The United States has ignored for too long the brewing turmoil in Pakistan. All signs point to the possibility of civil war breaking out in Pakistan in the very near future. The ingredients for such a war are already in place: President Musharraf’s power has been seriously weakened; there is a major rift among elements of the ISI and the military regarding Pakistan’s commitment to the war on terror and the handling of the Taliban; the return of Nawaz Sharif who will attempt to mobilize Islamists; and the return of Benazir Bhutto who will attempt to mobilize opponents to military rule and the Islamists.

What does all this mean to the United States? If civil war were indeed to break out, it will have devastating effects:

  • The situation in Afghanistan will worsen dramatically with the Taliban getting much greater support from its allies in Pakistan, therefore, causing a major setback for the war on terror in that country.
  • The instability within Pakistan will present an opening for radical Islamists to resume their operations in the Kashmir region with potential regional implications on India
  • The “safety” of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal becomes questionable with radical extremists and Al-Qaeda affiliates trying to seize some of it

The United States, on the other hand, may coax the various parties to reach a compromise in order to avoid civil war. Such compromise, however, will undoubtedly mean that Pakistan’s role in the war on terror would become much more limited. Whether civil war breaks out or is avoided, the situation is of major concern to the United States. In either case, the US should seriously rethink some of its regional relationships, and take preventive measures that will help it better deal with an increasingly unreliable if not unstable Pakistan. A deteriorating situation in Pakistan makes Iran much more relevant to the Afghani theatre.