Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What's going on in Pakistan

Juan Cole summarizes the risks in Pakistan on Informed Comment. He's not concerned about the Taliban taking over. The real danger, he says, is that disagreements between the two major political parties could result in the country being partitioned.

The Pakistani Taliban are not going to take over the Pakistani government. That worry doesn't keep me up at night. They are small, and operate in a rugged, remote area of the country. They can set off bombs and be a destabilizing force. But a few thousand tribesmen can't take over a country of 165 million with a large urban middle class that has a highly organized and professional army.

In contrast, the increasingly rancorous conflict between the left of center, largely secular Pakistan People's Party and the right of center, big-landlord Muslim League, has the potential to tear the country apart.

He goes on to say:

For Pakistan's two major civilian parties, who only 7 months ago rid the country of a military dictator, to go mano a mano at each other like this is potentially tragic. If they destabilize the country, they could tempt the military to come back out of the barracks and make yet another coup. Short of that, there could be faction-fighting in villages and cities.

Pakistan is a nuclear state, so this degree of instability is especially worrying. The danger is not a take-over by the Taliban, but rather a coup (led by whom of what views?) or blood in the streets.

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