The best answer I've heard comes from Henry Crumpton, a former CIA officer who was one of the heroes of the agency's campaign to destroy al-Qaeda's haven in Afghanistan in late 2001. After retiring from the CIA in 2005, he served as the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism. He resigned from State in February and is now a fellow at the EastWest Institute and a private consultant.
Crumpton argues that the United States must take preventive action but that it should do so carefully, through proxies wherever possible. The right model for a Waziristan campaign is the CIA-led operation in Afghanistan, not the U.S. military invasion of Iraq. Teams of CIA officers and Special Forces soldiers are best suited to work with tribal leaders, providing them weapons and money to fight an al-Qaeda network that has implanted itself brutally in Waziristan through the assassination of more than 100 tribal leaders during the past six years. It would be better to conduct such operations jointly with Pakistan, but if the government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf can't or won't cooperate, the United States should be prepared to go it alone, Crumpton argues.
Crumpton proposed a detailed plan last year for rolling up these sanctuaries, which he called the Regional Strategic Initiative. It would combine economic assistance and paramilitary operations in a broad counterinsurgency campaign. In Waziristan, U.S. and Pakistani operatives would give tribal warlords guns and money, to be sure, but they would coordinate this covert action with economic aid to help tribal leaders operate their local stone quarries more efficiently, say, or install windmills and solar panels to generate electricity for their remote mountain villages.
I know...installing solar panels sounds like a really, really goofy way to battle al Qaeda. But it's not as ridiculous as it sounds. We've seen in Iraq that al Qaeda is more than capable of overplaying it's hand and offending it's hosts, and there may be some of that in Waziristan. Splitting al Qaeda from the people that aid and assist them is the best way to put pressure on al Qaeda, and when it's a close issue, sometimes a little economic aid can go a long way. Overall though Crumpton's plan is more reasonable because he acknowledges the limitations of our power in Pakistan, and that we must tread lightly and carefullly if we're going to tread at all in Waziristan. Covert ops, military and economic aid do not guarantee a solution to the problem, but right now they're the only tools we have at our disposal.