Pakistan will continue to find it difficult to counter militancy more vigorously in its territory, and U.S. officials urging the country to make greater efforts should fully understand the obstacles. One is the Pakistan security establishment’s penchant for supporting militant groups it believes might have strategic uses while ignoring those it believes have no strategic value. But there are other obstacles, including lack of funding, bureaucratic barriers, and public opinion.

Summary

  • Pakistani concerns about threats to the state from a subset of its Islamist militants have been building for several years, but the military remains preoccupied with using jihadist proxies to achieve geopolitical aims. Many other barriers reinforce the status quo as well.
  • Perceptions about the U.S. role in the insurgency, the belief that foreign powers support anti-state militants, that some militants will not attack if not provoked, and that others have domestic as well as geopolitical utility collectively inform the security establishment’s strategic calculus for how it engages with militants in Pakistan.
  • Even sincere counterterrorism efforts are hampered by capacity shortfalls and systemic infirmities.
  • Political will is also lacking. Elites remain preoccupied with power and their collective interests.
  • Pakistan needs a national strategy to counter militancy, a legislative overhaul, improved coordination among counterterrorism agencies, and a coherent narrative against extremism. The recently elected civilian leadership must build its own intellectual capacity on security matters and find the political will to act.
  • The election of a new civilian government in Pakistan, growing concerns about the jihadist threat to the state, and the planned NATO drawdown in Afghanistan mean the United States will need to reformulate aspects of its engagement.
  • The overall U.S. approach should be geared toward maintaining influence to maximize convergence on narrow security issues and exploit opportunities to reinforce positive structural change within Pakistan.
  • Specifically, the United States should revise its South Asian counterterrorism architecture, maintain a transactional military-to-military relationship focused on convergent interests, boost the capabilities and confidence of the new civilian government, modify security sector assistance, and devise more realistic metrics to assess progress.

About the Report

This report, sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace, examines several underexplored barriers to dismantling Pakistan’s miltant infrastructure as a way to inform the understandable, but thus far ineffectual, calls for the country to do more against militancy. It is based on interviews conducted in Pakistan and Washington, DC, as well as on primary and secondary source material collected via field and desk-based research.

About the Author

Stephen Tankel is an assistant professor at American University, nonresident scholar in the South Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and author of Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkare-Taiba. He has conducted field research on conflicts and militancy in Algeria, Bangladesh, India, Lebanon, Pakistan, and the Balkans. Professor Tankel is a frequent media commentator and adviser to U.S. policymakers and practitioners regarding security challenges in South Asia and threats from Islamist militancy around the world.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:This report was drafted before the May 2013 elections and updated soon after. There have been important developments since then, including actions Islamabad and Washington have taken that this report recommends. Specifically, the U.S. announced plans for a resumption of the Strategic Dialogue and the Pakistani government reportedly developed a new counterterrorism strategy. Meanwhile, the situation on the ground in Pakistan continues to evolve. It is almost inevitable that discrete elements of this report of will be overtaken by events. Yet the broader trends and the significant, endogenous obstacles to countering militancy and dismantling the militant infrastructure in Pakistan unfortunately are likely to remain in place for some time.

 

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