The message emerging from Washington is clear. Pakistan is now seen as the hub of the problem that any campaign against terror must address.
US vice-president-elect Joseph Biden’s Islamabad trip just days before the Obama administration comes into office bears testimony to this.
The Talibanisation of the western part of the country and the confusion among its leadership highlighted by the tragicomic round of counter-accusations and denials post-Mumbai feed off each other. Its nuclear assets are a dangerous addition to the mix, as the US Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism has concluded. If matters continue as they are, Pakistan is liable to be ground zero of an explosion of fundamentalist violence and terrorism that will send shock waves far beyond the confines of South Asia.
Any hope that the civilian government would be able to control the situation has been put to rest by its recent vacillation. It is clear that President Asif Ali Zardari is operating under pressure from the military. More unexpected is the factionalism within the intelligence-military nexus, revealed by ISI chief General Shuja Pasha’s statement that he was willing to visit India.
Add the sacking of national security adviser Mahmoud Durrani to the mix and the picture that emerges is a disturbing one. It is of a civilian administration that may be split by rivalry between Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani while the military is also at odds with itself.
Consequently, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan have turned into powder kegs with the Taliban, whose convoys roll through the suburbs of Peshawar, holding the fuse. Most of the Swat Valley is under the home-grown Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s control and Mullah Omar remains in Quetta.
Patently, the Pakistani government is in no position to arrest the country’s slide. In this situation, it is up to the US to take a lead to back the civilian government against the military leadership. Its postponement of a crucial Pakistan aid donors’ conference points the way forward.
Further conditionality on the $7.6 billion IMF loan is a potent option as well. And, working with India, the Americans have to keep the UK, France as well as Russia on board. China’s non-obstruction at international forums, if not active cooperation, must be obtained. An unstable Pakistan is, as US national security adviser Stephen Hadley said recently, not just dangerous for the US and India. It poses a threat to the whole world.