Pakistan on a Precipice
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The recent declaration of emergency in
As Iraqi's Army and Police are riddled with militia infiltration, so is the Pakistani Army saturated with fundamentalist sympathisers right up to upper echelons and this includes the Security Services. Civil war rages in the northwest with jihadist and Taliban and Al Qaeda forces, insurgency rages in Balochistan, and a guerrilla war is being fought in Kashmir. Benazir Bhutto has alleged that the Security Forces were behind the recent bombing of her return-home rally and has added that fundamentalists have now spread down from the northwest mountains into the major Pakistan cities. Karachi is tottering on the verge of an ethnic and nationalist inferno. The storming of the Red Mosque is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the insurgent tendencies among Pakistan's jihadists. They are counted as being responsible for three attempts on president Musharraf's life. Moreover some 70% of terrorist plots in the UK have originated in Pakistan. It has become a haven for fundamentalist terrorists, in some ways more importantly than Iraq. Only a week ago a suicide bomber killed 7 people less than kilometre from Musharraf's home. Suicide bombings are now a daily occurrence across the country. It is already experiencing an "Iraqisation" and "Afganisation" of its internal political reality. In truth Pakistan is in chaos. As the crisis deepens its very unity as a state will be put into question.
Musharraf is confronted by one crisis after another. His dismissal of Pakistan's Chief Justice brought tens of thousands of lawyers on the streets. An unprecedented expel of the simmering social discontent of the middle classes. His incapacity to quell the pro-Taliban tribal areas and the spate of bombings in the cities have all paved the way for mayhem.
Moreover, in spite of the 7% economic growth rate, most of Pakistan's 200 million people live in poverty and the gap between the rich and poor has widened. 78% of the population live on less than $2 a day. No wonder that alongside the lawyers were rickshaw workers protesting their fall in living standards. The opening up of the economy with privatisation and price rises has hit the poorest hard. Corruption is rampant. The military has profited handsomely from the regime of Musharraf. Their interests in the economy are estimated at some $15 billion, running huge industrial enterprises and over 12 million acres of public lands. Some 25% of the economy is said to be in the hands of the military.
This "stew" all adds to the political unrest that breeds insurgency, terrorism and fundamentalism. From the outside, despite its position in South Asia, geo-politically Pakistan is inextricably interlinked to the unfolding processes in the Middle East and neighbouring Afghanistan. The Muslim masses watch attentively the role of the US in Iraq, Iran, and Palestine and Lebanon. Anti-American sentiment is epidemic.
The Parliamentary elections scheduled for February threaten to open the floodgates of accumulated discontent and will be the bloodiest in the history of the country. The bombing of Bhutto's return rally is just a small harbinger of the terror, which is to come. In reality this is just what she has been brought back from exile to avert. The US brokered a deal with Musharraf for power sharing hoping to stem the tide of radicalism and promote moderation with the support the more secular sections of Pakistan society, especially in the Punjab and Sindh. But her "deal with the devil" has created widespread unrest among her power base and discredited her in the eyes of many of her traditional supporters. She has been attacked from the jihadist as "a slave of Imperialism" and this gets broad echoes from a broad spectrum of the population. Instead of helping to stabilize the situation the return of Bhutto can exacerbate it.
The situation is so combustible in Pakistan that any spark can cause a social explosion. It's a question of "the devil I do the devil, I don't" for both Musharraf and Bhutto. Democracy can open the gates of anarchy and a military clampdown could still eventually lead to an all-scale Pakistani uprising. It is no wonder that in a recent video bin Laden ordered his forces to redouble their efforts and prioritise Pakistan. He is well aware of the enormous prize and destructive power of a fundamentalist, nuclear Pakistan.