U.S. Worry Grows over Pakistan's Tribal Peace Deal

The U.S. government is increasingly concerned about Pakistan's decision to negotiate a peace deal with militants in its tribal areas. The Bush administration cites Pakistan's previous agreements with militants that did not work and allowed al-Qaida and the Taliban to regroup.

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Now, when Americans consider potential disasters, they often look at Pakistan. As a risk to U.S. national security, the situation there ranks near the top. It's a nuclear armed state. It's in political turmoil; al-Qaida and the Taliban continue to find safe haven there. And that's why there's increasing concern in the United States, because a new government in Pakistan is embarking on a peace deal with militants.

We have more this morning from NPR's Jackie Northam.

JACKIE NORTHAM: The primary reason for U.S. concern about the new negotiations towards a peace deal is the fact that two previous deals simply allowed al-Qaida and the Taliban to regroup and fortify their ranks along the border areas. Over the past few weeks, White House spokesperson Dana Perino has made it clear that the U.S. was not happy with the latest efforts to reach a deal between the Pakistani government and some militant groups. Here's how she put it last week.

Ms. DANA PERINO (White House Spokesperson): Obviously this is something that was tried before. It did not work before. It's important that any agreement be effectively enforced and that it not interrupt any operations where we are going after terrorists in that area.

NORTHAM: On the same day, Dell Dailey, the head of the State Department's counterterrorism office, was more hopeful about the latest peace negotiations. According to Dailey, there's widespread recognition that a military solution alone cannot solve Pakistan's problems with militants. The U.S. is now spending about $150 million a year over the next five years to address economic, political and social development in the tribal regions as well as provide military support.

The Pakistanis are also injecting large sums into developing the region. Dailey says all this should help the Pakistani government in its negotiations over a peace treaty.

Mr. DELL DAILEY (State Department): We think that all the tools are in place for this treaty to have the successful outcome. They certainly know the United States is watching it, and we'll articulate our concerns if it turns out to be not as successful as among the past.

NORTHAM: Xenia Dormandy, director for South Asia at the National Security Council until 2005, says she's not surprised that the message coming from Washington isn't uniform because there's so much uncertainty about a peace deal, such as who proposed the plan, who's involved in the negotiations, and what the details are.

Dormandy, who is currently at Harvard, says Washington's concern is compounded by the fact that the U.S. is not involved in the negotiations.

Ms. XENIA DORMANDY (National Security Council): The problem right at this moment is the negotiations between the Pakistani military and the tribal leaders are ongoing. And so there's a lot of fear, I think, in the U.S. government that we don't know what it's going to look like, and we don't have control over that at the moment.

NORTHAM: The U.S. doesn't have as much leverage with Pakistan's new government as it did when President Pervez Musharraf ran the country, says Bruce Riedel, who spent nearly three decades in counterterrorism at the CIA and is currently at the Brookings Institution. Riedel says the White House and others may not like the idea of a peace deal, but there are not many short-term options at the moment for the U.S. to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban in Pakistan.

Mr. BRUCE RIEDEL (Brookings Institution): Predator strikes using unmanned aerial vehicles, commando raids, things like that, are not going to provide a real solution to this problem. In fact, in many ways they tend to make it worse when they inevitably produce civilian casualties.

NORTHAM: Riedel says the U.S. needs to have regular, intense and low-profile conversations with Pakistan's new government, find out what their thinking is, and then try to influence it. Riedel says it's imperative for the U.S. to strengthen its intelligence networks, which is very difficult to do in a place like Pakistan, he admits, because Westerners stand out and allegiances are often wafer-thin.

Riedel says Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, plays a duel game of chasing al-Qaida and at the same time helping the Taliban. Riedel says that kind of selective counterterrorism doesn't make things easier.

Mr. RIEDEL: One of the things we need to talk about with this new government is the role of the Pakistani intelligence services. We need to be confident that they're only on one side in this war, and that's our side.

NORTHAM: Riedel says so far, no plan has succeeded in defeating the Taliban or al-Qaida in Pakistan. He says the new government there may want to give negotiations a chance before falling back on a military approach.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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