If we win the war in Afghanistan, we could lose a battle in Pakistan

The Taliban now have more support from their restless neighbours than ever before

If you think Afghanistan is a mess, just look across the border to Pakistan. It is a country teetering on the brink of total collapse. For much of the past eight years, since Central Asia became the epicentre of the global campaign against Islamist-inspired terrorism, the coalition's attention has focused on Afghanistan. Apart from being the launch-pad of the original al-Qaeda attacks, the chaotic security situation there and lack of effective government made it a fertile breeding ground for Islamist-minded malcontents.

Pakistan, by contrast, has been viewed as a necessary, but unreliable, partner in the West's campaign to isolate and disrupt the operational effectiveness of Islamist terror groups. Washington may have spent billions of dollars propping up, firstly, the military dictatorship of President Pervez Musharraf, and, now, the democratically-elected government of President Asif Ali Zardari, but it has shown little enthusiasm for taking much notice of Islamabad's own concerns.

When Mr Musharraf cautioned Washington that pushing too hard against Pakistan's home-grown Islamic militants could make an explosive situation even worse, the Americans simply withdrew their support, with the result that Mr Musharraf was ousted from power.

Mr Zardari, who was elected president following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, his wife, and Washington's most favoured Pakistani politician, has fared little better. Mr Zardari's government has constantly warned Washington and its allies of the dangers of acting too aggressively against Taliban strongholds in the lawless tribal areas of the North-West Frontier. But the Americans have simply continued with their surgical strikes against Taliban and al-Qaeda targets. As a result, they have alienated vast swathes of the Pakistani population – those who were previously non-committal about their government's collusion in Washington's war on terror...

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