Saturday, May 30, 2009

Op-Ed on Aid to Pakistan

My friend Chris Fair has a nice op-ed in today's Washington Post about how the aid package to Pakistan should be administered. She argues that aid should be administered through a neural party, such as the World Bank, to avoid the common problems with dependency and resentment.

During several trips to Pakistan in recent months, I have heard from many citizens that they believe Washington is deliberately aiding corrupt people and institutions to ensure that Pakistan remains a vassal state beholden to Washington.

There is a better way: a well-structured trust fund administered by a trusted body such as the World Bank. A similar fund operates successfully in Afghanistan. This trust fund should require Pakistani entities to contribute to their own aid programs, develop a robust plan for execution and adhere to international accounting standards. Information on expenditures should be transparent and available to all, especially Pakistanis.

Friday, May 29, 2009

North Korean Tests

My reaction to North Korea conducting another nuclear test and launching a few short range missiles? "Eh? Who cares?"
Not that I want North Korea (or anyone for that matter) setting off nuclear devices, but we didn't learn anything from this. Did we know North Korea had nuclear weapons, and that they didn't work very well? Of course. The last test was kind of a fizzle, this one was less so. It's like if you shank a golf shot and drop another ball on the same spot, your second hit is usually better. But in this case it wasn't even all that much better/bigger. It wasn't a shank into the woods and then a shot onto the green, it was a shank and then a weak hit into the rough. And the missiles it launched weren't ICBMs, those don't work, the were glorified bottle rockets. I'd be scared if I lived in Seoul, but not much more so because of the recent tests.
My read is that this is Kim Jong-Il tring to hold on to power, demonstrate that he is still alive, and make his generals happy. He wants attention, so he is throwing a tantrum like a two year old. The best reaction would be for us to shrug our shoulders. Sure, a UN Security Council resolution is a good idea, because that's what you do, but it won't accomplish much unless China wants to start playing hardball. But until then, ignore the tantrum and put Kim Jong-Il on a timeout.

Friday, May 22, 2009

President Obama on Soft Power

For those who haven't yet had a chance to read or watch it, I wanted to highlight a section of President Obama's commencment speech to the Naval Academy today in which he highlights the importance of soft power.
So SEALs and special operations forces, we need you for those short-notice missions in the dark of night. But we'll also need you for the long-term training of foreign militaries so they can take responsibility for their own security.
Marines, we need you to defeat the insurgent and the extremist. But we also need you to work with the tribal sheikh and local leaders from Anbar to Kandahar who want to build a better future for their people.
Naval aviators and flight officers, we need you to dominate the airspace in times of conflict, but also to deliver food and medicine in times of humanitarian crisis.
And surface warfare officers and submariners, we need you to project American power across the vast oceans, but also to protect American principles and values when you pull into that foreign port, because for so many people around the world, you are the face of America.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New York Times Editorial on India

Someone at the Times' editorial board must be reading my blog. They published an editorial today calling for India to step up to its responsibilities as the world power they are striving to become.I've I've been saying that for some time now. The article appropriately calls for India to examine how its posture is viewed in Pakistan, and communicate better, especially about its activities in rebuilding Afghanistan. 
India has played a constructive role in helping rebuild Afghanistan, but it must take steps to allay Islamabad’s concerns that this is a plan to encircle Pakistan. It should foster regional trade with Pakistan and Afghanistan. 
Easier said than done of course. It's all well and good for the Times to call for India to initiate arms control talks with Pakistan and China and reach out for a solution on Kashmir. Israel should find a way to make peace with the Palestinians too, but it's just not that easy. Yes, India needs to step it up. But how about an article echoing my point about how focusing on Pakistan keeps India from achieving greatness? Follow me there, New York Times. 

