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Session I of a Council on Foreign Relations Symposium on Afghanistan, Pakistan and U.S. National Security

The Current State of Play

Speakers: Lisa Curtis, Senior Research Fellow, Asian Studies Center, The Heritage Foundation, Daniel S. Markey, Senior Fellow For India, Pakistan And South Asia, Council On Foreign Relations, and Ronald E. Neumann, President, American Academy Of Diplomacy
Presider: Karen J. DeYoung, Senior Diplomatic Correspondent And Associate Editor, The Washington Post
April 21, 2009, Washington DC
Council on Foreign Relations

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This session was part of the CFR Symposium on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and U.S. National Security, which took place on April 21, 2009, in Washington, DC.

 

KAREN DEYOUNG:  Welcome to the second session of today's Council on Foreign Relations Symposium on Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Our topic for this panel is "The Current State of Play," and our previous speaker obviously has given us a basis for discussion.

This session, however, will be on the record.  Let me remind those who weren't here for the first session to turn off all your wireless devices.  Don't just put them on mute, turn them off before we begin.

We have a distinguished panel here today.  I think you have information about them that was given to you, so I'll just introduce them briefly.  Lisa Curtis, to my left, is a former Foreign Service office (who has) served, among many other assignments, in U.S. embassies in both Pakistan and India.  She also worked as an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency.

During the Bush administration, she served as senior adviser to the assistant secretary of State for South Asia, and as South Asia aide to Senator Richard Lugar on the Senate Foreign Relations committee.  In 2006, she joined The Heritage Foundation where she is senior research fellow focusing on U.S. relations with South Asia.

I'm going to say them in the order I wrote them down, rather than the order they're sitting in.  To my far left is Ambassador Ronald Neumann, who was a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with a distinguished background in both the Near East and North Africa.  In 2004 and 2005 he worked with the U.S. missions in Baghdad, first for the Coalition Provisional Authority, and then with the U.S. embassy as its principal interlocutor with the Multi-National command there.

He was Ambassador to Algeria and Bahrain; and, from July, 2005 until April, 2007, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.  Ambassador Neumann is now the president of the American Academy of Diplomacy.

Daniel Markey is a Council senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia, specializing in security, governance and U.S. policy.  From 2003 to 2007, he handled South Asia on the State Department's Policy Planning staff, where his responsibilities included analysis and planning for the secretary of State on regional and global policy issues.

With this session, I think we'd like to set the stage for a discussion of the specifics of the Obama administration's Af-Pak strategy.  So, I think what would be useful first is to talk about the actual reality on the ground there.  Although a lot of senior officials in this administration have publicly said that we're not winning in Afghanistan, none has taken to what would seem to be its logical conclusion:  we're losing.

Ambassador Neumann, let me start with you.  Are the United States and its allies losing the war in Afghanistan, and what would it take to win?

NEUMANN:  Well, insurgencies essentially win by not losing.  So, if you say you're not winning, you have reached the same functional point.

That said, to try to make a snapshot of that, and then project it as a conclusion, is as silly as saying that in 1942 we were losing, therefore, we would lose the war.  I don't mean by saying that that it means we'll win this one, I just mean it's simply -- you cannot do linear extension, and say that because you're doing one thing now, that's where you must be.

This is going to be a bloody year.  I think there's no question about that.  I think it's really going to be really important that people understand the time-lags involved.  This is a policy town, and people often think a decision taken is an action completed.  And it's not.  You talk about building a force, well, you know, we're now delivering the equipment ordered in the budget of 2007 -- a decision made in 2006, on my watch, and General Eikenberry's previous tour.

So, building it -- you've got a hole in this program, which I totally endorse, but the forces now available cannot protect the civilians.  That's a big piece of the strategy, is protect civilians.  It's a correct policy.  You don't have enough force to do it.  You're going to have time lags even if you do everything you need to do.  You can argue about whether you can do it; whether the Afghans can do it; what it costs, but if you do everything you need to do make that policy work, it's not going to be in place this year.

So, this is going to be a bloody year.  Taliban, other insurgent groups, will fully understand that they need to make this look like a failure.  And that means they have every incentive to redouble attacks -- whether they do it in small forms, or large forms; and they've shown a capacity for tactical surprise before.

I think one of the huge challenges for Americans, and for journalists particularly, will be to differentiate between whether things are not working in the new policy and not calling things a failure because the policies announced are not yet operational.  There will be a huge tendency a year from now to say this is all failing, because three-quarters of what has been decided won't have started.  I think that's going to be a big, big challenge.

DEYOUNG:  I wonder, though, if there's actually time for it to work.

And, Dan Markey, could you talk a bit about -- we saw last year the Taliban expand the territory that was, if not directly under their control, at least not under the Afghan government or the Coalition's control.  Is there a tipping point beyond which you can't -- you have no more time in order for the strategy to work?

