Wednesday, January 24, 2007

When Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf forged an agreement with the tribal leadership in the northwest border provinces in September 2006, observers in Washington were justly skeptical. Four months after the agreement was made, the concerns that Pakistani territory would become a sanctuary for Taliban insurgents have been realized, and Afghanistan has felt the effects.

A comparison confirms that the level of violence in Afghanistan is up: Armed attacks increased from 1,558 in 2005 to 4,542 in 2006. Suicide attacks also increased, from 27 in 2005 to 139 last year. The upsurge in violence predates the September peace accords, but even though the accords are not solely responsible for the increased violence, it’s evident, even in the relatively short four-month span, that the deal has done nothing but exacerbate the situation.

“Pakistan is our partner in the war on terror,” Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week, but “it is also a major source of Islamic extremism.” Mr. Negroponte concluded that “Eliminating the safehaven that the Taliban and other extremists have found in Pakistan’s tribal areas is not sufficient to end the insurgency in Afghanistan but it is necessary.” While visiting Kabul last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates also noted a “significant increase in cross-border attacks,” and that “al Qaeda networks are operating on the Pakistan side.”

It is certainly speculated in diplomatic circles that Pakistan believes U.S. and NATO efforts in Afghanistan will fail, and Pakistan therefore feels compelled to re-establish its traditional influence in Afghan affairs through positive support of the Taliban insurgency. Pakistani officials vehemently repudiate this claim, asserting Islamabad’s strong interest in a peaceful border with a stable Afghanistan, its rejection of the Taliban’s radical ideology, its 80,000 troops in the northwest provinces and more than 900 checkpoints along that stretch of the border, and — as a part of the diplomatic back and forth — Washington’s inclination to blame Pakistan for failures that have resulted from other problems. Nevertheless, policy-makers cannot discount the possibility that at least some elements in the Pakistani military, if not Gen. Musharraf himself, actively support the cross-border insurgency.

Reworking the agreement with the North Waziristan tribal area is on the table if Pakistan is convinced that the agreement has failed, but support in Pakistan for sending a larger military force is limited, and a suitable alternative will be difficult to implement. Washington should not be afraid to take a tough diplomatic line with Gen. Musharraf — such an approach has worked successfully in the past — but that rhetoric should be accompanied by an emphasis on cooperative efforts and a forceful reiteration of U.S. commitment to a stable and secure Afghanistan.

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