Pakistan is a crucial state in U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan. Unfortunately, militant groups within Pakistan are currently using the state as an “operational safe haven where [they] can plan local, regional and international terrorist attacks,” hindering the U.S.’s endeavors. Al-Qaeda isn’t doing all the work on its own though. Yes, “al-Qaeda aims to destabilize the Pakistani government divert U.S. attention from the fight in Afghanistan and undermine Islamabad’s alliance with the United States,” but there also is mounting evidence that these groups receive assistance and protection from Pakistan’s intelligence service. Pakistan has even had the chutzpah to object to expand American combat operations in southern Afghanistan. Pakistani officials claim that the recent U.S. Marine operation to combat the Taliban in Helmand will force militants across the border into Pakistan, even though Pakistani military officials themselves have publicly admitted that they have not focused on cracking down on the Afghan Taliban leadership in and around Quetta, Pakistan. Before the Pakistanis complain about Taliban foot soldiers crossing from Afghanistan into Pakistan, U.S. officials might ask what they are doing to stop the leadership that provides the weaponry, guidance, financing, and legitimacy to those Taliban insurgents. Still, to this day Pakistan views those Taliban as a partner in supporting its regional interests.
Cooperating with Pakistan in the war on terror is a continual struggle but also absolutely necessary. Not only does this Pakistan/militant-group relationship inhibit our ability to fight the insurgency in Afghanistan, it threatens the viability and long-term survivability of Pakistan itself, a nuclear-capable state. How can the U.S. stabilize Pakistan? As Lisa Curtis, Senior Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, has stated, the U.S. needs to condition its military aid to Pakistan to firm up their policies toward terrorism. Allowing Pakistan to continue to rely on zero-sum regional security calculations only fuels religious extremism and terrorism. Moreover, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship will become increasingly strained if Pakistan doesn’t cut off its connection with the militant extremist groups. Therefore, the U.S. must convince Pakistan to break these links, while providing assurances that the U.S. will not allow Pakistan’s core national security interests to suffer in the region.
Complete removal of the radical training camps in Pakistan should be pursued as well. President Obama said the United States has made a “lasting commitment [that we] will not waver” in efforts to defeat extremists and support both the Pakistani and Afghan governments. He needs to stay on course and take this critical issue head on. Without the cooperation of Pakistan, success in Afghanistan will not be possible.