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.
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.