Pakistani soldiers patrol in Mingora, capital of the Swat Valley on Feb. 27, 2009. Taliban militants in the Swat Valley have extended a cease-fire, strengthening a peace process that Western governments say may grant a safe haven to extremists.
"Taking Seriously the Situation in Pakistan"
March 10, 2009
Author: Azeem Ibrahim, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program, 2008–2010
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
Pakistan is at risk of collapse. Increasing threats to its integrity on the economic, political, and military fronts may constitute the biggest existential threat that Pakistan has faced in its sixty-one year history.
"The Defence Secretary, John Hutton, has argued that the war in Afghanistan was important because the country had provided Al-Qa’ida with territory in which to train and plan attacks, and that Pakistan mattered because the Taliban were directed and supplied from across its 1,500 mile open border. Whilst that was the accepted picture, few gave any credence to the idea that Pakistan posed a bigger security challenge to the world than Afghanistan. Now, that very idea has been voiced by the top US diplomat in Kabul. According to this new understanding, allied strategy must engage with Pakistan's fate as a matter of urgency.
The potential for disunity is written into Pakistan's DNA. The name 'Pakistan' is an acronym, coined in 1933, for the names of some of the areas and groups the then-putative state might contain: Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, and Indus-Sind. The stan suffix means 'land'. Today, two thirds of Pakistan's 158 million people live in the province of Punjab, and this imbalance has resulted in ethnic tensions between the regions over job quotas and political representation, all of which were apparent even before the current crises.
Today, four strands feed into the threat of collapse: the potential for balkanisation, the state of the economy, the military, and the political situation. The international community must take this risk seriously; a Pakistani collapse would only increase the security threat...."
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