On April 5, the Obama administration delivered a stark evaluation of Pakistan's counterterrorism campaign to Congress, stating that "there remains no clear path toward defeating the insurgency" (.pdf) festering in the country's northwestern regions. Over the past decade, militants have killed thousands of Pakistani civilians and wreaked devastation on the country's fragile economy. And since 2001, 2,575 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations. Why, then, have Pakistan's leaders failed to develop a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy?
It is true that Pakistan has made important progress against militancy in recent years. Starting in mid-2009, the army began a series of full-scale military offensives. Today more than 147,000 Pakistani troops -- many of them repositioned from Pakistan's eastern border with its historic rival, India -- are fighting militants in the border areas.
But military gains are being squandered by the country's dysfunctional political system. Although democracy returned in 2008 after a decade of military rule, it is far from consolidated. The absence of settled rules of political contestation encourages fractious conflict between military and civilian institutions and among civilian representatives. Too busy undermining each other in the pursuit of short-term political advantage, Pakistani leaders have yet to focus their strategic attention on the militant challenge.