David Miller: Significance of the Karachi Bombing
The Significance of the Karachi Bombing
In the wake of last week’s bombing in Karachi, the Pakistan government was quick to place the blame with operatives from al-Qaeda. There are reports that dozens of Islamic extremists have been arrested but there is no firm evidence to indicate who was responsible or the message they sought to deliver. What is certain is that the position of the Pakistan government is not as strong is it outwardly appears and the bombing served as a timely reminder that the situation in Pakistan must not be overlooked as inconsequential when compared to what is happening elsewhere. Whether the US and its allies like it or not the truth is the exact opposite.
Since September 11, Pakistan has come in from the cold in regard to the United States. Pakistan was placed on the State Department’s watch-list of state sponsors of terrorism and there was much suspicion that the Musharraff regime supported terrorism both in Afghanistan and Kashmir. However the attacks on the US changed all that. Suddenly Washington needed a stable and friendly Pakistan to not only act as a base for its war on terrorism but to seal its borders and prevent the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces from regrouping there. As it so often does, Washington sealed this new vow of friendship with the promise of financial aid. Since then Pakistan has teetered on a knife-edge. The government has publicly declared its support for the US and troops have been deployed along the border with Afghanistan. However beneath the surface there has been much unrest and opposition. There have been anti-western demonstrations on the streets, the abduction and murder of Daniel Pearl and the bomb attack last week.
Any changes to the political structure in Pakistan will have a great impact on the US led war on terrorism. Last week’s attack, along with the murder of an American journalist, demonstrates that Pakistan could easily become the new focal point for extremists such as al-Qaeda to regroup and reorganise. There have been incidents that show many senior al-Qaeda officials have escaped and found shelter in Pakistan and there are many in the country that support the brand of Islam and extremism the Taliban represented and have no sympathy for the US or their own government. Should these groups gain control or influence there then the US will have lost a key component in its efforts across the border.
The other issue that Pakistan is central to is Kashmir. This situation is potentially more explosive than the Middle East or Afghanistan given that there is a nuclear element involved. This has been at the heart of the dispute between India and Pakistan since 1947. The prospects for resolution of the Kashmiri dispute have always been remote due to the gulf that still exists between the demands of each country and the conditions each has imposed as a prerequisite to peace. India lays claim to the entire region of Kashmir while Pakistan continues to fight for what it calls the rights of the Kashmiri people and as an Islamic state sees the need to liberate another Muslim province from Hindu control.
India is a US ally and a state that is unlikely to sit back and absorb attacks by Kashmiri militants. The problem the US has created by declaring its war on terrorism is that it cannot prevent other countries from declaring one of their own. This is what could happen here. If there is an attack directed against India then it is likely to react with military force against Kashmir and Pakistan and this will not only mean that Pakistani forces are diverted from the Afghanistan border but the western leaning government of Pervez Musharraff could fall leaving a power vacuum.
What happens in both these theatres effects the situation in the Middle East and vice versa. If the US falls foul of the Arab states and a resolution cannot be found then their silence over the war in Afghanistan could end and the future of the operation will be seriously jeopardised. This will lend weight to the cause of the Islamic extremists and nowhere will this be felt more than in Pakistan.
The solution to this problem will not be easy to find. In the final analysis the Musharraff government must take responsibility for preventing the rise of extremism and to stop al-Qaeda from regrouping there. The US can only lend its support for these efforts and provide assistance to maintain the government’s hold on power. It is ironic to say that the US should support a military regime but in this case there is little alternative unless the Pakistan people call for change themselves. Washington should be calling for a resolution to Kashmir and keeping a very close eye on the situation there because if there is a war it will eclipse the Middle East with wider repercussions. No matter what the US decides it must realise that Pakistan is the key to its success in the Middle East and Southern Asian regions.