MARKEY:  In listening to Ambassador Neumann's response, I was also struck by the fact that we can't reverse the fact that we are now years into this project.  And this has a very strong and, in most ways, negative effect on Afghan attitudes -- public attitudes about what they expect from us.  And we have lost that early opportunity to come in and do what we hoped we would do, and what they hoped we would do right away.  And so now we are in a doubly difficult position because of that time lost.

But, I would say that the administration has a tremendous opportunity here.  It can turn the page.  It can essentially redouble that effort, and do so in a way that is significantly different enough to give people sort of a new faith, and to sign on for longer.  And I think that's what they're trying to do -- sort of, energize this process and inject it with resources that will help to turn the tide.

So, I think that's where we stand right now.  It's not lost, but we cannot ignore the fact that time has passed; and that time element has changed attitudes about what is achievable in Afghanistan, and, not least, here in Washington where I think a number of people -- critics are starting to suggest that this is not winnable.  I'm not one of those, but I think that that voice is becoming stronger.

DEYOUNG:  And I --

NEUMANN:  Could I -- could I just make one note on this?

DEYOUNG:  Yes.

NEUMANN:  Afghans are very aware of what they've seen in the last 30 years.  So, they see patterns and they see things repeating.  So, they saw security closing around Kabul; they saw roads getting worse -- they judge that to be Taliban moving toward victory.

There are a lot of signs, as you talked about, of expanding.  There's nothing that I know of -- not a single poll, article, sign that shows the Taliban are increasing in large scale popularity.  What they are increasing is the number of people who fear they may win.

So that you have a psychology of defeat that has to be broken.  But, that's very different from saying you have to reverse a widespread, deep support for the insurgency.

DEYOUNG:  And, just to move this across to Pakistan, also on the same issue of time, many of the things that have been outlined to change things in Pakistan -- additional aid, better relations with the military, are things that all are programs of many years.  What's the situation right now, and what can we do right now in order to make it better?

CURTIS:  Well, the situation in Pakistan right now is enormously complex.  Pakistan is facing societal shifts of great consequence.  Pakistan has always suffered from ethnic divisions, ethnic tensions, sectarian tensions, Sunni-Shi'a divisions.  But, what we're seeing in the Northwest Frontier Province -- the spread of a very well-armed, well-prepared, well-organized Islamist insurgency, is new for Pakistan, and it's something that is starting to consume the country.

There's a lot of questions about, you know, whether there is the potential for an Islamic revolution in Pakistan in the next six months.  While this may be alarmist, I think that we need to start to digest the very real possibility that we could see very consequential changes in Pakistan.

And I think developments, particularly over the last week, send some very ominous signs -- we have seen the parliament approve, you know, push President Zardari to significant a peace deal with pro-Taliban militants in the Swat Valley; we've also seen the release of the leader of the Red Mosque standoff in July, 2007, Maulana Abdul Aziz -- which indicate that the government is continuing to pursue a policy of appeasement rather than direct confrontation of these extremists.  And I think this is very dangerous for the country.

Now, you ask, what can the U.S. do in this situation?  Well, I think we need to shore up both the civilian leaders, as well as the Pakistan military, with the expectation that the military will hold the line against these Taliban extremists if they try to spread their agenda to various parts of the country.  But, really, in the end this is Pakistan's fight.  Pakistanis have to, themselves, make the decision to stand up to this threat.

And I think the Pakistani leadership has a role to play in explaining to the Pakistani people that these extremists are imposing a lifestyle that is foreign to Pakistanis; and they have a history -- Muhammad Ali Jinnah stood for, 'yes, you know, Pakistan is a Muslim homeland, but also the pursuit of constitutional democracy.'  You know, we've had a lot of difficulties and struggles in reaching that but there is still that aspiration for constitutional democracy, and we saw this most recently with the movement to restore the independent judiciary.

But, I think what we need to see is the Pakistanis digesting the fact that this extremist threat -- which is beginning in the Northwest Frontier Province, but which could spread, actually threatens the independence of the judiciary and all of the other democratic institutions that, you know, Pakistanis have been willing to fight for.  They need to see this threat in those terms.

So, while the U.S. can help, I think ultimately it has to be Pakistan that digests the threat and then develops a comprehensive strategy to confront it.

DEYOUNG:  How does that happen, though?  I mean, we've had -- we've had these kinds of attacks, and this expansion going on now, certainly, for the past year, and yet the government -- the civilian government in Pakistan finds itself in a very severe political battle.  There are a multitude of forces -- religious, jihadist, working against it, as well as political forces.

You talked about a policy of appeasement.  What other choice do they have, especially when they have a military that has been described to us is not -- has not fully committed itself to the fight?  Does anybody want to --

MARKEY:  Yeah, I can take it.  I would say the Pakistani -- I think it's important that we distinguish between the various aspects of the Pakistani state.  And I think you're starting to do that when you talk about the distinction between, say, what the military is and is not doing and where it's doing these things.

And I think Lisa is right that what we've seen over the past couple of weeks in the Swat Valley is very discouraging to all of us who are concerned about the writ of the Pakistani state.  We have seen in that instance the Pakistani army has been unwilling or unable to take the fight to those particular militants in a way that we would perceive to be acceptable and likely to succeed.

