The Nuclear Scenario in Pakistan
The Nuclear Scenario in Pakistan
Thursday, December 27,2007 15:49
By Shadi Hamid

If Islamists within the military or ISI did this, then we have the possibility that this is the beginning of something more ominous than the surface event. The collapse of Pakistan into a Jihadist nuclear power is the great nightmare.

Well, yes it might be. But the chances of the "nuclear scenario" actually happening is so slim that treating it as the overriding policy question is, at best, a diversion and distraction from the real risks Pakistan faces. How exactly did this become the conventional wisdom? On one hand, you have Al-Qaeda and other associated terrorist groups. Al-Qaeda - I hope I am stating the obvious - is not going to take over the Pakistani government anytime soon. Extremist groups have the capability to terrorize the population, assassinate leaders, and destablize the country, but there are few indications that they have made enough inroads into the military or ISI to threaten an actual internal coup.

The other possibility is that the various Islamist parties might somehow come to power through free elections. Maybe this is what people are really referring to when they talk about an "Islamist takeover," a term which has long been a staple of Middle East-related fearmongering, and one that has been employed to great effect by the Muslim world"s predominantly secular (and often brutal) dictators, including many of our allies. Well, the chances of this scenario occurring are even slimmer. Islamist parties in Pakistan have not made much an effort to moderate (in contrast to their Arab and Turkish counterparts), and they are, in fact, a frightening bunch. However, they do not command significant support in a country dominated by well-established secular parties. Their peak electoral support is around 15%, give-or-take. In other words, not much of a threat.

With all that said, we are talking about the Muslim world, an area of the world that tends to surprise when surprises are least expected and not particularly welcome. So I could be wrong. But the point remains that we shouldn"t overexaggerate the threat of nuclear oblivion ushered in by Pakistan"s Islamic extremists. And then there"s the other question of why Islamic extremists have been able to wreak so much havok in the first place. Didn"t Mush promise us he would defeat the extremists or something ? Oh, wait. Every dictator in the Muslim world promises us that. And, every time, we end up dissapointed.