Pivotal Pakistan

Now that the smoke has cleared, following the murder of Mrs. Benazir Bhutto and the riotous carnage that followed, news from this crucial outpost in the war on terror is fairly sparse. Relative calm has returned to the streets, and the government of President Musharraf has even succeeded in postponing the highly anticipated elections for six weeks without igniting the storm of protests that had been predicted. But grave concerns persist over Pakistan’s role in the global battle between western culture and radical Islam.

It was noted in the opening sentences of the cover story in Britain’s The Economist that the war on Islamic extremism and the terrorist movement may well be won or lost in Pakistan. As we are learning Pakistan is a little understood patchwork, politically. And the world’s hopes for averting the prospect of al Qaeda or the Taliban getting control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal are tied up in the nation’s unstable and unpredictable political climate.

According to the conventional wisdom promoted by our U.S. Administration, and noted in The Economist, the central hope for the maintenance of a semblance of stability in Pakistan’s future is a free and fair election, now scheduled for next month. However, there seems to be little hope that will happen. Musharraf, and his “security” apparatus have a history of intervention to assure political outcomes, and if this is perceived to be the case in February, predictions are that Islamic extremism will spread from the radical provinces into Pakistan’s heartland.

Is Europe concerned? The EU is actually planning to play a role in Pakistan’s upcoming election by sending a number of “observers” to critique the results. As events in this pivotal crisis play out, we may also see Pakistan become a political football in the presidential race here in the U.S.

With the primary elections already in full swing here in the U.S., Iran and Iraq have virtually disappeared from our mainstream news. The situation in Iraq has quieted down to such a degree that no one seems to pay much notice. Of course, to do so would be to admit that one of the Bush Administration’s policies is succeeding, and there is little if any interest among the predominantly anti-Bush media in doing that.

Iran, until recently in the center of controversy, has become a non-story ever since the dubious intelligence report surfaced claiming that Iran had discontinued its nuclear weapons program in 2003. But the Iran nuclear program also has a connection to Pakistan. The so-called father of the “Islamic Bomb,” A.Q. Khan has been implicated in smuggling nuclear secrets not only to Iran, but to North Korea as well [see story]. Last I heard, he was living under house arrest in a protected compound in Pakistan.

The bottom line is that there are lots of “Islamic bombs” in Pakistan, in fact an arsenal of nuclear tipped missiles. While the Pentagon believes they are currently “secure,” there are obvious concerns about what may transpire in Pakistan over the coming months. Meanwhile, Iran continues to enrich uranium, which is the critical ingredient needed to complete nuclear weapons.

The world’s attention is, for the time being, distracted by the “beauty contest” of American primary elections. As we look at the prospects for our future American leadership against the backdrop of Pakistan and Iran, realizing that the Taliban and al Qaeda have not been defeated and are still thriving in the ungoverned regions; they are raising up and training another generation of terrorists who are motivated by sheer hatred of everything non-Islamic and anxious to give up their lives in the process of destroying western civilization, you have to wonder what lies ahead for Israel, for Europe and for us as well.

Mark Armstrong

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Further reading:
Our Commentary
Crisis in Pakistan
Assassination of Benazir Bhutto

Left: Mrs. Benazir Bhutto
Center:  Pakistani elections
Right:  President Musharraf