A “fundamental change” is needed in the US-Pakistan relationship to stem the rise of extremism in Pakistan by rebuilding trust between the allies, analysts said on Thursday.
“We need a fundamental change of approach. We need to move far beyond a transactional approach,” David Kilcullen, who helped devise the troop “surge” strategy implemented in Iraq by General David Petraeus, told the House Armed Services Committee.
The US has long paid bills the Pakistani government submitted for counterterrorism operations but US President Barack Obama has vowed to set benchmarks for the first time on Pakistan’s progress in fighting extremism.
“Implementation of the strategy benchmarks to measure progress and accountability are all critical,” said the panel’s chairman, Democratic Representative Ike Skelton.
Republican lawmakers have resisted efforts to make aid dependent on specific performance criteria.
John McHugh, the ranking Republican member on the committee, said he was “concerned” that the benchmarks “are counterproductive and, in fact, cut against our overall, long-term strategic objectives in Pakistan.”
David Barno, a former commander of US forces in Afghanistan, said the US “cannot continue to provide Pakistan with assistance and hope that simply they will take action against extremists.”
Rather than the regional strategy advocated by the Obama administration to deal jointly with Afghanistan and Pakistan, Barno said the US should have a separate plan for Pakistan.
Pointing to “deep mistrust” between Pakistan and the US, Pakistani analyst Shuja Nawaz told the panel that “the US must ensure that its aid is not seen solely in support of its battle in Afghanistan and directed largely toward the border region of Pakistan.”
“This aid must not be seen by the people of Pakistan as short-term and aimed at propping up any single person, party or group,” said Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.
Obama has placed nuclear-armed Pakistan at the center of the fight against al-Qaeda as the US dispatches 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan under a new regional plan that focuses on flushing out militant sanctuaries in Pakistan and boosting civilian efforts to build up both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Barno called Pakistan the “greatest global strategic challenge” currently facing the US and warned that “a meltdown of government and society in Pakistan would rapidly become the preeminent national security threat facing the United States.”
His comments came as White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the Obama administration is “extremely concerned” about advances by the Taliban in Pakistan.
In a bid to expand their control, the Taliban have moved into the Buner district, some 100km from Islamabad. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari signed a ceasefire deal with the militants earlier this month that imposes strict Islamic law in the northwestern Swat Valley.