The assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities and the national government’s last outspoken advocate of religious tolerance, was a pivotal event in Pakistan’s history. It was carried out, it appears, with the consent of Pakistan’s intelligence service and the blessing of Pakistan’s military. It signaled the coming end of the current civilian government. And it pointed toward a national power struggle that puts the country’s nuclear arsenal in play.
The New York Review of Books features a dark appraisal of the situation in Pakistan:
As leaders worldwide—from the Pope to Hillary Clinton to Nicolas Sarkozy—strongly condemn Bhatti’s murder, the reaction of the Pakistani government has been vapid. No action has been taken or promises made to curb the freedom of violent extremist groups, who have hailed both murders and who have meanwhile been staging daily street demonstrations in Lahore to demand the death sentence for Raymond Davis, the American CIA agent who is now in Pakistani custody after killing two Pakistani men believed to be agents for the army’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). (Davis was part of a secret team working in the country; the exposure of his activities puts further strain on the uneasy alliance between the US and Pakistan.)
For its part, the army has so far failed to express regret about either Bhatti’s murder or Taseer’s. The army chief General Ashfaq Kayani declined to publicly condemn Taseer’s death or even to issue a public condolence to his family. He told Western ambassadors in January in Islamabad that there were too many soldiers in the ranks who sympathize with the killer, and showed them a scrapbook of photographs of Taseer’s killer being hailed as a hero by fellow police officers. Any public statement, he hinted, could endanger the army’s unity.
Behind this silence lies something more sinister. For decades the army and the ISI have controlled the extremist groups, arming and training them in exchange for their continuing to serve as proxy forces in Afghanistan and Kashmir. But in recent years, the army has lost control of them and they are striking targets of their own. Yet the army has refused to help crack down on its rogue protégés—despite the fact that extremists have increasingly attacked the army and the ISI itself, and at least 2,000 military personnel have died at their hands in the past five years. This is all the more ominous in view of the resources the military commands: half a million men, another half a million reserves, 110 nuclear weapons (according to US media estimates) and one of the largest intelligence agencies in the world, the ISI, which has an estimated 100,000 employees.
If the army has now surrendered any willingness to take on the extremists, the political establishment had already given up long ago. Prime Minister Gailani and President Asif Ali Zardari head the Pakistan People’s Party, the largest national party in the country—some would say the only national party left. Zardari, as the husband of slain leader Benazir Bhutto, is no stranger to extremism himself, and his populist base has traditionally voted for the party’s anti-mullah, anti-army and pro-people policies. Unfortunately those principles were abandoned by a series of corrupt and ineffectual leaders, and the PPP today is not even a shadow of what it once was.
You can read the whole thing here.
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