This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition:
Try this thought on for size: Osama bin Laden with thermonuclear weapons.
That may exaggerate the potential of what’s happening in Pakistan right now, but perhaps not by much.
The fanatical Taliban – Osama’s patrons in Afghanistan – are tightening their grip on large sections of Pakistan. Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal and the means to deliver it. The idea of a nuclear-armed Taliban should frighten every sane person on earth.
That prospect has begun looking all too possible in the last few weeks. The Pakistani government – apparently taking its cue from Neville Chamberlain – has decided to "make peace" with the county’s Taliban insurgency by turning over the immense Swat Valley to its tender mercies. The Taliban has since been imposing its vicious, totalitarian version of Islamic law on everyone in sight.
Women are already being flogged in public for the faintest acts of independence. It’s only a matter of time before a religious reign of terror begins. The Taliban’s response to female education includes bombing the schools and throwing acid into the face of girls. Its leaders don’t debate whether gays should marry or have civil unions; they debate whether to stone them to death or bury them alive.
Predictably, the Taliban’s ambitions haven’t stopped at the valley’s borders. Emboldened by the government’s softness, Talibani are infiltrating adjoining areas; some now are reportedly operating less than 100 miles from Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.
There’s no obvious solution. Like other despots, the Talibani respect force. But Pakistan’s army consistently pulls its punches when fighting the insurgency. Pakistani leaders are in appeasement mode in part because tens of millions of Pakistanis have more sympathy for the Taliban than for the government. It’s uncomfortably reminiscent of Abraham Lincoln’s warning before America’s own Civil War: "A house divided cannot stand."
Gen. David Petraeus recently warned that the Taliban and its allies "could literally take down their state." A frustrated Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was reduced Thursday to wanly appealing for help from Pakistani emigrants.
Militarily, Pakistan is a tar baby. Direct U.S. assistance to the Pakistani army wouldn’t dent the Taliban’s power. The very appearance of infidel American troops on Pakistani soil would only serve to increase public support for the Taliban.
The American military barely suppressed an insurgency in Iraq – we’ve got our fingers crossed on that one – and now have their hands full with Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Intervention in Pakistan is out of the question.
With one exception. If the Pakistani government does appear in imminent threat of falling to the rebels, somebody must ensure that the country’s nuclear weapons won’t be among the spoils. But let’s devoutly hope it doesn’t come to that.