December 25, 2010

Pakistan’s Counterterrorism Strategy: Separating Friends from Enemies

Ayesha Siddiqa is the first Pakistan scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the author of Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy (Pluto Press, 2007).

On October 1, 2010, the government of Pakistan shut down the supply route for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) after an incursion into Pakistan’s territory by NATO forces, killing 16 Pakistanis in collateral damage. Two days later, militants torched 28 NATO supply trucks near Shikarpur in the southern province of Sindh. These events reflect the inherent tension both in Pakistan’s counterterrorism strategy and in its relationship with the United States and its allies in fighting the war in Afghanistan. The future of U.S. military operations in South Asia depends on the convergence of policies between the United States and Pakistan, but since the war began in 2001, interpreting Islamabad’s counterterrorism policy has been difficult.

Pakistan’s counterterrorism strategy in Afghanistan is rife with inherent contradictions, caught between an inclination to fight militant forces and yet having to partner with some to strengthen its future bargaining position. The policy flows out of Pakistan’s multiple strategic requirements: its need to remain engaged with the United States, to save itself from the Taliban attacking the Pakistani state, and to fight India’s growing presence in Afghanistan. Caught between these three issues, Islamabad’s counterterrorism policy and objectives continue to lack clarity. At best, the policy illustrates the tension between Islamabad’s need to protect itself against an internal enemy and its sensitivity toward the external threat from India.

The primary flaw of Pakistan’s counterterrorism policy, however, is that it is defined and driven by the military and that institution’s strategic objectives. It is easier to use the military option than to address the problem of changing the basic narrative and socioeconomic conditions that drive militancy in the first place. The need to create an alternative political narrative and change the mindset in Pakistan to address those socioeconomic conditions is a far more critical issue, which receives less attention than it deserves.

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