Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Central Front

Yesterday's bloody attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team by terrorists in Pakistan, coming on the heels of the deadly attacks in Mumbai, demonstrate pretty clearly that the new ground zero for terrorism in the Muslim world is not Iraq (which is largely an American goof-up and problem) nor Afghanistan (which, while still certainly anarchic by western standards, is in much the state it has existed over its very long, very independent history) but Pakistan. Getting rid of Musharaf has not solved anything; indeed, in many ways, Pakistan's problems seemed to have deepened since the military dictator left office. The northwest territories are completely beyond Islamabad's control, the entire border with Afghanistan might as well not exist, and there is a serious struggle for national identity between militant Muslims and more traditional Pakistani elites, one the elites seem to be losing.

Of course, the Bush Administration managed to tie the US far too close to Pakistan during its time in office. Rather than deal on a pragmatic level, and at a certain distance, Bush attempted to recreate the friendly, Cold War-era relations between the US and Pakistan, at the worst possible time. Dealing with a deteriorating situation in that country will be very thorny, made all the worse by the Bush-era legacy of false friendliness. While the situation in south Asia is volatile, the thought of a militant Islamic state with nuclear warheads pointed at its major rival is not something to make folks sleep easy. Indeed, one thing that should be kept in mind is that Pakistan is far more likely to fall in to chaos than it is to become some kind of Sunni Iran, a militant Islamic state. Of course, that presents all sorts of opportunities - as if there weren't enough already - for militant groups to exploit for their own purposes. The situation is bad enough that an attack like the one yesterday occurred. Remorse on the part of the Pakistani people and government is not enough, since there seems little ability to deal with the deteriorating situation in their country other than bemoan it.

My own thought is that the US needs to leave hands off as much as possible in Pakistan. Any presence, or perceived influence, by the United States will in all likelihood only inflame militant passions, spurring on even greater acts of terrorism. Yet, it is a developing situation that needs to be watched carefully, and it might be a good idea to find one or two people who speak Urdu and Pashtun and get them over there as soon as possible, to get a detailed look on the ground. My guess is that, rather than the Middle East or Indonesia, it will be Pakistan that will become the central front in the struggle with militants in the foreseeable future.

Virtual Tin Cup

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