Plan B

April 2nd, 2009

The biggest security threat to the United States is not Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea or even Iran. It’s Pakistan.

A nuclear-armed state, Pakistan is plagued by political instability, which has allowed members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, driven out of Afghanistan by U.S. forces, to form strongholds along Pakistan’s western border.

Both the Pakistani government and military have been unable to contain them. U.S. forces have tried to fill the void with unmanned aerial attacks on suspected terrorist targets, but the resulting number of innocent casualties has only increased public sympathy for the terrorists and delegitimized the sovereignty of the Pakistani government.

Recently, escalating civil unrest caused the government to cut a deal with Taliban fighters in Swat Valley. The deal, which gave the Taliban control over the area in return for a cease fire, signifies a desperate attempt to achieve peace and will only give the terrorists a secure position to plan future attacks.

What’s even more disturbing is the recent discovery that members of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, have been secretly working with Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. This type of relationship could allow one of Pakistan’s nuclear warheads to end up in the hands of a terrorist.

While our nuclear arsenal is large enough to deter any state – even rogue states like Iran and North Korea – from using nuclear weapons on us or our allies, it can’t deter terrorist organizations, which embed themselves among civilians or hide in lawless, remote areas.

That’s why a terrorist group with a nuclear warhead poses the greatest danger to the United States. While some point to Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism, as the likely source of a nuclear terrorist attack, we should be more concerned with Pakistan. First of all, at least for the time being, Iran does not have nuclear weapons. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the terrorist organizations Iran supports – Hezbollah and Hamas – are only concerned with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not with attacking the United States.

The insurgents in Pakistan, however, are the religiously motivated terrorist groups responsible for the attacks on 9/11, Mumbai and many others.

While these groups are also making a comeback in Afghanistan, the absence of nuclear weapons there, coupled with the presence of U.S. troops, makes it less of a threat than Pakistan.

Although Obama plans to continue the unmanned aerial strikes, he has stated that he will not send troops into Pakistan. Instead, he wants to significantly increase U.S. military and economic aid to Pakistan and to make this aid subject to results. This strategy will impose an element of accountability on Pakistan, which often misuses the military aid to focus on its conflict with neighboring India.

But what if results don’t materialize? Will Obama sit back and watch as more Pakistani villages fall to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, just as Swat Valley has? Or will he decide to bite the bullet and send in troops, risking yet another lengthy war with a Muslim country?

If attempts to prop up Pakistan’s fragile government fail, Obama’s “plan B” should involve direct military intervention. Anything less could lead to a second 9/11, or worse.