Taliban Advance: Is Pakistan Nearing Collapse?

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B.K.Bangash / AP

Pakistani police officers in a shrine in Buner, Pakistan, on April 18, 2009

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Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, defended the government's concession to the Taliban, denying in an interview with CNN that the cease-fire agreement amounted to capitulation. He justified the action by comparing it to the 2006 U.S.-led Anbar Awakening in Iraq in which U.S. military commanders struck agreements with moderate jihadists. "We are open to criticism of that strategy, but to think that that strategy somehow represents an abdication of our responsibility toward our people and toward the security of our country and the region is incorrect," Haqqani said.

Also on Wednesday, a top adviser to Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani made an explosive announcement accusing a long-simmering separatist movement in the province of Baluchistan of being sponsored by archenemy India and Afghanistan. The mysterious deaths of several Baluch leaders over the past few weeks have renewed demands for Baluch independence from the nation of Pakistan.

The implication by Rehman Malik, Gilani's Interior Affairs adviser, that neighboring countries were fomenting instability in Pakistan will only heighten regional tensions at a moment when the country is least equipped to deal with them. Already columnists in several Pakistani newspapers are warning of a return to 1971, when a separatist movement in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, ended with a civil war that split the nation.

David Kilcullen, a counter-terrorism expert for both the Bush and the Obama administrations, warned that Pakistan is on the brink of collapse. "Afghanistan doesn't worry me," Kilcullen said in an April 12 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. "Pakistan does. We have to face the fact that if Pakistan collapses it will dwarf anything we have seen so far in whatever we're calling the war on terror now."

During an April 16 conference in Tokyo to raise donations for his beleaguered nation, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari warned that terrorists operating in the country posed a global threat. At that conference, countries including the U.S. and Japan pledged more than $5 billion to improve health, education and governance in Pakistan.

But with security and stability increasingly in doubt, it's becoming clear that more urgent action is needed beyond financial donations aimed at institution-building. Neither Zardari nor opposition leaders have been able to come up with answers to the insurgency. Columnist Kamila Hyat, writing in The News, called for an overhaul of current strategies, including reaching out to Pakistan's old foe, India. If Pakistan doesn't have to worry about protecting its eastern flank, she argued, it can concentrate on solving its internal problems. "The only option for Pakistan is to break free of the militant grip, focus on building a new relationship with India and realize the only hope for a brighter future lies in building regional harmony rather than waging war." It's a sound proposal for the long term, but with the Taliban already taking advantage of the peace deal in Swat to expand their reach, Pakistan may be forced into negotiating with militants first.

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