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AFPAK POLICY

When US President Barack Obama announced the new "AfPak" (AfghanistanPakistan) policy there were hopes that the hammer-and-nails approach which saw
unaccounted billions in military aid showered on the Pakistan army with the
assumption that it alone could bring stability would be shelved. It will take time to
fully assess if it has been.
The new AfPak policy promises a more focused approach in a number of ways.
The most obvious is the physical shift from Iraq to Afghanistan. Under George W.
Bush the United States had an uncoordinated strategy in Afghanistan, enabling the
Taliban, defeated in 2001 and again in 2002, to first recover and then re-emerge.
From 2004 onwards the Taliban and two independent allied commanders Jalaluddin
Haqqani and Gulbaddin Hekmatyar swept into large swathes of southern and
eastern Afghanistan and parts of northern Afghanistan in a series of spring and
summer offensives.
The idea of negotiating with less extremist elements in the Taliban in Afghanistan
was based upon the experience of US and British forces in Iraq, where Sunni militias
were paid and trained to fight their former Al Qaeda allies.
The aim of the new differentiation between Al Qaeda and the Taliban is to seek out
what has been widely termed "moderate" Taliban. The earlier strategy of treating Al
Qaeda and the Taliban as synonymous has brought these two diverse entities closer
together, both ideologically and practically. Al Qaeda earned access to one of the
most isolated regions on the planet Waziristan in Pakistan and the Taliban, who
before 2002 had little or no experience in guerrilla warfare or suicide attacks, learnt
insurgency techniques. These days Taliban suicide attacks are a weekly occurrence.
For the more extremist elements in the Taliban and for Al Qaeda, the new AfPak
policy promises an escalation, rather than a major tactical shift by the United
States. Missile strikes are expected to increase in scope and regularity within
Pakistan, even though Obama promised that operations would only be conducted
with Pakistan's permission.
The dilemma for Pakistan's army with the new policy is two-fold. First, it must
cooperate with the United States in its pursuit of Taliban in tribal areas to root out
extremism and the militant threat in the area. Military and non-military aid to
Pakistan promises to be more intricately tied to such cooperation than ever before.
Second, the army will either have to get hard on the Taliban that it nurtured for so
long in the 1980s or risk Pakistan's international isolation.
While Pakistan's infrastructure will surely get a makeover, it will be challenging to
develop institutional and social capacity in Pakistan.
Whether there will be a marked improvement in standards of living remains to be
seen the United Nations Human Development Report for 2007-08 conservatively
estimates that almost 33 percent of Pakistanis live in poverty.
The most welcome aspect of the new policy is the emphasis on Afghanistan and
Pakistan's civil institutions over individual leaders like Hamid Karzai and Pervez
Musharraf. In what many have described as a "civilian surge", both countries will
receive massive injections of cash, projects and experts. Development aid for new
schools, roads and clinics has been targeted for Pakistan's tribal areas, around 7.5
billion US dollars in non-military aid over five years if the Kerry-Lugar bill passes
through US Congress.
"Reconstruction opportunity zones", aimed at facilitating development and foreign
investment by offering reduced tariffs and other taxes, are also proposed for those
areas along the Pak-Afghan border that are most afflicted by Talibanisation. The
hope is that by creating a free trade and industry zone, employment opportunities
will attract young men away from the Taliban.

The AfPak policy cannot succeed unless the poverty upon which the militants prey is
addressed. No matter what promises Washington, Brussels or Islamabad makes, the
simple things like poverty which continue to pose the greatest challenges for
ordinary Pakistanis need to be overcome in order to instil faith in a better society
based on pluralism, democracy and equal rights.