Thursday, October 04, 2007

Pakistanis at the Edge of the Vortex

Notwithstanding the power shifts coming at the top in Pakistan, the nation seems on the edge of being pulled into the vortex that is terrorist political violence.

The accommodations offered to the tribal regions and the near impossibility for 'moderates' to strike a decisive blow, historically, against the 'extremists', due to many factors, including political and business corruption, extreme poverty, illiteracy, and uneven prosperity, all suggest that worse internecine violence may be yet to come.

It has long been the considered view that a large, moderate base would disallow the nation and its moderately strong institutions from being pull down by any 'extremist' effort. However, this view has to be tempered by the experience of the powerful tools that create vicious cycles, as has been seen in Iraq.

Pakistan's grip on tribal areas is slipping
By Hassan Abbas - Asia Times

The government of President General Pervez Musharraf faces policy failure in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. Taliban forces and their sympathizers are becoming entrenched in the region and are aggressively expanding their influence and operations (especially in Tank, Dera Ismail Khan and Swat Valley in North-West Frontier Province - NWFP).

A lethal combination of Musharraf's political predicament and declining public support, a significant rise in suicide attacks targeting the army, and the reluctance of soldiers in the area to engage tribal gangs militarily, further exacerbates this impasse

It's likely that Pakistan will take its own trajectory, not like Iraq's sectarian-inspired descent or Bosnia's separatism. It may just continue to simmer indefinitely, like an open wound that cannot be properly treated.

As always, the implications are profound:

Pakistan's most unique feature is not its potential as a failed state but the intricate interaction between the physical/political/legal entity known as the state of Pakistan and the idea of the Pakistani nation. Few if any other nation-states are more complex than Pakistan in this respect, with the Pakistani state often operating at cross-purposes with the Pakistani nation. The state has certainly been failing for many years, but the Pakistani nation also is a contested idea, and the tension between them is what makes Pakistan an especially important case. Pakistan has not fulfilled either its potential or the expectations of its founders, but it is too big and potentially too dangerous for the international community to allow it simply to fail. - Stephen P. Cohen, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, Brookings, 2002

Regions of Pakistan:


  1. Balochistan
  2. North-West Frontier Province (NWFP)
  3. Punjab
  4. Sindh


  1. Islamabad Capital Territory
  2. Federally Administered Tribal Areas

Pakistani-administered portions of Kashmir:

  1. Azad Kashmir[5]
  2. Northern Areas[5]

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