The Pakistan Problem

Terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna uses FP’s 2008 Terrorism Index as a starting point to discuss a new way of viewing Pakistan's continued instability.

International observers, including those surveyed in Foreign Policy's 2008 Terrorism Index (September/October 2008), have concluded that Pakistan will soon become the central front in the fight against terrorism and that their respective governments must play a central role in this fight. But without local knowledge and a deeper understanding of the forces at play, such perceptions are meaningless and highly counterproductive. To make real progress, the world must adopt a sophisticated and nuanced approach to work with Pakistan.

International observers, including those surveyed in Foreign Policy‘s 2008 Terrorism Index (September/October 2008), have concluded that Pakistan will soon become the central front in the fight against terrorism and that their respective governments must play a central role in this fight. But without local knowledge and a deeper understanding of the forces at play, such perceptions are meaningless and highly counterproductive. To make real progress, the world must adopt a sophisticated and nuanced approach to work with Pakistan.

Since 9/11, Islamabad has paid a heavy price for collaborating with Washington. Pakistan’s western tribal regions, a natural buffer of defense, have been eroded. For supporting the United States, Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s regime lost the support of tribal leaders, contributing directly to an upsurge in terrorist attacks from that region. In 2007 alone, Pakistan suffered at least 45 suicide bombings, more than double the number that took place between 2002 and 2006, and the deaths of a number of political leaders, including Benazir Bhutto. After Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan has suffered more fatalities from suicide terrorism than any other country.

To neutralize the threat, Pakistan needs international understanding, participation, and support. Unless its rule of law, judiciary, and law enforcement authorities are strengthened, the Islamists and jihadists will win. To challenge the forces of extremism systematically, the West must also support Pakistan’s economic development and the reform of the country’s education system.

Pakistan faces an unprecedented crisis. But it cannot fight the contemporary wave of terrorism and extremism alone. With the threat from tribal areas spreading to the country’s center, the world’s security is in peril. No country is more important than Pakistan in the fight against terrorism — and it’s time for the international community to back up its concern with action.

–Rohan Gunaratna
Head, The International Centre for
Political Violence and Terrorism Research
Professor of Security Studies,
The S. Rajaratnam School of
International Studies, Singapore

The Center for American Progress replies:

The experts polled in the Terrorism Index also see a national security disaster unfolding in Pakistan, as militant groups extend their authority beyond Pakistan’s tribal areas, threatening Pakistan, the region, and the world. The September terrorist attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, in which 53 people were killed and hundreds wounded, is further evidence of Pakistan’s vulnerability to these extremists and the growing strength, cruelty, and audacity of these groups.

Like Rohan Gunaratna, a majority of the index’s experts recommend a change in the U.S. approach toward Pakistan. Moreover, most agree with the assessment that the world must focus on areas such as the rule of law, Pakistan’s economic development, and education. When asked to name the most important step the United States could take to assist or pressure Pakistan to combat militant groups more effectively, few experts chose increasing military assistance. Most prefer efforts to integrate tribal areas into the rest of Pakistan or increases in development assistance.

What is clear to the national security establishment is that there are no easy answers to Pakistan’s problems. This summer, U.S. President George W. Bush secretly authorized the use of force within Pakistan without the country’s approval. Yet when asked for their assessment of whether the United States should take military action in an identical situation, more than 6 in 10 of the experts answered "unsure" this spring.

Policymakers from Pakistan, the United States, and elsewhere are now running out of time. They must move urgently to create a more effective, comprehensive, and coordinated strategy to address the Pakistani crisis. As Gunaratna rightly indicates, it must be regional, extend beyond a military approach, and target the sources of Pakistan’s instability.

–Caroline Wadhams
National Security Senior Policy Analyst
The Center for American Progress
Washington, D.C.

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