ON JANUARY 13, a U.S. missile strike on the Pakistani village of Damadola, intended to kill Al-Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, missed its target but killed at least 17 other people, probably including Al-Qaeda members but certainly including local women and children. If it had succeeded, this would have been a notable coup in the struggle against Al-Qaeda. Instead, this violation of Pakistani territory has humiliated the administration of President Pervez Musharraf and compromised his government's assistance to the United States.
The Damadola incident illustrates a central dilemma in the War on Terror. It seems not only necessary but also just that the United States should retain the right to strike against acknowledged terrorists in those areas of the world where states cannot or will not take action.
There are, however, two central problems with this approach. First, most of the countries where large-scale terrorist activity is occurring are like Pakistan, where governments do control the greater part of their territory--just not all of it. They are not failed or even failing states, but functioning states suffering from certain weaknesses. Moreover, while their governments are allied with Washington, their populations are largely unfriendly to the United States.
The second, even more obvious point is that the United States and its allies cannot in fact invade and control such territories themselves. In the case of Pakistan, the United States will never have any choice but to work with and through a Pakistani government--almost any Pakistani government--if it wishes to exert any wider control over the fight against terrorism and extremism in Pakistan. This is especially true of the indirectly administered tribal areas that border Afghanistan.