By Brigitte L. Nacos
A month ago, during George W. Bush’s farewell visit to the United Kingdom, American and British intelligence sources revealed that the president had enlisted British Special Forces to join their American counterparts in a final push to hunt down al-Qaeda boss Osama bin Laden. After 9/11 Bush declared that he wanted the terrorist-in-chief “dead or alive.” But nearly seven years later, bin Laden continues to hide out somewhere in the tribal region of Pakistan. According to the British Sunday Times, one U.S.intelligence source remarked, “If he [Bush] can say he has killed Saddam Hussein and captured Bin Laden, he can claim to have left the world a safer place.” I have no doubt that this is the White House rationale behind this last effort to get bin Laden during the Bush presidency. As of now, however, the Taliban and al-Qaeda wield ever more influence and power in Pakistan’s tribal zone near the Afghan border, recruit successfully in Pakistan and Arab countries, and launch more deadly attacks against their opponents among Afghans and against U.S. and other NATO troops in Afghanistan. Indeed, last weekend, a month after the “final push to get bin Laden” revelation, “insurgents” launched a deadly attack on the American base in Kunar Province killing 9 U.S. soldiers and wounding 19 NATO and Afghan troops in one of the most intensive and lethal action by Taliban/al-Qaeda fighters since the 2001 American-led invasion of Afghanistan that drove both the Taliban and al-Qaeda into Pakistan. It seems that the unholy Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance is right now more successful in hunting down U.S. and other NATO soldiers than U.S.and British Special Forces in their hunt for bin Laden.
Even if bin Laden is still captured or killed on George Bush’s watch, this coup would not erase the Bush administration’s fundamental failure to finish the justified objectives of the widely supported Afghanistan invasion, most of all, to capture the al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership and prevent once and for all the unholy alliance’s ability to threaten this neighborhood and the rest of the world. Instead, military and financial resources were shifted to the controversial invasion of Iraq to accomplish iffy objectives there.
Today, Pakistan is one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest obstacle in the fight against the founding fathers of contemporary Islamist global terrorism because of the government’s and the military’s inability and unwillingness to stop the growing strength and power of the Taliban and of al-Qaeda in the country’s tribal area.
In a revealing article in today’s New York Times, Pir Zubair Shah and Jane Perlez report, “Working with Al Qaeda, the Taliban have steadily tightened their grip over much of the tribal areas in the last several years by cowing or killing hundreds of local tribal chiefs who were the area’s traditional authorities.” One member of Parliament from one of the seven districts in the tribal area said that people in this part of Pakistan “believe some branches of the Pakistani government are encouraging the Taliban in their route to power.” Obviously, America’s Pakistan policy has not worked at all in the so-called “war on terrorism” nor has the multi-billion dollar aid that the Pakistan received from Washington after 9/11 in order fight terrorists within and particularly in the tribal area. The Associated Press reported that an “independent audit concluded the U.S. has little proof that the $5.6 billion given to Pakistan to go after terrorists since 2001 has been used for that purpose.” Therefore, Senator Joseph Biden wants to restrict financial aid for Pakistan’s antiterrorist efforts “unless Islamabad does more to fight insurgents along its Afghan border.” I wonder how Biden wants to gauge the frequency and intensity of Pakistan’s military’s counterterrorism efforts. I wonder even more about Biden’s proposal to triple non-military aid to Pakistan to build schools, hospitals and roads in the tribal regions to counter the influence of extremists.
In the above mentioned article, Shah and Perlez mention that “a public hospital remains underused because doctors, put off by poor salaries and insecurity, refuse to work there. Health conditions are appalling.” They report furthermore that "Most families had given a man to the Taliban cause, often as a measure of protection against the militants." Without Pakistan’s military ending the dominance of the Taliban/al-Qaeda alliance in the tribal zone, the establishment of additional public facilities and higher salaries for doctors and others will not bring about changes. Not to mention that auditing non-military aid and its impact may not be much easier than credible accounting for military/counterterrorism aid.
Shifting U.S. aid from military to non-military earmarks will not change a thing. Washington and Islamabad need to review and renegotiate their relationship in general and the costs and benefits of American aid to Pakistani counterterrorism efforts in particular.