Cheney's Surprise Visit to Pakistan: What for?
February 26, 2007: Council on Foreign Relations
Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise stop in Islamabad to deliver a stern warning (NYT) to President Pervez Musharraf that Washington may reduce aid to Islamabad if he does not take a more offensive approach toward terrorists that have allegedly sought refuge close to the Afghan border. President Bush’s new budget includes $300 million in military aid to Pakistan to support counterterrorism activities and stop cross border raids into Afghanistan. The U.S. Congress has threatened to cut the military funding (CSMonitor) if Islamabad does not take a more aggressive approach toward controlling militants within Pakistan. The new pressure marks a change in tone from just last year, when Bush referred to Musharraf as “my buddy.” After Cheney’s brief visit, Pakistan’s foreign office responded pointedly, saying Islamabad does not take orders (The News) on how it handles counterterrorism efforts.
The U.S.-Pakistani alliance is under increasing scrutiny at a time when North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops face a Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan seen as bolstered by militants crossing the border from Pakistan. European resolve on involvement in the Afghanistan conflict is also showing cracks, demonstrated by Italian Prime Minister’s surprise resignation (Guardian) last week over his parliament’s resistance to maintaining Italian troops in Afghanistan and allowing for a U.S. base to be built in Italy.
Victory in the Afghan war may be unattainable as long as the Taliban and al-Qaeda continue to operate in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal areas and border region. The tribal regions, which have long resisted Islamabad’s control, are explained in this Backgrounder. Writing in Foreign Affairs, Afghanistan expert Barnett R. Rubin blames the “continued sanctuary” of Taliban leaders in Pakistan for preventing “real victory” in Afghanistan. An International Crisis Group report on the tribal areas says the U.S. decision to “put all its eggs in Musharraf and his military’s basket” ignored the government’s sympathy with religious extremist leaders while alienating moderate Pakistanis.
Musharraf defended Islamabad’s efforts to fight terrorism during a Council on Foreign Relations meeting in September 2006, saying Pakistan is “combating it through a comprehensive all-encompassing strategy.” Under international pressure to control militant incursions into Afghanistan, Musharraf has deployed some 80,000 troops in the border area and went as far as suggesting in December that Islamabad would mine and fence the border. However, South Asia expert Dennis Kux says in this podcast that Pakistan can do little to stop “individuals going across what has long been an open border.” Kux also points out that Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, depends on the support of the military and Pakistan’s intelligence agency, which in turn are sympathetic to militants in the tribal areas.
Musharraf’s critics point to a 2006 agreement signed by Pakistani authorities and tribal leaders to end a three-year campaign against militants in theprovince of North Waziristan, saying it was tantamount to surrendering the area to Taliban members involved in an insurgency in Afghanistan. Zahid Hussain, a senior editor for Pakistan’s Newsline, accuses Musharraf of “doublespeak” and of orchestrating a deal that “relieved the pressure on the army, and so, on Musharraf” while empowering the Taliban. In a new CFR.org online debate, journalist Bill Roggio says, “the notion that Pakistan is doing all it can to secure its border with Afghanistan is laughable.”