U.S. shift poses risk to Pakistan

Declan Walsh writes: From multibillion-dollar military aid to stealthy and secretive drone strikes, Pakistan, perhaps even more than Afghanistan, has been the central focus of America’s 12-year war on Islamist militancy.

Now, as President Obama’s landmark policy speech on Thursday made clear, all of that is changing. Drone strikes are dwindling, the war in Afghanistan is drawing to a close and the battle against Al Qaeda is receding.

Pakistani leaders who have long demanded an American exit from their region may get their wish, but a broader disengagement is also likely to diminish the financing, prestige and political importance Pakistan held as a crucial player in global counterterrorism efforts, and could upset its internal stability.

The diminution of the drone campaign may ease a major point of friction between Pakistan and the West, but the tribal belt in northwestern Pakistan, where about 360 drone strikes have landed in the past decade, remains a hotbed of Islamist militancy, largely outside government control. Although many senior leaders of Al Qaeda sheltering there have been felled by C.I.A. missiles, they have been largely replaced by committed Pakistani jihadists with ties that span the border with Afghanistan.

With American combat troops leaving Afghanistan in 2014, and the drone campaign already winding down in Pakistan, analysts fear that unless the Pakistani Army can assert itself conclusively, the tribal region could be plunged into deeper chaos. [Continue reading…]

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