Defeating the Taliban in Pakistan

Defeating the Taliban in Pakistan
By Mehreen Farooq and Waleed Ziad
The Hill, November 2, 2009

It’s the strategy, stupid. Once again, we’re hoping that Pakistan’s latest offensive in the tribal belt will solve the Taliban problem. Our military-centric strategy, which has cost us eight years and $10 billion tax dollars, is incomplete. What’s missing is the complementary soft-power component necessary to secure the pivotal conflict zone in the war on terror.

The Taliban stronghold, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), is one of Pakistan’s most impoverished regions. In spite of all our resources, U.S. development assistance here has been underfunded, slow and ineffective. In contrast, the Taliban have been quick to provide economic benefits like profit-sharing schemes for workers in a captured emerald mine, and distributing land seized from oppressive landlords to peasants. In short, our strategy has rendered us unable to compete with the Taliban for hearts and minds.

Recently, we finally made a long-term pledge of $7.5 billion for civilian assistance to Pakistan. This five-year commitment can tip the balance in this war. However, unless six key challenges of implementing aid in FATA are tackled, we’re wasting our tax dollars. And if we lose FATA, we lose this war.

First, we need to grasp FATA’s unique situation. With its inaccessible terrain, FATA has forged its own proud traditions and laws. The people value their independence. They distrust outside interference as memories of abandonment by the West after the Afghan War are painfully fresh. Once trust is earned, however, they will honor friends above all else.

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