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Obama's Pakistan Challenge

Pakistan contains everything "that gives you an international migraine," commented former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright at a recent CFR meeting. Albright echoes popular sentiment in Washington: With its nuclear weapons, terrorism, poverty, corruption, faltering economy, weak government, and critical geostrategic location, Pakistan is a top concern for the incoming Obama administration. In particular, experts say its lawless northwest tribal region, which acts as a terrorist sanctuary for militants from around the world, has become central to winning the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, ensuring a stable South Asia, and curbing global terrorism.

President-elect Barack Obama, in a December 2008 interview with NBC's Meet the Press, said: "We can't solve Afghanistan without solving Pakistan." More broadly, he has stressed a regional solution which includes both India and Iran. The November 2008 terrorist attacks in India's financial capital, Mumbai, which the Indian government blames on Pakistan-based militants, have made this task more difficult by increasing tension between New Delhi and Islamabad (AFP). Yet experts still agree a regional approach is the best solution. In September 2008, the Bush administration formed a "Friends for Pakistan" group to work with Pakistan on issues such as stability, development, and institution building. The group includes China and Saudi Arabia, which hold considerable influence over Pakistan's military and political elite, and which some experts say the Obama administration should engage more closely as part of its strategy for dealing with Pakistan. "Winning the war for Pakistan will require an urgent, massive, and sustained effort by the United States in coordination with other international partners and allies in Pakistan," writes CFR Senior Fellow Daniel Markey.

Pakistan's stability also has ramifications for Washington's broader, regional interests. Roughly 80 percent of all U.S. and...

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