Afghanistan Matters Because of Pakistan

President Obama is taking his time deciding what to do next in Afghanistan. Never mind that he’s rethinking a war he declared a "war of necessity" just a few short months ago. Never mind that the longer he dithers the less chance we have of turning around a war we’re losing. Never mind that politically, Afghanistan is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t sort of war.

Obama needs to face it -- there are no good options left with Afghanistan. But he also needs to focus on the main event -- it’s not just Afghanistan anymore, it’s Pakistan. An unstable Afghanistan could once again become a safe haven for terrorists. But so could Somalia or Algeria or Yemen. But an unstable Pakistan carries the added risk that nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of anti-American Islamic extremists. And that’s the greater national security threat to the United States.

That doesn’t mean we should invade Pakistan -- it would be counter-productive. But we finally have a partner in Pakistan’s President Zardari who is willing to take the fight to the Taliban and has begun rooting them out of the tribal areas along the Afghan border. We should support Zardari -- with both military assistance to help their fight, and with economic assistance to build their economy.

Pakistan’s main problem is its failed economy. As such it has become a recruitment center for Islamic extremists, suicide bombers and terrorists. There are lots of reasons for this, but none of them irreversible. And, never in the history of the world has there been a poor country on the border of a rich country that hasn’t benefited from the crumbs that fall from its table. India's economic miracle wasn't replicated in Pakistan. But it should be.

President Obama needs to confer now with Britain and India to decide how we can work together to spur Pakistan’s economy and build their middle class. Britain has a long history in the region and it's main internal threat comes from Pakistani-affiliated sleeper cells. India realizes now that an unstable Pakistan is a greater threat to its security than a strong Pakistan ever was.

Increased foreign assistance budgets aren’t enough. We need a Marshall Plan for Pakistan, with other countries helping to foot the bill.

It’s become a mantra in some quarters that we have to "win" in Afghanistan before we tackle Pakistan. It’s really the other way around -- we need to help Zardari defeat the Taliban in Pakistan or our efforts in Afghanistan -- no matter how significant or successful -- will be for naught.

Kathleen Troia "K.T." McFarland served in national security posts in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations. She is frequent contributor to the FOX Forum and's "Strategy Room." She also appears weekly in the video blog "DefCon3."