- By Dov ZakheimDov Zakheim is the former Under Secretary of Defense.
By Dov Zakheim
The momentum of Pakistani instability appears to be accelerating: Six months ago there was no evidence that the Taliban would break out of its mountain hideaways in the Northwest Frontier Province to move within 60 miles of Islamabad. While the Pakistani Army may finally have woken up to the threat, the loyalties of its rank and file are far from clear. In short, Pakistan in 2009 is looking more and more like Iran thirty years earlier, when the seemingly impregnable Shah fell in the face of hostile demonstrations and a passive army.
The United States cannot afford to stand by and let Pakistan either fall to the Taliban or fragment in some way. Yet it would be foolhardy to try to prop up any Pakistani government, be it the current Zardari regime, or as recent press reporting indicates, the opposition leader Nawaz Sharif. It was the last Sharif government whose incompetence and corruption prompted the 1999 military coup led by Pervez Musharraf. Sharif’s government also conducted Pakistan’s first nuclear test, continued the long-time support of A.Q. Khan’s activities, and launched the first Kargil War. Why a new Sharif government would be more reliable or competent than its predecessor is not at all clear. Furthermore, American efforts to promote particular governments have not exactly been overwhelmingly successful in recent years, including in Pakistan itself. Surely one can ask if Pakistan is better off today under Zardari than it was under Musharraf.
Instead of trying to play politics in Islamabad, the United States should employ its forces to support those of Pakistan’s military. Only in this manner can there be some assurance that Pakistani morale will not collapse, and that the Taliban insurrection can be crushed. The Pakistani military can be ruthless, and nothing else will do in dealing with the Taliban. American tactics and firepower can back up that ruthlessness.
It might be argued that the United States should try to "take out" Pakistan’s nuclear capability. In so doing, it would certainly ensure that the Pakistani military would turn on the United States and come to terms with the Taliban. The United States must fight alongside Pakistan’s army, not against it.
Now is not the time for squeamishness or political correctness. Do-gooders no doubt will howl at the sight of the collateral damage that would inevitably result if American units enable Pakistani forces to pulverize Taliban strongholds. The Zardari government may howl that America has sidestepped it by going directly to the military.
Let them all howl. A nuclear armed Pakistan, or even worse, a fragmented country whose nuclear weapons are up for grabs, would result in far more cries of anguish by far more people than anything that might result from the elimination of the Taliban threat. Time is running out. The United States must act now.