Accessibility links

Breaking News

Pakistan: U.S. Urges Islamabad To Fight Terrorists As Fragile Peace Collapses

A police casualty from the May 6 bombing in Bannu (AFP) After a two month lull in the violence that has plagued Pakistan's border regions, Islamist militants appear to have resumed the violence when a recent suicide-bomb attack in the northwestern city of Bannu killed five.

The May 6 attack is a setback to the peace efforts of newly elected Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, who has advocated negotiations to end Islamist militancy in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Washington has demanded that Pakistan fulfill its antiterror commitments.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte emphasized in Washington on May 5 the importance of bringing Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) under government control, as parts of the 27,000 square kilometer region along the Afghan border are controlled by Taliban insurgents and widely believed to host Al-Qaeda militants.

"We also expect Pakistan's civilian and military leadership to be strong partners against violent extremists in Pakistan's frontier areas," Negroponte said. "Pakistan's government recognizes that bringing those areas under control is an urgent priority for Pakistan's own sake. But let me be clear: We will not be satisfied until all the violent extremism emanating from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas is brought under control."

Negroponte called it "unacceptable for extremists to use those areas to plan, train for, or execute attacks against Afghanistan, Pakistan, or the wider world."

Washington is concerned by the new Pakistani government's reported negotiations with the Taliban. Prime Minister Gillani has made negotiations a priority in his attempts to restore peace to the restive border region.

U.S. opposition to the peace talks with insurgents is rooted in bad previous experiences. Pakistan concluded various accords in 2004, 2005, and 2006 with the Taliban in the Waziristan region on the Afghan border. But American, NATO, and Afghan officials blame these agreements for the strengthening of the Taliban and the undermining of peace and security in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Such apprehension perhaps prompted Negroponte to categorically reject any new peace agreements with the militants that might result in strengthening their hold on certain remote regions of the borderlands.

"We want to be supportive of the government of Pakistan's efforts to enhance the standard of living, the level of development of that region," Negroponte said. "We are very supportive of those efforts. In fact, we have a five-year, $150 million-a-year program to support the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. But when it comes to the issue of international terrorism, we don't think that area should be a platform from which attacks can be conducted against other parts of Pakistan. Nor do we think it should be a platform for the conduct of attacks into Afghanistan, across the border. And, of course, we don't want to see the tribal area being used as a platform for plotting and executing international terrorist activity against the West."

Pakistan's new coalition government is advocating a comprehensive approach to militancy in the borderlands that emphasizes reconciliation, development, and social change rather than military operations, as favored by President Pervez Musharraf and his governments in the recent past.

The provincial government in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) is now led by the secular Pashtun Nationalist Awami National Party. It is expected to unveil a $4 billion peace plan that aims to reduce the level of violence in that beleaguered region by 30 percent within three years.

The plan emphasizes traditional dispute-resolution mechanisms along with the reconciliation and rehabilitation of the combatants, and underscores the strengthening of the police force for improving security. On the economic side, it outlines a $600 million rural-development program along with urgent efforts to create thousands of jobs in the insurgency-plagued regions.

Hamid Hussain, a New York-based analyst of Pakistani security affairs, told RFE/RL that the United States, NATO, and the international community should fund the NWFP peace plan because it is likely to boost regional security. However, he emphasized that without a compatible peace plan in the tribal areas that is directly controlled by Islamabad, the NWFP peace plan will have a slim chance of success.

"In the past few years the Pakistani government has been spending all is money on the military operations in the FATA areas, but now they will need a plan like the one for the NWFP for the tribal areas," Hussain said. "Islamabad needs the help and cooperation of the regional government in [the NWFP capital] Peshawar because the population in the tribal areas is ethnic Pashtun so the [Pashtun-dominated] government in Peshawar is better able to understand the problems of those regions and can better resolve them as well."

Hussain called the "development of the tribal areas is imperative for the security of both Pakistan and Afghanistan."

However, violence like the May 6 suicide bombing in Bannu underscores the challenges that are on the path to bring peace and development to the border region.

  • 16x9 Image

    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.