Whither Pakistan?

LAHORE – Pakistan remains the world’s never-ending question. As 2010 concludes, several outstanding issues continue to bedevil the country. How they are managed in the year ahead will determine not only Pakistan’s immediate future and long-term prospects, but also the security of its region and, indeed, much of the world.

It has been said – without exaggeration – that Pakistan faces an existential threat. The country has not defined a coherent approach towards those who are resorting to terrorism to advance their agendas, both within Pakistan and abroad. It remains uncommitted to the idea of denying sanctuaries on its territory to Taliban fighters battling American and NATO troops in Afghanistan. Relations with India have soured in recent months, because Pakistan’s government is once again lending diplomatic support to the insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Domestic terrorism in Pakistan has taken a heavy human and economic toll. It is no longer aimed at official support of United States-led anti-terrorism activities. Sunni Islamic extremists now target minority groups as well as other Muslim sects. Some 800 liberal and Sufi Islamic scholars have died in targeted killings by extremist groups who receive financial assistance from like-minded people in the Middle East, and some well-known and much-visited Sufi shrines have been bombed.

The economy is in shambles, and unable to meet the International Monetary Fund demands for its continued support. If the IMF terminates its current program, Pakistan will be unable to service its foreign debt. Indeed, a senior cabinet minister suggested recently that the international community should write off Pakistan’s debts – an amount estimated at $40 billion. The minister of finance forcefully repudiated the suggestion the following day, indicating that the government has not developed a consistent approach towards the faltering economy.