James’s Musings

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Law of Unintended Consequences Strikes in Pakistan

by James G. Beldock on December 30, 2009

Sadly, today’s news that Karachi suf­fered a sui­cide bomb at­tack on­ly serves to add a new di­men­sion to con­cerns I orig­i­nal­ly raised in a post ear­lier this year (which I wrote from my Karachi hotel room on the evening of President Obama’s in­au­gu­ra­tion but, for se­cu­ri­ty rea­sons, was un­able to post un­til I left Pakistan). Now, in ad­di­tion to the dy­nam­ic I post­ed about (a state dri­ven to the brink of desta­bi­liza­tion by an ex­trem­ist mi­nor­i­ty), we must add the Law of Unintended Consequences: the pos­si­ble “col­lat­er­al desta­bi­liza­tion” re­sult­ing from in­creased US troop pres­ence in Afghanistan.


Asif Hassan/Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

Insidious forces of ex­trem­ism con­tin­ue to erode core Pakistani po­lit­i­cal and gov­ern­men­tal func­tions. Indeed, this par­tic­u­lar sui­cide at­tack fo­cused on Karachi, which lies at the south­west­ern-most end of Pakistan and, along with the rest of Sindh Province, has en­joyed rel­a­tive peace and tran­quil­i­ty since the high pro­file at­tacks again­st Western tar­gets it saw in 2002. These at­tacks thus por­tend a se­ri­ous es­ca­la­tion of the destabilization–and all of this de­spite (or per­haps be­cause of–keep read­ing!) a con­tin­ued US com­mit­ment to the re­gion in the form of a time-lim­it­ed com­mit­ment to Afghanistan. Indeed, today’s Associated Press notes the re­cent in­crease in Haqqani net­work at­tacks on Pakistani in­tel­li­gence and se­cu­ri­ty op­er­a­tives in North Waziristan is fur­ther strain­ing US-Pakistani re­la­tions. (The Haqqani net­work is an Al-Quaeda linked Afghani Taliban fac­tion op­er­at­ing on both sides of the Afghan/Pakistan bor­der. Its in­creased ac­tiv­i­ty may or may not be a re­sult of an in­creased US ac­tiv­i­ty in Afghanistan, but its re­cent im­pact on Pakistani ISI is nonethe­less se­ri­ous and po­ten­tial­ly the source of some Pakistani con­cern over US ac­tiv­i­ty.)

As well-known Washington Post cor­re­spon­dent David Ignatius point­ed dur­ing a fas­ci­nat­ing ses­sion at the re­cent Leading Thinkers Washington Forum on US-Pakistan re­la­tions, Pakistan both wel­comes in­creased US com­mit­ment to Afghan sta­bil­i­ty (and thus to avoid­ing Afghanistan’s re­turn to the sta­tus of a failed state), but al­so has cause for con­cern be­cause of the pos­si­bil­i­ty that more US troop pres­sure in south­east­ern Afghanistan will re­sult in more in­sur­gent ac­tiv­i­ty both in the Swat val­ley (to the north­east) and in Pakistan’s Waziri provinces (to the northwest)–via a kind of chaotic os­mo­sis des­tined to bring on­ly in­creased threats to Pakistani sta­bil­i­ty.

One way or an­oth­er, the con­clu­sion is clear and wor­ri­some: Pakistan is heat­ing up, and the US’s “Afghan Surge” has not quelled the hos­til­i­ty or the un­rest. If any­thing, the un­in­tend­ed short-term con­se­quence of the US ef­forts in Afghanistan may be in­creased in­ter­nal ten­sion and ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ty in Pakistan. Let’s hope we can com­plete the task in Afghanistan suf­fi­cient­ly quick­ly to avoid per­ma­nent desta­bi­liza­tion of its neigh­bor to the south.

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