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On the Record

U.S. Options Limited in Pakistan

In an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, Bruce Riedel explains why there is “a very serious possibility that the next mass casualty terrorist attack on the United States will be postmarked ‘Pakistan.'”

Jayshree Bajoria, CFR: What kind of consequences do you think Secretary Clinton was talking about in her warning [to Pakistan regarding the event of a successful Pakistan-based terrorist attack in the United States]?

Bruce Riedel: The secretary is right, that there is a very serious possibility that the next mass casualty terrorist attack on the United States will be postmarked “Pakistan.” We narrowly averted that in Times Square just a week ago. A stiff diplomatic demarche is not going to satisfy anyone should that happen. This administration and its predecessor have been pressuring Pakistan for years to shut down completely the jihadist Frankenstein that was created over three decades in Pakistan. This includes al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and a host of other groups. No Pakistani government has yet been willing to take on the entire network of terrorist groups. Secretary Clinton has raised questions about some in the Pakistani government still retaining links to these groups.

But the devil’s in the details here. Pakistan is a country twice the size of California with the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world. Our options to do anything against Pakistan are severely limited. Military options are unattractive; this is a country with nuclear weapons and which is determined to defend itself. Economic sanctions are very limited as well, and one needs to bear in mind that more than three-quarters of the supplies that go to American and NATO forces in Afghanistan come via the port of Karachi in Pakistan. So Pakistan has a lot of leverage on the United States. Clinton is trying to signal to the Pakistanis, let’s not put ourselves into this shoe, take action now so we don’t face this conundrum of problems later on.

Read the full interview at www.cfr.org »

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