In the latest man-made catastrophe, at least 120 people were killed last week in a series of bombings by Sunni extremists against Pakistan’s Shiite minority. It was the country’s worst day of violence in five years, and may jeopardize elections that are scheduled to be held before June.
The root causes of the strains include a schism between Pakistan’s corrupt elected civilian government — headed by Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the assassinated prime minister Benazir Bhutto — and the military. Mr. Zardari has a checkered background that includes imprisonment on corruption charges.
The military has been in a strong position economically and politically since Pakistan’s birth in 1947. It has been poised to seize control throughout the country’s history, whenever it could maintain credibly that the future was at risk.
It is ready to assume power now. A military coup d’etat would present substantial political problems for the United States, which wants to continue to work with the current government.
Sectarian strife among Muslims, who make up 97 percent of Pakistian’s population, contribute to the country’s misery. The recent attacks on Shiites in Quetta, Pakistan, appear to have been carried out by an extreme Sunni group, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, one of Pakistan’s numerous militias. The Lashkar are not new, but Pakistani armed forces have never been able or willing to control them, in spite of their terrorist activities.
Pakistan has received mountains of U.S. military and other aid during the Afghanistan war, starting in 2001. Its wealthy class has made huge profits from U.S. activities in Afghanistan through the transport of fuel, weapons, ammunition, food, and other supplies from the Pakistan port of Karachi.
America also continues to carry out drone attacks in Pakistan, to the fury of many citizens. The most recent attack occurred last week, in which alleged Taliban fighters and an unknown number of other Pakistanis were killed.
President Obama must take Pakistan into account as he pulls U.S. forces out of Afghanistan by 2014 and decides how many troops should be left behind. The U.S. situation in the region is the equivalent of sitting on a time bomb.