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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