Pakistan: A Nuclear-Armed Power Walks a Tightrope

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A Nuclear-Armed Power Walks a Tightrope

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Although many people can't find it on the map, Pakistan could easily be the next major threat to the United States and the Western world.

In the 1960s, there was a great deal of talk about the domino theory. The fear was that, if one country fell to communism, others would fall too, like a long line of dominoes. Many dismissed the idea—at least until South Vietnam fell, followed quickly by Cambodia and Laos.

Today the greatest threat to peace and security is radical Islam. It's been almost 30 years since its first major success, the Ayatollah Khomeini-led Iranian revolution and ousting of the shah in 1979.

In the same year the Soviet Union sent troops into neighboring Afghanistan with the intention of spreading atheistic communism. They stayed for 10 bloody years before their defeat by radical Islamists under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, who at that time was receiving arms and support from the United States. Following defeat in Afghanistan, the Soviet empire collapsed.

Afghanistan changes hands

The threat from radical Islam has, however, been growing. Afghanistan came under the control of the Taliban, strict Muslim fundamentalists who instituted Islamic sharia law. Allowing Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda to stage the events of 9/11 from bases in Afghanistan inevitably led to the overthrow of the Taliban following the U.S. invasion of 2001.

But that does not mean they are gone—or that they no longer have the support of many of the Afghan people. Lately the Taliban has been staging a comeback in some areas, producing heavy losses among coalition forces.

Following the withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland after a 38-year presence, a senior member of the British military expressed the opinion that British forces would be in Afghanistan at least as long!

And Osama bin Laden remains free, in spite of doubling the reward offer from $25 million to $50 million. In the mountainous tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, money means little. What is important are tribal loyalties and adherence to Islam, and people are very loyal to Osama and his followers. As they see it, they are fellow Muslims who are struggling in a continual jihad against the Western infidels.

Increasingly, it's become apparent that Osama bin Laden and his associates may not even be in Afghanistan. They could just as easily be across the border in remote and rugged mountainous areas of Pakistan. One American presidential contender has said that he will order an invasion of Pakistan if the Pakistani government does not hand over the world's most wanted man. Clearly, some in America think that Pakistan has greater control of its borders than America does!

The truth is that the central government of Pakistan has very little control of the tribal areas of the North-West Frontier Province. This was also true of the British, who ruled the area for almost 200 years prior to Pakistan's independence 60 years ago. Like much of Afghanistan, this rugged no-man's-land has defied control by outsiders for centuries.

Disturbing Pakistani realities

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf writes that "many members of al-Qaeda relocated to the mountains—specifically to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the North-West Fron-tier Province. The border with Afghanistan is a stretch of 850 miles (1,360 kilometers) . . . The terrain is inhospitable and inaccessible—rugged and mountainous, with heights ranging from 8,000 to 15,000 feet, subject to harsh winters and burningly hot summers and largely devoid of roads.

"During the colonial period the British were restricted to transit on just a few roads in this region, and many of those were rarely open.

"Under our constitution, FATA enjoys a semi-autonomous status. It is home to some 3.2 million tribal folk. It is spread over 10,600 square miles and is largely governed by age-old tribal customs, with maliks, or chiefs and elders, wielding political and military influence and authority over their tribes . . .

"Pakistan's border with Afghanistan cuts across tribes, dividing people with deep ethnic and social bonds." From 1893 the British "allowed cross-border social and commercial interaction for the tribes," a practice that "continues to this day."

These tribes "are fiercely independent," writes the Pakistani president. "It was only in 2000 that the Pakistan Army was allowed to enter all the tribal agencies for the first time ever, to build roads and to foster economic development . . .

"After 9/11, the army's strength was increased and a network of human intelligence was created in the area. When we received initial reports of al-Qaeda's presence there, we did not take them very seriously, and in any case the magnitude of the threat was unknown. The truth dawned on us only gradually, with increased intelligence" (In the Line of Fire, 2006, pp. 264-265).

High stakes in Pakistan's stability

President Musharraf has himself been the intended victim of assassination attempts on at least three occasions, the latest in July. His government has frequently been threatened by radical Islamists, who seized the Red Mosque in Islamabad and challenged the Pakistani government, prompting a bloody shootout in the nation's capital that same month.

While Musharraf vows to restore democracy to the country as soon as possible, there is also the possibility of the radicals overthrowing him and establishing a fundamentalist state. Many among the military, intelligence services and general populace of this Muslim state sympathize much more with Osama bin Laden and hate Musharraf's ties with the West.

