Under recently deposed Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, our supposed ally in the Afghanistan war, U.S.-led NATO troops were prohibited from crossing the border into Pakistan to do battle with Taliban and al-Qaida forces. In effect, this provides a safe haven for Muslim terrorist leaders like bin Laden not only to hide, but to recruit and train new terrorists to cross the border and wage war against Afghanistan.
As long as that safe haven exists, NATO and Afghan troops will not be able to make the country safe for democracy. Indeed, since the Taliban were run out in the wake of 9-11, they've regained control of large swaths of Afghanistan. Without those safe havens, this couldn't have happened.
But earlier this month, as Musharraf was slowly being shorn of his presidency, President Bush, for the first time, gave the green light for ground forces to chase the enemy across the border into Pakistan. Led by attack helicopters, U.S. troops killed 15 terrorist leaders. Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force has stepped up the use of Predator drones to bomb suspected Taliban and al-Qaida compounds in Pakistan's northwest mountains.
Despite these cross-border attacks by the U.S., there's been no sign of the widespread "street" upheavals that Musharraf warned of which, he claimed. would likely overthrow his military government, to be replaced by an extremist Muslim leadership that would then be in control of the country's nuclear bomb arsenal -- a scary prospect indeed.
Musharraf has not been replaced by extremists, but by a democratic government led by Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain pro-U.S. leader Benazir Bhutto. Of course, for domestic reasons he cannot publicly approve of the U.S. raids, but his "disapproval" has been remarkably muted, as have the anti-U.S. street demonstrations; only hundreds have rioted in Islamabad and elsewhere around the country, not the hundreds of thousands that Musharraf warned of.
In fact, it looks as if Musharraf played Uncle Sam for Uncle Sucker all those years he was in power. Our government shelled out billions in aid so he could stay in power because he seemed to be the only person around who could keep Pakistan's nuclear program out of the hands of terrorists. Now we know that's not true.
In actuality, those "safe haven" border areas are not under control of the Pakistan government. They are a part of Pakistan only in a geographic sense. Pakistan's enemies control the region now. Hence, there's no reason why, if Pakistan's own government can't respect its own borders, why anyone else should.
Both U.S. presidential candidates say it's time to step up the war in Afghanistan, particularly as the Iraq war winds down. That should mean not only sending in more troops, as President Bush is already doing, but getting rid of the safe havens.
It's good if we have the covert support of Pakistan's government, but even if that should be lost, there's no excuse not to continue going after those enemy enclaves. The Afghan war is simply not winnable until the "Gates of Hell" are breached and broken.