Pakistan has now ordered its troops to kill any U.S. soldiers crossing the Afghan border. The media barely gave that a yawn, and the campaigns haven’t even registered it, because they’ve been too busy talking about mooses and pigs. Nonetheless, the situation over there is going critical. Ostensibly our ally in the war on terror, Pakistan has been playing every end against the middle for a while now; their Northwest tribal areas are the central bastion of the Taliban, not to mention (in all likelihood) Bin Laden himself. But those areas are about as remote and ungoverned as any place on Earth is, and the current Pakistani government enjoys no popular support whatsoever for encroaching on them.
Enter the Americans. Who raided the Northwest areas in force last week (which was what triggered the shoot to kill orders), and who now face a classic Catch-22. They can either (a) not go into Pakistan, and thus never win in Afghanistan (or catch Bin Laden), or (b) go into Pakistan and get shot at and potentially start yet another war. Finesse will be called for, all the more so given that Pakistani politics in the wake of the fall of Musharraf is rapidly becoming anyone’s game to win. And American encroachments hold the potential to radicalize those politics very quickly. An outright jihadist takeover is an entirely plausible scenario.
In short, it’s hard to overestimate just how big of a disaster this could become. Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world. And it has nuclear weapons. Bin Laden must be doing handstands in his cave right now.