Americans have spent the last month focused on uprisings in the Middle East. Egypt and Libya dominated the news as citizens marched in the streets demanding their leaders step down, democratic reforms be implemented, and new governments elected. But Americans are missing the story of real consequence: the chaos, religious strife, and unraveling taking place in Pakistan.
Already this year, assassins gunned down two prominent Pakistani politicians. Both men opposed the country’s blasphemy law that gives the death penalty to anyone who speaks against the prophet Muhammad. Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab province, was assassinated by his own security guard in January. The assassin received a hero’s welcome from lawyers when he was arraigned last month. Afterwards, the nation’s ruling party (the nominally secular Pakistan People’s Party) announced it had no intention of amending the blasphemy law. Last week Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian cabinet member, also died from an assassin’s bullet. Bhatti had spent two last years as a PPP minister calling for religious toleration. News reports suggest Bhatti’s was a lonely voice in government, as many PPP officials sided with religious conservatives.
These events have occurred while the country’s relationship with the United States has deteriorated. On January 27, American CIA officer Raymond A. Davis shot and killed two Pakistani citizens in Lahore, the nation’s second largest city. Local police arrested Davis and want him tried for murder. The Obama administration claimed Davis was in the country collecting intelligence on local militant groups. They demanded his immediate release and claimed he was protected from local prosecution by the 1961 Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations., The Pakistanis refused to let him go. Sen. John F. Kerry went to Islamabad and petitioned for Davis’ release, to no avail.
While Washington and Islamabad quarrel, new intelligence shows that the country is stockpiling nuclear weapons. Recent reports suggest Pakistan’s arsenal has grown tremendously since 2009 and includes over 100 deployed weapons. Pakistan will soon likely replace Britain as the world’s fifth largest nuclear power.
The nuclear arsenal has grown while the nation’s governing party is on the verge of collapse. The government is divided on several fronts: how to fix a faltering economy, whether they support the U.S. war in Afghanistan, whether they oppose the Taliban.
Pakistan is in a precarious situation. The country is teetering on the brink. I fear it could become a failed state. The economy is in ruin. The government has no solution to the myriad of problems they face. All the while, Muslim fundamentalists seem to be on the rise. The PPP looks spineless in comparison.
Americans should pay attention to it because it is a nuclear power on the brink. Pakistan is ground-zero in our foreign policy. To quote Vice President Joe Biden: “it’s a big fucking deal.” One that hasn’t received nearly the attention it deserves. Maybe that’s best. After all, this is a nightmare that is all too real.