There is nothing the Pakistani government would like more than a precipitous American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) will jump at the chance to fill the vacuum, much as Iran’s Qods Force and associated militias moved to fill the space in Iraq left by the departing U.S. presence.
Pakistani leaders will never stop supporting the Taliban. After the 1971 secession of Bangladesh, the ISI concluded that radical interpretations of Islam were all that could hold the relatively artificial nation of Pakistan together. The rise of ethnic identity (well, at least among the non-Punjabis) risked creating fissures which could tear the country apart. Perhaps today their paranoia does not match with the reality, but old habits die hard.
After the Pakistani government signed a deal with the Pakistani Taliban to allow the Taliban to administer Islamic law in certain tribal districts, Taliban presence in the neighboring Swat district nearly doubled. The Pakistani Army responded when a Taliban column marched on Buner, just 60 miles from Islamabad but, just as they sheltered Usama Bin Laden, the ISI continues to treat the Pakistani Taliban with kid gloves.
The situation is becoming more dangerous. According to the Pakistani press, the Pakistani Taliban are increasingly threatening Pakistan’s nuclear sites. According to Pakistan’s Express Tribune:
LAHORE. It could be the first-ever security threat to a nuclear facility in Pakistan, and the Army and security forces are taking no risks. Following ‘serious’ security threats from the homegrown Taliban, the Army and Punjab police have deployed heavy forces at one of Pakistan’s largest nuclear facilities in Dera Ghazi Khan (DG Khan), credible sources told The Express Tribune. Besides the deployment inside and around the nuclear installation, three divisions in South Punjab have also been asked to launch a crackdown against banned outfits, sources added. “DG Khan houses one of the largest nuclear facilities in the country, and has faced the first-ever serious security threat from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP),” said a high ranking military officer currently serving at the installation.
The U.S. election may revolve on the economy, but sometimes problems ignored metastasize. An emboldened Pakistan will be detrimental to U.S. interests. Abandoning the fight against Islamist radicalism is not an option, nor is allowing state failure in Pakistan. President Obama and Governor Romney may not want to talk Pakistan, but Pakistan might easily provide the crisis which will define Obama’s next term or the next presidency. It would be good to hear a real debate on how to address and, if possible, head off grave and growing threats to Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure.