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01.02.10

Get Tough with Pakistan

Don’t get distracted by Yemen. The real threat is elsewhere.

America's present focus may be intensely Yemen-oriented—in response to the underwear bomber's links to al Qaeda cadres based in that Arab state—but the Obama administration would err gravely in 2010 if it were to shift its primary, anti-terrorist attention away from Pakistan, without question America's biggest strategic headache.

A nuclear-armed Muslim country with a fragile democratic government, Pakistan is our ostensible ally in the Afghan war against the Taliban and al Qaeda. The problem is, however, that the Pakistani military—which is not under civilian control, and which chafes continually against the democratically elected president, Asif Ali Zardari—wishes for nothing more fervently than the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan. The Obama administration cannot continue to ignore this obscene dance, in which the army of an allied state gives succor to the very enemy that young American soldiers fight daily in bloody battle.

This has to be the year in which the dance ends: The U.S. must demand that the Pakistan Army sever its links with Mullah Omar and the Taliban military leadership. A case in point is the Taliban's Quetta shura, or council, which operates with impunity in the capital of Pakistan's Baluchistan province. The country's generals must also be told that they can no longer protect groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which—in addition to butchering scores of Indians—sought out and killed American and Israeli nationals in Mumbai on November 26, 2008.

The Obama Administration must make aid to Pakistan strictly conditional on the army acting against terrorist groups. It must also be more inclined—and pro-active—to seek out and eliminate pro-Taliban and pro-Al Qaeda elements within Pakistan, even if it means violating Pakistani sovereignty. If the Pakistani army won't kill them, we must.

Tunku Varadarajan is a national affairs correspondent and writer at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and a professor at NYU’s Stern Business School. (Follow him on Twitter here.)