He also pointed out something he hadn’t noted in his article: the lawyer’s movement that forced Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf from office was a largely democratic, secular effort whose message was amplified by a press that is much more free than it used to be. Altogether, Bergen said, the “underlying trends” are positive.

It’s a hopeful message—at least as hopeful as one can expect in that part of the world—but still not an entirely convincing one. Bergen’s argument, made at greater length here, points toward the conclusion that Pakistan, for all its internal tensions and contradictions, will remain at least a minimally cohesive, functional, legitimate state. For our effort to succeed in Afghanistan, though, we’ll likely need it to be much more than that. And how we get to that point remains as unclear as ever.

Greg Marx is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.