Pakistan's crisis global concern
by Salim Mansur
With Pakistan, people are holding their breath to see if the predictable train wreck in the making is by some prayer and luck averted for a nuclear weapon state.
The failed bid of the suicide bomber -- belonging likely to one of the many Islamist groups in Pakistan -- to eliminate Benazir Bhutto on her return home from exile is an omen of much worse to come.
The much worse could be the already ruinous failed state imploding as another Somalia or former Yugoslavia.
The present crisis -- the bid to kill Bhutto merely being the early intimation of the fight ahead -- has been a long time in the making and is loaded with irony.
General Pervez Musharraf as the army chief deposed an elected government and its leader, Nawaz Sharif, in 1999. This coup was a replay of previous army chiefs removing Bhutto twice elected as prime minister. Her father, Ali Bhutto, also was deposed then hanged by the military dictator General Zia ul Haq.
Moreover, this is the army or its shadowy branch, the Inter-Service Intelligence, that sowed the dragon seeds to sprout as the legions of jihadis (holy warriors) joined in a common cause to make war against the enemies of Islam preached by Taliban's chieftain Mullah Omar and al Qaida's Osama bin Laden.
But 9/11 confronted Pakistan and its military ruler with an existential choice of being branded by the U.S. as a rogue state sheltering terrorists, or taken as an ally in the war against Islamist terror.
The much postponed yet unavoidable and necessary test of will between the army and the jihadis looms large. The fight over the Red Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, in July was merely the prologue of this test to come.
This fight will more or less determine if Pakistan can avert the train wreck and make a fresh beginning with the military restoring politics back to the people, thereby mobilizing the people in sufficient numbers to eliminate the jihadis and their wild politics bringing ruin to the country.
Pakistan is terribly divided by ethnicity, class and sectarian loyalties.
There is insurgency in the province of Baluchistan, Taliban-al Qaida warriors with local allies in the border lands of Afghanistan, political disquiet in the heartland of Punjab, and recurring sectarian strife in Karachi, the country's largest city in the southern province of Sind.
The strategic public support needed by Pakistan's ruling elite to eliminate the jihadis will not be forthcoming if Musharraf makes selective deals with some politicians in his bid to fix the outcome of the forthcoming election ahead of the vote.
This is what Musharraf has done by removing the bars against Bhutto to come back from exile abroad, while denying the same to Nawaz Sharif in defiance of the Supreme Court justices ruling in favour of the former deposed prime minister's fundamental right to return home.
SEEN AS RIGGED
An election in which Sharif, a native of Punjab, is denied participation will be seen by most Pakistanis as rigged.
And Bhutto will discredit herself as a willing stooge of Musharraf if she contests the election from which Sharif is absent.
The stakes for Pakistan, the region and the world beyond are unforgivably high in the twin outcome of an election accepted as legitimate, and the battle against the local jihadis with their foreign cohorts.