Pakistan on the Brink?

by Clifford D. May

The New York Times this morning reports:

A wave of attacks against top security installations over the last several days demonstrated that the Taliban, Al Qaeda and militant groups once nurtured by the government are tightening an alliance aimed at bringing down the Pakistani state, government officials and analysts said.

The latest terrorist attack was in Lahore (more than 30 people killed), one of three Pakistani cities I visited last week as I recounted in my NRO column yesterday.

The Times’s Jane Perlez adds:

The assaults in Lahore, coming after a 20-hour siege at the army headquarters in Rawalpindi last weekend, showed the deepening reach of the militant network, as well as its rising sophistication and inside knowledge of the security forces, officials and analysts said. …

[T]he style of the attacks also revealed the closer ties between the Taliban and Al Qaeda and what are known as jihadi groups, which operate out of southern Punjab, the country’s largest province, analysts said. The cooperation has made the militant threat to Pakistan more potent and insidious than ever, they said. …

In a rare acknowledgment of the lethal combination of forces, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that a “syndicate” of militant groups wanted to see “Pakistan as a failed state.”…

In Washington, senior intelligence officials said the multiple coordinated attacks were a characteristic of operations influenced by Al Qaeda.

Will all this be a wakeup call for Pakistani leaders and the Pakistani public? Again, from Jane’s excellent piece:

The rise in more penetrating terrorist attacks may now add its own pressure on the Pakistani government to crack down on the Punjabi militants. It is time for the government to come out in public and explain the nature of the enemy, said Khalid Aziz, a former chief secretary of North-West Frontier Province.

“The national narrative in support of jihad has confused the Pakistani mind,” Mr. Aziz said. “All along we’ve been saying these people are trying to fight a war of Islam, but there is a need for transforming the national narrative.” …

In fact, many Pakistanis do not see the jihadi groups as the enemy, said Farrukh Saleem, the executive director for the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad. “They feel America is in the region and the Pakistani Army is fighting for an American army and the jihadis have a right to retaliate,” he said.

The senior personnel in the security forces seem to understand the gravity of the militants’ strength and the durability of their network, Mr. Saleem said. But they cannot bring themselves to say publicly that those whom they created are coming back to bite them, he said.

When I raised these and related issues in Pakistan last week I often met with resistance and in some cases hostility (for example, a shoe was thrown at me at the University of Karachi). What happens in Pakistan will be consequential. Stay tuned.

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