Pakistan is on the edge of disintegration

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 November, 2011, 12:00am


Pakistan is in the hole of all holes. Telling its rulers, generals and fundamentalist agitators that the first law of holes is to stop digging goes unheard. It makes one almost wish for a return to the calm, measured ways of the military quasi-dictator Pervez Musharraf, ousted in 2008.

Once president, Musharraf cast aside his macho character that once had nearly led to nuclear war with India. He dropped many of Pakistan's conditions for making peace with India. Diplomats thought that India would never get a better deal over Kashmir. But although Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh was in favour of the historic compromise, he failed to convince his foreign ministry, intelligence services, the military or much of the public.

Today, Pakistan has ended up, as British Prime Minister David Cameron said on a visit to the country this year, 'facing both ways'. On the one hand, it is officially on the US/Nato side in fighting the Taliban. On the other, the Inter-Service Intelligence agency that has long been behind the mujahideen operating in Kashmir, but was reined in under Musharraf, is now in full swing, aiding the Taliban and aiding (or at least facilitating) anti-Indian terrorists. Meanwhile, the army command has moved to a more nationalistic posture and the number of militants among Pakistan's population appears to be growing.

The government appears to have lost credibility both at home and abroad. The economy, which achieved high growth under Musharraf, is failing badly, leading to large-scale unemployment that boosts the fundamentalists' ranks. A military coup is on the cards. So are stepped-up efforts by terrorists to infiltrate the country's nuclear bomb facilities. So are their attempts to seriously wound India and to make it impossible for New Delhi to take major steps towards peace in Kashmir.

Some observers fear the disintegration of Pakistan. A conceivable scenario is the Taliban coming to power again in Afghanistan and using that as a base, working with the Pakistani-based Taliban, for stepping up its war of attrition against both the Pakistan government and the US military presence and operations inside Pakistan.

An early election in Pakistan might help clear the air - especially if the party of Imran Khan, the former Pakistani cricket captain, won enough votes from the centre to form a government. Khan is sane, unencumbered by false alliances and allegations of corruption and could hopefully find a way to restart the economy, control the army, end Pakistan's alliance with the US and isolate the extreme fundamentalists. It is a long shot, but what alternative is there? Does Pakistan want to fall into the hole it has dug for itself?

Jonathan Power is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist