WASHINGTON, April 28 (UPI) -- Next week, Presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Asif Zardari of Pakistan will meet U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington at the trilateral talks aimed at arriving at a coordinated strategy for the troubled region. The news is not good. In testimony to Congress last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of the insurgency in Pakistan as posing a "mortal" threat to the United States. And Central Command head Gen. David Petraeus predicted that Afghanistan will be more difficult than Iraq in seeking a successful resolution.
Last Thursday, CNN broke the news that the Taliban were closing in on Islamabad, advancing to Buner, some 50 miles away. Near universal criticism erupted over the Pakistani Parliament's approval of the deal that legitimized Shariah law in the Swat Valley, a deal that almost certainly will fail, requiring the Pakistani army to clear the region of insurgents once again. And a slew of high-level U.S. delegations back from Pakistan each painted grim pictures of deteriorating situations.
Consequently, all participants in next week's meeting must realize this is the best and possibly last chance to set in place coordinated and comprehensive strategies that will enable Pakistan and Afghanistan to succeed in the fight against extremism -- a fight that if lost will prove Clinton correct and pose a mortal danger to much of the world. But based on past experiences, such meetings are usually too short in duration, too overcrowded with appointments and reluctant to focus bluntly and directly on the most critical issues that must be resolved. And, as the only power that can provide the wherewithal for success, the United States must be open to taking bold steps that may not be popular with Congress, which is already overstretched in doling out economic largesse in this financial crisis. Because most observers see Pakistan as the center of gravity in this struggle, that must be the starting point for ensuring success.
Pakistan has certain critical failings that must be corrected or it cannot prevail over the Taliban, al-Qaida and other foreign fighters who are growing bolder. First, it needs money -- and lots of it. So far, despite all the promises, the United States has simply not followed through on its commitment for aid, and the Kerry-Lugar aid package still languishes in Congress. Even then, the $1.5 billion per year for five years that bill offers is a fraction of the need. A figure of $25 billion over the next several years with a longer-term commitment is closer to the amount required to repair the economy, with a relatively small fraction going to the military and security forces, giving priority to expanding the police as quickly as possible.
Second, Pakistan needs a comprehensive and coordinated set of strategies for security, economic rejuvenation and strategic communications. So far, Pakistan has not been able to generate such plans, preferring instead to submit wish lists to U.S. counterparts, often complaining when they are not filled. Creating these plans may be the biggest hurdle Pakistan faces.
Third, Pakistan needs equipment for counterinsurgency. In addition to helicopters, mobility assets and other obvious systems, Pakistan must be given access to drones so it can conduct the attacks in the northwest or at least be seen as responsible for taking out the so-called bad guys. Inexplicably, debate persists over the extent to which U.S. Predator attacks are aiding and abetting public animosity against America. The fact is that these attacks are doing immense harm to the Pakistan government and us in this war. To restore confidence to an understandably skeptical Congress and public over stewardship of this aid and support, Pakistan must put in place a viable system of oversight, without which such American largesse cannot and should not be forthcoming.
If this meeting can produce agreement and action on the above, an effective Pakistani strategy can be based on two evolving opportunities. First, the "peace" in Swat fails. That means the government can conclude that unless negotiations are predicated on positions of strength -- i.e., dictated -- they will also fail. That means the army will be sent back in to "clear," and a strategy based on strength will emerge. The critical issue becomes who will "hold" once the Taliban are routed? Pakistan must answer that question quickly. And the United States must move to support those efforts with appropriate resources.
Second, Pakistani public opinion now appears to be turning against the Taliban and the insurgents. The ambivalence of many Pakistanis to support the government in this battle against extremists has been very limiting. With this sea change, assuming it is occurring, a new front can be opened against the perpetrators of terror and violence, provided Pakistan can create and execute an effective strategic-communications plan to take advantage of this opportunity and mobilize its population against those who threaten the future existence of that country.
Clearly, Afghanistan is also a central front in this battle. But Pakistan is the strategic center of gravity. Unless the northwest territories and border areas can be pacified, neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan can succeed in this fight. Next week's summit will be make-or-break. And no one can allow it to be a break.
(Harlan Ullman is a senior adviser at the Atlantic Council. His last book is "America's Promise Restored: Preventing Culture, Crusade and Partisanship from Wrecking Our Nation.")
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)