Monday, May 18, 2009

Weekend South Asia News Briefs

A lot happening in South Asia in the past few days. For those not paying close attention:
Good news:
1) Big win by the Congress party in Indian elections.
1A) Very positive response by Indian business community/stock market.
2) Tamil Tigers give up in Sri Lanka.
Bad news:
3) Thousands more internally displaced by Pakistan's "major offensive" against the Taliban.
4) Reports that Pakistan is producing new nuclear weapons as fast as possible. 
My thoughts:
1) A stronger government should enable India to make more progress and have to spend less time trying to keep far flung partners--such as the communist parties in the last parliament--in the coalition. Clearly the Indian people and investors seem to agree with the decision.
2) The conflict wasn't going to end well, so better that it end quickly. The Tigers had been one of the most brutal groups in the world during the civil war. They certainly popularized--if not invented--suicide bombing as a large scale technique, and in the most recent stand off they took hundreds of thousands of civilians as human shields/hostages. Now hopefully the world will send in help to deal with the humanitarian crisis.
3) Another humanitarian crisis. This one won't end quickly, nor is there a natural geography to chase the "rebels" into. Hopefully some of the U.S. aid will get there quickly--and not be diverted for other purposes.
4) Frankly I don't understand the logic. Why on earth would Pakistan need MORE nuclear weapons? The 80-100 they are assumed to have aren't enough to destroy India? Who are they planning on nuking or deterring? Or perhaps it's part of a plan to rely more on nuclear deterrence in order to pull more troops off the Indian border. We'll see. Based in Zardari's appearance on last week's Meet the Press I'd say it's another attempt to consolidate domestic support by appearing strong and attempting the classic Pakistani game of blaming others for your problems. 

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The COIN Surge

Everyone interested in national security policy should read Celeste Ward's article in today's Washington Post. Ward talks about how prevalent counterinsurgency doctrine is these days--to the point that General McKiernan was fired in part for being too focused on "conventional" warfare--and how counterinsurgency is seen as a universal band-aid for any problems in Afghanistan.
I strongly agree with her main points. Although more knowledge of counterinsurgency doctrine and unconventional warfare is essential, they are not in and of themselves a solution to all our problems. Likewise, counterinsurgency is not some monolithic one-size-fits-all doctrine that you can just drop onto Afghanistan and hope it works. As I've been arguing recently, we need a real plan in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Get to work civilian advisors.

...counterinsurgency doctrine is again the proposed answer.

But to what question? Washington's ultimate objectives in Afghanistan remain unclear.

Well put.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Indian Soft Power

If you have the time check out this thoughtful article on India's soft power by Sashi Tharoor, a candidate for India's Parliament. Tharoor has a good analysis of some of the sources of India's soft power, namely its multicultural traditions that are popular both regionally and worldwide. He describes India as not a melting pot like the United States but a collection of small dishes on a table, each with individual flavors and appeals.
In the information age, Joseph Nye has argued, it is often the side which has the better story that wins. India must remain the ‘land of the better story.’ 
Like any good politician, Tharoor helps his case by telling a good story about India's soft power. But for an article of this length he ignores other visions of soft power, like Josh Kurlantzick's book on China, Charm Offensive (or the chapter in my own thesis on India's soft power). He has no description of things Indian policymakers can do to either help build or utilize soft power.
To counter the terrorist threat, there is no substitute for hard power. Hard power without soft power stirs up resentments and enmities; soft power without hard power is a confession of weakness. Where soft power works is in attracting enough goodwill from ordinary people to reduce the sources of support and succour that the terrorists enjoy, and without which they cannot function.
Here Tharoor's vision of the utility of soft power is a little lacking. For the true hardened terrorist of course soft power will have no influence, but the attraction to a society or culture is one of the strongest tools for preventing potential terrorists from crossing over or being recruited. Furthermore, the indiscriminate and careless use of hard power can ultimately create more terrorists than it kills and be counterproductive, as demonstrated by some American air strikes along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. 

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bhutto's Niece on Zardari

Fatima Bhutto, Benazir's niece, has a nice article over at The Argument. She too believes that President Zardari's government is playing a dangerous game in order to milk the United States for more money (and further enrich himself, assuming Mr. Ten Percent is skimming his usual amount). 
With one hand, Zardari gave the militants what they wanted -- no vote or referendum was held -- and Taliban law was imposed on the Swat Valley by force. With the other, Zardari pointed a crooked finger at the rise of fundamentalism and capitalized on a golden opportunity to bring the nation’s elite back into the government’s obsequiously pro-American fold.
It's nice to have a Pakistani willing to admit that Pakistan deserves some of the blame for what has happened to their country (although she blames one man exclusively), but it is still a woe-is-me, look what my evil uncle has done to the country reaction. It would be very interesting to hear Ms. Bhutto's proposed solutions from either a Pakistani or a U.S. perspective.

America's Child Soldiers?

