By Ken Ballen, Peter Bergen and Patrick Doherty, Special to CNN
Editor's note: CNN National Security analyst Peter Bergen and Patrick Doherty are members of the staff of the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank that looks for solutions across the political spectrum. Ken Ballen is president of Terror Free Tomorrow, a nonprofit institute that researches attitudes toward extremism.
For the United States there are few more strategically important places today than the tribal region of Pakistan, headquarters of al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, and also home to a syndicate of other militant jihadist groups from across Asia.
It is where Faisal Shahzad, who tried to blow up a car bomb in Times Square in May, was trained. So was Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan-American who plotted to explode bombs on Manhattan's subways in 2009. It is also the source of a good deal of the violence that is racking neighboring Afghanistan.
Yet this critical region is one of the most opaque places in the world; international journalists and aid organizations rarely venture there, there's little open dialogue because, until last year, most political parties were banned from operating there. As a result, the views of its inhabitants have largely been a mystery.