At the same time, we've seen the Pakistani military and Frontier Corps launch much more aggressive operations in parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas over the past year.  So their attitude and their -- they draw distinctions internally in terms of their response.

I perceive that many of these distinctions that they draw are drawn out of weakness, out of a sense of a lack of capacity.  And in some circles there's duplicity involved, but in many cases there's a belief that they do not have the capacity to confront these threats immediately and that, if they put their heads down and try to regroup or even, in some cases, look the other way, the threats will go away.

And that's where we come back to what Lisa is saying, that they need to be sort of jolted out of this complacency.  And what I find very troubling is that repeatedly we've seen instances that should have jolted them out of that complacency, and yet they haven't.  The Red Mosque she mentioned, but the Marriott bombing and now the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.  In each case we heard voices from Pakistan saying, you know, "This is as far as it can go; it should go no further."  And yet it hasn't.

And so the question is, where is that going to end?  And I think it has to do with, again, coming back, a fundamental lack of capacity.  And that's where the United States comes in.  Now, there's a question as to how much we can buck them up.  But if you look, for instance, at their police forces, if you look at their paramilitary forces, and if you look at their army and you see what capacities they have to confront these militant threats, you'll see they're incredibly weak.

Now, that doesn't mean that they always do the right thing with the resources that they do have, but it does mean that a wealthy and well-endowed country like the United States can provide them with both training and equipment and so on that would, I think, make them more effective, maybe not tomorrow, but probably in the next three to five years.  And that's the time frame that I think we need to be looking at.  I don't think anything the Obama administration does is going to pay dividends in the next six months.  We're in for a tough slog.  It's going to be a near-run thing.

DEYOUNG:  Well, I guess that goes back to my earlier question.  Do we have three to five years?

NEUMANN:  I think it's a dynamic.  I think it's a mistake to ask that question as though this was a fixed time.  If you look like you're making progress, whether it's American electorate or Afghans, people will tend to give you more time.  If people conclude that everything's going down the tubes, then they tend to be very dismissive even of good stories.

And so I think this is a bit of a dynamic.  I can't -- I don't think I'm the right person to answer on the Pakistani side.  I would say that, over the course of the next fighting season, if we, the Afghans' coalition, push back around some of the provinces around Kabul, re-establish greater freedom of movement on some of the main roads, you will begin to reverse the psychology that everything is going down the drain.  And I think you can continue, or at least you have a reasonable chance that you can continue on the Afghan side to change the psychological dimensions and buy yourself more time.

But you've really got three different audiences that your question is relevant to.  One is -- and I'm leaving the Pakistani piece aside -- one is the Afghan, one is the American, and third is the European NATO troop contributors.  And the political dynamic in each one is different and needs to be looked at differently.  But I think the basic principle that it's dynamic and not a static situation is correct.

DEYOUNG:  What about in Pakistan, as the United States tries to rebuild this relationship with the Pakistani military and to equip them and get them to move more in the direction we want them to move to, what effect do the Predator attacks actually have there?  Are we creating more problems than we're solving?

CURTIS:  Well, first, let me address something Dan said.  I agree with him that we are talking about a lack of capacity, which is driving Pakistani policies more toward appeasement than confrontation.  But I do think there's a second problem, and this is the perceptions of the Pakistani security establishment of what they view as the major threat, which is still India.  And I almost see it as a bunker mentality.

The Pakistani government is besieged by numerous problems, primary of which is the continued suicide bombings that we've seen over the last two years.  But there's a tendency to blame outsiders, a tendency to blame India, blame the U.S., rather than look internally and figure out what to do internally.  So I see that as a major stumbling block that has to change.

But in terms of the Predator strikes, look, I think it's important to note that we have made more progress against al Qaeda in the last nine months than we have made since 9/11 because of the ability to decapitate the senior leadership through the Predator strikes.  You know, obviously there are short-term unacceptable threats to not only U.S. citizens, European citizens, Pakistani citizens, and I think, you know, this is what we need to keep in mind.

Over the long term, Predator strikes are not the solution.  I think that's clear.  So we do have a fundamental dilemma here.  But I also think that Pakistani leaders need to find a way to acknowledge to Pakistani citizens that the drone attacks are actually helpful to their goals.  Some of these drone strikes have targeted the people who were responsible for bombing the Marriott hotel, which killed scores of people last September.

So I think there needs to be a change in how we talk about these strikes, and we need to work with the Pakistanis and maybe think about joint operations, however those can happen, so that the Pakistanis can take more responsibility for these operations, which frankly have been effective at degrading the terrorist threat.

DEYOUNG:  Would you, Dan --

MARKEY:  Yeah.  I agree that the longer-term goal for the United States with Pakistan should be to improve our capacity to conduct joint operations, or at least to cooperate on counterterrorism, on counterinsurgency.  That is the goal.  But the acceleration of the use of the Predator strikes has made that goal, at least in the near term, harder.

