Engaging Pakistan in the fight against extremism

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

LISA MULLINS: Pakistan's political challenges pose a problem for the Obama administration. The White House is about to announce a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, and that strategy is almost certain to involve getting more help from Pakistan in the fight against extremism. Dan Markey is Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. What do you know, Dan, about this review that's coming out from the administration?

DAN MARKEY: Well, I expect that the review will, as you say, shift a lot of the administration's attention towards Pakistan. I think there's a wide understanding within and without the government that although Afghanistan is where our troops are, and although Afghanistan is where we were hit from on September 11th, Pakistan now represents an even more significant threat to both short and long term U.S. national interests, so I think the first order of business will be somewhat of a shift in terms of perspective, privileging the Pakistan strategy, not over Afghanistan, but recognizing its centrality.

MULLINS: So then, where does the threat�where does that threat most present itself?

MARKEY: Well, I'd say the obvious threat, the one that everybody immediately focuses on in the United States, is the safe haven problem of where is al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership, and they are probably in parts of Pakistan. That's the first order threat; the second order threat, the one that we talk less about, but we should be also concerned about, which is the nuclear threat. The fact is that Pakistan is a nuclear power, has these weapons, has an arsenal, and the combination of the terrorists plus the nuclear threat is one that certainly has the potential to bring the worst kind of nightmare. But the third threat is the stability of the Pakistani state writ large, and that's the one that has to do most with Pakistan's weak institutions � its weak political institutions, its weak institutions of law and order. We're talking about a country of 170-odd million people, and many of them are poor, not well-educated and susceptible, or at least prone to, the kind of extremist ideologies of Islamist groups and so on that could turn them into at least the foot soldiers of a future kind of strong anti-Western state, and this is exactly the kind of thing that we least want to see. And, of course, there are many Pakistanis who don't fall in this category. But it's the weakness of its institutions, the inability of its state to respond to the needs of its people, that could ultimately be the biggest challenge over the longer term.

MULLINS: Realistically, though, do you think that Pakistan has any possibility of collapsing?

MARKEY: I do not believe that Pakistan has the possibility of collapsing in the near term if, by collapsing, we mean the destruction of all of the state's institutions and the replacement of its top leaders either by a complete vacuum or by some sort of Islamist group, or al-Qaeda, or something like that � no, I don't think that's possible. So I don't see the state collapsing; what we do see are islands of instability that could make Pakistan a place where what is now relatively stable disintegrate into islands of stability, and then increasingly, the islands of stability become smaller than those of instability. That's what I think we could be seeing over the medium term.

MULLINS: Dan, give us in summary your take on what the United States could do to get what it wants and needs from Pakistan in terms of assurances of safety, in terms of ensuring our own national security.

MARKEY: Well, the goal from Washington's perspective, that I perceive, is to cultivate partners and allies in the Pakistani military, intelligence, police, as well as within the political scene both at the national level and the local level. It should be our goal, at least in part, to use our assistance programming, training opportunities, all kinds of interactions to buck up those within their system who see us as a potential partner, and sideline those who would do otherwise.

MULLINS: Okay, Dan Markey, of the Council on Foreign Relations. Thank you very much.

MARKEY: Thank you.