On April 22, 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to the military advance of the Pakistani Taliban out of the Swat Valley that has been ceded to them by the weak Pakistani government by stating that this situation in Pakistan formed an “existential threat” to Pakistan and a “mortal threat” to the world, and by extension, to the United States. She also called on Pakistanis to resist their government’s policy of surrendering national territory to the Islamic extremists.
Tough words, but it remains to be seen if Clinton and the Obama Administration of which she is a part, really have the gumption to truly address this issue. The Pakistani civilian government seems incapable or unwilling to confront the Taliban in the border areas. The Taliban (and their al-Qaida allies), rightly see this as weakness on Islamabad’s part, and are pressing their advantage. It is well known that the Pakistani military and secret services still aid the Taliban in its fight against Allied forces in Afghanistan (see http://warandconflictjournal.com/2008/06/pakistan-aids-taliban-still/). The military is known to still consider India as its number one foe, and it is reported that important leaders of the military and intelligence services sympathize to some point with the Islamicists in the border regions.
Clinton is right that the Taliban advances pose a grave threat to Pakistan. If, by some means, the Taliban or some other radical Islamic group seizes control, or at least weakens the central government enough that the nation falls into true chaos or collapse, then the U.S., Britain, the other NATO allies, and, of course, India, all have to make an important decision. Pakistan is too large to be allowed to fall into “Failed State” status. Its nuclear arsenal is far too deadly to fall to ilk like the Taliban or al-Qaida. It is hard to imagine India standing by as its old, but dangerous enemy becomes perhaps more dangerous through the unpredictability of chaos.
So, the civilized world must decide what is to be done. Stop the Taliban now, or wait and deal with the detritus of failed policies after it is far too late. Pakistan is the “Sick Man of South Asia,” and like the old Ottoman Empire, it is far too large and dangerous to let it fall apart without major consequences for the entire region and the world.