US officials see little hope of preventing nuclear-armed Pakistan from disintegrating into fiefdoms controlled by Islamist warlords and terrorists, posing a security threat to both the US and India, according to a leading newspaper group.
Such a development would pose a "greater threat to the US than Afghanistan's terrorist haven did before 9/11", third largest US newspaper chain McClatchy Newspapers reported, describing it as the conclusion of a growing number of US intelligence, defence and diplomatic officials.
"It's a disaster in the making on the scale of the Iranian revolution," an unnamed US intelligence official with long experience in Pakistan was quoted as saying.
Pakistan's fragmentation into warlord-run fiefdoms that host Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups would have grave implications for the security of its nuclear arsenal; for the US-led effort to pacify Afghanistan; and for the security of India, the nearby oil-rich Persian Gulf and Central Asia, the US and its allies, it said.
Pakistan's army, meanwhile, is hobbled by a lack of direction from the country's civilian leaders, disparaged for its repeated coups and shaken by repeated defeats by the militants.
It remains fixated on India to ensure high budgets and cohesion among troops of divergent ethnic and sectarian allegiances, US officials and experts cited by McClatchy said.
Many officers and politicians also oppose fighting the Islamist groups that Pakistan nurtured to fight proxy wars in Afghanistan and Kashmir because they think the US is secretly conspiring with India to destabilise their country.
Several US officials cited by the paper said that the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy that President Barack Obama unveiled last month is being called into question by the accelerating rate at which the insurgency in Pakistan is expanding.
The plan hinges on the Pakistani army's willingness to put aside its obsession with Hindu-dominated India and focus on fighting Islamist insurgency.
It also presupposes, despite doubts held by some US officials, that sympathetic Pakistani military and intelligence officers will sever their links with militant groups.
McClatchy cited the experts it interviewed as saying their views aren't a worst case scenario but a realistic expectation based on the militants' gains and the failure of Pakistan's civilian and military leadership to respond.
"The place is beyond redemption," a Pentagon adviser was quoted as saying. "I don't see any plausible scenario under which the present government or its most likely successor will mobilise the economic, political and security resources to push back this rising tide of violence.
"I think Pakistan is moving toward a situation where the extremists control virtually all of the countryside and the government controls only the urban centres," he continued.
"If you look out 10 years, I think the government will be overrun by Islamic militants."