WASHINGTON - Ahead of Monday night's third and final debate between President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials urged the presidential candidates to focus on Pakistan.

"The toughest foreign-policy issue our next president will face is Pakistan, the most dangerous country in the world," claimed Bruce Riedel, currently senior Fellow, Foreign Policy at Brookings Institution who has advised last four presidents on South Asia and Middle East.

"The battle for the soul of this critical nation is underway; we need to hear at Monday's debate how President Obama and Governor Romney intend to get the right outcome in Pakistan," Riedel wrote in the daily Beast.

Referring to the shooting of Pakistan education activist Malala Yousafzai, Riedel wrote, "Her story epitomizes her country’s story. It is a battlefield between extremists, often linked to al Qaeda, and those who want a progressive and modern Pakistan. The sixth-largest country in the world—and soon to be the world’s largest Muslim country—it already has the fastest-growing nuclear arsenal on the planet. And it is home to al Qaeda’s leadership.

"It is the epicenter of the global jihad. From 9/11 to the 2008 attack on Mumbai, Al Qaeda and its allies like Lashkar-e-Taiba have plotted their schemes in Karachi, Lahore, and Abbottabad."

Since the last US election in 2008, Pakistan has been the launch platform for plots to attack the New York City subway and Times Square, Riedel wrote, noting three of the five terrorists on America's most-wanted list are in Pakistan today.

"America’s relationship with Pakistan is tortured and complex," he said, referring to the ups and downs in Islamabad-Washington ties.

"Pakistan and America are adversaries in Afghanistan," Riedel wrote. "The United States, the U.N., NATO, and troops from more than 40 countries back the legitimately elected Kabul government led by Hamid Karzai. Pakistan pays lip service to the Karzai government but provides key assistance to its enemy, the Afghan Taliban. The Pakistani intelligence service, ISI, shelters the Taliban leadership in Quetta, Karachi, and Waziristan, trains its fight...

"America is also fighting a drone war against al Qaeda targets and associated movement inside Pakistani territory despite the explicit request of the Pakistani Parliament and Foreign Ministry that they cease flying despite the explicit request of the Pakistani Parliament and Foreign Ministry that they cease flying...

"Every day American drones monitor potential targets inside Pakistan. Now we learn Washington is expanding the drone fleet so we can stay over Pakistan indefinitely while taking on new missions in other danger zones. From 2004 to Sept. 30, 2012, the drones carried out 346 lethal attacks in Pakistan, almost 300 on Obama’s watch, according to one credible count. The drones have decimated al Qaeda’s leadership, but they have also angered Pakistanis and become an anti-American rallying cry for Lashkar-e-Taiba and Pakistani politicians, including Imran Khan."

Obama and Romney need to tell audiences Monday night how they will keep the pressure on the terrorists in Pakistan when the US brings its troops home from Afghanistan in 2014 and how will the US continue to undertake the necessary counter-terror missions from Afghan bases, Riedel wrote.

Meanwhile, in a preview of Monday's debate in Boca Raton, Florida, the New York Times said both candidates will come ready for a fight on Libya and Benghazi "but the question is whether it is the right fight."

"Managing the conflict while America heads for the exits will require the next president to confront a series of difficult choices, some of which may finally surface Monday night at the third and final presidential debate, when Afghanistan will be one of five."