Since Pakistan’s parliament replaced civil rights with Islamic rights in one province without discussion or debate, the talk these days is of a country in decay, if not a country in full collapse.
The fact is that all political parties, whether Islamic or secular, surrendered totally and unconditionally to the Islamic movement in the Swat Valley – with the exception of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party based in the port city of Karachi and made up of refugees and exiles. It has since degenerated into a force of corrupt and criminal local potentates. That this party is the only one to vote against Sharia law in Swat is proof of the ethical and moral pauperization of Pakistan’s political classes. The change in law, which now makes blasphemy a capital crime, only confirms that.
But the decline of the state has deeper roots, not all of which are homemade. And the ramifications – Hillary Clinton called them mortally dangerous during her visit to Islamabad a few days ago – won’t affect just Pakistan.
The worry is that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons potential might be in danger of falling into terrorist hands. One can have little confidence in reassurances from the U.S. military that they would recover the weapons in any crisis, because it’s obvious no one knows how many weapons there are or where they’re located. One can be certain the Pakistani army wouldn’t voluntarily surrender them.
Politically, they would no more surrender them than would Pakistan’s ISI security service. Both the army and the ISI are in contact with the network of warring groups loosely referred to as the Taliban. The two institutions have long held the nation together and have internal networks that disapprove of Pakistan’s role in an anti-terror alliance, seen as submission to Washington’s will during the eight years of the Bush administration.
That’s also why they have acted with considerable restraint in the disagreements they have with the Pashtun tribal areas. This, in turn, has prompted the United States to rely more and more on unmanned drones to carry out attacks against suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda strongholds there. The number of non-combatant victims of these drones rises with every new attack; every new attack, therefore, strengthens the enemy’s will to resist and increases its ranks. For lack of realistic alternatives, they align themselves with the various Islamic powers that began life as stepchildren of the U.S.: the ISI and Saudi Arabia.
The Afghanistan war meshes with the crisis in Pakistan and becomes an entity Barack Obama’s government calls “Afpak.” Dealing with the Pashtun regions on both sides of the border as a monolith just divides them from the rest of Pakistan and adds to the destabilization of the nation. On the other hand, a policy of reconstruction and development in pacifying Afghanistan could also serve to strengthen Pakistan’s domestic political situation.
The U.S. understands the crisis in essentially military terms. The resulting measures that will be taken will, therefore, be inappropriate.