led policies of appeasement in FATA and NWFP, a shared commitment to build a vigorous civilian police force, to protect those who stand up against the Taliban, and to have the Congress approve accelerated funding for Pakistan schools, health clinics and rural development.
Mark Schneider is Senior Vice President at the International Crisis Group.