Viewed by the United States and its allies as one of the most dangerous places on earth—and a country that provides a safe haven for leaders of al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other militant movements—it’s little wonder that Pakistan has been garnering so much US attention.
Some of the most serious international terrorist plots in recent years have been traced back to Pakistan, including one revealed just this month involving the training of terrorists in Pakistan to conduct Mumbai-style attacks on civilian targets in Western European cities. Meanwhile, the surprising reach of the Pakistani Taliban became apparent in May when they tried unsuccessfully to use US citizen Faisal Shahzad to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square.
So it’s not surprising that last week saw the third ministerial-level US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue in just seven months, following a March 24 session in Washington and a July 15 session in Islamabad. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Pakistan Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi chaired the latest session, which marked among other things a welcome shift in tone and US recognition of Pakistan’s efforts so far.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Since yielding to a US ultimatum in September 2001 to ally itself with Washington against al-Qaeda in return for considerable economic and military aid, the Islamabad government has engaged in a comprehensive campaign against foreign militants on its soil. Yet the combination of the US-led war against the Afghan Taliban (which since 9/11 has re-established its core support operations in Pakistan) and the escalating combat on Pakistani territory have helped give rise to domestically-focused terrorist movements that have been conducting a vicious campaign of suicide bombings throughout Pakistan.
The threat to Pakistan’s stability has been compounded by local insurgencies in the west of the country that have inflicted numerous casualties on the Pakistani army, which remains better suited for fighting a war with India than a counterinsurgency campaign. Meanwhile, the Islamabad government, whether under military or civilian rule, has sought to work out a formal or de facto truce with the insurgents.
But after publicly rebuking the Pakistanis last year for appeasing domestic militants, Obama administration officials have now demonstrated a welcome shift in tone. The clearest evidence is the praise it has given the Pakistani military and its government for engaging in the fight against domestic and violent extremists at the cost of thousands of Pakistanis killed or wounded.
‘One thing that is not often reported enough is that the United States has no stronger partner than Pakistan in fighting the mutual threat we face from extremism,’ Clinton said at a joint news conference with Qureshi. ‘And the cooperation is very deep and very broad.’