I also agree that they appear to have been effective against the narrow threat of al Qaeda, which is exceedingly difficult to get at with any other tool that's at our disposal, but they have also been -- the use of the Predators has been expanded to other targets, which there is a question about just how valuable it is to use that particular kind of weapon.

Even if, for instance, they were successful, I think we need to ask, against somebody like Baitullah Massoud, sort of now a known-quantity Pakistani Taliban leader, the question would be, wouldn't tomorrow we get another Baitullah Massoud?  And I think the answer is yes.

So we have to weigh that in the balance.  I'm not saying I wouldn't like him taken off the map.  I'm simply saying that there is a cost that we are paying for that, and it's a significant cost.

DEYOUNG:  Do you think they're not weighing it?

MARKEY:  Well, I think we have weighed it, and I think it's being weighed differently than it was a year ago.  And I think that, for my money, I would prefer to go back to the previous wing.  I think we've done a good job in the near term of disrupting some networks that were getting out of control.  And although I don't have access to this information, I would hope that that disruption was successful and that now we can go back to sort of a more selective and narrow approach, because we are paying a price for this politically.

And it is hurting our longer-term effort to build that relationship with the Pakistanis, and not just with the Pakistani military, that thin layer of the Pakistani leadership that is willing to cooperate with us already, but the broader layer of Pakistanis, some of whom may end up in positions of power in the relative near term anyway, including the PMLN leadership, which it's going to be very hard to cooperate with them effectively on the basis of this kind of relationship.

DEYOUNG:  Can I -- just one more question, a kind of broad question to Ambassador Neumann, and then we'll open the floor to your questions.

Ambassador Neumann, could you talk just a bit about the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan and why it is so difficult and why it is so important to improve it in order to solve this problem, or at least begin to address it?

NEUMANN:  Let me see if I can do the short version of a long answer.

The Pashtun areas of Pakistan include a larger Pashtun population than the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan.  Historically the tribes have always had a relationship.  The historic kingdom of Afghanistan in the 18th century reached into Peshawar.  They lost it to Sikhs.  So you have an evolution of things here.

The British created a kind of boundary which the Afghans viewed as simply an administrative line.  In other words, the tribes on that side are your problem to take care of.  The tribes on this side are my problem to take care of.  They never regarded it as a state boundary the way they've accepted all the boundaries with Iran, with Central Asia, with China.

When Pakistan became independent, Afghanistan initially did not recognize Pakistan.  They thought some of these parts ought to be theirs.  And in fact, they voted against Pakistan -- Pakistan's entry into the United Nations, for which the Pakistanis have never forgiven them.

So you have gone down through the last 60 years now with a periodic Afghan effort to flutter this issue -- what do Afghan's call a Pashtun who lives in Pakistan -- Afghan.

And the Pakistanis fearing that the Afghans would be part of dismembering the state -- and you know, there is an old joke that says even paranoids have real enemies.  And I thought of that at one point when I was in Khost and I was watching a police colonel giving me a brief that my American colleagues -- military colleagues -- were very proud of, because he was standing up straight and he had his talking points down and he had his pointer and he was pointing at the map.  And then I realized that what was written in Farsi around the outside of Khost province was not Pakistan, it was Pashtunistan.  Well, you know, that's the kind of thing that alarms the Pakistanis.

So you have two sides that have a lot of reasons to cooperate, but have a history of not cooperating; each distrusting the other, Pakistanis distrusting Afghan irredentism over Pashtun issues; Afghan's seeing Pakistan repeatedly mucking about inside Afghanistan; Pakistanis afraid of the Indian-Pakistani relationship and whether they will have a strategic threat of India coming at them from the rear in Pakistan and wanting to stabilize that.

So long littered history in which there is not only huge suspicions, but in which each side has given the other some genuine grounds for that suspicion.  So now you're trying to convince them that this particular issue of extremism ought properly to outweigh all these other problems you've had and all the other genuine grounds for suspicion, which are not all fantasies, and say you've really got to get together on this stuff.

But you know, this is hard for Americans, because we're one of the few people that have almost no historical consciousness.  You know, we talk about the decade of the '70s, decade of the '80s as though we expect 10 years to be a new beginning.  You're talking about people who describe, you know, historical events as though they happened yesterday and have kind of walked forward by looking backwards.  And it's hard.

CURTIS:  Yeah.  I just want to bring the India element.  And I think there is a fundamental gap between Pakistan and the U.S. and the perception of the Indo-Pakistani problem.

In Pakistan, you hear senior military officials saying, well, if we have to worry about India or worry about Kashmir, then we can't focus on what's happening on our other border with Afghanistan.

But from the U.S. perspective, I think the issue is, you know, we see the fundamental threat on the other border and I think the U.S. doesn't perceive that India necessarily wants to subsume Pakistan or wants to destabilize Pakistan.  And you know, many in the Pakistani security establishment sincerely believe this.

