According to the AFP, “A small contingent of U.S. military instructors have begun a training program scheme aimed at turning Pakistan’s Frontier Corps into an effective counter-insurgency force.” The news agency cited a U.S. military official, who told the news agency Thursday, “About 25 U.S. military personnel last week began training Pakistani counterparts at a location in Pakistan outside the troubled tribal areas where the Frontier Corps operates.” He emphasized that the Americans will not directly train the Frontier Corps, but their Pakistani army instructors, noting that the aim is “basically to train the Frontier Corps in counter-insurgency warfare to make them more effective in the tribal areas.” [Image from Dawn]
The “politically sensitive” program has been stalled for months by negotiations between the U.S. and Pakistani military. Although the AFP reported that the U.S. official “attributed the delay to difficulties in getting the facilities needed to conduct the training,” recent tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan may also have played a part. According to the Washington Post yesterday, “Zardari and the government of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani have been at pains to balance their support of U.S. objectives with a recognition of widespread Pakistani distrust of the United States — among the population as well as the political class.” Such distrust has been intensified with increasing U.S. air strikes on Pakistani soil. Just yesterday, news agencies reported that a U.S. missile attack hit a Pakistani madrassa [reportedly set up a Pakistani Taliban commander] in North Waziristan, killing eight students.
BBC News reported that yesterday’s attack came just “hours after the Pakistani parliament unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the government to defend its sovereignty and expel foreign fighters from the region.” An editorial in Pakistan’s Daily Times called the resolution, “an important moment in Pakistan’s history in so far as the politicians did not sabotage the session as they appeared to indicate earlier, but agreed to make an effort to arrive at a consensus over the crisis of terrorism in Pakistan.” According to Bloomberg, “Lawmakers approved a resolution…that called for a review of Pakistan’s counterterrorism strategy while saying that a dialogue with militants must be a ‘principal instrument’ toward managing and resolving conflicts.” The news agency added, “Pakistan has called on the U.S. to stop carrying out unilateral air strikes and raids into its territory to attack suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda bases, saying such moves hamper its efforts to combat extremists.”
Other notable figures in Pakistan have also voiced their increasing concern over the U.S. presence in the country. On Thursday, cricketer-turned-politician [and philanthropist] Imran Khan also called for dialogue with Pakistani militants, asserting that “the way the United States was trying to tackle extremism was like fighting ‘fire with gasoline’ and that the aerial attacks were ‘the worst way to deal’ with the issue. He emphasized, “Unless there’s a change of strategy, in my opinion there’s no victory in sight for the U.S.” Khan also paralleled the current situation to the Vietnam War, noting, “Certainly the biggest casualty out of this is going to be Pakistan… [We are] heading the way Cambodia did during the Vietnam war where Cambodia was accused of sending in insurgents and Cambodia was bombed, destablized and you had the killing fields there.” [Image from the AFP]
The U.S. military training program has therefore been initiated within this atmosphere of distrust and increasing anti-American sentiment. In a recently released Gallup poll, 45% of Pakistanis said they viewed the U.S. forces in Afghanistan as a menace to their country. The fact that the program involves the U.S. indirectly training the Frontier Corps [via Pakistani Army officials] may indicate that the United States at least acknowledges this fact.