On April 30, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy hosted Bruce Riedel and Carlos Pascual to discuss President Barack Obama’s newly introduced strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, which marked the conclusion of an extensive interagency policy review in which Riedel was chairman.
Bruce Riedel began with some historical background on Afghanistan and the region. Just before her murder in December 2007, Riedel reminded his audience, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said, “I now think Al Qaeda can be marching on Islamabad in two to four years.” Today her prophecy seems all too real, according to Riedel.
Riedel made the case that the threat of al Qaeda is much more serious than people thought it was. The mayor of Karachi, a mega city of 18 million, tells Riedel that the Taliban alliance is now threatening to take over his city. In Riedel’s view, the core leadership of al Qaeda is alive and more deadly than ever. Its communications network is far more sophisticated than the intelligence community assumed. A jihadist state in Pakistan is neither imminent nor inevitable, it may not be likely, Riedel said, but it is a real possibility.
Riedel warned that a jihadist Pakistan would be a strategic nightmare for America, South Asia and the world. It would provide al Qaeda and other terrorist groups with the ultimate sanctuary in the worlds’ second largest Muslim state, protected by nuclear weapons, with a global diplomatic presence and Pakistani Diaspora that could be used to support terror. A jihadist takeover would make the NATO mission in Afghanistan increasingly untenable. It would be a direct threat to both Hindu India and Shia Iran, encouraging both to expand and accelerate their own nuclear programs.
Thus, Riedel maintained, it is critical that the United States do what it can now to strengthen the Pakistani moderate center which is resisting the jihadist Frankenstein. Riedel urged the United States Congress to pass the Kerry-Lugar legislation that triples economic aid and the Pentagon’s proposals for increasing counter-insurgency assistance to Pakistan with a minimum of conditionality.
Riedel concluded by saying that trying to legislate changes in Pakistani behavior is a recipe for disaster — as the history of U.S.-Pakistan relations demonstrates — now is the time to support Pakistanis who are ready to resist extremism and jihadism.