Pakistan at a critical juncture

On 20 September, close to 60 people were killed and over 250 were wounded when a suicide bomber targeted the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. It was the 29th suicide attack to have taken place in Pakistan in 2008. Less than a mile away from the site of this latest bombing, Pakistan’s newly elected President Asif Ali Zardari had just delivered his inaugural address to a joint session of parliament that had been attended by Pakistan’s military chiefs and foreign diplomats. The speech was considered to be significant, not only because it was symbolic of the country’s transition towards democracy, but because it addressed key issues facing the government, not least of which were the rising militancy of the Taliban in the country’s north, and the repeated violations of Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty by US forces based in Afghanistan.

Since coming to power in February, the democratically-elected government, led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which replaced the dictatorial regime of General Musharraf, has reeled from crisis to crisis. In addition to an escalating military conflict with the various elements of the Taliban based in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and increasing incidents of terrorism across the country, the government has had to contend with a rapidly deteriorating economic situation and the fallout from the global food crisis. While many of the problems can be attributed to external factors, such as the state of the global economy, as well as the flawed policies of the previous regime, the new civilian leadership’s handling of these issues has been inept, giving rise to an increasing disenchantment with democratic rule. Given the weakness of progressive, left-wing political forces in the country, the transition to democracy and away from authoritarian rule was seen as a positive political development in Pakistan. The failure of the current democratic regime would be disastrous for Pakistan.

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