The threat to Pakistan’s existence

The threat to Pakistan’s existence

By now it’s obvious that Pakistan is in a serious security crisis, unlike any that it has witnessed in its history.

A part of this pessimistic assessment comes from the new commander of the US Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus. The general, speaking in London on Monday, said Pakistan faces an existential threat. He added that it was something the leadership of the country must deal with comprehensively.

So far, these efforts have been weak-kneed. Part of the problem is the alienation of the people of Pakistan’s troubled regions, such as Bajaur, Swat and Dir. These are places where the government’s writ has been wiped out and Taliban militants have near total control. If the army tries to give a full-blooded response to the militants, it adds to the erosion of Pakistan’s credibility: it is viewed as nothing more than a US stooge. If there is no response or a half-hearted one, more territory will be “lost" to the militants. This is a dilemma that all governments face when dealing with insurgents. Vietnam, Malaysia and Sri Lanka are examples of the problem.

The situation in Pakistan is much worse. First, Pakistan’s attempts to use militants to gain control of Afghanistan backfired. Then there were the tactical flip-flops in dealing with militants during the Musharraf era. Finally, Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) ensured that no strategy would work. It’s too early to say if the newly appointed chief of ISI, Lt Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, would be able to make a difference. Things have gone too far for military musical chairs to be an effective response to a challenge to Pakistan’s existence. Ensuring the right matrix of security and economic policies is a coordination problem that is beyond the capabilities of that country.

A sequential strategy — that of solving one problem at a time — may not pay off. After all, the Taliban militants have formidable organizational prowess. But in the present situation, that may be the only option. In any case, the hope that a democratic government would solve these problems instantly has proved to be an illusion.

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