The Pakistan Problem: Success in FATA Depends on Aid to Civilians

The Pakistan Problem: Success in FATA Depends on Aid to Civilians

In August, the Pakistani army launched a full scale military offensive in the Bajaur agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Since then, fierce clashes have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of militants and the destruction of key Taliban strongholds. This forceful demonstration of Pakistani resolve is a positive change from past efforts. However, military operations will fail if they undermine the single most important principle for victory: winning the support of the local population. And currently Pakistan is not aiding the war-ravaged Pashtun tribes of the FATA.

There is no doubt that significant force is required to eliminate the insurgent sanctuaries that infest Pakistan's tribal areas. The fighting thus far has revealed an extraordinarily sophisticated militant infrastructure: Subterranean passages connect heavily fortified compounds, and jihadists utilize heavy weaponry that includes anti-tank missiles.

But the eradication of some Taliban bases will be a Pyrrhic victory if the Pashtun populace perceives the assault to be against them, rather than against the extremists. An estimated 7 million Pashtuns live in the FATA, in addition to 28 million in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and 15 million in neighboring Afghanistan. The tribesmen viscerally distrust federal intervention -- and not without cause. Unlike the four provinces of Pakistan, the FATA is administered by undemocratically appointed autocrats with colonial-era powers; development indicators in the region rank among the world's worst.

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