Political uncertainty in Pakistan is fuelling a sense of chaos and opening the door for Islamist extremists intent on destabilising the country, warns a leading US analyst.
"The situation in Pakistan was already fraught with challenges for US policymakers, and the current political crisis will add one more layer of uncertainty," said Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow in the Asian Studies Centre at the Heritage Foundation.
"Instability in Pakistan has become a major source of international concern, especially since Pakistan is one of a handful of countries that possess nuclear weapons," she said in a paper released by the Washington think tank.
"The current political turmoil will certainly distract the government from dealing with the multiple challenges facing Pakistan, including spreading Talibanisation in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP),"Curtis warned.
Even before the political crisis, the government and the military had failed to deal decisively with Taliban forces gaining ground across the semi-autonomous tribal belt bordering Afghanistan and in parts of the settled areas of the NWFP, she noted
In the Swat Valley, for example, the government recently struck a peace deal with pro-Taliban elements that had been terrorisng the locals by bombing girls' schools and viciously murdering opponents.
The Pakistan government insists that the establishment of Islamic courts in the region will not usurp state authority, but many analysts believe the situation in Swat Valley eerily resembles that in Afghanistan under harsh Taliban rule in the late 1990s.
Early reports of the Pakistan military vacating posts, while released militants roam the streets freely and demand families provide one son to the Taliban, reveal that Swat may be a terrorist safe haven in the making, Curtis said
"Al-Qaeda-backed extremists are salivating at the prospect of more political uncertainty and will exploit fissures in the system and discontent among the people," she said.
"Although the Army is loath to re-involve itself in politics, it will not stand by idly if the political situation deteriorates into violence and chaos," Curtis warned.