So I think that we need to address the fundamental, you know, misperceptions between both sides on the India-Pakistan dispute.

DEYOUNG:  But doesn't the -- I mean, I think the Indians and the Pakistanis have made it quite clear as the United States increases its diplomatic involvement in the region that they don't see -- they don't see an attempt to build a better relationship between India and Pakistan as part of, for example, Richard Holbrooke's brief in being the special representative.  In they were -- at least the Pakistanis were quite explicit about saying stay out of this.  This is not --

MARKEY:  Actually, I would suggest that the Pakistanis -- many of them were eager to see great -- in this particular instance to see greater U.S. involvement, because they believed that the United States could provide them with greater leverage against the Indians to the Indians who were kind of allergic to the idea of having a greater U.S. role to play -- at least in a public way.

But I would suggest that anybody who's interested in kind of peeling away the layers of the recent India-Pakistan relationship should read Steve Coll's piece in a recent New Yorker issue that goes through and looks at the back-channel discussions that have been had over the last several years and really peels away.

And I think the lesson that I learn from that -- and from those events -- is that the India-Pakistan relationship, at least at the levels of leadership, is ripe for some improvement, but that there are many, many people -- spoilers on both sides -- who are looking to pull that down.  And Mumbai was a good example of how relatively easy it is to throw a wrench into the works there.  So I think that's where we stand on the India-Pakistan relationship.

And just very briefly, just on the Pakistani sort of obsession with India -- I don't think there's almost anything the United States can really do in the near term to fix that.  But I think it's also positively counterproductive for us to essentially dismiss that as if it's not meaningful.  That doesn't mean we have to buy into it.  It simply means that diplomatically it doesn't serve our purposes.

So recognize that this is an obsession that they'll continue to have and try to work around it or at least accept it into our statements, rather than sort of pushing it aside.  I think that's the kind of thing that leads Pakistanis to believe that we really don't understand them or something like that.  And that puts us into an even more difficult position.

NEUMANN:  Could I just add -- I think it's very much along the lines of sort of extending Dan's thought.

You've got some very specific pieces you've got to deal with in terms of how you deal with this.  One is convincing the Pakistanis that we will stay with them.  So if you want to say, you know, we understand you've got this threat and you've got to deal with it.  A piece of that is how do you convince them we're not going to abandon them again?  Their fear of abandonment is as large as the Afghans for much the same kind of reasons.

The other piece is on the one hand, we won't abandon you.  On the other hand, you're not going to have the luxury of having only one threat.  That's where drones and other things come in.  We will not -- we the Americans cannot accept (it ?) definitely dying, because you have one threat that's larger than another.  So you now have a problem with us, as well as a problem with extremism.  We can help you deal with the problem; we can help you deal with the other problem, but you don't have a free ride.

This is a lot more complicated than walking and chewing gum.  And good luck, Ambassador Holbrooke, because he understands it.  But when you start looking at drones, India, these things -- it's not about our statements.  It's about how you play and weigh and weight these pieces to maneuver and help push Pakistani to where we need it to be.

DEYOUNG:  Let's invite all of you to join the discussion now.  If you -- after you're called on, please wait for the microphone to get to you and then state your name and affiliation.

Yes, right there in the yellow.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.  Elise Labbot with CNN.

I was wondering if you could talk about the 17,000 troops that are going to go into Afghanistan and how -- you've heard from some Pakistanis that they're afraid that some of the extremists and Taliban that are on the border are going into Pakistan, further destabilize Pakistan and that could have a dramatic effect on Baluchistan and even kind of get Iran excited.

So I mean, when you talk about the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan how that all fits into it.

Thanks.

NEUMANN:  I think that's kind of a bogus issue.  You know, this is not a surge.  This is a marginal reinforcement at the point where you're about to lose.

We're talking about moving the U.S. force from about 20 percent of what we have in Iraq to about 30 percent.  This is scarcely a surge in a country that's larger than Iraq, rougher, has a larger population.

I would be extraordinarily surprised if 17,000 additional troops will so seal the border or so dramatically reverse the military situation that it will push large numbers of people back into Pakistan.  I'd be really kind of happy if we had that quality of not necessarily pushing, but if 17,000 could make that big a difference, you know, I'd stand up and cheer.

But I think what 17,000 gets you is a little bit of pushback, a little bit more security around Kabul, a little bit more capacity to protect certain areas while you build and train Afghan security forces.

The insurgents have the capacity -- as they have all along -- to move people back and forth across the border.  And they may well do that if they feel the Pakistani government needs to feel more threatened for one reason or another.  But that that would have some one-to-one relationship with this rather small incremental reinforcement I think is nonsense.

CURTIS:  Yeah, I would just add to that:  I would argue that it would be just as much or more of a threat to Pakistan if the U.S. did not send reinforcement to, you know, gain back the upper hand against the Taliban.

If the Taliban succeeds in increasing its influence in Afghanistan, that is only going to embolden it and allow it to be more powerful in Pakistan.

