What will probably happen next in Pakistan
In the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto's killing, President Musharraf will do his best to keep order under a veneer of civilian government, probably
through the reimposition of Emergency rule, which was recently lifted. He will fail, with or without American support. The majority of Pakistanis,
many of whom originally welcomed his coup, are now thoroughly fed up with him - and they hate America, too. Musharraf will not be able to govern.
Anarchy and chaos will break out across Pakistan. It is not simply a matter of 'terrorists creating a power vacuum'; Pakistan, being an artificial
country cobbled together out of disparate linguistic and ethnic groups, many of them recent immigrants, has a natural tendency towards anarchy anyway.
The number of opposed groups and factions in the country is mind-boggling: political parties of different convictions, religious sects and militias,
ethnic separatists, local warlords, powerful thugs and of course the military and the over-mighty secret service, the ISI. Any of these, incidentally,
could have killed Bhutto for their own reasons; there is no need to suspect, or even imagine, an external plot.
The response from the military will be to attempt a takeover and rule by decree and by force. This may hold the place together in the short term, but
it is guaranteed to make things even worse in the longer term.
Pakistan will implode.
So what will happen to the nuclear weapons?
One thing is certain. Iran will not get them. There are several reasons for this.
First, and most important, the population of Pakistan is 77 percent Sunni and they can't stand Shia Iran. The rift between Shia and Sunni is far
deeper and more filled with animosity than that between Islam and the West. Iran can never bring about an 'Islamic revolution' in Pakistan, and its
leaders know this. Anyway, Pakistan is already an Islamic country. It's in the Constitution.
There is too much hostility between Iranians and Pakistanis for there to be any real political cooperation between them. Iranians are angry with
Pakistan (in particular its government, its military and the ISI) because of Pakistani support for the Afghan Taliban, Sunni fanatics who preach the
murder of Shia Muslims. Pakistanis, in turn, see an Iranian hand behind Shia militancy and terrorism in Pakistan - many will blame Iran for Bhutto's
death, though they are probably wrong about this.
If Pakistan collapses as it almost certainly will, many parties will be keen to secure its nuclear weapons, either for their own use or to prevent
others from using them.
Among these parties are:
- The hard-core Sunni Islamists who are known in Pakistan, and more generally in Asia, as 'Taliban'. The term covers not just the Afghan lot but
Sunnis of similarly militant theocratic views all over the region. These Taliban (the word is a plural form of talib, meaning 'student') have
very close links with the Pakistani security establishment. When it comes to getting their hands on Pakistan's nukes, they have probably a better
chance than anyone, especially in the aftermath of an unsuccessful attempt at military rule.
- The United States and its allies, who will want to secure the weapons before they fall into the hands of 'terrorists' such as the Taliban. On
this issue, Russia (which has its own problems with Sunni militancy in Chencnya) and India will probably see eye to eye with the West, so it is
possible that some attempt will be made to secure Pakistan with foreign troops under a UN mandate. The Chinese may protest, but I don't think
they'll veto such a move. However, you may be sure that any such 'peacekeeping mission' will come under ferocious attack by all the opposed parties
in Pakistan, just as has happened to the Coalition in Iraq. Its chances of securing Pakistan's nukes will be modest, to say the least.
- Iran, acting through indigenous Pakistani Shia militias. There is little chance that it will succeed.
There will be no Iranian invasion of Pakistan; this would certainly mean a war with the West, with Pakistan as the battleground and the rest of the
world standing by. Iran will definitely lose such a war, and its leaders know this. They are not the mad fanatics they like their enemies to think
they are, and they certainly will not risk the destruction of their country over nuclear weapons they are on the verge of being able to manufacture
for themselves anyway.
My own best guess
In my opinion, what will happen is this.
Musharraf will go. The military will mount a coup. The leaders will be Sunni Taliban allies, but they will at first attempt to keep order and keep the
weapons in Pakistani hands. If they succeed, then the status quo will be maintained, though the possibility of nuclear technology passing into Islamic
militant hands will become a near certainty. There is little America will be able to do about this.
But it is unlikely that the status quo will be maintained. This time, the military will almost certainly fail to keep control in Pakistan. As their
power dissipates, the generals will become divided amongst themselves. One faction will look to the outside world to help it maintain control and
legitimacy. It will probably attempt to strike some kind of a deal over the nukes. The opposite faction will try to secure the nukes for itself and
It will come down to the wire, at which point there may be US-led (possibly UN-mandated) military strikes or an expeditionary force launched to
destroy or capture the weapons. Those holding the weapons will probably be tempted to use them - possibly against the invaders but almost certainly
against India, which is where the missiles are already targeted anyway - rather than give them up. That will let slip the dogs of war.
In the aftermath, Pakistan will no longer exist as a nation-state and the world as we know it will have changed dramatically. America's power -
whatever is still left of it today - will be radically compromised; its global dominance will almost certainly be at an end and it will depend
increasingly on allies like India and Europe to maintain itself. Fanatical militant Islam will have received its unifying epiphany; the process of
radicalization of Muslim culture will be all but accomplished, with tragic consequences for ordinary Muslims all over the world. India will attempt to
protect itself against the rising Islamic threat by extending its dominance to the west, possibly invading Pakistan and absorbing it; this will lead
to a geopolitical confrontation with the Sunni Islamic world on one side and, quite possibly, China on the other.
The overal winners will probably be Russia and Iran, which will stay out of the conflict, egg the combatants on and scoop up the spoils once the dust
has settled. The Chinese, if they play their cards right, will probably do quite well out of it, too.
Welcome to the real
[edit on 28-12-2007 by Astyanax]