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

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

 

Political satire is funny, but it also causes cynicism and apathy

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links