It cannot be emphasized enough that the situation in Pakistan is reaching dangerous and disastrous levels–a development that is raising appropriately passionate expressions of alarm. The options are horrible; either the Pakistani government gets incredibly tough with the Taliban, thereby precipitating an immensely bloody and violent conflict, or the Taliban will capture Islamabad, and gain significant control over a country with nuclear weapons. Of course, it goes without saying that getting tough with the Taliban is preferable to having the Taliban run wild over the Pakistani government, but no one should pretend that the choices facing Asif Ali Zardari are pleasant.
Speaking of the Pakistani president and his government, they have come off looking quite bad as a consequence of the Taliban’s incursion into Pakistan, haven’t they? Conceding the Swat Valley to the Taliban sent shockwaves through the region and likely caused a lot of upset stomachs at the White House, the Pentagon, and Foggy Bottom, but at least at that point, there was hope that the Taliban would be confined to the Valley and that the Pakistani military could rally and take back territory from the Taliban. That plan has failed, however, in the short term, and not only has the current government lost credibility in its own country, it has likely lost credibility in the United States as well.
All of this means that we are going to have to get even more involved in fighting the Pakistani government’s battles, at least in the short term. Sure, Pakistan could take the Taliban on by itself if its leadership got its act together quickly, but who believes that they will? The United States is the only force in the region that will be able to turn the tide quickly against the Taliban, which means that there will be a lot more Predator drones used in strikes against Taliban positions. The downside is that this involvement will make the Pakistani government look like a stooge of Washington, which may help make the Taliban case against it. That probably cannot be helped, and it is a chance we will have to take if we want to preserve Pakistan as a nation-state against the Taliban assault. But it is a useful, if depressing reminder that there is no clean or easy way out of this mess.