As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Chaos In Pakistan

Sorry to harp on Pakistan, but when a nuclear-armed country experiences this kind of political unrest, I take notice. There was hope going into the weekend that Prime Minister Zardari would make enough concessions to satisfy the opposition. However, despite pressure from the Obama Administration and the world community to allow the peaceful protests, Zardari rejected reconciliation and placed Nawaz Sharif under house arrest. However, Sharif defied that house arrest and participated in a massive demonstration in Lahore which grew violent.

Pakistan's opposition leader defied house arrest on Sunday to lead anti-government protests that briefly turned violent before becoming a jubilant show of force against the country's pro-Western president.

Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif called the mass rally a "prelude to a revolution."

The power struggle between the former prime minister and President Asif Ali Zardari threatens to paralyze the government and, alarmingly for the U.S., distract the nuclear-armed country from its fight against Taliban militants operating along the Afghan border.

Hundreds of police surrounded Sharif's residence in Lahore, carrying an order for his house arrest, party spokesman Pervaiz Rasheed said. But Sharif, who denounced the order as illegal, later left the house in a convoy of vehicles and headed into town.

Riot police had earlier fought running battles with stone-throwing protesters, turning the downtown into a battle zone littered with rocks and clouded with tear gas and smoke. A mob smashed windows of buses parked along the route of Sharif's convoy.

Eventually, the police did draw back, no doubt because of the negative publicity. But this is truly terrible. Sharif is speaking the language of revolution, and will probably continue on to tomorrow's proposed mass sit-in at the Parliament. And there are signs of ethnic conflict between Sharif's base in Punjab and the Sindhi forces throughout the rest of the country. This is all happening while the government still needs to battle extremist militia in sections of the country, and the political strife is unquestionably a distraction.

I don't see how this ends well. Zardari believes, not without cause, that reinstating judges will lead to them bringing back up his corruption cases, leading to his arrest. Sharif clearly believes his revolutionary rhetoric that he can force his way into power. While Pakistan may not be a failed state, it's certainly an unstable one, with seemingly intractable problems. And thanks to the Bush years, we have a dearth of influence in the region. The Taliban is not going to topple the government and control a nuclear arsenal anytime soon, but there is a danger that extremism could rise when freed from battles with a distracted government. And this kind of uncertainty is very nerve-wracking.

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