Along with a deep recession, President Bush is bequeathing his successor a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan - but there are positive signs across the border in Pakistan.
Pakistan's new civilian government and military high command are at
last taking steps to attack the safe havens that Islamic militants use
to menace Afghanistan, the United States
and Pakistan itself. "We have a tribal awakening program whereby the
tribes are being mobilized to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban,"
Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, told me.
"The Pakistani army has committed itself, especially in an area called
Bajur, which borders Kunar Province in Afghanistan, which has been a
stronghold for al Qaeda.
"And, we have used our air force for the first time, thereby
diminishing the need for America to come into the Pakistani side and
State Department officials confirm the antiterrorist effort being mounted by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari
and Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq Kiyani is "much more serious than ever
before," though they - along with Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike
Mullen - say the effort has to be sustained, and a lot more needs to be
Mr. Haqqani, a former professor at Boston University and close
adviser to assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and now to
Mr. Zardari, her widowed husband, is currently appealing for
international aid to bolster the Pakistani economy.
"If AGI is deserving of a bailout, then surely strategically located
Pakistan deserves a bailout," he said. "And [Pakistan's] is not going
to be as large as some of the corporate and banking bailouts currently
being worked out."
With its reserves bled dry by former President Pervez Musharraf, who
used government money to keep fuel prices low as part of an effort to
keep himself in power, Pakistan is seeking $10 billion to $12 billion
in guarantees from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, United
States, China and Gulf Arabs to tide it over. The United States is
helping with an IMF plan - likely to be $5 billion to $10 billion, a
State Department official said - and Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice has tried to form a "Friends of Pakistan" consortium but so far
has gotten only "promises, not pledges or numbers."
What Pakistan is trying to do, Mr. Haqqani said, is "fight a war and
restructure an economy simultaneously. It's not easily done." State
Department officials give Mr. Zadari and Mr. Haqqani credit for
dedicating themselves to fighting Islamic extremism even though
cooperation with the United States remains unpopular in Pakistan.
U.S. officials also acknowledge that Mr. Zardari and Mr. Kiyani have
taken steps to reform Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, thought
to be riddled with pro-Taliban elements, and to repair previously tense
relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. And they give Mr. Kiyani
credit for stationing an additional 10,000 troops in tribal areas along
the Afghan border and stepping up military operations against
At a breakfast with reporters last week, Adm. Mullen said "the
recent changeout" at ISI was "encouraging." It involved replacing the
agency's chief, closing its "political cell" and ousting four
department heads, including the chief of its operations section,
accused by the CIA of involvement in the August bombing of the Indian
Embassy in Afghanistan.
U.S. intelligence officials have told the Pakistanis that ISI agents
also helped Islamic extremists assassinate Mrs. Bhutto. Mr. Zardari
declared in a New York Times interview last month that he was dedicated
to fighting terrorists "because they are a cancer to my society, not
only because of my wife." But he acknowledged, "It is my revenge."
Mr. Zardari's allies have mounted a huge "It's Our War" public
relations campaign designed to win popular support for antiterror
policies - and it was doubtless assisted by the Sept. 20 suicide bomb
that destroyed the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, killing more than 60
Possibly the government's most significant step is organization of
tribal "awakening" militias akin to those established among Sunnis in
Iraq, to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Previously, tribal leaders were bribed and intimidated by militants,
but some have turned against them in reaction to their extremism and
brutality - and also because the Pakistani government is now paying
In retaliation, a terrorist bomb killed 40 tribal elders at a
meeting last week. Mr. Haqqani told me, "The more we hit them, the more
they are likely to fight back and hit us in our cities."
The questions U.S. State and Defense Department officials ask
concern Pakistan's ability and willingness to carry on the antiterror
fight over the long run. "Is this a surge or a sustained effort?" one
official asked. Adm. Mullen said, for example, that the Pakistani
military needs to shift its entire emphasis from conventional conflict
with India to counterinsurgency against militants, which the United
States is assisting.
The stakes could not be higher. As Adm. Mullen warned - echoing
reports of a forthcoming National Intelligence Estimate - "the trends
across the board (in Afghanistan) are not going in the right
Much of the Afghan trouble lies with dysfunction and corruption in
the Afghan government, too few and badly coordinated NATO forces and a
booming opium trade.
But the terrorist safe haven in Pakistan is a crucial problem, too. Pakistan is trying to address it, but it needs help.
Congress could play its part by passing legislation sponsored by
Sens. Joseph Biden, Delaware Democrat, and Dick Lugar, Indiana
Republican, to provide $1.5 billion a year in economic aid. Endorsed by
both presidential candidates, the legislation was approved by the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But it was never voted upon by the
full Senate, and no appropriation has even been introduced in the
The next president certainly will put more forces into Afghanistan.
But as long as Congress is spending zillions on bailouts and stimuli,
it ought to be able to come up with a billion for strategic Pakistan.