Attempting to receive greater backing and end criticism of his government from the West, Musharraf talked with former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in July, with a view to possibly sharing power. The threat from radical Islam could bring about the permanent downfall of both President Musharraf and Bhutto.

It would also mean that Islamic fundamentalists would gain control of Pakistan's arsenal of several dozen nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems.

With neighboring Iran also working on developing nuclear weapons, what would happen if the two countries formed a nuclear alliance? Coupled with the spread of radical Islam into Lebanon, Somalia, Gaza, the West Bank, Iraq and even Turkey, the threat to the West seems only set to grow.

"Musharraf is the only known trust-worthy custodian of Pakistan's nuclear weapons arsenal," writes Steve Schippert, cofounder of ThreatsWatch and of the Center for Threat Awareness. "Beyond Musharraf lie only question marks and uncertainties at best, which is a dire Western predicament for a nuclear power cohabiting with popular and powerful al-Qaeda and Taliban movements on its soil.

"And increasingly, the question regarding Musharraf's rule as the leader of Pakistan is most often discussed in terms of how long he can survive, not whether or not he can retain reliable control of both Pakistan's government and its military" ("Ceding the Fall of Pakistan,", July 5, 2007).

Musharraf's difficult balancing act

Mr. Schippert continues with the following facts:

"Pakistan has nuclear weapons.

"It is also the current home of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the epicenter of the global jihadiyun movement.

"The Taliban has recently taken to seeking its enemies by reportedly deploying suicide bomber teams to distant shores, including Germany, Canada, the United States and Great Britain.

"Al-Qaeda is considered to have surpassed its pre-9/11 capabilities since migrating to its sanctuaries in Pakistan in 2001-2002.

"The Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance fields an armed fighter force of over 200,000 men on Pakistani soil.

"The alliance has been steadily gaining territory ceded to them by Pervez Musharraf, as he has been incapable of defeating or even stemming the rising tide of Islamists inching ever closer to Islamabad.

"As [the Center for Security Policy's Salim] Mansur states bluntly, Musharraf 'has run the country for over seven years and his welcome has run out' among the general population, not just the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance" (ibid.).

The Wall Street Journal adds that Musharraf's "antiterror policy has been . . . contradictory. While he remains an ally against al Qaeda, Pakistanis report that the madrassa schools continue to be unreformed as a refuge for Islamist indoctrination. More troubling, last year his government cut a deal with tribal chiefs in the province of Waziristan to stop pursuing Islamist militants.

"While that may have been forgivable given the heavy losses the Pakistan military suffered trying to secure its border with Afghanistan, it is now clear the truce has allowed a new sanctuary for the Taliban and al Qaeda. Mr. Musharraf also does not help his credibility by denying clear evidence that border towns such as Quetta have become terrorist bazaars" ("The Pakistan Dilemma," July 28, 2007).

Will catastrophe follow a U.S. defeat?

Clearly, the situation in Pakistan should be of grave concern to the United States and its allies.

However, the reverse is also true. What is happening in the United States means that allies like Pakistan have to be prepared for different possible outcomes. What if America is defeated in Iraq? What if a future U.S. administration withdraws? These are questions increasingly asked around the world as the next U.S. election looms ever closer.

"Opponents of the U.S. mission in Iraq say they want to 'change course.' Most refuse to specify what their new course would be. Others say they want U.S. troops to 'redeploy' to friendly countries in the region," writes Clifford May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism, in a July 7, 2007, column titled "Imagining Defeat in Iraq."

"But in international relations, nothing cools a friendship like defeat. For any regime to rely on the U.S. for security after the U.S. has abandoned Iraq would be high-risk. In fact, it would soon become apparent that the continuing presence of American forces invites subversion, terrorism and assassination of those in power."

The Bible tells Christians to be alert to what is appening in the world (Matthew 24:42 Matthew 24:42Watch therefore: for you know not what hour your Lord does come.
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). Jesus Christ was speaking in answer to a question from His disciples about the events preceding His return (verse 3). The book of Daniel foretells that "at the time of the end" there will be a monumental clash of civilizations between the biblical kings of the North and South (Daniel 11:40 Daniel 11:40And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over.
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), apparently leaders of the Western and Islamic worlds.

What is becoming increasingly clear is the shifting balance of power in the Middle East and Southern Asia. The United States is increasingly perceived as a declining power in the region. The big question is, who will fill the vacuum and what will be the consequences? GN

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