Fragile Pakistan

2009-03-06 00:00

AMBUSHING a high-profile sports team is a guaranteed way to attract international attention, as was shown by the recent attack on Sri Lanka’s cricketers in Lahore. It has halted Pakistan’s involvement in international cricket for the while and vindicated the decision by many teams, including South Africa’s, not to tour there.

No one has claimed responsibility and history suggests that the gunmen’s identity will remain unknown. Possible suspects are Lashkar-e-Taiba, probable architects of last year’s assault on Mumbai; other rogue elements of the security forces wanting to embarrass Asif Zardari’s government; the Taliban or al-Qaeda; the Indian intelligence service or even the Tamil Tigers. The length of the list and its possibilities underline the fragile state of Pakistan.

Muhammad Jinnah’s vision of a constitutional, non-Islamist state for Muslims continues to be hotly contested. Pakistan emerged from force of circumstance and has failed to develop a strong sense of nationhood. Indeed, its future survival is increasingly in doubt. Continued instability in Pakistan constitutes a threat to global peace given its strategic position bordering Afghanistan, the focus of the battle against Islamic extremism.

In north-west Pakistan the Taliban’s rule of cultural terror has forced the government to concede the introduction of sharia law. Pervez Musharraf’s dictatorship gave way to civilian rule, but mainstream politics is feudal and bitterly destructive. Recently the Sharif brothers of the Muslim League were disqualified from office, provoking unrest in Punjab. Waiting in the wings is the army, elements of which have close connections with various militant groups established by the shadowy intelligence services to stir up trouble in Kashmir.

It is a volatile brew, made more combustible by the fact that Pakistan has atomic weapons. For decades the United States turned a blind eye to the covert development of its nuclear capability and continued to fund its government. Since Pakistan is potentially a failed state, this seemed contrary to Western interests. The Obama administration is placing its foreign policy in the region under serious review. But it would be highly ironic if Pakistan were to prove the weakest link in the chain before a shift in approach took effect.

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