Pakistan a Dysfunctional State With Nuclear Bombs

Distracted by the violence in Mali and Algeria, no one seems to be paying adequate attention to the tragicomedy under way in Pakistan.
Events of the last week demonstrate that Pakistan is a failed state — but one with nuclear weapons. Where else could a fundamentalist Muslim cleric who lives in Canada draw tens of thousands of fans to a rally calling for dissolution of the government while speaking from inside a shipping container with a bulletproof window?
That’s just one in a litany of absurdities.
At the same time comes the latest round of unresolvable acrimony between President Asif Ali Zardari and the supreme court, which has been trying to bring him down for years.
Two years ago, the court ordered the prime minister of the time, Yousuf Raza Gilani, to open a corruption investigation against Zardari, as if Pakistanis didn’t already know that Zardari, like most every government official, was thoroughly corrupt.
The court ordered Gilani to ask Swiss officials for documentation of Zardari’s in-absentia conviction on money-laundering charges 10 years ago. Gilani refused, noting that the president is supposed to be immune from prosecution.
The court scoffed. One justice spat: “Obedience to the command of a court” is “not a game of chess or a game of hide-and-seek.” And soon after, the court forced Gilani to resign. Raja Pervez Ashraf, the information technology minister, took his place. Right away the court landed on him with the same request: Help us file corruption charges against Zardari; get those Swiss documents.
The new prime minister also resisted, and wouldn’t you know it: Right now the court is trying to forcing him out of office — charging him with corruption. All of this seems to have paralyzed an already ineffective, incompetent government.
A few days ago, an officer in the state anti-corruption agency who was investigating the allegations against Ashraf was found hanged in his barracks. Police called it a suicide, but the timing is awfully convenient.
At the same time, in northwestern Pakistan thousands of protesters shouting anti-government slogans put the bodies of 15 villagers on display, charging that security forces shot them dead in their homes.
The chief security agency, the shadowy Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, did not comment but did respond to a court inquiry into the fate of seven men arrested in 2007. A court ordered them released. But all seven men disappeared.
Finally an ISI lawyer acknowledged the lack of evidence against the men, but he explained that they were arrested “on moral grounds.”
Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry shot back that the ISI simply cannot detain suspects on “moral grounds.”
“Morally, they can put anyone behind bars, even me,” Chaudhry charged. “According to them, all the people are guilty.” But despite years of heinous abuses, neither the court nor anyone else in government ever tries to reign in the renegade spy agency.
Why should we care about any of this? After all, Pakistan is hardly the only failed state in the world. Think about Somalia, Sudan, Haiti, Zimbabwe. But have any of these other states received more than $12 billion in aid from Washington over the last decade, with an additional $688 million payment now before Congress, awaiting almost certain approval?
And do any of the other failed states — Afghanistan, Chad, Nigeria, Uganda — possess nuclear weapons? No. Pakistan is the only state that has bombs, along with an Islamic insurgency intent on toppling the ineffectual government. And don’t forget that senior leaders of al-Qaida live there, too, most of them in Pakistan’s eastern borderlands.
If the Taliban ever succeed in toppling the government, they would almost certainly seize the nukes, a terrifying prospect.
Right now, though, Taliban militants, responsible for manifest mayhem and thousands of deaths in recent times, appear to be sitting back and watching. Their goal is to destabilize the state, but the sitting government is doing the job for them.
Joel Brinkley is a professor of journalism at Stanford University and a former New York Times correspondent.