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The National Security Implications of Pakistan’s Latest Political Crisis

Author: Daniel S. Markey, Adjunct Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia
August 27, 2014
Just Security


Once again, Pakistan is suffering from a self-induced political crisis. For days, street protests led by opposition politicians Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri have paralyzed Islamabad and threatened the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Layers of intrigue surround Pakistan's domestic political soap opera, keeping Pakistan's cable news anchors hyperventilating and its twittersphere on overdrive. So far, however, the smart money is on continuity, not change, when it comes to Pakistan's foreign and defense policy. This is both good and bad for U.S. national security.

The good news is that no matter how Pakistan's latest protests end—whether a fizzle or a bang—we have little reason to fear an imminent, radical revolution in the way Pakistan deals with the United States, India, Afghanistan, its own nuclear arsenal, or any of the other major issues the United States cares most about.

This is because when it comes to national security and foreign policy issues, the cardinal rule for understanding Pakistan still holds: the army, far more than the civilian government, tends to call the shots. Time and again, Pakistan's civilian leaders have had their wings clipped by the generals, and this would almost certainly be the case in the (highly unlikely) event that Khan or Qadri finds his way to power.

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