During a briefing with U.S. administration officials, General David Petraeus stated the next two weeks are critical to determining whether the Pakistani government will survive.
Sidebar: Back in December of 2008 I was asked to give an assessment on the viability of the Pakistani government. At that time I stated that if current trends continue the Pakistani government would collapse before the end of 2009. Former advisor to the US Central Command (CENTCOM), David Kilcullen, also made a similar prediction at the end of March 2009 that the government would only last for another 6 months. This would put the failure of the government in about the same time frame. Also, the Joint Forces Command stated in a 2008 report that Pakistan and Mexico are on the verge of becoming failed states.
This is a stunning disclosure by the head of CENTCOM, and not one that would be made lightly. Before we get to the implications of this statement we need to understand the position of the individual who made the comments. First and foremost Gen. Petraeus is a member of the military. He is not a politician, but an individual subject to the wants and needs of the current administration. In other words, Petraeus would not be allowed to make such comments (especially something that would be leaked to the press) without the approval of someone in the administration. This is a statement that the Obama administration wanted out in the open.
When considering this statement it is apparent that things on the ground in Pakistan are worse than thought, or intelligence indicates that the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, may make a direct move against the government. The TTP is not a homogenous movement, however, but more of an umbrella organization that encompasses several different Taliban movements active in Pakistan. Some members of the TTP have declared their loyalty to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar so the recent movements by the TTP could be a signal of organizational consolidation. Currently, the TTP has managed to seize most of the Northwest Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas which encompasses about 26 million of Pakistan’s 166 million people. The TTP has also increased its presence in Sindh province, especially around Karachi, and have moved within 60 miles of Islamabad – Pakistan’s capital.
The reason for Petraeus giving two weeks as a timeline is unknown. It is doubtful that this is a finite span in which certain actions must come to pass, but it is revealing as to the administration’s view of the precarious situation in Pakistan. It is possible that this is a carefully orchestrated attempt by the administration to put pressure on the Pakistani government to take stronger action against the Taliban. In fact, Petraeus’s statement that "The Pakistanis have run out of excuses," for not dealing with the Taliban would seem to bolster this possibility.
The sources of the statements made by Petraeus went on to say the Pakistani Army under Gen. Ashfaq Kayani is more capable than the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari which could mean that this disclosure is describing certain activities already in play. Such an admission by administration officials could create serious diplomatic problems between the U.S. and Pakistan under normal circumstances, but if the U.S. administration believes that the civilian government will not survive much longer, the U.S. could be positioning itself to support a new Pakistani government in the event of a military coup.
Right now far too many unanswered questions exist. What is certain is the U.S. administration has lost all faith in Pakistan’s civilian government regardless of what intelligence they might possess as too the intentions of the TTP. Furthermore, the recent demand by Western governments and the acquiescence of Islamabad for an inspection of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is telling. All things considered it does not appear as if the fall of the Pakistani government is going to happen within the next two weeks, but if current trends continue the fall of Islamabad could be on the horizon.
Addendum: Some time ago I wrote that the U.S. has a plan to safeguard Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in the event of a state collapse. The demand for an inspection may have been an attempt by the U.S. to ensure that this plan is still viable. The U.S. would not do this unless they expect things to get ugly.