Monday, May 11, 2009

The greatest threats

The threats to Pakistan's stability are the problems of incompetent governance, an unequal distribution of wealth and resources, and a reluctance by the feudal elites and the military to share power. A recent poll seems to indicate that, regardless of what Ms. Clinton says, the Pakistanis do not view the threats to themselves the same way as the US.

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The prospect of Islamist militants destabilizing nuclear-armed Pakistan is a global fear, but only 10 percent of Pakistanis saw terrorism as their biggest worry, according to an opinion poll released on Monday.

For the vast majority economic issues such as inflation, unemployment and poverty were a greater problem, according to a survey by the International Republican Institute (IRI), a Washington-based organization chaired by Senator John McCain.

The Taleban are a symptom, not only of the desperation of a people facing grinding poverty and incompetent governance, but also of the lack of viable alternatives to express their despair. As long as the Taleban were a distant threat the people did not pay them much attention. In fact, many in Pakistan saw them as a legitimate resistance to occupation. As long as that was the case, the Pakistan army was reluctant to openly move against them, in spite of the tremendous pressure coming from the US. The shift of public opinion after the flogging video surfaced and, more importantly, after the Taleban expansion into Buner, gave them an opening which they have taken. But the opening is limited. The plight of the refugees is going to move public opinion against the military as will the tales of the civilians who will die because of this offensive. As opposed to the somewhat simplistic view of the military in the west, the Pakistan military derives much of its legitimacy from popular opinion. Musharraf's opening of the media means they can no longer rely on state propaganda to cover up for their shortcomings. If they see a major shift in public opinion against them they will respond accordingly. For the military to accomplish what they want to do in the short period they have will require real leadership. They will have to move quickly to complete the offensive portion of their action and take the lead in rebuilding efforts which will have to be conducted with transparency and efficiency. It remains to be seen whether Kayani can provide this leadership

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