As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Most Dangerous Trouble Spot In The World Update

If I were the Obama Administration I'd be nervous about Pakistan myself.

The Obama administration reacted with increasing alarm yesterday to ongoing Taliban advances in Pakistan, warning the Pakistani government that failure to take action against the extremists could endanger its partnership with the United States as well as American strategy in neighboring Afghanistan.

"The news over the past several days is very disturbing," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, adding that the administration "is extremely concerned" and that the issue was taking "a lot" of President Obama's time.

Obama held a White House meeting on the subject with Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration's special representative to the region, officials said, and also brought it up in a separate session with congressional leaders. Holbrooke spoke by telephone to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Secretary of State Clinton publicly expressed her frustration during Congressional testimony, accusing the Pakistani government of "basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists.” I think this is an overly simplistic view of the situation. Prime Minister Zardari has no legitimacy inside the country due to the sparring with Nawaz Sharif and his initial refusal to reinstate the Supreme Court Justice. His approval ratings are in the low double digits, and Sharif is at around 83%. Zardari is less concerned with following the dictates of the Administration with respect to the Taliban than saving his own government from ruin. Obviously the White House has money to dangle, but Congress has yet to appropriate it. The Administration wanted to hold a 2-day summit with Zardari and Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, but Zardari is concerned that, if he leaves the country, he won't be Prime Minister when he returns - perhaps because of a military coup.

Pakistan will not fall to Islamists or extremists anytime soon - that's alarmist rhetoric. It is unstable, however, without a handle on much of the countryside, and that spells danger for a good bit of the region. The military has moved into the area near Islamabad that has been taken over by Taliban forces, so perhaps they've gotten the message. But they cannot snap their fingers and achieve legitimacy over all the people.

Meanwhile, there was a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing about Afghanistan yesterday, and it almost felt like an afterthought. Might as well change that nickname to "Pak-Af."

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