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YaleGlobal: A Dangerous Void in Pakistan

Author: Ahmed Rashid, Journalist and Author, Lahore
March 4, 2009

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LAHORE: Just as the Obama administration tries to get a handle on Pakistan--a critical part of its regional approach to sorting out Afghanistan and defeating the Taliban--the country takes another spiral downwards, virtually negating options Washington considered before. Almost in a mirror image of the financial crisis that galloped ahead of the solutions that governments devised, the situation in Pakistan deteriorates at a pace faster than policymakers can grasp. Most worrisome in the developing crisis is the leadership void in Pakistan, without which talk of any solution would be a fruitless exercise.

The governmental weakness was demonstrated dramatically recently while Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi took part in a crucial trilateral meeting in Washington with the US and Afghanistan, back home the government virtually ceded control of part of the country to the Taliban. The meeting was designed to input policy options before Richard Holbrooke, the US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan which President Barack Obama is supposed to sell to NATO at its summit on April 2. Meanwhile in Pakistan, a controversial ceasefire with Taliban militants in the Swat valley was on the verge of breaking down, economic indicators spiraled down further and the Supreme Court's controversial verdict to disqualify opposition leader Nawaz Sharif from taking part in politics and ousting his brother Shabaz Sharif from being chief minister of Punjab province, plunged the country into fresh political crisis. A terrible week was capped by a terrorist attack on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team in the heart of Lahore.

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