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Pakistan 'perilously close' to becoming failed state

India's home minister says Pakistan has already become 'pretty dysfunctional' and fears that the Taliban in Pakistan 'will encourage fundamentalists in India to imitate them' and 'the Taliban could become a sponsor of terror in India'. President Obama acknowledges that the US must look for a way out of the war in Afghanistan and his regional envoy says 'The heart of the problem for the West is in western Pakistan'.

India's home minister P Chidambaram said in a television interview that Pakistan had already become 'pretty dysfunctional' and that he feared that the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan 'will encourage fundamentalists in India to imitate them' and 'the Taliban could become a sponsor of terror in India'. When asked whether India has a stake in ensuring stable civilian rule in Pakistan, he replied: "Of course a stable civilian democratic government means that we know who we are dealing with and there are checks and balances," AFP reported. Pakistan's Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry returned to work on Sunday, but while leading lawyers who campaigned for his reinstatement hailed the event as a "new beginning" for Pakistan, The National reported: "many of the lawyers who faced police charges and arrest for the chief justice's cause cautioned that Pakistan had not been transformed overnight and that the country's immediate future now lies in the hands of its mostly discredited politicians. "Pakistan faces a tangled web of legal and political challenges, at a time when it is also threatened by militant extremism and US plans to step up operations against Taliban and al Qa'eda leadership within its borders. 'The situation is complex,' Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a political and defence analyst, said. 'We face a list of legal and constitutional issues and we are not sure the government has the capacity to cope with them, given the tension between the two main political parties.' " The Times suggested that Mr Chaudhry's return, far from resolving Pakistan's core political problems, could create even more. This has prompted some to suggest that the chief justice should now stand down in favour of someone equally competent but less politicised. "There is no doubt that he became an instant democratic icon when Pervez Musharraf, then President and army chief, tried to sack him in March 2007. It is also true that he had earned a reputation as a maverick by probing 'disappearances' by the security services, and blocking the privatisation deal of a steel mill. "It is often overlooked, however, that he was elevated to the Supreme Court because he agreed to take an oath that, in effect, endorsed Mr Musharraf's coup in 1999. No one in Pakistan appears to be campaigning for the reinstatement of the judges who refused to take that oath and were forced to resign." While the current crisis has left Pakistan's president significantly weakened, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has displayed unexpected independence. "When he became prime minister in March last year many wrote him off as a political cipher, destined to be overshadowed by Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leader who picked him and is now the President," The Times said. "In the past few days, however, Mr Gilani has emerged as a surprise challenger to Mr Zardari's authority after the President was forced to bow to opposition demands to reinstate an independent-minded chief justice on Monday. "Mr Gilani is credited with brokering a truce with Nawaz Sharif, the opposition leader who broke out of house arrest on Sunday to lead a nationwide protest march that threatened to plunge the country into anarchy. The Prime Minister now also appears determined to strip the presidency of the extra powers that it accumulated under Pervez Musharraf, who took power in a coup in 1999, and to strengthen the Parliament and premiership instead. " 'We have to return to parliamentary democracy on the lines of [Britain's] Westminster,' he told The Times in his first interview since Mr Zardari's stand-off with Mr Sharif ended. 'We are committed to end this imbalance in the country's power structure.' "

"The United States must look for a way out of the war in Afghanistan, President Obama said, in a signal that the military build-up in Afghanistan will not be open-ended and will lead to the eventual withdrawal of American and Nato troops from the country," The New York Times reported. " 'There's got to be an exit strategy,' Mr Obama said in a wide-ranging interview shown Sunday on 60 Minutes on CBS. 'There's got to be a sense that this is not perpetual drift.' "European officials have been outspoken about their plans to leave Afghanistan in the next three to four years. Mr Obama's remarks, which were recorded on Friday, indicated that the administration, which has more troops and resources in Afghanistan than European countries do, is also working toward a long-term strategy." The US and its European allies are ­preparing to install a high-profile figure in a prime ministerial role in the Kabul government in a direct challenge to the Afghan president, The Guardian has learned from diplomats and European officials. The plan which originated with the US, is backed by Europeans is expected to be presented at a special conference on Afghanistan at The Hague on March 31. "Money and power will flow less to the ministries in Kabul and far more to the officials who run Afghanistan outside the capital - the 34 provincial governors and 396 district governors. 'The point on which we insist is that the time is now for a new division of responsibilities, between central power and local power,' ... [a] senior European official said. "No names have emerged for the new role but the US holds in high regard the reformist interior minister appointed in October, Mohammed Hanif Atmar. "The risk for the US is that the imposition of a technocrat alongside Karzai would be viewed as colonialism, even though that figure would be an Afghan. Karzai declared his intention last week to resist a dilution of his power. Last week he accused an unnamed foreign government of trying to weaken central government in Kabul. " 'That is not their job,' the Afghan president said. 'Afghanistan will never be a puppet state.' " In an interview with The Christian Science Monitor, US special envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke, in Brussels ahead of a key Nato meeting on April 2, said that western Pakistan presents the chief problem in resolving the eight-year war. "The heart of the problem for the West is in western Pakistan," the envoy said. "But there are not going to be US or Nato troops on the ground in Pakistan. There is a red line for the government of Pakistan, and one which we must respect." While the US might respect Pakistan's wishes and refrain from sending troops across the border it shows no such restraint when it comes to unmanned warfare. The New York Times reported: "In the mountains of northwest Pakistan, the psychological impact of America's drone strikes can be measured by this: Some locals have given up drinking Lipton tea, out of a growing conviction that the Central Intelligence Agency is using the tea bags as homing beacons for its pilotless planes. "But in Pakistan's cities there is a different impact: a sense that the gizmos, created to instill fear in America's enemies, only reveal the fears of Americans to take casualties themselves. There, a song of protest taunts the world's most powerful country for sending robots to do a man's job: "America's heartless terrorism Killing people like insects But honor doesn't fear power. "Even as the CIA crosses names off its list of al Qa'eda leaders with each successful strike in Pakistan, Washington is struggling to understand the long-term implications of a push-button conflict. One question is whether the robot wars are only a holding action in a far more complex political and ideological war, against an enemy whose resilience America still doesn't fully understand."

pwoodward@thenational.ae

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