- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 26, 2008

In the last several years, Pakistan and the United States have hit bad patches in their efforts to build progress along the lawless tribal borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Federally Administrative Tribal Areas (FATA), as part of the war on terror.

Dramatic events unfolding in the last year, including the Dec. 27 assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the Feb. 18 election and the lawyers’ movement, as well as this year’s controversial June 11 clash at the Mohmand tribal border that left 11 Pakistani soldiers dead, all have intensified the urgency in political, economic and social interaction between the two countries.

Both countries have also reached crossroads in counterterrorism efforts under their respective administrations.

The growing tensions in the war on terrorism were shared among several dozen Pakistani Americans and others at the 16th annual U.S.-Pakistan Friendship Day, held by the Pakistani American Congress (PAC) June 18 in Washington.

Ambassador Husain Haqqani, Pakistan´s newly appointed envoy to the United States, along with experts and professors packed the conference at the downtown Westin Hotel.

Forks and glasses clattered during a course of fresh salad, fish and blueberry crumb cake, and mobile phones rang and opinions were exchanged as more than 30 PAC members listened and a handful railed in questions to the panelists.

But before Mr. Haqqani spoke, it seemed to appear the frustration was heard when Donald Camp, deputy principal assistant secretary of state for South Asian Affairs, spoke.

Many hands were raised in question. One PAC member said to Mr. Camp, “How long will you [the U.S.] keep fighting until you destroy everything so there is nothing left?” Another asked the whereabouts of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and weapons of mass destruction; yet another about the U.S. policy on domestic issues in Pakistan with President Pervez Musharraf.

“It [the relationship] is not incompatible,” Mr. Camp said of policy on domestic issues.

He told the audience that the June 11 strike was “absolutely no targeting of Pakistani military,” but the information so far is “still in my mind, murky,” and hopes a joint Pakistani-U.S. investigation unfolds.

“There is no military action by U.S. troops in Pakistan,” he added.

More than 120,000 Pakistani troops patrol the FATA region, which includes the seven tribal areas, according to a spokesman at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington.

“Pakistan is doing an enormous amount [in border protection],” Mr. Camp said before he departed.

Of the 38,000 American troops in Afghanistan, an estimated 12,000 to 13,000 troops operate from the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, focusing on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border security, Greg Sullivan, spokesman for South and Central Asian Affairs at the State Department, told The Washington Times.

Despite the troop levels and trilateral talks, border-crossing points along the 1,500-mile stretch on the Afghan-Pakistani border still pose a big factor in stability. A total of 14 primary border-crossing points are scattered throughout the Afghan provinces, and there are none in Nuristan.

“It’s been a constant point on [all three] sides [Pakistan, Afghanistan and U.S.] that there needs to be border-crossing points, more manned posts and more Pakistani troops on the border. … There are way too many places to cross without being noticed or impeded,” Mr. Sullivan said.

It is up to the Afghan government to designate the outposts for their country.

The challenges for the war on terrorism, Mr. Haqqani said in his speech, are concentrated in political, military and socioconomic factors.

“I will say complex, but not necessarily difficult,” the ambassador told the PAC members and guests on the U.S.-Pakistan relationship thus far.

“ … Every challenge brings an opportunity,” he said, adding that democracy is what binds the relationship together.

He provided a five-pronged government policy of Pakistan that includes negotiation with the FATA tribal leaders for a coalition and representation among the people in the tribal areas who “share aspirations of a future that Pakistanis have,” including respect for Pakistani laws, introduction of real-time intelligence sharing and assurance that the Islamic faith is not distorted by extremists.

“The government of Pakistan is in the process of putting in place a strategic plan. We expect our friends in Afghanistan and the United States and those in NATO to work with us rather than anyone raising voice against one another,” Mr. Haqqani told the conferees.

“Pakistan is committed to eliminate terrorism for Pakistan´s sake,” the ambassador said.

On Capitol Hill, several members of the House and Senate have defended both countries´ efforts in developing a long-term partnership, but only a few statements were made on the progress of that partnership. .

Dr. T. Kumar, advocacy director of Asia and Pacific for Amnesty International USA, faulted U.S. foreign policy in preventing resolutions to free the judges removed from offices.

“The puppet show that´s going on between Islamabad and Washington has to stop,” he said to applause.

Many of the participants supported the FATA Development Plan, capacity building of the Frontier Corps and establishment of the Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs), which will create trade zones between Pakistan and Afghanistan and allow products free entry into the United States.

Since 2002, only 10 percent of U.S. funds have gone to programs and democratic institutions.

And in a June 20 poll, 58 percent of Pakistanis favor negotiating with Pakistani Taliban militants rather than fighting and hold their U.S. allies most accountable for the violence in Afghanistan, according to Washington-based Terror Free Tomorrow.

Three-quarters of respondents also want Mr. Musharraf to resign or be impeached.

Richard A. Boucher, assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, said at last year´s 15th annual U.S.-Pakistan Friendship Day “we applaud President [Pervez] Musharraf´s efforts to build a prosperous nation,” according to a statement from the State Department.

” … And with U.S. support, we will be providing $150 million this year in development assistance to Pakistan to support its Sustainable Development Plan for the Federal Administered Tribal Areas, where Pakistan is implementing a strategy to strengthen governance, promote economic development and improve security.”

In 2007, the United States pledged $750 million over the next five years to programs in the FATA.

The Pakistani Americans visiting Washington last week said Sept. 11 had damaged U.S. confidence and trust in Pakistanis in terms of security and immigration issues.

The PAC declared 2007-2008 its “Year of Democracy and Independent Judiciary.” It has been promoting “good will between the two countries through political action” since 1990. Three delegates from each of the 75 member organizations are appointed to the PAC board of directors.

This good will, however, has been tainted by hardships back at home from the unsettled tribal areas to Pakistan´s frontier areas.

“We believe poverty breeds militancy [for war fighting],” said Dr. Riaz Ahmed, past president and member of the PAC founding committee.

“Neither governments — Pakistan, Afghanistan or the U.S. — have a clear strategy to control the situation peacefully,” Dr. Ahmed said.

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