So I think, you know, you're in a bit of a catch-22.  But I think it brings up the issue of you can't ignore the threat to both countries and you have to deal with the threat from the Taliban and al Qaeda in both countries.

QUESTIONER:  Andrew Pierre, Georgetown University.

I'd like to raise the question of command and control of nuclear weapons in Pakistan and, secondarily, the question of further sales of nuclear technology or sensitive technology around the world from Pakistan.

Over the years, when the first question was raised, nuclear weapons, the response has usually been, oh, don't worry, everything's safe and secure within certain elements of military command and control system.

But things have -- changing rapidly, seems to be, in Pakistan.  And the incentive for the Taliban to get a hold of that seems to be very high.

So my (first of all ?) question is how confident can we be today on this question of command and control of nuclear weapons technology and the whole complex there.

And secondly, even though presumably A.U. (sic) Khan as been wrapped up and so on, how confident can we be that in fact there isn't a continuing sale and diversion of sensitive technologies to some key countries in the world?

CURTIS:  Well, I would say we should be a lot less confident than we were a year ago, given these appeasement policies toward the militants that I described earlier.

I've talked about the need to shore up the Pakistan military, shore up the civilian leaders, support them in this time of crisis.

But at the same time, I think we need a contingency containment strategy in the chance that the Pakistan military decides it's not going to hold the line against the militants.

I don't necessarily believe that's the case, but I think, as you stated, things are fairly unpredictable and fluid right now.  And so there does need to be contingency strategies that I'm sure our U.S. government is considering.

But for the time being, I think we need to have faith in the Pakistan military, that it will in fact hold the line and that it won't allow the same kind of thing that's happening in the Northwest Frontier Province to happen in the heartland, in the Punjab.

But at the same time, we need to have these strategies on the back shelf in case things do not go the way that we would hope.

MR.  :  If I could just add, this question always comes up.

The Pakistani nuclear program, I think, is as safe and secure as anything within the Pakistani military is.  And as an institution, it privileges or prioritizes that program above most everything else -- not for the reasons that we care about, but because they see it as their guarantee against the existential threat posed by India.

That will continue to be true.  That was true a year ago; that's true today.  The technical protections that they have around their program are the same today as they were a year ago.

The broader question, though, gets to this fundamental issue of the stability of the Pakistani state.  And that's when you asked, when Karen asked just -- do we have three to five years with this Pakistani state?

And the answer comes right back to the Pakistani military.  Because whether we like it or not, the Pakistani military continues to be the institutional backbone of the Pakistani state.

When we see instances where the military seems to be ceding authority -- and that's where Swat comes in, potentially, but I perceive that slightly differently.  I see it as a civilian application as much as a military one, if not more than one.

But when we see those instances, we start to worry about whether the army has what it takes.

But I think we then need to go back around to this question of what does the military continue to see as its primary threat, which is India.  And so the military is somewhat distracted and is not using its resources in ways that are fighting the threat that we fear.

And so that gives me somewhat more confidence that they actually have resources that they can, in time -- and we can encourage them to -- turn to those uses.

And so while I'm frustrated and concerned today, I'm not as worried about the immediate disintegration of the Pakistani nuclear program or of the army.  And I think there's potential there in turning them to better purposes over the next several years and throughout this administration and on into the future.

DEYOUNG:  The gentleman on the aisle there.

QUESTIONER:  Juan Cole, of the University of Michigan, who is sort of a contrarian professor but very well informed, stated on the Charlie Rose program the other night that the internal threat in Pakistan is exaggerated, because people don't take into account the solid asset, which Dan referred to just a minute ago, that constitutes the Pakistani army.

I've seen the Pakistani army in action, and it's a pretty impressive force.  It can't stand up to India, but I find it difficult to visualize the Pakistani army turning the country over to jihadists.

CURTIS:  Well, I think that is shared by many Pakistanis and many followers of Pakistan that see the Pakistan military as a very serious, professional organization.

I do think it's been tested over the last couple of years, fighting militancy along the border in Afghanistan, and having been defeated, basically, in Swat Valley.  So it's suffered many challenges, but I think that we all would like to believe that this is the case.

But I think some of us long-time Pakistan watchers are getting concerned by what we see -- the surrender of the Swat Valley -- and we see this emboldening the militants.

And I mentioned the release of Maulana Abdul Aziz, the Red Mosque leader who led a standoff at the Red Mosque that led to a confrontation with the military that resulted in a hundred people dying.  So I think there is concern that some forces are being unleashed in the country.

And we would like to see the Pakistan military step up to the plate and demonstrate that it is willing and capable to take on the threat.

DEYOUNG:  Could you, Dan -- I know you said this a couple of times now.  Could you just explain very briefly your differences over what happened in the Swat Valley?

You said you see it as a civilian action, as opposed to the kind of military appeasement that -- (cross talk).

MARKEY:  When I look at the recent history of what happened in the Swat Valley, I see it as intimately connected with ANP leadership in the Northwest Frontier Province.

