Friday, October 19, 2007

Pakistan Nearing the Brink

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's return from a self-imposed exile was marred by two bomb blasts in a failed assassination attempt yesterday. Most experts agree that the attacks were likely the handiwork of al Qaeda and Taliban terror groups hoping to thwart Bhutto's entry into the 2008 parliamentary elections. (USA Today: Bhutto blames al-Qaeda, Taliban for 136 deaths.)

The former PM received intelligence reports prior to her arrival in Pakistan that pointed to the likelihood of suicide attacks against her. She also received reports of insiders in President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's government that may be working with the al Qaeda extremists. Bhutto has been attempting to work with Musharraf to build a political alliance in time for the January elections.

Yesterday's attacks point to the precariousness of the political situation in Pakistan. Musharraf has been under siege for some time, politically, and has survived several assassination attempts of his own. Given the strength of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan, it seems only a matter of time before one of these attempts succeeds. Of yesterday's incident, Bhutto stated that, "It was an attack by a militant minority that does not enjoy the support of the people of Pakistan, that has only triumphed in a military dictatorship."

That may not be a very accurate assessment. Al Qaeda and the Taliban both have a very high degree of support in Pakistan. Al Qaeda maintains numerous bases and training camps in the region, and Osama bin Laden is viewed as a local hero. It is Musharraf's government that does not enjoy the full support of the people of Pakistan, and that is what has pushed Pakistan to the brink.

The greatest danger we face in Pakistan is the replacement of Musharraf's regime with a fundamentalist Islamic extremist government. That is the goal of both al Qaeda and the Taliban, and unfortunately they may be only a suicide attack away from succeeding. An extremist government in Pakistan means a nuclear armed Taliban both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. It also means a nuclear armed al Qaeda capable of dealing more damage in the west than has ever been conceived. That is what is at stake in Pakistan.

While we spend out time blustering against Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Afghanistan; while we spend our time verbally sparring with Vladimir Putin, the real powder keg is Pakistan. We were asleep at the wheel when Pakistan developed nuclear weapons capabilities, however we cannot afford to doze off again while these critical events play out in the struggle for control of the Pakistani military and government. What happens over the next few months in Pakistan will likely effect the free world for years to come. Let's be sure we keep our eye on the ball this time around.

1 comment :

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