On Saturday, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari addressed Parliament in a wide-ranging speech about the future of Pakistan’s domestic politics and international relations. He said Pakistan would use a strong hand against terrorists planning foreign attacks from bases on Pakistani soil, but added that he would “not tolerate the violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity by any power in the name of combating terrorism.” According to the New York Times, this last stipulation was “broadly greeted by legislators, who loudly thumped on their desks to show their support.”
Speaking of loud thumps: hours later, 60 people were killed and 250 were wounded when a dump truck loaded with explosives crashed the gate of the Islamabad Marriott. If Islamabad wants to go on thinking their biggest national security problem is the occasional American incursion into the country’s tribal regions, they’re free to do so, but there’s no compelling reason for the U.S. to stop killing America’s enemies (and Pakistan’s internal saboteurs) because we’re stuck, yet again, with a feckless “partner” in the War on Terror. And if you think attacks such as this one are going to make Islamabad change its tune, consider that Zardari went on the radio afterward to give the obligatory condemnation of “cowardly” acts, and in so doing reiterated his firm stance against American operations in the tribal regions. In fact, according to the Telegraph’s Isambard Wilkinson,
public reaction to the bomb attack on the hotel was significant in that it did not roundly condemn the militants but reflected widespread ennui with America’s military policy in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The story goes that after 9/11, State Department official Richard Armitage told Pervez Musharaf that if Pakistan refused to cooperate with the U.S., it should “be prepared to go back to the stone age.” It was taken as a threat, but in truth, it works just as well as a non-interested prediction. If Islamabad wants to demonize the U.S. while al Qaeda makes in-roads into Pakistan, there will be more Marriotts to come. That’s their choice.
But America does not have a choice. We can’t lose in Afghanistan. It was the precipitous military withdrawals of the eighties and nineties that convinced terrorists groups of the U.S.’s vulnerability in the first place. The Iraq War has gone a long way in reversing that perception. The Afghanistan War has the potential to either confirm this change or undo it. Simply put, that’s more important to the U.S. than the lukewarm allegiance of Pakistan.