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Pakistani Islamist Dangers

May 31, 2009
By Yisrael Ne'eman

Pakistan, supposedly a democracy, is systematically being devoured by the Taliban as its Islamic extremist forces spread across the northwest frontier on their way through the Swat Valley and on to Buner province all the while imposing Sharia law. Standing 100 kilometers from the capital Islamabad the Pakistani government finally decided to send in the army, but only after serious western pressure to do so. President Asif Ali Zardari and the corrupt Pakistani power elite are not all in denial as many commentators in the western press believe, but rather they are aware of what little support they command from "the people" of close to 170 million. The Inter-Services-Intelligence agency (ISI) has been and is riddled with Taliban sympathizers for decades as are parts of the military. As long as the threat was not imminent all could ignore what now appears to be the inevitable, an Islamist capture of Pakistan, or at least a sizeable part of it.

With much of the army and police still confined to barracks or kept away from the front, those willing to confront the Taliban will not take action, as they know the government has abandoned them. To the east Punjab Province, home to 60% of the population may now be in the offering. Islamabad itself could very well be in danger although for the Taliban to be totally victorious they need to capture the port of Karachi on the Indian Ocean far to the south. Quite possibly Pakistan will become a physically divided land mass as is Afghanistan where the USA and NATO are now on the defensive. A successful Islamist insurgency in this nuclear armed nation has dire world wide consequences, beginning in the Indian sub-continent. What was seen as a wildly cataclysmic possibility just a few months ago is today a reasonable, if still unlikely outcome. Unless the Pakistani army will stand and do battle the Pakistan of recent memory may devolve into two entities or become a unified Islamist state.

Just to keep it interesting, do not expect the Indian government to stand by and do nothing. One can well imagine Indian officials making clear to the Obama Administration that no parallel exists between their predicament of a nuclear Taliban in Islamabad and any Iranian-Israeli scenario. With over a billion people and a Hindu majority of 85% New Delhi wields diplomatic and military power well beyond anything Israelis could imagine in their wildest dreams (even with AIPAC and all Diaspora Jewry). If India feels it must deal with the Pakistani threat, they will - and will not ask US permission but rather inform Washington of policy implementation (and if the Obama Administration is lucky such intents will be made clear before the fact).

Pakistan's corrupt Zardari government is dependent on the military if it wants to survive. As reported in The New York Times and elsewhere the government has little control in outlying districts and is being openly challenged by the Islamists in a non-violent manner, especially in education. Security-wise the ISI is untrustworthy as are parts of the army due to Islamist sympathies inside these organizations. Who is truly loyal to the security forces and the state is hard to say since the state is not seen as representing the Pakistani people. It is reasonable to assume that many if not most serving are similar to poorly paid mercenaries who have little ideological loyalties.

Al-Qaeda is apparently involved, but not outwardly. This is no surprise as the Taliban is the local tribal or semi-national jihadist implementation of the universalist Al-Qaeda demand for world Islamic conquest. They are natural allies even if Al-Qaeda is considered more of an Arab dominated operation. In a true confluence of interests, all the Jihadists smell victory in a nuclear armed country and nothing could be a more powerful motivational factor for those willing to die for Islamic dominance. Pakistan is a society torn by conflict, whether tribal, religious/secular, urban/rural or through cross border threats - from Afghanistan (real) or India (imagined, at least for the moment). The original idea of building a cohesive Pakistani nation state never happened.

The West and the US in particular have no realistic possibility of helping the Pakistani government militarily since they are not wanted by the people or the state authorities nor does the West have the military forces to commit. Drones and long range missiles will make little difference in the end. Obama's policy is to engage the Islamists through diplomatic initiatives (Ahmadinejad, the Taliban, Moslem Brotherhood, Hezbollah or anyone else) but they only view his overtures as weakness.

The question being asked is whether there is another Iranian disaster on the horizon? Whether Barack Obama is another Jimmy Carter is less important than the comparison between Iran 1979 and Pakistan 2009. Pakistan could fall but so far there is no Ayatollah Khomeini as a unifying religious leader. Pakistani society is much more fragmented. A Pakistan broken down into tribal units similar to Iraq of recent memory may not be much better than a united Taliban ruled state.

The critical issue is the nuclear arsenal. America may dither, asking the Pakistanis to reveal the sites and being told "there is nothing to worry about". India however, will take action, regardless of western threats of consequences, if any.