Editorial: The West must plan for an arc of uncertainty

The collapse of the state in a nuclear Pakistan is a prospect that must be addressed

Share
Related Topics

With its recent history of coups, assassinations and popular protest, Pakistan can hardly be described as a stable country. Yet the stand-off that has developed in recent days between the Supreme Court, which is demanding the arrest of the Prime Minister, and the government, which has formally challenged that order, raises the prospect of a new and alarming crisis. Angry crowds in the streets, shouting slogans that echo those of the Arab Spring, add another, quite unpredictable, dimension. 

But it is not just on this north-eastern edge of the Muslim world that unanticipated reverberations of the Arab Spring are now making themselves felt. Swing south and west, to Mali, and the outer western edge is also in turmoil. Within days of President Hollande’s decision to intervene there, French troops were reported to be fighting street by street to repel the Islamist forces’ advance. This rebellion can be traced directly to the return of Tuareg warriors from neighbouring Libya after the fall of Gaddafi and the surfeit of loose weapons in the region.

With Syria’s civil war still raging, Libya and Yemen by no means peaceful, popular discontent rising in Jordan and the Gulf, and the post-revolutionary regimes in Egypt and Tunisia only just holding their own, there is the spectre of acute instability, if not all-out war, stretching in an almost unbroken arc all the way from West Africa to South Asia. And the paradox is that this is happening just as the United States and most of its allies are losing their appetite for military intervention. Whether the French can extract themselves from Mali as speedily as they got themselves in, is a separate question, but neither Britain nor the US has shown any enthusiasm for joining them.

The long-term implications of such widespread unrest  for global security in general and European security in particular are disturbing enough. The kidnap of foreign nationals in Algeria in recent days could be only the beginning of a period in which whole swathes of North Africa, the Middle East and adjoining regions have to be regarded as unsafe. But there are short-term implications, too, which need to be considered urgently.

With the US planning to accelerate its withdrawal from Afghanistan – as President Obama made clear at his recent meeting with President Karzai – and Britain sure to follow suit, the last thing anyone needs is major regional upheaval, still less chaos in Pakistan. The successful withdrawal of troops and equipment depends to a large extent on guarantees of safe passage from the Pakistan authorities. Promised help from Russia is welcome, but no substitute for cooperation from Pakistan.

Yet the imminent departure of foreign combat troops from Afghanistan is also an ingredient in the mix that threatens new instability in Pakistan. Qualms about what happens in Afghanistan, once the only foreign troops left are in training and support roles, are not restricted to the countries that are withdrawing. They are felt even more keenly in Pakistan.

The possible return of the Taliban, if not to power then to extensive influence, is a big concern. But the greater fear is of turmoil in Afghanistan that spills into Pakistan. Porous borders mean that, to a degree, this is already happening. But the threat of a total breakdown of order in Afghanistan that could precipitate the collapse of the state in nuclear-armed Pakistan is a prospect that must be addressed. With new tensions arising with India in Kashmir, Pakistan’s borders seem to be fraying. At a time when the West generally is drawing in its horns, the world on its fringes suddenly looks more perilous than for a very long time.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PMO Manager (Portfolio Management, ExCel, Cost Benefit Analysis)

£450 - £500 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: PMO Manager - 6 month co...

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Functional Consultant

£50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A Microsoft Dynamics CRM...

Senior BI Engineer (BI/MI, Data Mining)

£60000 - £65000 per annum + Bonus & Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior BI Enginee...

Retail Promotions Manager – TV and Film Catalogue

Up to £171 PAYE per day (equal to 40 – 45K ) : Sauce Recruitment: This is a te...

Day In a Page

 

Naturism criminalised: Why not being able to bare all is a bummer

Simon Usborne
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on