A Profile of Pakistan’s President and His Problems

In an interesting article published last weekend in the New York Times Magazine, James Traub profiles Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and discusses some of the serious problems that he faces (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/05/magazine/05zardari-t.html?scp=1&sq=zardari&st=cse).  It paints a portrait of a man with a clouded history whose political situation is precarious.  He faces a recently strengthened opposition party, a military averse to civilian control, hostile governments in neighboring India and Afghanistan, diplomatic pressure from the US, Islamic extremists exerting greater control and territorial reach within Pakistan, terrorist attacks, a secessionist rebellion , a stagnant economy, a government teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and a low public approval rating.


Naturally, given Zardari’s weak position, many fear that his government could fall at any moment. 


David Kilcullen, an important adviser to Gen. David Patreus, head of US Central Command, recently warned that “Within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state.” 


The prospect of Pakistan becoming a failed state is worrisome to American officials because Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons and is the home of violent Islamic extremists and terrorist groups, including the Taliban and Al Qaeda.  If the country descends into chaos the US might intervene militarily to seize control of the nuclear stockpiles and insure that they do not fall into the hands of radical anti-American groups. 


Perhaps the Pakistani army will launch another coup and take power if its leaders believe that Zardari’s administration is too weak to govern.  An alternative scenario would be that Nawaz Sharif or another member of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) would form a new democratic government if Zardari is forced to resign. 


President Obama declared the border region of Pakistan “the most dangerous place in the world,” and Kilcullen stated that severe instability in that country would “dwarf” all other crises facing the US.  The Obama administration has proposed increasing economic and military aid to Pakistan to help secure and stabilize the region.  It is uncertain if such assistance will have a significant impact on the perilous situation there.


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