William Schwartz

In the war against al-Qaida, all roads lead to the Afghan-Pakistani border. Or at least that’s what Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) should be thinking. Along with their vice presidential candidates and foreign policy advisers, McCain and Obama should be looking at North and South Waziristan and the Khyber Agency as key factors in the war against al-Quaida. What and where are these regions you may ask? Waziristan and the Khyber Agency are geographical regions in northwestern Pakistan on the border of Afghanistan. More importantly, it is where al-Qaida roams freely, much to the chagrin of the American, Afghani and Pakistani governments. These regions are part of the Federally Administered Tribal Regions (FATAs) which have been a headache not only for Pakistan but for the world as well. A brain drain of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism has been brewing in this region for years and the large majority of terrorist attacks, including the recent attacks on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, originate from this mountainous province.

The FATAs are part of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan where terrorism is not the country’s only dilemma-problems in Islamabad have been more prevalent than ever. In just one year, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf suspended the constitution, fired top-level government officials-including the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court-declared emergency rule and resigned from office due to impeachment legislation. Kind of ironic that this guy was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart just one year before this all happened, don’t you think? Now you may be thinking, “Oh, it is just another Islamic country that is on the cusp of becoming a ‘failed-state.’ Who cares?” I’ll tell you who cares and who should care. The U.S. government, Americans, the Middle East and the world should all care. This specific Islamic state has a nuclear weapons arsenal, borders Afghanistan, Iran, India and China and has been a key non-NATO ally to the United States in a volatile region for many years. Maintaining pragmatic relations with Pakistan is essential to the stability of the region and must be continued due to the frailty of the strategically located U.S ally.

Pakistan’s infrastructure is already fragile because of severe economic hardship, government corruption, terrorism and-to add on to the list of frailties-a brand new president. The infancy of Pakistan’s new leadership, headed by President Asif Ali Zardari, has caught the attention of the international community. However, there is no need to question Zardari’s conviction in fighting the war on terror-his wife was Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto twice held office as prime minister of Pakistan, but during a rally last December for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), she was assassinated in a suicide attack linked to Al-Qaida. The U.S. government can take a short breath in knowing they still have a Pakistani ally who is devoted to defeating Al-Qaida. It is Zardari’s duty, along with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, to be proactive and thwart militants in the FATAs that threaten the security of Pakistani, Afghani and American forces. Government corruption has plagued the country for decades and as a country with nuclear weapons, there can be no room for error. There is no room for error, like allowing a certain Pakistani nuclear scientist to sell nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya. Abdul Qadeer Khan, also known as AQ Khan, has recently reneged on his statements in regards to supplying those countries with nuclear information; claiming he was a scapegoat for Musharraf. I think he’s bluffing. Either way, Zardari must crack down on governmental officials and citizens in order to bring stability to his country. He must also crack down on break-off militias that further destabilize Pakistan. The Balochistan Liberation Army, a terrorist faction calling for independence in Pakistan, continues to impede Pakistan’s ability to fight Al-Quaida and establish peace at home. Pakistani military units must also show restraint in relations with the U.S. military and not resort to petty actions like last week’s exchange of fire between Pakistani ground forces and American helicopters. All actors involved in the war on terror must realize the tipping point of this conflict is always just one pull of the trigger away and that trigger could ultimately lead to a mushroom cloud.

The larger topic here is Pakistan’s future and how the next administration will deal with them. The future leader of the United States should keep relations between the United States and Pakistan normal, friendly and frequent. Much like their fellow Islamic countries, Pakistan has had a tumultuous and violent past riddled with military coups, assassinations and frequent political instability that greatly hinder their ability to enforce law and order and bring security to their country. In regards to a multi or unilateral invasion into Pakistan, I say no. Things are already brittle and tender in Islamabad, and doing so would further unite Islamic fundamentalists around the world. We don’t want or need a war on three fronts right now. What we do need, however, is to pressure the Pakistani government to do more in hunting down and defeating Al-Qaida in the Federally Administered Tribal Regions. Direct dialogue and cooperation with Zardari, Gilani and foreign officials will prove to be our tool as contributors in finding public enemy No. 1 and his thugs. However, American foreign policy and its military forces should continue to tread carefully in the mountains of Afghanistan and not underestimate our enemies because we all know the outcome of the Soviet Union when they invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s: complete collapse and dissolution.