Posts Tagged ‘Zardari’

Pakistan’s Dilemma

December 8, 2009

Last month, James Jones, President Obama’s national security adviser, reportedly warned Pakistani officials that the US would escalate attacks against militants in Pakistan if the Pakistani government does not do more to combat them.  The escalation would entail expanding drone strikes into Baluchistan, which is outside the tribal areas where the bombing campaign has been confined to, and launching more cross-border raids by special operations forces.  Leaders of Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network are based in the tribal regions of Waziristan, and Taliban leaders are believed to be in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province.

The threat of an intensified American campaign poses a dilemma for the Pakistani government.  On one hand, it does not want to sustain high casualties in an offensive against militants who would likely retaliate by bombing civilians and government facilities, nor does it want to alienate Taliban leaders in case they come back into power in Afghanistan.  On the other hand, refusing to act and inviting more American attacks in Pakistan would be problematic because the incursions would likely be perceived as violations of national sovereignty by army leaders and the Pakistani public, a perception which could arouse intense opposition to the weak civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari and threaten his hold on power.

The US also faces a dilemma with regard to Pakistan.  America wants to attack Afghan insurgents and Al Qaeda terrorists based there, but it also fears instability in a country that has nuclear weapons and many Islamic extremists.  If the Taliban and other militant groups continue to have a safe haven in Pakistan it will be extremely difficult for the US to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan, where the US has been fighting since 2001.  But destabilizing Pakistan would be a strategic disaster that might be worse than allowing the Taliban to take over large swathes of Afghanistan.  The prospect that drone strikes will cause civilian casualties and anger some Pakistanis enough to join anti-American militant groups also complicates the US decision calculus, although the Obama administration appears to have decided that the benefits of the Predator campaign outweigh the risks.

A Profile of Pakistan’s President and His Problems

April 10, 2009

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.