WASHINGTON, Oct 5: Pakistan has become a major issue in the US election and is projected here as the biggest threat to American interests across the world.

On Sunday, some US newspapers reported that an ailing US economy had given Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama an unassailable edge over John McCain and the Republican can only come back in the race if there is a a national security crisis.

Pakistan topped the list of possible scenarios for such a crisis.

“Pakistan’s new government is toppled. Al Qaeda and the Taliban, with support from elements in Pakistani intelligence and the military, get a stronger foothold in the nuclear-armed nation. India, which already accuses Pakistan of complicity with terrorist attacks on the country, initiates a cross-border attack on its longtime enemy. The regime of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan becomes even shakier. Chaos reigns in one of the most dangerous places on the planet.”

And it is not just the media which is ringing the alarm bells. A joint report by a dozen US think-tanks, collectively the Pakistan Policy Working Group, is equally alarming.

“Pakistan may be the single greatest challenge facing the next American president,” the report warned.

“Pakistan is suffering its greatest internal crises since partition. … We find US interests in Pakistan are more threatened now than at any time since the Taliban were driven from Afghanistan in 2001.”

One of the authors, Stephen Cohen, encouraged the US administration to attack suspected terrorist hideouts inside Fata.

Another set of US experts on Pakistan predicted an increase in US military strikes at targets inside Fata. At a recent meeting of the Pakistani-American Congress in Washington, the experts said that neither the United States nor India was interested in breaking up Pakistan.

Jonathan Landay, a veteran US journalist who has stayed engaged with Pakistan for more than 20 years, said that New Delhi would not like to live next door to a destabilised Pakistan “where non-state actors armed with nuclear weapons run amok”.

Walter Andersen of the Johns Hopkins University warned that any US president would come under enormous pressure if US troops continued to be killed by Pakistan-based insurgents and regardless of what party he belonged to, he would order strikes at Pakistan.

Rodney Jones, who runs a local consultancy, warned that Pakistan and the US were on a collision course and immediate steps were needed avoid a crash.

“As the September 19 bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad demonstrates, there is little time to waste. Our options in Pakistan are diminishing rapidly,” warned the joint report.

The report noted that political developments in both Pakistan and the United States “make this an opportune moment” to recalibrate US policy.

“The upcoming US presidential election will… bring a new set of policymakers to power and a potential willingness to consider fresh approaches to managing the difficult but exceedingly important US-Pakistan relationship.”

The report by the Pakistan Policy Working Group also included recommendations for strengthening US policy towards Pakistan, urging Washington to exhibit patience with Pakistan’s new democratically elected leaders, while working to stabilise the government through economic aid and diplomacy. But at the same time, emphasise to the Pakistan government that US patience is not unlimited, and that the US is prepared to be patient only so long as the Pakistan government is achieving visible results in its efforts against the extremists in the tribal areas. Invest in US institutions and personnel in Pakistan. And increase support for civilian institutions that would provide oversight of the military and the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence.



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