- The Washington Times - Monday, May 3, 2010


The Battle of Pakistan is under way.

While slower minds concentrate on the Arab-Israeli conflict, the largest Muslim nation — 150 million — is near a death rattle.

Ironically, Pakistan, like Israel, is a miracle with multitudinous contradictions. It was, after all, a poetic notion that the British Indian Empire was two “nations,” one overwhelmingly majority Hindu, one minority Muslim. After dominating “Indian” nationalism for almost a century before Mohandas Gandhi arrived, Muslim leadership shifted, arguing suddenly that the two communities could not live together. In fact, Pakistans founders maintained that a “modern” state could only be created in the subcontinent on the basis of a Muslim reformation.

Of the many ironies here is that the once ultrasecular Pakistan now finds itself the number-one target for international Islamist terrorists. And thats why Pakistan needs another miracle.

As if that were not enough, a minor Hindu propagandist in Indias Islamabad embassy has apparently been caught spying. That could well torpedo early hopes of a new Indo-Pakistan understanding. A Pakistan implosion means Indias own larger Muslim population — and an additional 200 million Muslims in countries on its borders — would be up for grabs. There is no way New Delhi can secure the Indian subcontinents western flank, the historic invasion route, without a functioning Pakistan.

Pakistan is in the throes of reinventing itself — as it has done so many times in the half-century since British India was cleft by Louis Lord Mountbatten, the empires last and perhaps worst viceroy. Without so much as a constitutional convention, President Asif Ali Zardari, whose reputation for corruption earned him the nickname “Mr. 10 Percent,” has turned the running of the country back to a raucous parliament. Yet it was Gen. Pervez Kyani, the chief of army staff, who worked out details of Washingtons multibillion-dollar, 10-year aid program. And given history, it will not be the last time that the countrys only valid national institution, the military, is called in to save, if you will pardon the expression, the country’s bacon.

There is also American pressure to reactivate a moribund federalism, including refashioning the colonial North West Frontier as a Pushtoon-speaking entity. In the far west, Islamabad is buying off “nationalist” Baluch and other tribal groups.

That the country is now the world’s top target of militant Islamists is self-evident: There are almost daily suicide attacks on “soft” targets, military and police — the same tactic employed by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, the Vietcong, the PLO, Hezbollah and Hamas to weaken the resolve of the civilian government and try to force a settlement.

Whether Pakistan’s essentially feudal governing forces can handle this deluge remains to be seen. It is not encouraging that Chief Justice Iftkhar Muhammad Chaudhri has appointed himself the “John Jay of Pakistan” in an attempt to establish “judicial supremacy.” He leads the most venal lawyers in the British Common Law world, operating in a legal system that employs bits of sharia law, regulations left over from India’s emergency system during World War II and local tribal customs. Their antics would make John Edwards blush.

To add to the confusion, an incredible array of overlapping U.S. officials are making policy statements that just further muddy the waters. There are the “normal” ambassadors, U.S. field commanders, regional commanders, congressional leaders and special envoys all chiming in.

Congress has gone on record for some $1.5 billion annually in military, financial and commercial aid over the next decade, hoping to reach some of the worlds poorest villagers.

But there are complications there, too. Having voided its own strategy to block nuclear technology sales to India, Washington has had to refuse Pakistan the same deal because of its notorious proliferation to North Korea, Iran, China and other questionable clients. That has permitted Beijing to sell two probably overpriced and perhaps dangerous nuclear plants. About 60 Chinese companies working on 122 projects in the oil and gas, telecommunications, power-generation, engineering, automobiles, infrastructure and mining sectors are draining foreign exchange. That means American taxpayers will be paying more into Chinas balance of payments surplus through the aid money earmarked for Pakistan.

And those deals are only drawing Islamabad and Beijing closer at a time when China, inevitably, is emerging as America’s great rival for influence in Asia.

Not a pretty outlook, even in a country that has known more than its share of miracles.

Sol Sanders, veteran foreign correspondent and analyst, writes weekly on the convergence of international politics, business and economics.

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