A costly diversion

The Baltimore Sun

In the fight against al-Qaida, Pakistan's sovereignty has trumped America's desire to rout the terrorists. The U.S. pursuit of Osama bin Laden and his supporters along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border has been compromised by the departure of President Pervez Musharraf, a loyal if ineffective ally. The Bush administration hasn't smashed the terrorist network operating in that mountainous region, despite hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Islamabad. And there's little to suggest that Pakistan's new president will significantly help the U.S. cause.

During his swearing-in last week, President Asif Ali Zardari pledged to fight terrorism and posed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a show of mutual support. To make good on that pledge, Mr. Zardari must take on tribal leaders who have provided a haven for Taliban fighters. Will he? Pakistan's army chief, Ashfaq Kayani, has said he won't stand for U.S. troops operating on their own inside Pakistan, a reaction in part to a recent cross-border raid by American special forces. That raid was evidence of the Bush administration's frustration with Pakistan and its refusal to aggressively pursue Taliban supporters.

On the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, experts warned that the threat from al-Qaida remains grave, though the movement has suffered setbacks. With attacks on U.S. and coalition forces increasing in Afghanistan, more American troops are headed there. But without the support of the Pakistan government, the U.S. military may make little headway in defeating Afghan insurgents and securing the country.

Neither Sen. John McCain nor Sen. Barack Obama has laid out a clear plan to deal with Pakistan, whose intelligence services protected bin Laden for years as a way of maintaining influence in Afghanistan. America's top military leaders have been ordered to come up with a new strategy for the border region. Unless Pakistan is willing to devote a contingent of its military and intelligence forces to the fight, the next administration should slash the hundreds of millions in military aid going its way.

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