On Wednesday evening, President Obama rightly said we “need to work with the Pakistani government to root out the cancer of violent extremism, and we will insist that it keeps its commitments.” Here is how to do it in three steps.
First, create accountability. Pakistan is home to more terrorists than any other country, many of them harbored by the Pakistani army and its ISI intelligence service. Osama bin Laden lived less than a mile from the country's top military academy, its West Point, for five years. His heir Ayman Zawahiri is probably somewhere nearby. Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, 9/11’s tactical maestro, was in the country's military capital, Rawalpindi, when he was captured. Mullah Omar, Amir of Believers to al Qaeda and head of the Afghan Taliban, commutes between Quetta and Karachi. Hafez Saed, head of Lashkar e Tayyiba and mastermind of the Mumbai massacre, lives and preaches openly in Lahore. Fazul Rahman Khalil, head of Harakat al Mujahedin, which hijacked an Indian airliner in 1999, lives in an Islamabad suburb. Dawood Ibrahim who killed hundreds with bombs on Mumbai's metro in 1993 lives in Karachi. There are no secrets here—the south Asian press reports their hideouts on a regular basis.
So we should tell the army leadership that if we learn one of their officers is involved in harboring terrorists, planning terror operations or tipping terrorist bomb factories off to drone raids, that we will make it personal. That officer will go on our terrorist most-wanted list, we will seize his property if we can, arrest him if he travels, expel his kids from school here or in England and—if he is truly dangerous enough—take direct action. We should not do this alone, we should get allies, especially the British, to help, since Pakistanis love to visit London and send their kids to school in the UK. Don’t sanction the country or the ISI, sanction individuals. Hold them accountable.
Second, help those Pakistanis who believe in a modern, open, and prosperous country, not in promoting the global jihad. There is a battle underway for Pakistan’s future. On one side are the jihadists and their allies in the army. On the other are those civilians, some in the government, who still believe in democracy and the rule of law. Al Qaeda and its allies are murdering these brave leaders systematically. Zawahiri personally ordered Benazir Bhutto’s murder in 2007. Two more prominent politicians were killed this year.
For decades these Pakistanis have asked America to do one thing: open our markets to trade from their country. Every Pakistani ambassador to Washington since 1991 has told me the same thing; trade not aid will help us build a modern civil society, empower women, strengthen the entrepreneurs who want to build Pakistan, and encourage peace not terror. Instead, Washington places tariffs on Pakistani textiles that are three times the rate applied to most countries. A level playing field for Pakistani products is a national security imperative for America, even if our own textile industry hates it. Our economic assistance is expensive ($1.5 billion a year), creates tensions with Pakistani officials, and requires a large footprint of administrators in the country. Trade avoids all of those drawbacks. Every think tank that has looked at this issue has come to the same conclusion. If you are angry with Pakistan’s behavior, go buy a made in Pakistan sweater and burn it. If you want to help Pakistan, buy them for Christmas gifts.
Third, use our diplomatic leverage. Pakistan needs allies and trading partners. It imports its nuclear reactors and its weapons from China. China does not want a jihadist state in Pakistan or a breeding ground for terror next to its Muslim western province. India and Pakistan have a tense rivalry and could easily end up in a fifth war. New Delhi also wants a moderate Pakistan that fights terror not promotes it. Europe is worried that its jihadist underground from Manchester to Hamburg is getting training in Pakistan. The Arab gulf states don’t want al Qaeda to grow, and they are Pakistan’s chief source of foreign aid. Australia has been targeted by Pakistani based terror in Bali and in Sydney.
We should use all of these levers in a systematic campaign led by the secretary of State to pressure, cajole, and induce Pakistan to crack down on the terror cancer. We don’t need a conference or a diplomatic architecture to do this, just a game plan that puts Pakistan on the top of the ‘to do’ list for every bilateral relationship we have with countries that can influence Pakistan’s calculations. There are positive and negative levers to press and we need to marshal them all.
The stakes here are enormous. Pakistan will soon be the fifth-largest country in the world with the fifth-largest nuclear weapons arsenal. A new poll shows Pakistanis regard America as their No. 1 enemy, a view shared by most army officers. The jihadist cancer in the army is getting stronger every day. Pakistan belatedly arrested a brigadier general last month for helping a jihadist group but he is only the tip of the iceberg. Among the commanders who run the military there are several who have helped jihadists in the past, including the former commander of the military academy in Abbottabad. A jihadist takeover in Pakistan is not imminent or inevitable, but if it happens it will a global game-changer.