Fight Against Extremists Stretches Pakistan’s Military

ISLAMABAD, Pak­istan, April 20, 2011 — Just as two wars over the last decade have stretch the U.S. Army thin, the Pak­istani mil­i­tary is stretched by its fight against extrem­ist groups along the country’s west­ern bor­der, senior defense offi­cials said here today.
At any giv­en time, rough­ly one-third of the Pak­istani army is deployed along the bor­der region. Anoth­er third is along Pakistan’s bor­der with India, and the rest is in gar­ri­son train­ing and re-equip­ping.

“There are units along the bor­der that have been in the fight for two years,” said a senior defense offi­cial, speak­ing on back­ground. “That’s a long time. They are stretched.”

While many in the Unit­ed States want the Pak­istani mil­i­tary to do more against ter­ror­ist groups in North Waziris­tan, the truth is it may not be able to do much more, the offi­cial said. Pak­istani troops – includ­ing mem­bers of the Fron­tier Corps – are in Khy­ber province, South Waziris­tan and oth­er areas of Pakistan’s fed­er­al­ly admin­is­tered trib­al areas. North Waziris­tan, specif­i­cal­ly, is a safe haven for many senior Tal­iban lead­ers launch­ing attacks in Afghanistan.

The mil­i­tary has launched a cam­paign against ter­ror­ists in Mohmond province – an area they cleared once, but where extrem­ists have re-emerged. And that’s the prob­lem, the offi­cial said: once the army clears an area – “and they do that quite well,” he said – the sol­diers don’t have a force to turn it over to, and they’re forced to police the region. “The civ­il capac­i­ty does not exist in the region to hold the area,” the offi­cial said.

The civ­il capac­i­ty also does not exist to rebuild areas, and the army is step­ping into the breach. “They are build­ing schools and roads and water projects,” the offi­cial said. “This should be the job of civil­ian agen­cies, but they are not avail­able.”

If Pakistan’s army could turn over the polic­ing and devel­op­ment duties, troops would be avail­able for fur­ther oper­a­tions against the extrem­ists, the offi­cial said, but they can­not. The Pak­istani mil­i­tary could deploy troops from the bor­der with India to step up the fight against extrem­ists, but Pak­istan sees India – a nation with which it has fought four wars– as the foe. India and Pak­istan have troops fac­ing each oth­er in Kash­mir province. A solu­tion to the dis­pute over Kash­mir, which goes back to the found­ing of the two nations in 1947, could “unlock solu­tions” for Pak­istan, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an inter­view with Pak­istani reporters.

It was a major move to deploy the Pak­istani forces from the Indi­an bor­der in 2008, and U.S. offi­cials do not expect that to hap­pen again.

Mean­while, Pak­istani offi­cials are wor­ried about the spread of rad­i­cal­ism in the nation. While most inci­dents still are cen­tered on the west­ern bor­der, many inci­dents have occurred in Balochis­tan, Sindh and even the Pak­istani heart­land of Pun­jab. “They even use the term Pun­jabi Tal­iban,” the offi­cial said. “And it con­cerns them.”

The Unit­ed States is set to pro­vide rough­ly $3 bil­lion in aid to the Pak­istani mil­i­tary in fis­cal 2012, the defense offi­cial not­ed.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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