President Obama and GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney laid out their strategic vision for Afghanistan and the region once U.S. forces pull out of the country in the next two years.
While both candidates agreed that Afghan forces would be able to secure the country when American troops come home in 2014, Romney suggested that stabilizing Pakistan should be America's next mission in the region.
A stable and cooperative Pakistan will be "important to the region, to the world and to us," Romney said Monday night during the third and final debate of the presidential election season.
The uncertainty facing the United States in Pakistan, according to Romney, could pose a more serious threat than Afghanistan, Romney argued.
Pakistan's atomic weapons stockpile, combined with the surge in Islamic radicalism and a divided ruling class between the country's leadership and its powerful military and intelligence forces, could create a nuclear-armed failed state in one of the most volatile region in the world.
Even if U.S. forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan, "it is not time to divorce a nation with [hundreds] of nuclear weapons," Romney said. "We can't just walk away from Pakistan," he added.
That said, a Romney White House would continue providing support to Pakistan, but tie that aid to a series of "benchmarks" focused on cracking down on terror groups inside the country, such as the Haqqani Network, by Pakistani forces.
In response, Obama said the U.S. has no intentions of walking away from Pakistan or the region once American forces pull out of Afghanistan. "But after a decade of war, it is time to do some nation-building at home," the president said.
Once the Afghan war comes to a close, the United States will be able to reinvest in administration efforts in education, job growth and other pressing domestic issues.
That said, Pakistan is and will remain one of many countries the White House and Pentagon have worked to build strategic partnerships to combat the spread of Islamic radical groups such as al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Romney shot back, noting that while Pakistan was "technically an ally ... they are not acting like an ally," referring to support by factions within the Pakistani government to terror groups along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
"We have not seen the progress we need to have," the former Massachusetts governor added.