Thursday, July 12, 2007

Pakistan more unstable?

I had a chance to talk with Tom Henriksen, a foreign policy senior fellow at the Hoover Institution yesterday about the situation in Pakistan. (He's just completed a book I'm eager to read based on his description.) The government's raid on the Red Mosque, a two-square-block complex where Taliban-oriented militants had been holed up with perhaps 400 hostages and/or students, including women and children didn't go nearly as smoothly as planned. The Pakistani military thought they would be able to clear them out in about an hour, but it took about 24 hours of grim close-in battle to gain control. They're admitting to 60 militants dead, but the death toll may end up being much higher.

This is only one of Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf's problems. He's growing increasingly unpopular, especially in the wake of firing the country's chief justice, who committed the sin of being too independent. A lot of people think he plans to seize power when his term runs out next year rather than meekly leaving office. Tom said Pakistan, with all its various factions, may be the most difficult country in the world to govern. There's considerable sympathy for an essentially secular government, but there are scads of radical Islamist groups and madrassahs filling young peoples' heads with dreams of jihad -- in addition to ethnic and tribal splits. The North West Provinces, where most people think bin Laden is holed up, have never been effectively controlled by any central government.

Will there be an Islamist uprising to protest the raid on the Red Mosque? Zawahiri has called for one, and it could happen.

Musharraf's time may be past. Like most political leaders, he stinks more the longer he's in office. But Pakistan has nuclear weapons, and the idea of such weapons in Islamist hands is more than a little unsettling.

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