Today we turn our attention to a region that defense experts have singled out as perhaps the most likely launching point of a future Al Qaeda terrorist strike. The tribal regions of Pakistan provide safe haven for thousands of militants and terrorists who seek not only to destabilize Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan, but who also plan attacks around the globe.
For this reason, I believe it’s imperative that we review U.S. foreign policy toward Pakistan to find out what is working, what is not, and how a new Administration should approach this critical region.
With new civilian and military leadership in Pakistan, we now have a chance to establish a sustainable and mutually beneficial bilateral relationship; a relationship that recognizes how unfettered extremism poses a threat to Pakistan, its neighbors, and the world; a relationship that focuses on economic and development assistance not as an afterthought but as the necessary foundation to promote long-term growth; and a relationship that adheres to the values that both of our nations inherently share – bolstering forces of moderation, holding dear the principles of democracy, and promoting peace and prosperity throughout Pakistan.
However, recent reports of negotiations between the Government of Pakistan and tribal leaders present a challenge for the United States. How can we balance the need to engage with certain tribal leaders but still hold firm against negotiating with terrorists who will continue to fight U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan regardless of any truce?
I believe we must remain steadfast in our fight against the irreconcilable forces who wish to attack our country, destabilize the region, and return Afghanistan to the oppressive, hateful regime that gave safe harbor to Al Qaeda and other terrorist elements. However, this approach will require greater cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan and a concerted effort to show the Pakistani people that this is not just a fight for America, but also for a secure Pakistan.
The obvious first step would be to create a comprehensive U.S. strategy toward Pakistan. But a report released two weeks ago by the Government Accountability Office shows that this Administration has failed to create any comprehensive, interagency plan to tackle the problems of this region. Without a plan, how do we measure our performance in meeting objectives? Without a plan, how do we assure the American people that their taxpayer dollars are being put to good use? Without a plan, we make ourselves susceptible to agencies working at cross-purposes with each other.
And we are now seeing signs of just these dangers coming to fruition. Yesterday the GAO released proof that the funds doled out by our government to support the fight against extremism in the region have been subject to little to no internal oversight. For example, why is the U.S. government being asked to reimburse Pakistan for air defense radar maintenance? Al Qaeda is not known to have an air force, and the purpose of these funds is to support the fight against extremists -- not to boost Pakistan’s conventional warfare capability. This calls into question not just the value this Administration has put on these tax dollars but the effectiveness of what they are doing to keep us safe.
It’s time we learn from our government’s mistakes and move forward. Bringing stability and growth to Pakistan, winning in Afghanistan, and fulfilling vital U.S. national security goals are all at stake. The democratic institutions of Pakistan are our allies, and it is only through our support for these institutions that we will ultimately serve the Pakistani people and gain their cooperation in our mutual fight against extremism.