President Barack Obama and Afghan President Karzai reached a rough understanding last weekend on how to wind down the longest war in U.S. history, now in its 12th year. But the agreement didn't include the key ingredient — Pakistan.
And without Pakistan, no peaceful settlement is possible. But even with Pakistan, reeling from sectarian strife that took some 32,000 lives last year, an Afghan settlement would appear a bridge too far.
Karachi, a port city of 21 million, “is a violent urban jungle with an assortment of lowlifes keeping the population hostage to their bastardly instincts,” columnist Ejaz Haider wrote recently in Pakistan's The Express Tribune.
There are, says Haider, “crooked politicians, their guards, political storm troopers, criminal gangs ... ; cops on the take; a government split along ethnic lines; anyone who can rent a gun and settle a score.”
Add “Taliban terrorists and sectarian killers and you have ... what is Karachi.”
Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan is the counterpart of Afghanistan's Taliban. But the Pakistani Taliban recruited among the lowlife and its ranks now include criminal gangs, including felons and murderers. TTP specializes in urban terrorism where the army is loath to intervene.
It is tempting to conclude this is just one more foreign crisis that doesn't concern us. But Pakistan is a nuclear power.
And not to be dismissed are opportunities for secret alliances between terrorists and younger anti-U.S. army officers on duty in underground nuclear weapons sites.
Some of the Pakistani officers who were banned from traveling in the United States in the 1990s as retaliation for the country's secret nuclear weapons program are now one-, two- or three-star generals.
With the TTP's stepped-up terrorist operations, safe and secure elections in Pakistan are pure fantasy.
On Dec. 22, a suicide bomber killed Bashir Ahmad Bilour, a much-respected political figure, while he was attending a pre-election meeting. His crime: raising his voice against TTP. Now influential moderate voices are warned they are on TTP's hit list. TTP also announced it planned to go international, especially against the United States.
The Taliban, reported one UPI correspondent who asked that his name be withheld, have their network of sympathizers in every walk of life. Many political and religious parties are reluctant to criticize them in public.
A number of media organs don't report attacks by TTP. TTP moles are believed to be embedded in security agencies.
A recent TTP video said, “The government will have to quit its alliance with the U.S. that will then have to abandon its war in Afghanistan that will then have to rewrite the country's constitution according to Shariah law — and apologize for the war they launched against us.”
A mouthful — but the message and objective are clear.
Pakistan's nightmare scenario is an election victory for the immensely popular Dr. A.Q. Khan, the notorious nuclear black marketer who stole nuclear bomb manufacturing secrets from the Netherlands for Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, and then sold them to Iran, North Korea and Libya.
Last weekend 14 Pak soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb, a Sunni attack on Shiite Muslims killed 86 in Quetta and a “Million Man March” led by an anti-TTP cleric who spent the last six years in Canada left Lahore for Islamabad — with 2,000 volunteers.
The foregoing is a guide for the coming political upheaval in Pakistan.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor-at-large of The Washington Times and United Press International.