What can the United States do about the sanctuary and support that the Taliban and Al Qaeda have in Pakistan's tribal areas? Washington increasingly recognizes that inaction will jeopardize its goals for Afghanistan. But the debate has only just begun over a new policy -- and the price for that policy the United States is prepared to pay. Here are some experts' views, drawn from their interviews for "Return of the Taliban."
Let me pose a hypothetical question. Suppose that the Taliban were in Iran and were constantly making roads back and forth into Afghanistan, killing Afghans, killing Americans, killing Canadians, killing British and others, and the Iranian government said: "Oh, we have no control over it. I'm sorry. We can't stop it. It's too difficult for us." Would we say they were our number one ally in the war on terror? I don't think so.
We're applying a tremendously different standard of evidence to those two countries. It's not as if Iran is in favor of Al Qaeda and Pakistan is against it. No, Iran is much more against Al Qaeda than Pakistan is. There's a reason that Pakistan is the government that has arrested the most Al Qaeda people. It's because the Al Qaeda people are in Pakistan because it is the most hospitable country in the world for Al Qaeda.
Well, what would be reasonable, in your view, to ask of them?
I think what we can ask of them, what the U.S military believes they are capable of doing, is seriously disrupting the command and control of the Taliban in Quetta by taking down the Quetta shura [Taliban council]. ...
I should also note people underestimate the economic component of this war. Afghanistan is one of the four or five absolutely poorest countries in the world. The tribal territories of Pakistan are on the same level as the poorest areas of Afghanistan. They are overpopulated. There is no employment. The incomes come from smuggling and participating in the war. There are virtually no schools except for the madrassas that are these engines for turning out fighters for the jihad. So we need to have a whole package -- political, economic -- both incentives and pressure to try to change that situation along the border.
I cannot really overstate how important the stakes are. A U.S. military leader in Afghanistan said to me just last week that if we do not find a way to stabilize the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the United States will always be at risk. ...
But ... they have had five years to put schools into those areas, to open them up to the Awami National Party or to do a whole host of things that you might suggest that need to be done now. But South Waziristan is virtually in control of the local Taliban; Quetta is, as you say, full of Taliban; Peshawar's full of Al Qaeda.
Well, the Pakistan government had no incentive to undertake any such changes. They weren't subject to any serious pressure. They were not made any serious offers. Now, I don't think the offers would work without the pressure.
They get a $3 billion deal and F-16s.
Yeah, without doing anything. They got a $3 billion deal and F-16s because they have kept their nuclear weapons under control. They de-escalated in Kashmir so as to reduce the risk of a nuclear confrontation. They finally, reluctantly, put some limits on the A.Q. Khan network, and they have been very helpful in finding the leadership of Al Qaeda when we provide them with intelligence information. So they have delivered on that, but they haven't delivered on the Taliban. ...
Suppose you threaten them with something severe, like limiting the military supply relationship in ways that would seriously hurt them; then they won't say anything. But suddenly you find a lot of trails to Al Qaeda, people go blank. Suddenly they're not helping you so much. So what do you do?
There are some American military officers who argue that the United States is being too passive in its relationship with Musharraf; that if we mean what we say about no sanctuaries for Al Qaeda, that we ought to deploy American forces along the frontier on Pakistani ground; that American forces ought to go into Waziristan; the American forces ought to go into Bajaur more openly. If the Pakistanis can't do it, these officers argue, then the United States should.
So why don't we?
It may come. But the deployment of an American military on the ground in the tribal areas would be an enormously costly event. Certainly the United States would pay a price in casualties, but perhaps more significantly, Musharraf's credibility as the president of Pakistan would be undermined. The insurgencies that he faces in Baluchistan and along the frontiers would be inflamed, and the very tenuous political alliances that he has built to try to hold Pakistan together would be threatened. Now, there's enormous amounts of risk involved. There are also risks involved in doing nothing.
One observation that's easy to make is that before you took the risks and paid the prices that would be required in an American incursion into the tribal areas, you would wish to be convinced that your management of the alliance with Musharraf was producing the best possible result short of the deployment of American troops. I think the evidence is that the American management of this relationship is not producing the best possible result.
It is far too accommodating of Musharraf's position. It has not been successful in negotiating the balance of carrots and sticks that has been present in American-Pakistani relations for 30 years.
Look, Musharraf gets up every morning, and he thinks about how to manage his relationship with the United States. It's crucial to him. It's the source of weaponry that will help Pakistan retain its independence against India. It's the source of economic and structural support that undergirds Pakistan's 6 percent economic growth rates. It's everything.
The United States does not get up every morning thinking about how to manage its relationship with Musharraf more successfully. … Pakistan does not receive the kind of sustained, intense attention in American diplomacy, in American statecraft, that the United States receives from Pakistan.
But if the battle in Afghanistan cannot be won without addressing the sanctuaries in Pakistan, then what's the point?
Well, as the situation on the ground in Afghanistan deteriorates and as it becomes increasingly obvious to American commanders in Afghanistan that their struggles against the Taliban are rooted in these problems in Pakistan, a debate will rise inside the American system about new approaches to the problems in Pakistan.
The trouble is the problems are really difficult. There is no obvious button to push. And even as the situation in Afghanistan deteriorates, Pakistan is not anywhere near the first priority in American foreign policy. …
I find myself occasionally thinking about an e-mail that [counterterrorism expert] Richard Clarke wrote to [then-National Security Adviser] Condi Rice just before the Sept. 11 attacks, in which, fearing that such an event was coming, he implored her: Imagine a day when hundreds of Americans lay dead in an Al Qaeda attack, and ask yourself, what would you do in the aftermath of such an attack, and then do it now.
You can ask the same question about the failed state that's emerging in western Pakistan. The next attack against the United States may well have roots in this failed state or emerging failed state. What [are] the United States and its allies going to do about this problem then, and why isn't it being addressed now? …
The United States is beginning to recognize that its project in Afghanistan will fail unless it addresses the sanctuary and support that the Taliban enjoys in Pakistan. But the United States has not yet reached the point where it knows what kind of a new policy it is prepared to carry out in Pakistan and what price for that policy it's willing to pay.
There's a debate: Should we be tougher on Pakistan and risk destabilizing Musharraf, or are we being too soft on him?
Well, I think it is a futile debate. You be tougher on Pakistan to get what?
To get action against Taliban sanctuaries and Al Qaeda sanctuaries.
We are going to act in our own national interest. We do not respond to pressure. We are going to do exactly what is in our national interest. The U.S. national interest and our national interest, at this time, is convergent.
I asked Musharraf the question, what was in it for him? He lost 600, 700 men in tribal areas. What was in it? He didn't say that we shared common interests. What he said was that he received money from the U.S. He was getting F-16s; that it helped the economy. He put it in terms of money.
Well, on the contrary. Of course there is the aspect of U.S. assistance to Pakistan. That's in the national interest, right? It's in the national interest to be supported by the U.S.
Well, then it's in your national interest, by extension, to keep the pot on the boil, as they say, to keep the war on terror going, because once it's over with, you don't get any more money.
No. We risk destabilizing our own country. Do you think that we are so stupid that we will not act to suppress extremism and terrorism which affects the stability of our country to get a few million dollars?
I don't know.
No. … We are getting security. And it's not in our interest to have an unstable Afghanistan. It's not in our interest to have extremists run around and terrorists in our presence.