In the Arena

Trouble in Pakistan

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The Obama Administration’s efforts to nudge the Pakistanis into fighting the Afghan Taliban–as opposed to the Taliban who are setting off bombs within Pakistan–seems to be encountering a fair amount of pushback, not just from the military as detailed in this NY Times piece, but also from a skeptical Pakistani public, which believes, as Andrew Sprung writes here, that the US and India are at the heart of the terrorism that has been ripping formerly safe areas of the country. There is also the problem of President Asif Ali Zardari’s withering authority and nonexistent popularity.

All of which adds up to…what? Hard to say at this point. In previous years, a military coup would be imminent. Not this time, though–not so soon after the toppling of the last military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, with the overwhelming support of the Pakistani population. At the highest levels, as the Times reports and my sources confirm, the Pakistani military leadership seems intent on supporting a civilian government for the moment and also is intent upon a close relationship with the U.S….but, at the same time, it is continuing its double game, supporting its Afghan Taliban clients. And the real question is: what about the Army officers at the next level down, the lower-ranking generals and colonels, some of whom are Islamists with close ties to the jihadis? Coups in other countries have been known to come from charismatic lower-ranking officers. If Pakistan continues to spin toward chaos, be prepared for the unthinkable.

Update: More on this subject here by my intrepid colleagues, Tony Karon and Omar Wairich.