These past three days in Pakistan were a microcosm of the many conflicts tearing the country apart. The bomb blast against Frontier Corps soldiers in Islamabad is a reminder of the most pressing danger facing India’s neighbour: the Taliban’s inroads into the Punjabi heartland. The suicide bomber who attacked a Shia mosque in Chakwal the day after was a continuation of a decades-long campaign by Sunni extremist groups against religious minorities. A girls’ school was bombed in a small town. The Pakistani military used troops and airstrikes to kill militants in Mohmand agency in the on-and-off struggle in the tribal areas. Taliban chieftain Baitullah Mehsud’s supposed claim of responsibility for an unrelated shootout in New York added spice to an already overflowing cauldron.
While no large developing country is without unrest, events in Pakistan are different. First, in Pakistan almost all such violence is interrelated. Everything described above is part of the state’s death by a thousand militant cuts. A terrorist central may not exist — Taliban groups often fight each other, but their independent actions are becoming reinforcing. Second, the Pakistani state seems unable to respond to what looks more and more like a guerrilla invasion by Islamic militants. The military is often fought to a standstill by militants. Third, this is not a country that can be ignored. Pakistan’s population is the size of Russia’s and it is equipped with nuclear weapons.
What is most alarming is the country’s state of denial. Polls show most Pakistanis disbelieve al-Qaeda’s existence. Among the more popular Pakistani myths is that the US, Israel and India are working in tandem to dismember their nation. The Northwest Frontier Province police chief’s warning that the Taliban exist “in every city and town” of the country seems to alarm the rest of the world more than it does his own people. Because their conspiracy theories make them sound absurdly distant from reality, Washington does not trust them to fight the al-Qaeda and the Taliban. What is true is that the country’s combination of dysfunction and delusion is making more and more nations ask each other what can be done with this country.