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sexta-feira, junho 01, 2007

The Problem of Pakistan

Chuck Missler
from the May 22, 2007 eNews issue

In the current turbulent geopolitical climate international attention has been focused on efforts to stymie nuclear proliferation and combat terrorism in the Middle East. The ongoing bloodshed in Iraq, Iran's clandestine nuclear program, and the bitter battle between Israel and its foes have all taken center stage. However there is a key player in the region that is often overlooked - and which in recent weeks has grown increasingly unstable.

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is the sixth most populous nation in the world and the second largest Muslim nation. It is sandwiched between the Middle East and Asia, and bordered by Iran, Afghanistan, China, and India. It is also the only Islamic nation with a declared nuclear weapons program.

The Islamic Bomb

Pakistan's nuclear program was spurred on to fruition by its bitter rivalry with India. India detonated its first nuclear device, code-named "Smiling Budda," in 1974. For the next two decades it claimed that its nuclear program was only meant for peaceful research purposes. Then, in 1998, India all but declared itself a nuclear power with a series of nuclear tests, a move that angered the West and prompted Pakistan to follow suit. Pakistan began its secret nuclear weapons program in 1972, and now has between 65 and 90 nukes - roughly on par with the suspected size of India's arsenal.

After India's independence from Great Britain in 1947 the British Empire in India was divided, and the modern nations of India and Pakistan were born. The two nations have been at odds ever since. Today the conflict between the two nuclear powers centers on the disputed province of Kashmir.

Ally or Adversary

The current President of Pakistan is General Pervez Musharraf, who came to power in a military coup in 1999. Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, Musharraf chose to side with the US against the Taliban government in Afghanistan. However prior to the 9/11 attacks Pakistan was a close ally of the Taliban and one of its strongest supporters. It was only under tremendous pressure from the United States and the international community that Pakistan agreed to join the war on terror. In truth, Musharraf had little choice but to comply. The United States made it clear "you are either with us, or against us."

Pakistan chose to ally itself with the United States in part because it feared a strong new alliance between the US and India. If Pakistan had refused to reverse its stance and support the US, the United States would most likely have deemed Pakistan a "terrorist state" and part of the "axis of evil." For many years Pakistan has teetered on the brink of a full-scale war with India - and if the US had weighed-in heavily on one side the consequences could have been disastrous.

Today Pakistan is growing increasingly unstable and Musharraf's authority is in jeopardy. Experts say Musharraf is under enormous strain: America is demanding that he crack down on Islamist militants, Pakistan's religious extremists are furious at him for abandoning Afghanistan's Taliban rulers and softening his line on Kashmir, and Pakistan's main political parties are shunning him because of his resistance to democratic reforms. Last Tuesday a suicide bombing in a town near the Afghan border killed 25. Meanwhile, anti-Musharraf riots have killed 40 and wounded at least 150. According to press reports, Musharraf has ordered his soldiers to kill rioters on sight. Even if Musharraf somehow weathers this storm, analysts say he is running out of options. Musharraf has survived multiple assassination attempts and he has no clear successor. If his regime falls, Pakistan could plunge into chaos.

Pakistan is considered to be a "frontline ally" in the war against terrorism. Yet despite its government's cooperation with the United States, Pakistan is home to many Islamist extremists, some with links to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Militants have conducted several terrorist attacks on Americans and other Westerners in Pakistan since September 11. Many Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters fleeing from Afghanistan have taken refuge throughout Pakistan - particularly in lawless tribal regions on the Afghan border which are sympathetic to the fundamentalist cause.

Nuclear Nightmare

Much like Iraq, Pakistan is a divided nation. There are many opposing sects and ethnicities that constantly threaten to pull the country apart. In fact, less than 10 percent of its 160 million people are native speakers of the national language. The worst case scenario is our worst nightmare: nuclear weapons in the hands of Islamic radicals. It is therefore essential that we do not overlook the problem of Pakistan. To learn more about what is happening in the world around us, and what it means for you and me as Christians, check out the Strategic Trends section of our website (see link below).

Related Links:

Monitor the Strategic Trends - Koinonia House
Pakistan Faces the Taleban's Tentacles - BBC
Musharraf Urged to Change Course or Risk Losing Power - IHT
Pakistan Pressured Over Radical Mosque - AP
New Pakistan Riots Break Out - TIME