From the always interesting Asia Times, yet another worrying article about Pakistan:

KARACHI – On the face of it, the post-September 11 era sees Pakistan re-established in the world community, nurturing friendly relations with India, and enjoying political stability in the shape of President General Pervez Musharraf’s grip on power, with the economy steady.

Appearances can be deceptive, though

I can’t pretend that I know Pakistan very well, but all we hear coming from that country is really scary me each time, whether it is about nuclear proliferation, “honor” killings, or the madrasas.

And now this:

very powerful “Million March” in Karachi recently, organized by the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a coalition of six religious-political parties that heads the opposition in the country, was the first punch, and yielded instant results. Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz abruptly caved in to a key MMA demand that a person’s religion be included in his or her passport.


This has sent shivers down the spines of those in the corridors of power: Qazi Hussain Ahmed has played this card with devastating results twice before. On the first occasion he mobilized thousands of Jamaat-i-Islami workers against the Nawaz Sharif government in 1993. It fell within a few weeks. He repeated this move in 1996, this time bringing down the administration of Benazir Bhutto.

The authorities now fear that the MMA’s renewed political activism will mobilize religious forces in the country.

Over the past few years, since Musharraf signed on to the “war on terror”, jihadi activists have had a hard time of it. They feel betrayed by the religious leadership, which has not supported them, notably in the tribal areas of Waziristan, where the jihadis tried to oppose military efforts to root out Taliban and foreign militants.

According to most estimates, more than 50,000 persons are committed to jihadi movements in Pakistan. However, deprived of a political platform and a common strategy, they are ineffective. Now, if they can align with the robust new religious-political movement of the MMA, they will get a new life.

The MMA’s agitation, with the huge crowds it can mobilize against Musharraf, is bolstered by every rise in prices, the deteriorating law-and-order situation across the country, and widespread opposition to military operations, especially in Balochistan against tribespeople there.


An economic bomb

In addition to the problems outlined above, Musharraf faces a potential killer blow in the economy. Despite the government’s presentation of rosy figures, many feel this is a game of smoke and mirrors.

According to a report of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) – the central bank – the country had liquid reserves of US$12.860 billion ($10.055 billion with the SBP and $2.805 billion with other banks) on March 19. At the end of February, the trade deficit was $2.45 billion and the deferred bill for imported oil was $2.75 billion.


The country thus does not have the foreign-exchange reserves that would be needed should sanctions be imposed on the country – always a possibility should Pakistan suddenly fall out of favor with the US, the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. (How Pakistan will meet the multibillion-dollar bill for promised F-16s from the United States is another matter.)

Political and economic realities are pushing Musharraf further and further into a corner.

So, if I get this right, in addition to having tons of jihadists, a military unhappy to be shamed by the US State Department but still dreaming of “doing it” with India, out-of-control nuclear scientists, a religious/populist opposition ready and able to take the streets against the (military) government, the country is feeling the pinch of high oil prices…

Nice and not the stuff of nightmares!

Anybody have less black news to share about that country? Please?!

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