Pentagon Wants More Funding For Pakistan Frontier Corps
By Ron Synovitz
November 20, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. military wants to nearly double its funding to train and equip Pakistan's Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force with members who are the same ethnicity as pro-Taliban tribal fighters near the border with Afghanistan.
Pakistan's Frontier Corps is responsible for protecting the country's western regions along its more than 1,500-kilometer porous border with Afghanistan.
With a reported 60,000 paramilitary troops, the force is comprised of 14 units based in the Northwest Frontier Province and 13 units in Baluchistan. The troops operate under the orders of Pakistan's Army Headquarters as well as the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions.
The Pentagon's proposal for more funds calls for a training center to be built in northwestern Pakistan.
It also calls for surveillance centers to be constructed on Pakistan's side of the border with Afghanistan in order to monitor movement by militants. There is a similar post on the Afghan side of the border.
The Pentagon says it also needs the additional money to help purchase equipment for Pakistan's Frontier Corps -- including helmets, bulletproof vests, and night-vision goggles. The plan would not provide weapons or ammunition to Pakistan. That task would be left up to Islamabad.
Altogether, the U.S. Department of Defense has asked to spend $97 million in support of the Pakistani paramilitary force in 2008, nearly double the amount for this year.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says the U.S. military believes it is more effective to work with a paramilitary force like the Frontier Corps within Pakistan's tribal region than with Pakistan's army.
Morrell says the Frontier Corps commands more respect from tribal leaders in the border region than the Pakistani army because the Frontier Corps is recruited from locals who know the region, who have similar language abilities, and who have the most credibility with residents of the tribal areas.
Threat Of Instability
The Pentagon's budget request comes amid political instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan under President Pervez Musharraf and amid increasing U.S. concerns about the spread of Islamic militancy in the tribal areas.
Despite the imposition of emergency rule across Pakistan by Musharraf, violence in the Afghan-Pakistan border region continues to escalate.
The upsurge has some former military officials in Pakistan concerned about the long-term impact of the U.S. proposal.
Mahmood Shah, a retired army brigadier general who also had been in charge of security in Pakistan's tribal regions, tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that U.S. support for Pakistan's Frontier Corps seems uncomfortably similar to the situation in Afghanistan during the 1980s, when the United States used Pakistan as a conduit for support to Afghan mujahedin commanders who were fighting Soviet forces.
"This will have far-reaching negative consequences," Shah says. "In Afghanistan [during the Soviet occupation in 1980s], there was a weak [central] government and the country was occupied by foreign forces. People objected to the formation of armed Afghan resistance groups at that time and voiced concerns that these groups would eventually undermine Pakistan's security. The current situation proves that those concerns were justified."
Shah claims the Pentagon proposal "is not smart thinking." He warns that it could backfire and eventually strengthen renegade militia forces in Pakistan's tribal regions.
"In Pakistani society and state structure, it is very difficult to prop up such structures without the government's help," Shah says. "Even if such armed groups are formed, they will turn into a militia which will greatly contribute to undermine security. Even if it helps in the short term, in the long term such measures will have grave consequences."
There also are concerns among U.S. lawmakers about how long Pakistani troops can continue to battle the pro-Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants who are known to be hiding in the mountainous border region.
Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Washington November 15 that there were no indications that Pakistan's political crisis was jeopardizing the security of the country's nuclear weapons. And he said Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule had not had a negative impact on relations between Pakistani forces and the U.S. military.
Morrell says the Pentagon would not try to proceed with a plan to support Pakistan's Frontier Corps unless there was some degree of confidence in Washington that the results would be fruitful.
Morrell describes the support program as a joint venture with Pakistan's government. Musharraf has said that his government will provide Frontier Corps fighters with tanks and guns so they can take a lead role next year in any fighting within the tribal regions -- allowing Pakistan's army to take a more supporting role.
(RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Najib Aamir contributed to this report from Peshawar, Pakistan)
Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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