Taliban forces now occupy parts of Pakistan and seem intent on both expanding and challenging the current government of the state. The government seems intent on trying to appease the Taliban. Meanwhile, the Pakistan military is threatening to take action against the Taliban.
Obviously, the situation is rather serious. One obvious concern is that Pakistan is a nuclear power and should it fall under the control of the Taliban, then they will have access to nuclear weapons. Needless to say, this would most likely be catastrophic. Even in the Taliban is not able to take full control of Pakistan, their presence creates a serious instability and this situation might soon involve neighboring states as well. Of particular concern is Pakistan’s traditional enemy, the nuclear armed state of India. While India is not doubt considering the advantages of a weakened and partially occupied Pakistan, they are also no doubt concerned about what having the Taliban on their border. As such, it is reasonable to be concerned that India might decide to step in and take action.
In some ways Pakistan has helped to bring the situation on itself. Apparently, Pakistan has encouraged and supported various groups in the hopes of using them to its advantage. However, they seem to have forgotten a very important rule: never raise up what you cannot put down. While Pakistan has an impressive military, they might be hard pressed to deal with the sort of war/insurgency waged by the Taliban. Things could go very badly for Pakistan-very badly indeed.
The United States also has to accept some responsibility for the current situation. When we were focused on Afghanistan, it seemed that we had effectively broken the Taliban. However, when Bush and Cheney took us on an adventure into Iraq, this focus was lost. While we were sorting out the quagmire that we created in Iraq, the Taliban was able to rebuild and emerge as a serious threat once more. While it is not possible to conclusively prove what might have been, it is almost certain that things would be much different now if the United States had remained focused on Afghanistan. While Obama has shown that he intends to refocus American attention there, precious time and opportunity has already been badly wasted. Further, many of our resources are tied up in Iraq. As such, if Pakistan falls to the Taliban, it would be fair to say that Bush and Cheney helped hand the state to them.
Now the question is this: what should the United States do? It seems unlikely that a diplomatic solution will work in this situation, though perhaps it is worth trying. Dealing with the Taliban via military means will also be challenging. First, many of our forces are tied up elsewhere. Second, Pakistan is (for now) a sovereign state and hence our intrusion could very well lead to conflict with Pakistan. Third, there are the usual challenges with dealing with a force such as the Taliban. Fourth, there is the concern that other states in the area (such as Iran and India) might react poorly to yet another American adventure in the area.
Obviously the United States cannot allow Pakistan to fall to the Taliban and we certainly cannot allow them to gain access to nuclear weapons. How we are to prevent this will be a major challenge to Obama. We shall see soon enough if the candidate of hope is now the president of action.