According to Rasmussen Reports, 60% of U.S. voters are now very concerned about the security of nuclear weapons in Pakistan. That number is up 15 points from last August. And they have every right to be concerned. Facing internal pressure from the Pakistan People’s Party, President Asif Ali Zardari approved a deal with the Taliban last month that allowed the establishment of Islamic Sharia law in the Swat region of the country. The results were predictably disastrous.

The government’s capitulation to the Taliban followed the group’s campaign of violence and intimidation, which included the bombing of dozens of girls’ schools, murder of women who declined to stop work, and public beheadings of those accused of spying. The surrender of Swat to the militants occurred despite the overwhelming vote in favor of the secular political party Awami National Party (ANP) in the February 2008 elections.

Just one week after President Zardari approved the Swat Valley peace agreement, the Taliban took over the neighboring district of Buner. Western media reports indicate local residents of Buner initially were prepared to counter the Taliban but were discouraged by the Government’s agreement to concede Swat. A local politician told reporters that “When the (central) government showed weakness, we too stopped offering resistance to the Taliban.” The Pakistani military eventually took back Buner, but unless the civilian and military leadership demonstrate they are willing to defend their people against militant intimidation and violence, the Taliban will again try to encroach on other areas of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province.

President Barack Obama is meeting today with both President Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai to follow up on the new AfPak strategy he unveiled on March  27th. President Obama supports a vast increase in non-military assistance to the Pakistani people, but also explained that the U.S. would no longer provide a “blank check” to the Pakistani military and would expect more cooperation in combating the Taliban and other extremist groups. The question is, what conditions should the U.S. place on aid to Pakistan? Heritage fellow Lisa Curtis details what benchmark is the most important:

The U.S. Congress should condition future military assistance to Pakistan on Islamabad’s efforts to fight terrorism and permanently break the links between its security services and elements of the Taliban and other extremist groups. Conditioning military assistance to Pakistan is necessary to demonstrate that the U.S. will not tolerate dual policies toward terrorists–and that there will be consequences for Pakistani leaders if elements of the security services provide support to terrorists. Conditioning military aid is not an ideal solution … But from Washington’s perspective, the U.S. must seek to ensure that U.S. aid is not perversely contributing to undermining U.S. objectives in Afghanistan.

If we want to ensure Afghanistan does not again become a safe haven for terrorists, we need to prevent hard line Islamists who support international terrorism from dominating the country. The re-doubling of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan should help convince Pakistanis that America will not repeat its past mistake of turning its back on South Asia like it did in the early 1990s. This fateful decision still haunts U.S.-Pakistani relations and perpetuates a debilitating distrust between our two countries.

There is growing recognition by U.S. officials, however, that Pakistan’s contacts with these groups go beyond “keeping tabs” on them and may involve some Pakistani security officials supporting, and even guiding, the terrorists in planning their attacks and evading coalition forces.

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