White House report critical of Pakistan’s efforts against terror; Daniel Markey says “Frustration has really mounted, so the drumbeat is getting louder,”

The relationship between the United States and Pakistan has been characterized lately by scenes of trucks burning. At least five times in a week, Pakistani gunmen have attacked trucks carrying U.S. and NATO supplies into Afghanistan.

Despite repeated Obama administration claims in public that Pakistan is working hard to crack down on militants, a private White House review uses unusually tough and harsh language to suggest the ally is not doing nearly enough to confront the Taliban and al Qaeda.
A White House report released to Congress this week painted a grim picture of the Pakistani military’s ability to defeat insurgents in its tribal areas. According to Wall Street Journal, some Obama administration officials say the U.S. must be more forceful with Pakistan to make it clear that Washington wants more direct action against militants. Other say the public and private criticism of Islamabad is likely to backfire.
“The Pakistani military continued to avoid military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or Al-Qaeda forces in North Waziristan,” the report said, calling the move “as much a political choice” as military prioritization. It continued that Pakistani operations against militants in neighbouring South Waziristan were progressing “slowly” with soldiers staying too close to roads.
The report, sent to Congress this week, notes only “modest gains in security, governance and development” in important areas of Afghanistan as of the end of June. It describes the Afghan government’s support for human rights as “unsatisfactory”, anti-corruption efforts as “weak”, and international backing as “inadequate”.
Defense analyst Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution says that assessment, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, is an unusually blunt response to Pakistan’s typical argument that it’s simply stretched too thin. He also says one reason Pakistan might be reluctant to confront the militants is because it’s still uncertain of the U.S. commitment in the region. Mr. Obama wants to start withdrawing U.S. troops from neighboring Afghanistan next summer-and As long as there’s the worry about the United States not finishing the job in Afghanistan, the Pakistani hedging behavior is more easily understood and, frankly, harder to challenge or transform.
It says as of June there had been no statistically significant change in perceptions of security since September 2008 and that public confidence in the government’s ability to reduce corruption was a mere 16.5 per cent.
The report says a district-by-district survey in the second quarter of the year revealed only “minor positive change” on security and blames many problems on “the lack of freedom of movement in many areas”.
In an update, it notes “progress as measured by overall security in certain key terrain districts” between July 1 and August 20, when a troop surge ordered by Mr Obama was almost completed. But it envisaged “continued tough fighting” in districts near Kandahar city.
The report suggests that a high-profile drive by Pakistan’s army against the Pakistan Taliban last year amounted to “short-lived military gains that allow militants to regroup”.
It says that “without the ability to stabilise post conflict areas and to transfer forces from areas that have been cleared to ones needing to be secured … the government of Pakistan risks allowing the insurgency the opportunity to re-establish influence over a population that remains sceptical of the government’s staying power”.
Noting that the Pakistani military has avoided “military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or al-Qaeda forces” in the border region of North Waziristan, it adds: “This is as much a political choice as it is a reflection of an under-resourced military prioritising its targets.”
The report adds that Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan president, faces “broad lack of political support, a fragile economy, strained civil-military relations, and an ongoing conflict with the judiciary”, with his problems affecting “the strength and stability of the civilian government.”
It quotes a state department poll that puts confidence in Pakistan’s civilian government at just 31 per cent compared with 82 per cent confidence in the military and cites the “public perception that [chief of army staff General Ashfaq] Kayani is the lead decision-maker on national security-related foreign policy issues”.
It says the government was “overwhelmed” by the recent floods and describes the number of people displaced by the counter-insurgency as a “negative indicator” of its effectiveness.
In unusually harsh and tough language that indicated a high level of frustration with the Pakistani government and military, the report said that Pakistani military operations were particularly lamentable in North Waziristan, the tribal area which is regarded as the global centre of al-Qaeda and a refuge for the Afghan Taliban.
The National Security Council’s assessment says it’s not just a shortage of troops or money that have kept the Pakistani army from going after the militants. It says Pakistan has made a political choice not to engage al-Qaida or related militant groups operating out of North Waziristan.
The report may cause further strains in the tense US-Pakistan anti-terror alliance, which has been tested by intensified US drone strikes in tribal regions. Pakistani authorities have reported more than two dozen attacks in the region over the last month which have killed more than 140 people. The increase in drone strikes has been linked to a terror plot targeting Europe. A US missile yesterday killed another five people in North Waziristan, just hours after the Taliban blew up more Nato tankers bound for Afghanistan.

In other Pakistan-related developments, a U.S. diplomat apologizes for the deaths of two Pakistani border guards in a coalition helicopter attack.
Both American and Pakistani officials said that they expected that Wednesday’s apologies would be effective, at least in the short term, and that Pakistan would soon reopen the border crossing at Torkham, a supply route for the NATO coalition in landlocked Afghanistan that runs from the port of Karachi to the Khyber region. The Pakistani government closed that route last week to protest the cross-border strikes.

Frustration with Pakistan is growing in the United States in part because “we’re living in the post-Faisal Shahzad era,” said Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations, referring to the Pakistani-American who was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday for the attempted Times Square bombing.

Mr. Markey said that tensions among counterterrorism officials had also mounted because of the unspecified threats of terrorist attacks in Europe. “Frustration has really mounted, so the drumbeat is getting louder,” he said.



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