And the ANP leadership came into office after last year's national elections with a plan that they were going to engage in negotiations with some of the militants in the Northwest Frontier Province as a means to meet basic grievances that have existed over years -- decades, really.

And they did so with the idea that if they could meet some of those grievances, then they could also co-opt certain aspects of the militancy that was raging there.

Now, the ANP has proceeded along these lines, and I think what's happened is the ANP has been, itself, found lacking.  It's been -- essentially, it's been cowed by the level of violence that it has faced.

Its leadership has been sent packing, literally, outside the country, and it's had a very difficult time standing up to these groups politically.  And so they have asked the army to come back in.  The army has not been effective, as Lisa suggests.

But I don't think that this should be seen as an army-only operation in the Swat Valley, which differentiates it from a lot of what has happened in the tribal -- the FATA, where the army really has played the leading role, as compared to the political leadership, which has had almost no role whatsoever.  So there is a distinction there.

If I could just make one other point, is when we talk about the instability, or the rising instability of the Pakistani state, I think it's important to recognize it at least -- or I see it this way -- as at least two dynamics.

There is this Talibanization that we're talking a lot about, the extension of the kinds of threats that we see in the tribal belt to other parts of Pashtun Pakistan.

But there's also a threat that I think is underappreciated, which has existed for years and years, which is now starting to get some attention, which is in the heartland of Pakistan, in the Punjab.

These are not Pashtuns.  These are Sunni extremist groups that had been nurtured by the Pakistani state itself, that have all kinds of training camps and all kinds of tentacles that connect them to various parts of the Pakistani state.  They have a lot of sympathy within certain parts of the population.

And they are themselves seeing increasingly the state of Pakistan as their target, as a threat to them, and they are doing things that are turning against that state.

And so that's -- there's this twofold threat to stability in Pakistan.  It's not all the same thing as the sort of extension of this Taliban threat from the Afghan side of the border.

CURTIS:  It's important to remember that voters overwhelmingly voted for the ANP in  the 2008 elections in Swat Valley.  So --

But ultimately, the civilians need security.  It comes down to security, which only the military can provide.

DEYOUNG:  Let's see if we can get three or four questions.

Yes, back there?  Sir?

QUESTIONER:  Mike Haltz (ph), with Johns Hopkins SAIS.

I'd like to ask about al Qaeda.  We haven't talked much about al Qaeda today.

Could you give us a sense of what the relationship is between the Taliban and al Qaeda?  Is al Qaeda so reduced in power that it's no longer a big factor?  Do they cooperate operationally?  Do you have an estimate of how many fighters there are from outside the immediate area -- Arabs, Chechens, others?

And then finally, does al Qaeda have any connection whatsoever with the Punjabi Sunni extremists that you just mentioned, Dan?

NEUMANN:  You do part of it and I'll do part of it?  (Cross talk.)

MARKEY:  Do you want to take the Afghan piece?

NEUMANN:  Well, on the Afghan piece, although I don't claim to be completely up to date, the al Qaeda-Taliban interconnection has grown stronger over the last few years.  It is larger, it is more numerous, it shows signs of more importation of tactics, and it is just overall closer.

The numbers of foreign fighters appearing on the battlefield are gradually, gradually increasing.  Those numbers are still comparatively small if you want to do a -- if you were contrasting with Iraq, good deal smaller.

There is, to the extent the Taliban was not prepared to break its ties with al Qaeda or to relinquish them when they were under threat from us, I would say that, well, there's a limit to how much we -- (audio break) -- extreme limits, but all of the superficial evidence right now would say it is less likely that you would break that tie now.

Now, granted, you're in the middle of a war and in a war you'd use the support that is available and extrapolating from that to -- (audio break) -- highly speculative business.  But what you see on the ground is -- it's tighter, it's closer and it's more.

MARKEY:  I think the way that it's typically characterized in Pakistan is that the al Qaeda element is quite small, but that it's a force multiplier for a variety of other groups.  They bring resources and expertise, technical expertise that make these other groups much more effective.  I think -- my understanding is that they also do have ties to the Sunni extremist groups, and in some ways, those ties are more troubling because the global interconnectedness of those types of groups and their training over decades now makes them potentially more threatening, certainly to India, but also potentially far outside of Pakistan than even the Pashtun specific foot soldiers of the Taliban.  So that's how I perceive it.

CURTIS:  Well, there are more linkages than differences.  These groups -- al Qaeda, Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen -- some of the Pakistan-based groups, many of them have trained together in Afghan training camps.  They provide each other logistical support.  They have ultimately the same ideological objectives.

So I would say there is more commonalities than differences between these groups.  And as Ambassador Neumann has pointed out, these linkages and dependencies have only grown since Osama bin Laden came to Afghanistan in 1996.  He's been there a long time.

DEYOUNG:  This gentleman -- yes.  (Chuckles.)

QUESTIONER:  Usually

(Cross talk.)

