A highly unfortunate U.S. military incident on Afghanistan-Pakistan border this week may strain the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. More than a dozen bombs were dropped near Pakistan’s tribal areas, killed 11 Pakistani paramilitary troops, according to press reports.
Confronting terrorists that have found safe haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is complicated. The coalition forces in Afghanistan cooperate as best they can with their Pakistani counterparts on the Pakistan side of the border, but given the constant crossing back and forth by the terrorists between countries and the lack of government control of the tribal areas in Pakistan, this type of incident does not come wholly unexpected.
It is crucial that the U.S. and Pakistan work more closely toward rooting out terrorist safe havens in the tribal areas that threaten Pakistan, the region and the international community.
Instead of engaging in tactical negotiations with militants to buy time, Pakistan needs to develop a strategic approach to dealing with the tribal areas that is closely coordinated with and supported by the United States. Islamabad and Washington must develop a strategy that relies on economic, political and military tools to undermine the terrorists in the region.
Pakistan is passing through a tumultuous period, including a rocky transition to democracy and coping with a string of bombings that have murdered thousands of Pakistani civilians and military personnel over the last year. The U.S. should be careful not to tip the balance in favor of those anti-U.S. elements who might wish to seek a break in the relationship. Although the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is facing some serious challenges over the terrorism issue, it is critical that Washington continue to demonstrate its support for the new democratically elected government and to continue its military cooperation with this critical partner in the war on terror.
For more information on the challenges with Pakistan, please read my recent paper, “Preserving Coalition Government Key to U.S. Objectives in Pakistan.”