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April 23rd, 2009
12:01 AM ET

Mortal threat – to Pakistan and to the U.S.

A soldier on guard on a street in Quetta, Pakistan, earlier in April.

A soldier on guard on a street in Quetta, Pakistan, earlier in April.

Jill Dougherty | Bio
Foreign Affairs Correspondent

The Pakistan government thought it would work: allow hardline Islamic groups to rule tribal areas, impose strict sharia law and, in return, the Taliban would declare a ceasefire. They tried it in the Swat Valley but the militants weren't satisfied, and widened their grasp, taking over more villages and moving within 60 miles of the capital Islamabad.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls Pakistan's deal "abdicating" to those groups and says the policy "poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world."

"I think that we cannot underscore the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan," she says, "by the continuing advances, now within hours of Islamabad, that are being made by a loosely confederated group of terrorists and others who are seeking the overthrow of the Pakistani state, which as we all know, is a nuclear-armed state."

No one is predicting it will happen, but there is a possible worst-case scenario: militants strengthen, overthrow the government, and take control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. On Capitol Hill, Clinton heard it from California Congressman Howard Berman: "We can't allow al Qaeda or any other terrorist group that threatens our national security, to operate with impunity in the tribal regions. Nor can we permit the Pakistani state and its nuclear arsenal to be taken over by the Taliban or any other radical groups."

The Obama administration knows the fragility of president Asif Ali Zadari's government and wants to provide $1.5 billion on top of the $11 billion in U.S. money given to Pakistan since 9/11. But with the Pakistani army's inability – or reluctance – to take on the militant groups, this could be a harder case to make with Congress and the administration is threatening to condition the additional funds on how successfully Pakistan fights terrorism.

"We do think that there need to be the right kind of conditions," Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday. "You know it is a little bit like the Goldilocks story. I mean if they are too weak we don't get changes. If they are too strong we get a backlash. So we are trying to figure out what is the area that will influence behavior and produce results. We are creating measure of performance that we will share with the Congress so you and we can follow whether we are getting the positive outcomes we are attempting to achieve."

In her four-hour marathon before the House, Clinton hopscotched across the world map, from Cuba to Fiji to Afghanistan, with repeated questions about interrogations of terror suspects and abortion. But her comments on Pakistan were some of the toughest.

The Obama administration's concern over Pakistan's instability seems to be growing. U.S. officials, including president Obama's special envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, have been shuttling in and out of Pakistan on a regular basis, seemingly to no avail.

Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, tells CNN's Wolf Blitzer that the government and people of Pakistan generally agree that there is a threat of terrorism in the country, but "the only question is – is the recent development in Swat an existential threat to Pakistan and it's not."

Secretary Clinton is upping the pressure on the Pakistani government: "Not only do the Pakistani government officials but the Pakistani people and the Pakistani Diaspora many of whom are extremely successful Americans here in academia, business, the professions and so much else, need to speak out forcefully against a policy that is ceding more and more territory to the insurgents, to the Taliban, to al-Qaeda, to the allies that are in this terrorist syndicate."

soundoff (One Response)
  1. Terry, TX

    What diplomacy is not going to work in Pakistan...wait the UN could send a letter of condemnation....no Russia and China wouldn't sign it....no haven't they heard Obama is going after Bush and Cheney...we could always send NATO to their coast and they will catch the bad guys and then release them of course...goodness....just wringing my hands here...not a mortal threat like 9/11....don't want to go there Barack and Hillary...might end up in jail a decade later...what to do...what to do. Didn't Pakistan get the memo of hope and change...didn't he give them money...didn't he bow enough to Muslims. What is it going to take?

    Why don't we let the environmentalist in the EPA, PETA, Hillary, Holder, Emmanuel, ACLU, ACORN, LULAC, Bill Ayers, and the black caucus,..... go and handle this crisis...they need to be our boots on the ground....with Janet Napitalano leading the group...right in front....
    .
    Since our current administration doesn't trust our honorable CIA and FBI and National Guard and Border Agents...and our honorable soldiers and the last honorable president... protecting our Nation. So you guys go handle it...handle it...no soldiers for you...I like the soup Nazi on Seinfield..sorry.

    April 23, 2009 at 10:49 am |