- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A new cease-fire between Pakistan and Islamic militants based in tribal lands along the border with Afghanistan would not curb the growing security threat to the region, Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte told a Senate panel yesterday.

“The terrorist problem in Pakistan and the terrorist problem in Afghanistan are inextricably intertwined,” Mr. Negroponte told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Terrorists and violent extremists continue to exploit Pakistan’s rugged tribal areas as safe havens and cross the border to attack Afghan and coalition forces. … We must find ways to more effectively coordinate and synchronize operations by both nations.”

Past efforts by the Pakistani government to make a deal with local tribal leaders to curb the violence have fallen short.

Mr. Negroponte said the U.S. is willing to help train and equip new border patrol forces, and the administration is seeking “at least $100 million” in foreign military financing for a six-year security development plan.

But he added that the Bush administration is trying to impress on Pakistan the importance of maintaining troops in the area.

Several lawmakers complained about past efforts by Pakistan to rein in Islamic militants in the region, and told Mr. Negroponte they want to see a more comprehensive plan before they support additional funding.

“We cannot continue to provide a blank check for a failed policy,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat.

The tribal regions, seven semiautonomous “agencies” located along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, have resisted central control virtually since Pakistan’s founding, in 1947.

The region’s isolation and strong Islamic beliefs made the tribal lands a prime shelter for Taliban militants after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Afghan and U.S. officials say the area has since been used not only to harbor fugitives but also to launch cross-border attacks.

The government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, after initially confronting militants in the area, in 2006 struck a deal that pulled the army back in exchange for pledges from tribal leaders that they would curb the militants’ activity.

But the agreement was widely criticized by U.S. officials and private analysts as ineffective.

The accord “facilitated the growth of militancy and attacks in Afghanistan by giving pro-Taliban elements a free hand to recruit, train and arm,” according to the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank.

The new Pakistani government, elected in February and dominated by parties opposed to Mr. Musharraf, once again opened direct talks with militants to ease the border crisis. Violence has dropped sharply in Pakistan, but attacks in eastern Afghanistan have jumped by 52 percent from this time last year, according to NATO.