The Obama administration has been closely monitoring Pakistan’s domestic political situation and recently helped broker an end to a crisis caused by President Asif Ali Zardari’s attempted crackdown on opponents and his refusal to reinstate Pakistan’s chief justice.
Mr. Zardari reversed himself earlier this week after mass protests and numerous conversations with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ambassador Anne Patterson and other U.S. officials.
But the government in Islamabad remains frail, anti-Americanism is rife and there are deep concerns about expanding Taliban influence and terrorist attacks. Taliban militants are suspected of firing a rocket Thursday that killed eight people in the northwest town of Lanvi Kotal near the Afghan border, the Associated Press reported.
“Pakistan is the core of the problem,” said John A. Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank. “It serves as the base for al Qaeda and important groups of the Taliban. As a weak democracy with nuclear weapons, anything we can do to stabilize Pakistan is an effort well spent.”
“Pakistan is both a sponsor of terrorism, insofar as it provides sanctuary to the Taliban and other terrorists who harbor al Qaeda, and a victim of jihadist terror,” Bruce Riedel wrote in the publication Current History before taking up his post as the head of the Obama administration’s Afghanistan-Pakistan review.
“In the global struggle against terrorism, Pakistan thus poses paradoxes and enigmas. Understanding these - and developing a strategy to deal with them - may constitute the single most important foreign policy challenge facing the United States.”
Another element of the strategy is bolstering Afghan forces.
The participant in the Afghanistan-Pakistan review said it makes economic as well as political sense to build a bigger Afghan army because it costs about $12,000 a year to support one Afghan soldier compared with $250,000 a year for an American.
A senior U.S. defense official in Afghanistan, who asked not to be named because the administration has not announced the results of its review, said the U.S. is “producing 28,000 Afghan soldiers every year, and with additional resources from the international community, we can speed that process up.”
“There is also a need for other types of infrastructure development,” the official said, including “health care, education and security.”
• Sara A. Carter and Nicholas Kralev contributed to this report.