I'm concerned by today's New York Times article about Explorer scouts being trained as potential border patrol agents to "hunt terrorists." When I was an Explorer scout I was a search and rescue volunteer, but it's a pretty big leap from that to training to shoot people. Don't get me wrong, I think everyone who handles a firearm should be properly taught and trained, but I don't think society should be training 14-year olds that shooting at people is the fun part of being in law enforcement. When that kid grows up and becomes an actual border patrol agent faced with a question of whether to shoot or exercise restraint, what part of his training do you think will kick in first? 

Cathy Noriego, also 16, said she was attracted by the guns. The group uses compressed-air guns — known as airsoft guns, which fire tiny plastic pellets — in the training exercises, and sometimes they shoot real guns on a closed range.
“I like shooting them,” Cathy said. “I like the sound they make. It gets me excited.”

And since this Explorer scout post is near the Mexican border, how long before one or more of these kids decides, either for fun or through a sense of duty, to take matters into their own hands, "borrow" a parent's weapon, and go get some live fire, live target experience. If the Minutemen are out there, what would make a kid restrain him or herself? 
In a competition in Arizona that he did not oversee, Deputy Lowenthal said, one role-player wore traditional Arab dress. “If we’re looking at 9/11 and what a Middle Eastern terrorist would be like,” he said, “then maybe your role-player would look like that. I don’t know, would you call that politically incorrect?”
Politically incorrect yes, but the bigger point is that he is training those kids to shoot anyone in Arab dress. First of all, why would a terrorist necessarily be Arab, and why would he wear Arab dress when trying to sneak into the United States to do harm? Kind of a big give away. If we are going to train kids, train them right. And second, if that kid goes into the military in a year or two and gets sent to Iraq, what's to stop him from shooting civilians? Anyone in Arab dress is a terrorist, right? 
The Explorer scout program does very good work, and I strongly support its goals, but I also believe that killing, shooting, and violence should not be glorified. Train these kids in cultural understanding, quick decision making, and restraint as well as how to put a knee in someone's back to shut him up and the law enforment agencies, the military, and the country as well as these kids will end up stronger and better served. 
(Photo: Todd Krainin, New York Times)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Congress Doing Its Job!

Congress is starting to exercise its oversight functions regarding aid and plans for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Special envoy Richard Holbrooke faced some tough questions at his oft-delayed Senate Foreign Relations Hearing. Good for them. 
However, no matter what the plans for those two countries, and no matter who is leading the NATO forces in Afghanistan, they will need significant resources. Congress should ask many tough questions and make sure a plan with significant benchmarks is in place, but it should not hold up approving the aid or else the best plan in the world would fall flat. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mainstream Media Asks About Afghanistan Plan

Washington Post writer Dan Froomkin has picked up my point about changing generals not really being a change in plans. 

President Obama still doesn't have an exit strategy for Afghanistan. Thebenchmarks he promised over six weeks ago are still anyone's guess.But yesterday he certainly took some decisive action: He fired his top general there -- right in the middle of a war.You could see this as a good sign, I guess -- as a evidence of a healthy recognition by Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates that more of the just same wasn't going to cut it in Afghanistan.But -- especially if you consider the aforementioned lack of an exit strategy and benchmarks -- you might also see this as an indication that Obama has committed himself to a mission in Afghanistan that isn't actually achievable. 
I'm glad they're picking up the ball and noticing that key point. Hopefully soon someone will actually ask the Administration about the lack of an actual plan. 

A Man... A Plan?

As more information comes out about how and why General McChrystal is replacing General McKiernan more and more news outlets are talking about how this is replacing the old "conventional" wing of the military with the new "unconventional" wing. I'm all for that. But some people seem to be reading too much into the change. Fred Kaplan's article declaring that the change truly stamps Afghanistan as "Obama's War" states that:
McKiernan's ouster signals a dramatic shift in U.S. strategy for the war in Afghanistan. And it means that the war is now, unequivocally, "Obama's war." The president has decided to set a new course, not merely to muddle through the next six months or so.
What is the dramatic shift in strategy? What IS the new strategy? 
Just saying "he's an expert in counterinsurgency" does not constitute a policy change. Counterinsurgency is not a once size fits all strategy or policy, any more than saying "Surge" is a strategy or policy. All the President's reviews and advisors may have identified the problems fairly well (although with the recent events in Pakistan the reviews may be a little outdated), but I have yet to hear details of a specific plan much more detailed than actually paying attention to Afghanistan.
Putting McChrystal in charge is a welcome change, but he is not a silver bullet or a one man plan. President Obama's civilian and military advisors on South Asia need to hold up their end of the bargain and come up with a real strategy, or else McChrystal will be forced out as another scapegoat next year. 

