x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

US sees rise in terrorist violence in Pakistan

The number of terror attacks in Pakistan increased sharply last year as al Qa'eda regrouped and strengthened in tribal areas.

WASHINGTON // The number of terror attacks in Pakistan increased sharply last year as al Qa'eda regrouped and strengthened in the country's tribal areas after being forced out of Afghanistan. Those are among the findings of a new global terror assessment by the US state department, which detailed the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Pakistan over the past year and bolstered the case for the increased focus on the country that Barack Obama, the US president, has called for.

Attacks in Pakistan on noncombatants more than doubled from 890 in 2007 to 1,839 last year, while the number of deaths rose 42 per cent, from 1,340 to 2,293, according to National Counterterrorism Center figures. The number of suicide bombings, many targeting high-profile government, military and tourist sites, increased significantly. Al Qa'eda has "reconstituted some of its pre-9/11 operational capabilities" by exploiting the country's federally administered tribal areas, which are being used as "a safe haven to hide, train terrorists, communicate with followers, plot attacks and send fighters to support the insurgency in Afghanistan", the report said.

Pakistan's tribal areas now provide the group with "many of the benefits" it once enjoyed across the border. The Obama administration has said that without addressing the increasingly fragile situation in Pakistan, success will not come in Afghanistan. But the administration has found itself of late facing a crisis in Pakistan alone, stemming from a Taliban offensive that brought militants to within 100 kilometres of Islamabad, the capital.

Ten soldiers were kidnapped yesterday morning by the Taliban in the northwest part of the country, where Pakistani forces and militants are continuing their fight for territorial control. Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, and Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, were on Capitol Hill on Thursday to urge swift passage of a supplemental spending request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that also includes US$400 million (Dh1.5 billion) for training and equipping the Pakistani military for counterterror operations. The money, for the remainder of the current fiscal year, would be a down payment on the $3bn in military spending Mr Obama is seeking for Pakistan over the next five years.

The administration also wants to triple nonmilitary aid to $7.5bn over the same period. Congress wants to attach some strings to the funding to bolster accountability. But Mr Gates, even while supporting the creation of benchmarks, stressed the "urgent circumstances we face in Pakistan", which he said make the accelerated aid essential. Daniel Markey, a senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, has argued that while the administration clearly recognises the importance of a stable Pakistan, it has not made that its primary regional objective in the long run.

"The White House's intensified focus on counterterror and counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal belt is not misplaced, but it will prove entirely insufficient to overcoming these deeper challenges," Mr Markey wrote recently, calling for investments in Pakistan's civilian and military institutions as a means to "improve their capacity and to create incentives for sustainable bilateral cooperation in the fight against extremism and militancy over the long run".

eniedowski@thenational.ae