But now, in one sense, it's September 11, 2001 all over again. The U.S. has told Pakistan that it is fed up with getting screwed around by the ISI, and if Pakistan doesn't clean out the ISI, and shut down Islamic terrorists along the Afghan border, NATO, U.S. and Afghan troops will cross the border and do it.
Pakistan wants continued U.S. military aid to bolster its defenses against India. But if it suddenly has a hostile U.S. in Afghanistan, and less (or no) military aid, it's general military situation will be, well, not good. While Afghanistan, and the foreign troops there, are dependent on Pakistani ports and trucking companies for supplies, Pakistan is also dependent on the U.S. Navy for access to the sea. Pakistan does not want to go to war with the United States in order to defend Islamic terrorists it openly says it is at war with. Pakistan is being forced to destroy the Islamic radical movement it has nurtured over the last three decades, although it's still questionable if there's enough political will in Pakistan to actually do the deed.
When I've spoken of the Pakistani threat to our supply lines that makes me extremely wary of putting too many of our troops in this potential Stalingrad in the mountains, I recognize that a rational calculation on the part of Pakistan's rulers would mean they would never dare risk our loss of support by failing to protect our supply lines.
The problem is the source of that political will problem. Too many Pakistanis have either sympathies toward the jihadis or get all excitable that we are killing jihadis in Pakistan.
I don't know if the Pakistani government will always make a rational calculation when it comes to our supply lines. Will it be rational for Pakistani rulers to fight jihadis in the frontier when their own people are clamoring for their heads on a platter for waging such a war and there are other Pakistani politicians willing to ride that wave of anger to power? "Waging war" against America might be a far better alternative to their own loss of power, wealth, or even lives at the hands of excitable Pakistanis hopped up on indignation and jihad.
Oh, and how rational will the Pakistani government be if the Indians conclude (rightly or wrongly) that the Mumbai attackers came from Pakistan and received support from the Pakistani government? We are certainly worried about this aspect:
India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir. U.S. officials are concerned about a flare-up in animosity similar to one that occurred after Pakistani militants attacked the Indian parliament in December 2001, the officials said.
Underscoring those fears, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called the foreign minister of India twice, along with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, since the crisis began.
"There were very worrying tensions in the region," said Gordon Duguid, a State Department spokesman. "She was calling the president of Pakistan to get his read on how those tensions might be affected."
As U.S. officials worked to ease hard feelings between India and Pakistan, a tentative rapprochement between the two nuclear-armed rivals could hang in the balance.
The Pakistanis might conclude that they need to switch patrons and flip to the Chinese for diplomatic and military support against a common enemy India, and to heck with America and our war on the Taliban and al Qaeda. The Pakistanis might come to think that it is too difficult to rein in their jihadis who hate India and fight their jihadis who hate America. China will be fine with a Pakistan that supports jihadis who hate India and America.
And seriously, will Pakistani rulers really believe cutting off our supplies to forces in Afghanistan would mean actual war with the next administration? Cheney on a visit to lay down the law might inspire fear. But Biden? Fear of the mob outside the palace will outweigh Pakistani fear of distant America--an America that they believe might be forced to make concessions to Pakistan just to withdraw our forces from landlocked Afghanistan.
Like so many decisions, what is rational from our point of view isn't what could be rational in their environment. And the environment we thought we knew was shot to hell over the last three days in Mumbai. If Pakistan can't control all their jihadis, eventually the tensions could well lead Pakistan to rethink their alliance structure. It is a race against time, public opinion, and American and Indian actions.
Don't bet the supply lines for 40,000 or more American troops (and 30,000 NATO allies) on the rationality of a Pakistani government under pressure from their own people, foreign and domestic jihadis, America, and India. Our military planners might want to read up on the Anabasis.