Monday, May 11, 2009

Thoughts on Gen. McKiernan's Ouster

The news came down the pipe today that the top officer in Afghanistan, General McKiernan, is being replaced for what "defense officials" described as "a conventional approach to an unconventional war." 
My initial response is sympathy for McKiernan. I've never met the man, but from what I've heard and read he seemed to be a fairly well-respected leader. The man has been pulled in many different directions by many different plans and sub-plans, none any clearer than the next. Like Gumby, he is stretched in too many directions, in this case by constantly changing leaders, plans, and instructions. Perhaps the Pentagon brass think they can replace have the top guy be a scapegoat and hope the next guy magically brings one with him.
All that being said, his replacement will be Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a former commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, and someone with special ops experience is exactly what we need in a difficult situation like Afghanistan. Hopefully McChrystal will be able to work more closely with the Afghani population while also focusing much more careful attacks on true al Qaeda targets and minimizing civilian casualties. 
Likewise the civilian leadership has an obligation to McChrystal not to hang him out to dry, stretch him in too many directions, or constantly change plans from under his feet. 

Pakistan, "Pashtunistan," and Punjabis

I highly recommend Selig Harrison's op-ed in Monday's Washington Post on the Pashtun-Punjabi split in Pakistan. It is one of the clearist descriptions I've read lately. 
The Pakistani army is composed mostly of Punjabis. The Taliban is entirely Pashtun. For centuries, Pashtuns living in the mountainous borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan have fought to keep out invading Punjabi plainsmen. So sending Punjabi soldiers into Pashtun territory to fight jihadists pushes the country ever closer to an ethnically defined civil war, strengthening Pashtun sentiment for an independent "Pashtunistan" that would embrace 41 million people in big chunks of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Harrison also includes some policy recommendations:

Politically, U.S. policy should be revised to demonstrate that America supports the Pashtun desire for a stronger position in relation to the Punjabi-dominated government in Islamabad.

The Pashtuns in FATA treasure their long-standing autonomy and do not like to be ruled by Islamabad. As a March 13 International Crisis Group report recognized, what they want is integration into the Pashtun Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP).

The United States should support Pashtun demands to merge the NWFP and FATA, followed by the consolidation of those areas and Pashtun enclaves in Baluchistan and the Punjab into a single unified "Pashtunkhwa" province that enjoys the autonomy envisaged in the inoperative 1973 Pakistan constitution.

Harrison takes argues that the differences between Pashtuns and Punjabis mean the country could be headed toward a civil war that has been simmering for decades if not centuries. I read the tea leaves a little differently. I believe that because of the ethnic differences the Taliban cannot defeat a 700,000 person Punjabi army and take over Pakistan. The Taliban will not rule Pakistan, but that doesn't mean the fighting won't be long and ugly.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Cybersecurity: the Future of Warfare

Check out this article on West Point's efforts to train the next generation of Army officers in cybersecurity. Very interesting and relevant stuff.
When the military deploys in a combat zone or during a domestic emergency, establishing a secure Internet connection is an early priority. To keep things humming, the military’s experts must fend off the ordinary chaos of the Internet as well as attacks devised to disable the communications system, like flooding e-mail servers with so many junk messages that they collapse.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Abu Muqawama on the Pakistani Mindset

Check out this post by Abu Muqawama guest blogger Londonstani about the Pakistani mindset. As I discussed earlier, the dominant mindset, even among the educated middle class, is that nothing is Pakistan's fault and everything should be blamed on India and/or the United States. Key quotes:
1. All of Pakistan's internal problems come from Indian activities run out of Afghanistan. 2. Pakistan's present "democratic" rulers are useless and owe their positions to America. 3. The real story is that the U.S. has failed in Afghanistan 4. London and Washington have a hidden agenda in cosying up to India. 5. The US wants to invade and dismember Pakistan
Ultimately, at present, the opinion that matters in Pakistan does not see the Taliban as a threat to the state in its own right. Instead it blames the U.S. presence in Afghanistan for inflaming the passions of a "bunch of villagers" that the movers and grovers casually dismiss. 
Asking them nicely to defend their country against the Taliban will not work. We will continue paying Pakistan off handsomely; it would be better to do it in a way that provides an incentive for the educated middle class to be on our side rather than simply bombing the countryside and hoping to kill the Taliban. 

