A lot of attention has been focused on Iran in recent months but we must not lose sight of the other potential threat from the region -- Pakistan.
Pakistan is one of the most important countries to U.S. security and foreign interests. It borders Iran, China, Afghanistan and India. Osama bin Laden was found and killed there. Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1992 World Trade Center attack, was captured there, as have been dozens of other terrorists, including the mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. A.Q. Khan is the Pakistani nuclear scientist who is hailed as a hero in Pakistan for his role in the development of Pakistan's nuclear program; however, Khan is also the person who supplied North Korea, Iran and Libya with nuclear proliferation technology. The Taliban are ethnic Pashtuns of Pakistani origin. Pakistan has approximately 100 nuclear weapons.
When he was a candidate for the GOP president nomination, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said U.S. aid to Pakistan should be $0 considering that they don't have U.S. interests in mind. However, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann perhaps said the only intelligent thing I have ever heard her say -- Pakistan is too nuclear to fail. She is right about that. She also noted that we do in fact get a lot of intelligence from Pakistan, which is what our foreign aid pays for. While it is changing with the Arab Spring, historically in the Middle East there was an inverse relationship between the level of cooperation between governments and U.S. popularity among the people of that country. For example, in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, the U.S. has been very unpopular among the people, but allies with the government. In Iraq, Iran, and Syria, the governments historically have not liked the U.S., but citizens like our culture and way of life. Pakistan is no different.
The Bush administration allegedly threatened to bomb Pakistan "back to the Stone Age" after the 9/11 attacks if the country did not cooperate with America's war in Afghanistan. President Musharraf reluctantly complied and in doing so, ended a decade of sanctions placed on Pakistan over the A.Q. Khan nuclear debacle. But many Pakistanis did not approve of this cooperation. The U.S. favorability rating by Pakistanis is around 12 percent.
I worked with and interacted regularly with Pakistanis when I lived in Saudi Arabia and I went to graduate school with many Pakistanis. While the reports of serious security concerns coming out of Pakistan are all true, it is not true that all Pakistanis are the same. Pakistan is the sixth largest country in the world with over 177 million people. In a country that large, there are bound to be a lot of individual differences among the people. The Pakistanis I know are good, intelligent and hospitable people whom I could visit anytime in Pakistan.
Considering all that has been mentioned about Pakistan, it is a country that is going to be relevant over the next four years and beyond; a president must know a lot about Pakistan's internal affairs and about its relations with our allies and competitors.
Thinking more broadly, the president is going to have to address: nuclear non-proliferation in Iran, North Korea, Pakistan; the revolutions in the Middle East; Palestinian statehood issues; missile defense near Russia; the growth of China; Greece, Italy and the Euro crisis; possible unintended consequences to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and don't forget about transnational crimes such as drug, weapons and human trafficking. The list could go on.
Even though the U.S. is out of Iraq and drawing down in Afghanistan, and our economy and jobs are big issues to voters, national security and foreign affairs is becoming increasing relevant with the standoff with Iran. However, we must not lose sight that an unstable Pakistan is perhaps a bigger threat to international security; it is a nuclear armed power with a lot of anti-American sentiment.
PAUL HEROUX previously lived and worked in the Middle East and was a senior analyst at the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies. He has a Master's in International Relations from the London School of Economics and a Master's from the Harvard School of Government. Paul can be reached at PaulHeroux.MPA@gmail.com.