Training of Frontier Corps could restore NWFP population's confidence in civilian govt.: Experts

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Washington, Apr. 18 :As Pakistan works to combat extremism, it should consider adopting policies to deprogram or de-radicalise militants that pose less of a direct security threat in the country's border areas as compared to the Taliban and Al Qaeda, says experts.

Suggesting several measures in which this objective can be achieved, Lisa Curtis of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation and James Phillips, a Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies say there is a need for substantially increasing aid to the North-West Frontier Province and the Tribal Areas in tandem with the Pakistani military and the local provincial administration.

"The focal point of international involvement in the region should be to provide large-scale assistance that gives hope to the people and builds confidence in the ability of Pakistani state authorities to meet their basic needs," both say.

Though American economic assistance has already begun flowing into the tribal border areas with the U.S. Agency for International Development allocating 90 million dollars in fiscal year 2008 for projects in education, health, road-building, and economic growth, to isolate the extremists, Washington should seek to ensure that the aid also bolsters the local ANP-led government and builds the population's confidence in the government, Curtis and Phillips add.

The U.S. should also move forward with legislation that establishes reconstruction opportunity zones to provide duty free access to the U.S. for goods produced in NWFP industrial zones.

These zones can play an integral part in the overall development of the region, providing jobs and economic linkages between the underdeveloped tribal areas and the rest of the country.

Washington should also consider expediting the counter-insurgency training of Pakistan's Frontier Corps.

Both Curtis and Phillips are of the view that the U.S. has been slow with plans to train Pakistani Pashtun paramilitary troops, partly because of a disagreement over the potential benefits of such training programs.

The Frontier Corps is drawn from Pashtun tribes and includes officers from the Pakistan Army.

Given the Frontier Corps' lack of success in confronting terrorists in the FATA and Swat Valley and their ethnic links to the region, many argue that investing in training programs for these troops will be a waste of U.S. resources.

Others argue that the Frontier Corps' Pashtun composition is an asset because the nature of counter-insurgency operations requires troops who are welcomed by the local population, not seen as a foreign occupying force.

While training the Frontier Corps may not seem like the optimal solution, it probably offers the best chance for bolstering Pakistani forces against the extremists and provides an opportunity for the U.S. to build ties to troops that have close links to the region.

Major electoral gains by the secular Pashtun Awami National Party (ANP) over the religious parties in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) in Pakistan's February 18 elections could also foster a political environment that helps to isolate Taliban and al-Qaeda elements along the border, these two experts say.

They see the vote in favour of the ANP as a clear repudiation of extremists' efforts over the past year to push through a strict Islamic agenda.

The recent election victory provides a limited opportunity to roll back the "Talibanization" of the province and extend government control in parts of the semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), they conclude.

ANI

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