Walt Agrees With Me on Long Term Funding

Stephen Walt has a longer piece up on the need for diplomacy and a solution to the Taliban problem sooner rather than later, since Afghanistan will not be able to pay for a long term security solution on its own. 

Air Force Searching for Direction

It's hardly news, but the U.S. Air Force is searching for a raison d'etre. It has barely asked for any money for new programs for the FY2010 budget. Most of its new money is needed to help shut down current production lines for the F-22 and C-17. You know something is wrong with the fighter jocks who run the Air Force can't come up with reasons why they need new expensive equipment. But the fact is the Air Force hasn't been used much in Afghanistan, and can only get so much budgetary support from harping on a potential big war with China down the road.
The Air Force needs to take a page from the Marine Corps' book and reinvent itself. Over time the USMC has gone from shipboard security to amphibious landing specialists to jungle fighting specialists now to counterinsurgency specialists (you could argue for a few more specialties over time in the list as well). 
How can the Air Force remain relevant? Off the top of my head I'd say it has to become much more agile, ready to deploy anywhere much faster, with smaller and more adaptable planes, including drones. At the same time they should become more fuel efficient, able to linger over targets for longer periods of time, gathering intelligence and potentially acting on it as well. Those capabilities would allow it to remain useful and crucial in large and small wars alike. 

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Tri-Lateral Meetings in DC This Week

Zardari's motorcade passed me in downtown DC last night, presumably on their way from the White House to the Bidens' place for dinner. I'd love to be in the room knowing what is really being discussed on the inside, and if all the parties are indeed hopeful and helpful. I have my doubts. I thought this quote from the New York Times was particularly telling:
The other reason why no one wants to talk too much publicly about what the United States wants Pakistan to do is that there is a real difference in the way that the two countries view the insurgency in the western part of Pakistan. While Americans see this as an existential threat to the Pakistani government, Pakistanis look at things differently.
“This situation has been going on for decades,” one Pakistani official explained on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity. “These people have always tried to impose Shariah law in the tribal areas.”
The article ends on a hopeful note:
His comments came just after a senior Obama administration official said that the administration believes the Pakistani government is finally starting to come around to the American way of thinking about the nature of the Islamist threat to the Pakistani government, further underscoring the disconnect between the two governments.
We shall see if Pakistan is really starting to come around, or stringing the United States along and doing just enough to ensure that it gets more and more money. 

The Porous Afghanistan-Pakistan Border

Various articles lately have mentioned the difficulty of patrolling the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and the advantage the Taliban have in not needing to respect that border. I'd like to go one step further and illustrate just how impossible the border is to patrol. This image represents the elevations along the northern section of the border. Note the location of strategically important Khyber Pass. 
The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, called the Durand Line after Sir Mortimer Durand, the foreign secretary of British India,  is merely the point where the British stopped conquering northward and allowed the harsh terrain and even harsher Pashtun tribesmen to serve as the border between them and Russian interests in Central Asia. 
This is some of the most rugged terrain on earth. Even with modern equpiment including helicopters it is virtually impossible to patrol. This, together with the determination of the tribal people who populate the region, is why we have not caught Osama bin Ladin, and why we will never be able to conquer this area by sheer force. Hard power is not an answer by itself; smart influence is needed. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Experts on Pakistani Nuclear Weapons

