"For Pakistan it's really a fight for its own existence," said Shuja Nawaz, the author of the recently released "Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Enemy Within." "Because if it allows the militants to gain a foothold in one or two of the border provinces of Afghanistan … you are likely to see an internal civil war type situation developing. And [the militants are] extremely well-armed and they're facing an army which is a conventional army and not ready for counterinsurgency yet."
Record violence in 2007 gave way to a brief lull in suicide attacks after the government signed a peace agreement with militants in February. But that lull has literally exploded as the Taliban in Pakistan took credit for at least four suicide bombs last week that killed about 100 people, including 67 in the one of the most violent incidents in the country's history.
"The war on terror cannot be won on defensive. We have to take the battle to the doorsteps of the extremists," Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Gilan said last week. "We are not being attacked by any outside military or a known army. Our enemy lurks silently within our society. This is our own war."
Just yesterday, Zardari himself said he believes that across the globe the militants are winning.
"The world is losing the war. I think at the moment [the Taliban] definitely have the upper hand," he told the BBC Sunday, less than a day after he was nominated for president. "The issue, which is not just a bad case scenario as far as Pakistan is concerned or as Afghanistan is concerned, but it is going to be spreading further. The whole world is going to be affected by it."
The military will oversee the fight in the Northwest Frontier, and the front-line soldiers will be provided by the underfunded Frontier Corps. But Zardari is expected to yield enormous power over military, social and economic policy if he becomes president.
"I don't think he has any barrier. The only restraint on him is he himself," said Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a political scientist at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. "He is the center of all power in Pakistan today."
Zardari could be similar to Pervez Musharraf, analysts said, in the sense that he will rule Pakistan as an executive president instead of the figurehead position it has traditionally been under civilian governments.
"There is a danger that he would be able to centralize power," said retired Gen. Talat Masood, a defense secretary under Benazir Bhutto. "And it may suit America for the time being -- it may be expedient -- but in the long run I think it will be harmful to Pakistan and to American interests."
But there are more checks on Zardari than there were when Musharraf took power. In the last few years, a rapidly expanding media have become much more vocal, and Sharif's party maintains power in the Punjab, the largest and richest of the country's four provinces.
The future political stability of Pakistan "really depends whether Zardari is going to be content with power sharing at the center, and power sharing in the provinces," Rais said.
Zardari will complete a remarkable transformation from playboy to president if he becomes the head of the government. When his wife was in power, he was nicknamed "Mr. Ten Percent" for allegedly asking for a cut of every deal he touched. He was jailed for 11 years on corruption and murder charges, but was never convicted of anything.