Pakistan moves up US priority list
The terror attacks in India next door have emphasized the instability in the region.
Much as the 9/11 terror attacks quickly focused the Bush administration on its relations with Islamabad, last week's terrorist assault on Mumbai (formerly Bombay) only elevates the central preoccupation that Pakistan poses for President-elect Obama.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Already, the deteriorating stability of the world's only Muslim-majority nuclear power has figured in virtually every aspect of the incoming administration's national-security portfolio: from the war in Afghanistan, which is on Pakistan's western flank, to relations with nuclear rival India. If anything, the Mumbai attacks and the growing evidence of involvement by Pakistan-based militants will raise the urgency of developing a new approach to the Pakistan problem.
"If there's any silver lining out of this, it may be that Pakistan moves to the top of the next administration's urgent list," says Daniel Markey, a former State Department expert on South Asia now at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. Only perhaps after Iraq, Pakistan "outweighs the other challenges [because it] poses the most significant threat of global terrorism," he adds.
The stepped-up attention to Pakistan is expected to take a new direction under the Obama administration, with a focus on development and civilian-institution-building projects supplanting the Bush administration's multibillion-dollar relationship with the military-led government of the former president, Pervez Musharraf. Vice President-elect Joseph Biden in particular has advocated, from his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a threefold increase in aid to fund a new long-term program aimed at weaning Pakistan's more restive regions from militant control.
The redirection of emphasis would seem to mirror the outlook of Pakistan's new civilian president, Asif Ali Zardari, who recently characterized the battle against the country's Taliban and other militant groups as a "war ... to win the hearts and minds of the people."
But if such a program is to get off the ground, rising India-Pakistan tensions after the Mumbai attacks will have to be addressed first. Doing so could further two aims: avoiding a show of force by the Pakistani military that could hobble or even topple the country's extremely weak civilian government, and keeping Pakistan from directing attention away from its nascent antimilitant effort along the border with Afghanistan toward the border with India.