The new government of Pakistan has made clear their disinterest in fighting radical Islamists on their own soil, preferring to offer appeasement to rebels rather than demand that they respect the law in the Pakistani democracy. As long as they keep the jihadists in Pakistan, that would be their business. Now, though, the new ruling coalition have sent signals that they have little interest in securing their borders, which will eventually lead to a showdown with Afghanistan — and NATO:

Pakistani officials are making it increasingly clear that they have no interest in stopping cross-border attacks by militants into Afghanistan, prompting a new level of frustration from Americans who see the infiltration as a crucial strategic priority in the war in Afghanistan.

On Wednesday night, the United States fired its fourth Predator missile strike since January, the most visible symbol of the American push for a freer hand to pursue militants from Al Qaeda and the Taliban who use Pakistan’s tribal areas as a base to attack Afghanistan and plot terrorist attacks abroad. In Afghanistan, cross-border attacks have doubled over the same month last year and present an increasingly lethal challenge to American and NATO efforts to wind down the war and deny the Taliban and Al Qaeda a sanctuary. …

“Pakistan will take care of its own problems, you take care of Afghanistan on your side,” said Owari Ghani, the governor of North-West Frontier Province, who is also President Pervez Musharraf’s representative in charge of the neighboring tribal areas.

Mr. Ghani, a key architect of the pending peace accord, believes along with many other Pakistani leaders that the United States is floundering in the war in Afghanistan. Pakistan, he said, should not be saddled with America’s mistakes, especially if a solution involved breaching Pakistan’s sovereignty, a delicate matter in a nation where sentiment against the Bush administration runs high.

“Pakistan is a sovereign state,” he said. “NATO is in Afghanistan; it’s time they did some soldiering.”

This raises all sorts of problems on both sides of the border, which itself is the source of problems. The border bisects traditional tribal lands, mainly of the Pashtun (as well as the Baluchi), who have seen that area as sovereign for centuries, if not millenia. The Pashtuns consider the border an artificial designation, not as a legitimate obstacle to their nomadic traditions. That territory spans both Waziristans and NWFP and Quetta and Peshawar in Pakistan, as well as a wide swath of Afghanistan, including its capital, Kabul.

The Taliban come from the radicalism of the Pashtun, and they see their fight not just as a religious fight but also as a tribal identity and sovereignty crisis. The Pakistanis apparently have a great deal of sympathy for these issues, but their response undermines their own national identity. Caving into Pashtun tribal autonomy threatens the very idea of Pakistan, and effectively cedes three provinces to what could be called a practical Pashtunistan. That in turn pressures Afghanistan into the same kind of recognition, which would dismember the entire nation, especially since that would lead the other tribes in the nation to demand the same autonomy. Pakistan could possibly have that kind of canton-like construct, but the layout of tribal territories in Afghanistan would mean chaos.

Pakistan has to decide whether it intends to exist as a sovereign state. If it does, it has to control its borders and take responsibility to prevent armed incursions into neighboring states. If Pakistan washes its hands of this responsibility in the Waziristans and NWFP, then Afghanistan and its allies has every right to secure the border against attacks, including the targeting of invader bases in these ceded provinces.

This is far more than just an Islamist terror war; it’s a struggle for national identity for the Pashtuns and sovereignty for both Pakistan and Afghanistan. If Pakistan doesn’t want to take responsibility for Pashtuns within their borders, then let Pakistan cede the territories outright to the Pashtuns and stop interfering with NATO efforts to wipe out terrorists.