Check out the New York Times' article where they asked experts what to do about the potential for Pakistan's nuclear weapons to fall into the hands of the Taliban or another extremist group. Highlights:
From Rolf Mowatt-Larssen:
Pakistani nuclear weapons fall under the control of the military, which is the most professional, disciplined and competent institution in the country. It takes nuclear security extremely seriously, and will surely adopt heightened measures to protect these weapons.... In assuring the security of nuclear weapons in Pakistan, we should remind ourselves that the insider threat is the key wild card.
Karin von Hippel:
[T]wo other, less extreme scenarios also cause serious concern. The first would be yet another military coup, potentially led by junior officers with sympathy for the Islamist militants.... The second nightmare scenario would be continued state disintegration, resulting in competing militias, terrorist groups and criminal gangs in charge of most of Pakistan’s provinces and territories, with the government exercising only nominal control over parts of the capital city and — maybe — some of the nuclear weapons.
To enhance diplomatic, development and military efforts, the U.S. government should support an extensive countrywide campaign that personalizes the victims and the heroes, telling the stories of those who were butchered by the Taliban and those who successfully resisted.
Danielle Pletka:
These problems aren’t going to be solved by having special envoys with better titles, or subcontracting American defense to Saudi Arabia. We need clear indications of long term American commitment to the region, training and equipping of the Pakistani military, and effectively integrated military and aid programs.
Ellen Laipson:
But a security breakdown at the nuclear facilities and total takeover of the state by the Taliban are exceedingly low probability scenarios, and should not be the main focus of American attention and concern. Rather, we still need to devote time and effort to building trust in our long-term intentions, and avoid antagonizing Pakistan’s tense leadership.
Parag Khanna:
If the recent protests against Talibanization rippling across continent are any indication, the secular elites are becoming quite vocal. This sliver of the population together with Pakistan’s wealthy diaspora could play an influential role in restoring unity among Pakistan’s many factions.
The consensus seems to be that there is a VERY low probability of the Taliban taking over the country or controlling nuclear weapons, at least without inside help. Pakistan does need a lot of assistance and a lot of work, but the nightmare scenarios are, as I've said all along, not imminent.

Pakistan's Reluctant Resistance

I've been meaning to write about this for a few weeks now, but am just getting around to it. Matthew Yglesias writes on the concept of "strategic rents." Some countries occupy or control key strategic locations, and are thus much more important to international security than their contributions to world goods, services, money, or military would otherwise warrent. These include key shipping lanes, such as the countries around the Straits of Malacca, Gulf of Aden/Red Sea/Suez Canal, and Panama Canal, as well as Central Asia, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Pakistani leadership, including Musharraf and now Zardari, recognize Pakistan's strategic importance to the United States (especially now), and have been sitting on their hands in order to extract more resources from us. Can you blame them? It works. Each new proposal includes larger sums of money.
How can we end this cycle? I don't believe we can, at least not easily. Yglesias suggests we should show we are willing to "walk away," but with front page New York Times headlines proclaming our fear about their nuclear weapons I think Pakistan would call our bluff. I mentioned this concern before when the "AfPak" strategy came out: no matter what benchmarks we establish, are we really going to pull out troops, money, or support if Pakistan or Afghanistan does not meet them? Pakistan has us by the (strategic) balls; all we can do is pay through the nose.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Taliban Will Not Take Over Pakistan

I know I've addressed this before, but a lot has been happening in Pakistan, and a lot of people are scared, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Various prognosticators are predicting that Pakistan will "collapse" or that or that the country's "60-100" nuclear weapons will fall into terrorist hands. I firmly believe that neither one will happen. Yes, things are bad, but the Taliban will not control Islamabad, and are extremely unlikely to gain control of any of the nuclear weapons.

Why remain calm?

1) Ethnic disagreement. The Taliban are Pashtun. Most of the population around Islamabad are Punjabi. The two groups do not get along. Even though when they controlled the Buner district "only 60 miles from Islamabad" the Taliban were still well within the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), not being welcomed by Punjabis.

2) Geography. The nuclear weapons are in the Punjabi areas, and are well protected. General Kidwai toured the United States in 2006 describing some of the security measures being put in place. Since then the United States has helped provide money and expertise to continue beefing up nuclear security in Pakistan. (Admiral Mullen apparently now agrees the nuclear weapons are secure.)

3) The army is fighting back... and winning. Pakistan has a 620,000 person army, many times the size of the Taliban. Yes, many are on the border with India, but not all. The Pakistani army has driven the Taliban from Buner and is moving on other districts. Perhaps it is like the sleeping dragon, slow to wake but then (eventually? hopefully?) overwhelming. (more on this in a later post)

4) Pakistan will not "collapse." The current leadership may change, as President Zardari is barely holding on to power, but the institutions within Pakistan will remain functional (or as functional as they currently are). The Pakistani people want stability and an end to the violence. They embraced a peace deal in the Swat valley because they believed it would stop the violence, not because they wanted sharia. Zardari is not a strong leader holding the country together. The government and the country can easily go along without him.