True, the Taliban threat remains serious. By one estimate, the militants maintain a presence in more than 60 percent of northwestern Pakistan and control significant sections along the Afghan border. Moreover, the possibility of the insurgents one day getting their hands on nuclear material remains the ultimate horror – it would probably be more ominous than the Cuban missile crisis.
But experts note that, even if the current operation by the Pakistani military stalls, or the Taliban return to areas they've been ousted from, the insurgents may not significantly expand their footprint in the country anytime soon. For reasons of geography, ethnicity, military inferiority, and ancient rivalries, they represent neither the immediate threat that is often portrayed nor the inevitable victors that the West fears.
"The Americans have become paranoid about Pakistan," says Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani military general. "They are losing their objectivity, and I think they need a reality check."
TAKE OUT YOUR MAPS
A planned city built in the 1960s, Islamabad is a strikingly modern South Asian metropolis. Broad streets lie along a spacious, uncluttered grid filled with trees. Nearby, its sister city, Rawalpindi, is more a reflection of old Pakistan but serves as its protectorate: It is the headquarters of the world's seventh-largest army.
One of the biggest houses in "Pindi" goes to the chief of Army staff. Clustered near the military compound are tony neighborhoods where retired generals live. Colonels, majors, and businessmen mingle in upper-middle-class enclaves, and farther away rise the starter homes of the lieutenants.