Pakistan is both the problem and the solution to the most salient terrorist threat still directed against us. Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies could not function without the passive connivance of Pakistani authorities. Moreover, agreements concluded over the past two years between President Pervez Musharraf and the restive tribes along the Afghan border have assured Al Qaeda the noninterference with its activities that enables it to thrive. At the same time, the pivotal role played by Pakistan in the disruption of major attacks and the arrests of low-level plotters shows how dependent the U.S. remains on even this partial cooperation.
Defeating Al Qaeda requires, foremost, that our assessments and analyses be anchored firmly to sound, empirical judgment and not blinded by conjecture and wishful thinking. Second, we need to refocus our attention and efforts on Pakistan and Afghanistan, where, in the months after 9/11, Al Qaeda was indeed on the run. Third, Al Qaeda cannot be defeated by military means alone because it relies on propaganda and radicalization.
Accordingly, the U.S. needs a strategy that better combines the tactical elements of systematically destroying and weakening Al Qaeda's capabilities alongside the equally critical imperatives of countering the resonance of that movement's message and breaking the cycle of terrorist recruitment and replenishment that has both sustained and replenished Al Qaeda.