Tensions are rising in Pakistan. There are now 250,000 refugees at its borders, and conditions are so poor in some areas that 20,000 Pakistanis have fled to Afghanistan, one of the most inhospitable nations on the globe.

America is faced with critical decisions that will determine the stability of this nuclear-armed country and the future of our war against the Taliban.

Since the inception of the War on Terror, our Pakistani allies have been playing both sides in the fight against the Taliban. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s former president, always took our foreign aid over $10.8 billion and promised to attack the Taliban. Yet he ignored the Taliban, preferring to give them free reign to wreak chaos across the border in Afghanistan. In return, the Taliban never attacked Pakistan’s heartland.

Pakistan’s deceit hid behind a shallow veneer for seven years. Strangely, this situation has abruptly changed, all since mid-September.

On Sept. 20, the Taliban bombed the well-known Marriott hotel in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. The blast killed 53 people and wounded over 270, making it one of the deadliest bombings in the country’s history. Meanwhile, Pakistan has launched military strikes into Taliban-controlled tribal areas. The Taliban and Pakistan are now suddenly at war.

Why would Pakistan start fighting the Taliban after seven years of complicit agreement?

The answer lies in a transition of power from Musharraf to newly elected President Asif Ali Zardari. Musharraf decided to resign in August rather than face an impending impeachment trial.

Soon after, Zardari, the head of the moderate Pakistan People’s Party, was sworn into office. Zardari has taken immediate steps to fight the Taliban. He has ordered military incursions into Taliban territory. Additionally, he has summarily fired the directors of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (their equivalent of the CIA), which had been perpetrating Pakistan’s two-faced policy under Musharraf.

Zardari has a personal reason to fight, a reason that Musharraf never had. Late last year, Zardari’s wife, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated by the Taliban because she was a woman campaigning for election as Pakistan’s president. Zardari spoke of his vendetta against the Taliban in an interview with Roger Cohen, a New York Times columnist.

‘I will fight them because they are a cancer to my society,” he said. ‘They did kill the mother of my children, so their way of life is what I want to kill; I will suck the oxygen out of their system so there will be no Talibs.”

In a world that is looking increasingly bleak, Zardari gives us something to cheer for. For once, we have an ally that will actually to do something about the Taliban.

However, we must remember that Zardari is not certifiably virtuous. He has long been dogged by money laundering charges through European banks.

Pakistan, especially in the Tribal areas, is rife with anti-American sentiment. It was just two weeks ago that Pakistani border troops fired on U.S. helicopters unprovoked. The U.S. military has been going into Pakistan without the country’s approval to attack the Taliban, raiding suspected hideouts in Pakistan’s northwest frontier.

These attacks are effective at damaging the Taliban when Pakistan is unable to do so. But our attacks across the border into Pakistan are incredibly risky. One misstep, one civilian death, and we will inflame the Pakistanis.

We must get the support of the tribal leaders, most of whom are already antagonistic to the U.S.

We are faced with the incredibly complex and intractable problem of winning over the Pakistanis whilst trying to eradicate the Taliban. People will not fight for us if their hearts are set against us.

Providing security and services through foreign aid to these tribal areas is our best hope. This summer, Senators Joseph Biden and Richard Lugar proposed a $7.5 billion aid package to Pakistan. If this is approved, we must make the aid contingent on Pakistan’s progress in fighting the Taliban. The state of our markets means that any aid we give must be of the utmost importance.

For now, we must trust in Zardari. Yet, if we want to defeat the Taliban, we need to be absolutely sure that Pakistan will uphold its side of the bargain.

Otis is a member of the class of 2011.



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