Tony Blankley

Our view of Pakistan's role in the war in Afghanistan has undergone an ominous but necessary series of shifts. At the outset of the war, in October 2001, Pakistan correctly was seen as a necessary ally -- both politically and geographically -- as it was the primary conduit for our entry and lines of communication into Afghanistan.

Over the years, we came to understand that Pakistan's intelligence service was playing a double game -- helping us but also supporting the Taliban -- while Pakistan's northern area became a safe haven for both the Taliban and al-Qaida.

Thus, Pakistan came to be seen as part of the problem that the Obama administration reasonably has taken to calling the "AfPak" war. Gen. David Petraeus recently told a Senate committee that he sees Pakistan and Afghanistan as "a single theater."

Now another perception shift is starting to take hold: The increasing instability of Pakistan's government makes Pakistan -- more than Afghanistan -- the central challenge of our "AfPak" policy.

Last week, David Kilcullen, a former Australian army officer who was Gen. Petraeus' senior counterinsurgency strategist and is now a consultant to the Obama White House, said Pakistan could collapse within months.

"We have to face the fact that if Pakistan collapses, it will dwarf anything we have seen so far in whatever we're calling the war on terror now," he said.

Kilcullen said time is running out for international efforts to pull both countries back from the brink. "You just can't say that you're not going to worry about al-Qaida taking control of Pakistan and its nukes," he said. "The Kabul tail was wagging the dog." He described the war in Afghanistan as a campaign to defend a reconstruction program. "It's not really about al-Qaida," he continued. "Afghanistan doesn't worry me. Pakistan does." He said that maybe we can manage Afghanistan and Richard Holbrooke can cut an international deal, but there is also a chance that Washington will fail to stabilize Afghanistan, that Pakistan will collapse, and that al-Qaida will end up running what he called "Talibanistan."

"This is not acceptable. You can't have al-Qaida in control of Pakistan's missiles," he said. "It's too early to tell which way it will go. We'll start to know about July. That's the peak fighting season … and a month from the Afghan presidential election."

Gen. Petraeus himself recently said, "Extremists … pose a truly existential threat to (Pakistan)."

Tony Blankley

Tony Blankley, a conservative author and commentator who served as press secretary to Newt Gingrich during the 1990s, when Republicans took control of Congress, died Sunday January 8, 2012. He was 63.

Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.

In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.

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