This morning, The New York Times reported that the Obama administration may expand the war in Afghanistan deeper into Pakistan in order to target Taliban safe havens in Balochistan.
The war would have a very different character if the Pashtun and Balochi areas of western Pakistan did not act as de facto sanctuaries for the leadership of al Qaeda and the Taliban. As I've written before, NATO's stalemate will continue so long as Pakistan is unable -- or unwilling -- to uproot militant sanctuaries.
But I've also argued about the hazards of the United States using unmanned aerial drones to strike targets within Pakistan. These aerial strikes lead to collateral damage that undermines the authority of sitting Pakistani leaders, fuels violent religious extremism in a nuclear-armed Muslim-majority country and exacerbates anti-American sentiment even among the more moderate elements of the country.
U.S. policy in this region is beyond complicated. It's a complete mess. Right now, more than three-quarters of provisions for U.S. and NATO troops must travel through Pakistan's worsening security conditions to make it into land-locked Afghanistan. But after previous U.S. aerial drone strikes within Pakistan, leaders in Islamabad have more than once closed their main supply route.
As I argue in a forthcoming Cato policy analysis,
Our dependence on [Pakistan] constrains the usefulness of their support... To make matters worse, Washington's diminished leverage over Pakistan means that elements of its military and intelligence service will continue to take advantage of America's dependence by failing to tackle terrorism more vigorously.
Other routes for the Afghanistan mission are currently being considered, but the leaders of these countries bring their own problems, as other scholars have written both here and here.
For the foreseeable future, the war in Afghanistan will remain hostage to events inside Pakistan. And sadly, Washington's attempts to stabilize Afghanistan will likely continue to destabilize Pakistan.