QUESTIONER:  -- the narrative we usually hear now is will the Pakistani army make the U-turn away from seeing the primary threat being India to recognizing the problem of control of its own territory against extremists.  So my question is is there any capacity of resistance of Talibanization on the part of the civil society?  One.  And two, are there differences in the different regions in Pakistan in terms of their ability to resist various forms of extremism?

MARKEY:  I would say absolutely.  This is the kind of capacity that presumably, you know, $1.5 billion a year out of the Obama administration should be looking to shore up, which is both the incentives within sort of the Pakistani public as well as their governance capacity to provide law and order opportunities -- police, judiciary and so on -- that make the rest of Pakistan more resistant to the threat of expanding extremism, whether it's Talibanization or just Sunni extremism or otherwise in other parts of Pakistan.  And yes, there are very significant differences in different parts of Pakistan.

On my last trip, I spent some time in Karachi and there it's a very different environment than the Punjab or certainly along the Afghan border, and there are strong groups within Karachi, some of them we have other differences with, but the MQM has everything to lose from increasing Talibanization of Sin of the city and they recognize that and they're playing up that threat and they are sort of looking to rally against that threat.

Now, the MQM has its own history that I won't get into, but they are potential partner for the United States simply because their interests on this issue are aligned with ours to some degree, and I think that that's the kind of indigenous, sort of resistance to this problem that we can really support, that we can get behind.  And that's the way through the police and local institutions that they can essentially stand up to the Taliban threat themselves.

DEYOUNG:  I think we have time for just one more question.  Yes.  Right here, ma'am?

QUESTIONER:  Actually, I wanted to go back to the Punjab Fata.  I think that now --

DEYOUNG:  Can you identify yourself?

QUESTIONER:  My name is Christine Fair from Rand in Georgetown.  Now, that The New York Times has, you know, brought some attention to the Southern Punjab issue, there is this very regrettable tendency to look at that as a separate phenomenon -- and, in fact, I'd like to point out that Southern Punjab is the escalator that links fellows from the U.K. into Fata.  You just don't show up from Bradford or wherever and find yourself in Fata.

You go through these networks of Punjab-based organizations and the other thing is very interesting, much of the suicide bombing is coming out of the Pakistani Taliban is actually Lashkar -- (inaudible) -- which was one of those southern-based Punjab groups.

And so, I think, the question I have for Dan and Lisa, in particular, is although it does go back to the fact that despite all of these various events, the Pakistani strategic elite has not yet decided that these groups are a net public bad; that, in fact they're completely willing to trade off near-term instability for the long-term fight against India -- (audio break) -- political elite that actually shares this understanding and -- (inaudible) -- with whatever resources are available to them, do they have it.  But I think secondarily it goes back to the elite -- (inaudible) -- the events that happened -- (inaudible) -- as a consequence of Pakistan's failed policies -- (Inaudible) -- the logic goes like this.  The Pakistan army is killing Pakistanis because it's aligned with -- (inaudible).

CURTIS:  (Inaudible) -- problem with the narrative in Pakistan is actually preventing them from having an honest discourse about the threat from terrorism, and you saw this with the video that went around of the flogging of the 17-year-old girl in Swat.  And, initially, you had people speaking out and questioning.  You even had the chief justice calling, you know, people up and asking questions about it and, you know, saying this was treatment outside of Pakistan's constitution.  But then you had the Taliban coming back and saying, you Pakistani leaders should be more interested in the girl's right than the problems they're causing for Pakistan -- (inaudible) -- within Pakistan.

So I think clearly that we have to emphasize that what these extremist groups -- (inaudible) -- to, you know, Pakistan's traditional pluralist tendencies, what the leaders of Pakistan envisioned for the Pakistani state.  And, you know, it's that kind of narrative that needs to come out, but it needs to come from the Pakistani leadership.

DEYOUNG:  I think -- did you want to, just very, very quickly, close?

MARKEY:  I think when we look back to the Musharraf years, one of the fundamental and I think correct criticisms of that period were that the public was not brought into this debate at all, and, in fact, Musharraf tended to justify his relationship with the United States on basically counterproductive ways and what that meant was that the people of Pakistan were not brought into this.  They did not come to see their role in fighting against terrorism as being significant.

The hope with the shift from Musharraf to a more democratic regime was that you would start to get more of a public debate, more of a democratic accountability to this process and this has been a very rocky road and it's now -- we're a year into it.  It hasn't succeeded along those lines quite, but I would say that there is a level of public debate that wasn't there before.  It's not where we want it to be and people aren't reaching the conclusions we would love them to reach, and yet it's probably still healthy that this is an avenue that's open now that was less open before.

I think that's probably the only way that we're going to see a gradual shift in this direction and it may not happen, but that was the hope in shifting away from sort of a military regime, they would start to see more public debate and bring the people on so that they would recognize what was actually in their interests and I think we're still hoping.

DEYOUNG:  Thank you all.  I think we've gone a little bit over our time.  Thank you to all of our panelists and, clearly, haven't had enough of this subject, so stay for the next panel.

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