Pakistan is, potentially, the greatest national security problem that the United States faces. It has upwards of 80 nuclear weapons and a history of military coups, sometimes led by Islamists. There are at least four internal rebellions going on in this crucial almost-country: in Baluchistan, in Punjab, in the Northwest Frontier provinces and in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.
Thus the assassination of Salman Taseer, the secular and progressive governor of Punjab, is terrible news. It comes at a moment when the civilian government run by Taseer’s party, the PPP (which was also the party of Benazir Bhutto and her ineffective husband, Ali Asif Zardari), seems on the brink of a no confidence vote. It also comes at a time when cooperation with U.S. efforts to clear the terrorist bastion of North Waziristan is particularly crucial.
Most important, it highlights how much we don’t know about Pakistan. Taseer was killed by one of his bodyguards. The Pakistani military is riddled with secret salafists, Islamic extremists whose sympathies track with Al Qaeda and the TTP (the Pakistani branch of the Taliban). The idea that such people might gain control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal should be our worst nightmare.
I’ll have more about how our real national security interest in Afghanistan is Pakistani stability in the print edition this week.