Asif Ali Zadari:
Widow of Benazir Bhutto
, who was assassinated in Dec. 2007
, and leader of the Pakistan People’s Party that Bhutto founded. Zadari’s past is rife with corruption and disgrace. He is perceived as a divisive figure in Pakistan.
Nawaz Sharif: Leader of the Pakistan Muslim League, an ally of the PPP. Sharif was the elected prime minister ousted by Pervez Musharraf in a coup in 1999 and subsequently convicted of crimes.
: He seized power through a coup in 1999, ruled like a dictator, supported the Taliban in Afghanistan before switching allegiance to the United States’ “war on terror” in 2001, and pulled off a second coup in the fall of 2007, dismissing judges and delaying elections. Rather than face impeachment charges from the Pakistan People’s Party, he resigned on Aug. 18, 2008.
The Challenges: Taliban Insurgency in Pakistan’s Northwest Provinces:
Musharraf vowed to put down a growing insurgency in Pakistan’s Northwest badlands led by the Taliban. Al-Qaeda’s leadership, Osama bin Laden
included, is believed to have reconstituted in that region. Instead, Musharraf accommodated insurgents and allowed them to extend their autonomy and authority over the region, using it as a base from where to attack NATO forces in Afghanistan. All this despite Pakistan’s receiving $12 billion in mostly military aid since 2001. Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zadari don’t have alternative plans regarding the northwest.
The Challenges: Pakistan’s Double-Faced Intelligence Services:
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence is the country’s most powerful intelligence agency. It helped establish the Taliban in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s. India and the United States blame the ISI for continuing to be in cahoots with the Taliban and other insurgents in Pakistan’s Northwest provinces. Asif Zadari blames the ISI for the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto. For the United States, the dilemma is stark: indirectly fund the ISI while watching it funnel intelligence and possibly military hardware to the insurgency the United States and NATO are battling.
The Challenges: Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons:
Thought established in 1972 by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (Benazir Bhutto’s father), Pakistan’s nuclear program was developed by scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who sold the technology to Libya, North Korea and possibly Iran and who remains a hero in Pakistan. Since detonating several nuclear devices in tests in 1998, Pakistan has accumulated from 35 to 60 nuclear warheads, according to the Federation of American Scientists.
Pakistan, a nation of 165 million, is the only Islamic nation to have the bomb. The fear is that nuclear weapons will fall in the hands of Taliban insurgents and possibly al-Qaeda terrorists.
The Challenges: Pakistan’s Deteriorating Economy:
Once thriving, Pakistan’s economy is in free fall. Inflation is running at 25% a year. The Karachi stock market lost 35 percent of its value between April and August 2008. Foreign-exchange reserves are dwindling. The coalition government has been incapable of keeping a finance minister. Fuel and food prices are soaring. Pakistanis are experiencing power shortages throughout the country, every day—not because of rising fuel prices so much as because of Musharraf’s failure to build new power plants in the last nine years, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Pakistan’s Relationship With the United States:
Pakistan was an ally of the Taliban until then-Secretary of State Colin Powell convinced Musharraf to switch sides in 2001, following the 2001 attacks. Pakistan has since benefited from massive aid packages—without producing more than a handful of results in the so-called war on terror. Yet on July 29, 2008, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to increase aid to Pakistan, to $1.5 billion a year over 10 years
“We can’t keep jumping from one crisis to the next, relying on exceptional diplomats and military officers to save us from disaster,” Committee Chairman Joe Biden, the Delaware Democrat, said. “We need a new strategy, to set the relationship on a stable course.”
The Outlook: Bleak:
But the United States has no such “new strategy,” and Pakistan isn’t volunteering one. Nor is Pakistan’s current slate of politicians seemingly capable of breaking the logjam of political rivalries between the PPP and the Muslim League. What had united the two parties was opposition to Musharraf. With Musharraf gone, rivalries are laid bare while neither party appears capable of addressing the immediate difficulties facing Pakistanis (from daily power failures to soaring prices) nor the collapse of security and Pakistan’s authority in the Northwest provinces. The future looks grim.