Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Dilemma of Incendiary Pakistan

Pakistan, the world's leading tinderbox. The eyes and ears of the world are riveted upon the Middle East, and the upheavals of mass protests in Arab, Muslim and North African countries. The drama that is unfolding, the violence and the misery of the people transfixes the international community. The world of the West feels an especial responsibility, wringing hands and hoping to be able to maintain a degree of reasonability in their relationships.

Whom to support, and to promise future funding, trade and investment with? Concerns that with Libya falling into brief anarchy until the unseating of Colonel Ghaddafi an interruption in critical oil exports will imperil the fragile global economy still teetering on the brink of a relapse. But as inchoate as is the situation in the region at the present time, it is as nothing in comparison to the volcanic social, political, religious upheavals in Pakistan.

The country's cities have become a battleground as gunfire echoes on their streets and areas considered to be safe zones prove to be otherwise. Fanatical Islamist militants otherwise known as fascist jihadists determined to bring strict shariah and Islamist rule first to Pakistan, then spread throughout the area and finally the world at large, are grasping their opportunities and they are many.

Suicide bombers explode their bombs, and foreign investment is evaporating; even wealthy Pakistanis will not invest in their critically insecure country. Millions of people are on the verge of starvation, unable to return to the security of their rural areas after the epic monsoon floods that drove them from their homes, their fields, their livelihoods. Regional tensions are aflame.

Corruption is, as always, rampant. The once proud judiciary is at a standstill of indecision and trepidation for the future. The new reality is that no one is safe from the threat of assassination. The government of President Asif Ali Zardari stands teetering on the edge of collapse, with his own awareness that he might, at any time be toppled by his own army chiefs who might simply choose death for him.

The country has been unable to fully seize the day in battling its internal threat of terrorism, leaving the country destabilized and a threat to the geography. Jihad against India is never far from the agenda of the Islamists who are still supported by Pakistan's military. The potential for a conflict with the engagement of nuclear weapons is always a possibility on the dread horizon.

The country's economy, dependent on loans from the International Monetary Fund, is in dire condition, with growth rates at a creep and unemployment estimated at 34% even while the price of basic goods and foods are steeply rising. Fully 37% of the country's population is under age 14, leaving Pakistan to become the world's most populous - and indigent - Muslim state by 2030.

Sectarian violence is growing with Sunni and Shiite assassinating one another through routine drive-by shootings. Tribal animosities and religious party contests are part of the misery. Targeted killings are ongoing. Kashmir remains a tinder box. Human rights abuses are endemic. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas and North West Frontier Province are now in the hands of the fundamentalists.

And this is the sole Muslim country to date with a full arsenal of nuclear weapons. That arsenal is growing. Balancing it is the fact that the country hosts more terrorists than any other; it is a breeding ground for training jihadists who then fan out over the world. This is a doomsday scenario.

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