Pak facing six critical threats to its survival

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Islamabad/London, Mar.4 (ANI): The militant assault on cricket tourists in Lahore puts sharp focus on a fragile democracy that is at risk of disintegration and international isolation in Pakistan.

Whole provinces run beyond the writ of the state.

According to The Guardian, security is not the only problem of a country that the United States now considers a greater threat than neighboring Afghanistan.

With the economy teetering, political tumult building and social conditions ripe for extremists, nuclear-armed Pakistan faces six critical threats to the rule of law and governance of the state.

The current violence started in summer 2007, when security forces routed armed militants at the Red Mosque in Islamabad.

That event turned militant groups that were focused on India or Afghanistan inwards, to Pakistan itself.

A campaign of suicide bombings started, in which Taliban-style extremists in the north-west, near the Afghan border, joined forces with jihadist groups based in Punjab, Pakistan's heartland.

Large parts of Pakistan have been snatched from government control. Most of the tribal area, the semi-autonomous sliver of land that runs along the Afghan border, is now firmly in the control of the Pakistani Taliban, who play host to al-Qaida commanders.

The threat from Afghan Taliban elements is compounded by a long-running Baluch nationalist rebellion. Punjab, by far the most populous and richest province, is also threatened by extremists in its midst. There are many jihadist groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, the outfit blamed for the Mumbai attack in November.

The aims of Pakistan's premier spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), are the big question: does it still support at least some of the extremist groups?

The ISI, once heavily backed by Washington, masterminded the mujahideen resistance in Afghanistan to the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, training and financing the insurgents. The ISI then decided to use the same tactics against India, founding a series of militant groups that started a violent resistance to Indian rule in the disputed region of Kashmir. The agency also nurtured a number of sectarian outfits, such as Sipah-e-Sahaba.

Then, in the mid-1990s, the ISI helped create a new Islamic movement in Afghanistan, the Taliban, which rapidly managed to take over the country. It also spawned a copycat Pakistani Taliban movement.

The problem is that many of these militant groups, which were used to further Pakistan's foreign policy and domestic aims, have slipped out of the ISI's control. The groups have turned on the state itself, under the influence of al-Qaida.

The rule of President Pervez Musharraf, from 1999 to 2008, was characterised by an economic boom. But, just as elections were held in February 2008, that boom turned to bust.

Inflation is now running at some 25 percent, while the currency and the stock market have been pummelled over the last year. Much of Pakistan's textile industry, which had accounted for about half of its exports, is closed as a result of chronic power shortages and lack of competitiveness.

Late last year, Pakistan was forced to go on its knees to the IMF for an emergency 7.6 billion dollar bail-out, as it was threatened by imminent bankruptcy. The economic crisis means that unemployment and poverty are on the increase, the very conditions that breed extremism.

The economy and poor governance have meant a failure to provide the country with an education and health system that serves most of the population.

Pakistan's politics has always been tumultuous, with the country under military rule for most of its 61 years of existence. The last period of army rule ended in 2008, but the new democratic dispensation has floundered.

The West cannot turn on a country whose co-operation is needed for security. The fear is that isolation could push Pakistan into collapse. (ANI)

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