In an interview with MSNBC on Thursday, Jesse Jackson, Jr. made a little slip, mistakenly referring to the war in Pakistan when he meant the war in Afghanistan. He may be prescient. There’s a lot going on in Pakistan, but in light of the crises on Wall Street, the incessant coverage of distractions on the campaign trail (think lipstick), and folks wondering where to get Sarah Palin’s shoes, the Pakistan situation is getting lost in the shuffle.
This morning, Pakistan is back in the news, albeit not front and center with the news of Bush asking for $700 billion in bailout funds, due to the bombing of the Marriott in downtown Islamabad. Right now, the death toll stands at 40, but that number is bound to rise. This follows suicide attacks in August at a munitions plant and a hospital and attacks in Islamabad and Karachi in July. The State Department reported in May of this year that terrorist attacks against noncombatants in Pakistan more than doubled from 2006 to 2007. We can’t be surprised if they issue a similar report next August for the period from 2007 to 2008.
While attacks are increasing inside their country, the Pakistanis are concerned about statements by VP candidate Sarah Palin and Presidential candidate Barack Obama on the campaign trail about how they would act on intelligence regarding terrorists in Pakistan. For example, here’s Sarah Palin in the Charlie Gibson interview:
GIBSON: But, Governor, I’m asking you: We have the right, in your mind, to go across the border with or without the approval of the Pakistani government.
PALIN: In order to stop Islamic extremists, those terrorists who would seek to destroy America and our allies, we must do whatever it takes and we must not blink, Charlie, in making those tough decisions of where we go and even who we target.
GIBSON: And let me finish with this. I got lost in a blizzard of words there. Is that a yes? That you think we have the right to go across the border with or without the approval of the Pakistani government, to go after terrorists who are in the Waziristan area?
PALIN: I believe that America has to exercise all options in order to stop the terrorists who are hell bent on destroying America and our allies. We have got to have all options out there on the table.
In the meantime, Pakistan is denouncing U.S. cross border attacks , which the US claims, in the spirit of Gov. Palin and Sen. Obama, are made in the name of fighting terrorism. On September 3, U.S. Special Forces made a ground assault on a Pakistani village. This attack, which diverted from the airstrike or drone pattern of previous attacks, sent the Pakistani Government into a fury. Far from an isolated incident, however, the attack appears to be just the first step in a growing initiative by the Bush Administration to step up attacks in Pakistan. The initiative, approved in July, allows for US troops to enter Pakistan to conduct raids, without asking the Pakistani Government for permission.
On Tuesday, the new Pakistani President, Asif Ali Zardari, will meet with Bush in New York at the U.N. Sure to top the agenda is the issue of these border raids. It will be interesting to see if, in the middle of the campaign news and the Wall Street melt down, news of the meeting will make media headlines.
The situation in Pakistan could boil over at any time and we should be paying attention. Not only are our military forces stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving us precious few resources to divert to Pakistan, our economy simply cannot handle the strain of a third front in the “war on terror.” We must also consider the long term damage of profoundly souring our relationship with the Pakistani government. This is important, folks. We shouldn’t let it get lost.