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The Perils of Pakistan

by Steven Elliott

Several Pakistanis look ahead to the future.
The current military and political situation in South Asia is one that is of the utmost importance for the new Obama administration, but is also one that merits the exercise for caution.

President Obama was elected on a platform that supported an intensification of America’s efforts against the pro-Taliban insurgents that have proved difficult to eradicate following Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001. The new strategy in Afghanistan entails bringing in American reinforcements from the de-escalating war in Iraq, increasing the commitment of the United States’ NATO allies, and expanding military strikes into Pakistan’s mountainous border regions.

Of these, the first decision provides the most immediate positive impact. American military leaders hope reinforcing Afghanistan will have an effect similar to that of the 2006 surge in Iraq.

The second effort, eliciting greater support from NATO, has similar benefits but comes with pitfalls. NATO countries are individually weaker militarily than the United States, and their governments less tolerant of casualties. Heavy losses among any of the allied contingents could potentially lead to a withdrawal of European contingent.

Most important, is the situation in Pakistan. Already, Pakistan’s internal instability has seen the fall of the Musharaf government Pakistani politics are divided between progressives, protective secularists in the armed forces, and militant Muslim factions. Thus far, equilibrium has been maintained between these factions, but American violations of Pakistan’s borders could threaten to destabilize the current government.

The November 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, India, has also complicated politics in the region, though tensions between India and Pakistan have not yet risen to dangerous levels. An increase in violence in Kashmir or a radical change in Pakistan’s government, coupled with a growing American and European military presence in Afghanistan, could potentially lead to a dangerous destabilization of the entire region.

It is necessary to tread lightly in order to avoid a disaster of nuclear proportions.

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