Much has been done to stem the tide of Islamic terrorism. Al Qaeda has largely lost its power base in Iraq and has been beaten back elsewhere by a combination of enhanced cooperation between intelligence agencies, a backlash against its excess brutality in the Muslim world and a renewed emphasis on combating the violent jihadist ideology by more moderate Islamic theologians. Saudi Arabia, significantly, has made great strides in overcoming the threat to it from radicals in its midst.
The battle, however, is by no means over or even nearly over. Al Qaeda is still very active. There are pockets of instability right across the developing world, from Somalia to the Philippines to Algeria, that Al Qaeda is seeking to establish itself in. The gravest danger to the West comes from the ungovernable tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Al Qaeda and the Taliban may have been driven from power in Afghanistan but they have found another safe haven amongst the Pushtun tribes that inhabit this area and answer to no central government.
Fiercely anti-West, violent and fundamentalist, they have allowed the Taliban to regroup and launch their attacks on the Western troops seeking to stabilise Afghanistan. Here, amongst the impenetrable mountains, it is likely that the Al Qaeda leadership is busy plotting its next spectacular attack on the West, free from interference.
This cannot be allowed to go on. The West feels it cannot put further pressure on an already fractured and weak Pakistan government. The Pakistan army has already suffered morale-sapping losses in its attempts to quell the area and does not seem to have the stomach to go back for another try. The political leadership has found it expedient to make a truce with the tribal leaders, getting them off their backs but leaving them free to help their Taliban brothers. President Musharraf, on whom the West has bet much, is weak and unpopular.
If Pakistan does not have the stomach for the fight, then the Western troops fighting in Afghanistan must take the fight to our enemies for them. We simply cannot allow Al Qaeda the room to breathe as they will use it to murder thousands of Western civilians. Yes, this may undermine Pakistani sovereignty, destabilise Pakistani politics and turn otherwise sympathetic Pakistanis against the West. However, according to The Pew Research Centre's annual survey of global opinion of America, only 15% of Pakistanis have a favourable view of America anyway (from The Economist, here), so can it get any worse?
The alternative to taking action, with or without the support of the Pakistan government, is unacceptable. If we wait for the Pakistan leadership to cooperate more fully (as Barack Obama recently suggested he would), we could find ourselves waiting in vain. The safe haven being provided to Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan represents a clear and present danger and unless we stop treading on eggshells around Pakistan's sensibilities we will end up sleepwalking into another 9-11.