Tuesday, May 5, 2009

On a Collision Course with the Unimaginable

by Dee Newman

For years Pakistan has been a nation in turmoil, lead by an unstable government supported by a corrupt security force, and endangered by a large fundamentalist Islamic population with profound ties to the Taliban of Afghanistan.

For more than half a century Pakistan has been mired in an ongoing territorial dispute with its neighbor, India, that has been the focus of the region’s political energy and assets.

The fact that Pakistan, India, Russia and China all possess nuclear weapons suggests that any current or escalating violence in the region has the potential to explode into a disaster of catastrophic proportions.

Since late 2007, a reign of terror by the Taliban in Pakistan has killed and beheaded hundreds of Pakistanis - including soldiers, political officials and civilians - in the Swat Valley. They have banned female education and destroyed several hundred schools for girls.

Somewhere between a quarter and half million people have fled, leaving the militants in control of the area. On February the 16 of this year Pakistan offered to introduce Islamic law (shariah) in the Swat valley and neighboring areas in an effort to quail the insurgency. After the army declared it was halting operations in the region, the militants announced an indefinite cease-fire. President Ali Zardari signed a regulation that imposed shariah in the area. But, the Taliban refused to give up their weapons and pushed into the surrounding districts, intent on spreading their rule.

With security deteriorating rapidly, the United States and the world are now faced with the real possibility that the Pakistani government could collapse under the increasing threat of the Taliban forces.

Unfortunately, President Obama’s options for dealing with the Taliban insurgency in Pakistan are limited. Anti-American feelings in Pakistan remain high and a U.S. combat presence under international law is prohibited.

It has been reported that Pakistan currently possesses between 60 and 100 nuclear weapons. The fear of what could happen to those nuclear weapons if the Pakistani government collapses is very real.

As the Taliban insurgency spreads in Pakistan, the United States must be increasingly concerned about Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and the possibility and potential for militants to seize a weapon in transport or a Taliban partisan gaining access to a laboratory or fuel-production facility.

If the Pakistani government does fall and their nuclear weapons fall into the hands of the terrorist, it could place the entire world on a collision course with the unimaginable.

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