The economic and security challenges facing Pakistan's beleaguered government have entered what could be a new perilous phase. The governing coalition led by the Pakistan People's party (PPP) and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani (BBC), over the weekend lost the support of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a critical member of its governing alliance in the National Assembly.
That leaves PPP without a majority and raises the prospects of a no-confidence vote (al-Jazeera) that would trigger new elections for the government. Some analysts believe the resulting political uproar could result in another intervention by the Pakistani military (Guardian), marking another blow to efforts to sustain a civilian-led government. In the short term, some analysts predict the episode will distract from government efforts to broaden taxes, improve the country's balance of payments, and secure future lending agreements from the IMF (BusinessWeek). Senior MQM leaders cited frustration over new increases in state-controlled gas prices and higher taxation as the basis for their withdrawal. The tax reforms, in particular, faced widespread political opposition but are a central condition for the release of the next tranche of an $11 billion IMF loan (Reuters).
The country continues to struggle from the effects of the country's worst-ever flooding during the summer, as well as high inflation, electricity shortages, and sectarian clashes in Karachi, the country's largest city.
Pakistan also continues to combat insurgent groups while at the same time facing U.S. pressure to step up attacks on Taliban forces launching cross-border attacks in Afghanistan. Since 2001, the United States has provided billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan to strengthen its civilian government and preserve a strategic military alliance in the fight against a Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgency (WashPost) based largely in the country's vital border regions. Meanwhile, the United States continues to carry out Predator drone strikes against Taliban forces based in Pakistan's tribal agency in North Waziristan at an unprecedented pace, according to the Long War Journal. CFR's Daniel Markey says such strikes will not be enough to defeat Taliban forces in that region without Pakistan's help and the government remains skeptical about long-term U.S. plans in Afghanistan.
Graeme Smith in the Globe and Mail looks at the increasingly bleak financial numbers from Pakistan and says the patience of foreign lenders with poor governance in Islamabad is wearing thin.
The Taliban needs to be convinced of a firm U.S. commitment in Afghanistan before it will negotiate a settlement, says CFR's Stephen Biddle, and any deal will have to also involve the Pakistani, U.S., and Afghan governments.
This CFR Task Force Report assesses U.S. objectives, strategy, and policy options in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Pakistan's stability is of great consequence to regional and international security. CFR's Crisis Guide: Pakistan examines the roots of the country's challenges, what it means for the region and the world, and some plausible futures for the country.