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The most dangerous nation in the world? A nuclear-armed U.S. ally, Pakistan has been in turmoil for months: Why Washington, and the world, are so worried about what lies ahead.

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As one crisis after another has gripped Pakistan in the last few months violent protests against the government, martial law, suicide bombings, the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the rioting that followed her death--the United States and the world have been watching with trepidation.

Pakistan is not just another developing nation: It's the second-largest Muslim country in the world (after Indonesia), and a nuclear-armed U.S. ally at the center of a troubled region. It's surrounded not only by China and Iran, but also by predominantly Hindu India, with which it has fought several wars in the last 60 years; and most significantly, Afghanistan, where 26,000 U.S. troops are stationed. The largely uncontrolled border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan is rife with Islamic radicals and terrorists, including, it is believed, Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the 9/11 attacks.

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Indeed, with Pakistan considered the front line in the war against terrorism, it's no wonder that Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has called Pakistan "the single most dangerous nation in the world."

The forecast for what lies ahead is cloudy at best. Parliamentary elections, postponed after Bhutto's death, are scheduled for February 18. President Pervez Musharraf, the former head of the Army who took power in a military coup in 1999, promises that the elections will be fair, but he clearly wants to remain in power, and some doubt his intentions.

"The country can't stand another controversial election," says Ahsan Iqbal, a spokesman for one of the opposition parties. "Our fear is, after Benazir Bhutto's death, a controversial election will be a recipe for disaster."

And disaster in Pakistan would have implications far beyond its borders. Of particular concern is who controls the nation's nuclear arsenal.

"This is a nuclear-armed country," explains Teresita Schaffer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies Washington, D.G. "It's a country that's potentially a very important sanctuary for terrorists bent on making trouble elsewhere. And it's a country that's been engaged in a long-standing nuclear arms race with its neighbor, India."

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. has considered Pakistan a key ally in the war against terrorism. But Washington has been frustrated by President Musharraf's failure to make more progress against Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan.

The Taliban, the radical Islamic group that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until a U.S.-led coalition ousted them in 2001, move back and forth across the porous border to attack in Afghanistan. In recent months, they've begun attacking within Pakistan as well, killing policemen and soldiers, and threatening to blow up girls' schools if the students didn't wear the head-to-toe coverings called burqas.

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The current period of instability began last November, when Musharraf suspended the country's chief justice, prompting protests by the nation's lawyers. Amid increasing opposition, Musharraf declared martial law. He lifted the state of emergency in mid-December, but Bhutto's assassination less than two weeks later triggered a new wave of violent protests. Bhutto, who had been twice elected Prime Minister and twice thrown out of office on corruption charges, had returned to Pakistan from exile under a deal brokered by the U.S., and was challenging Musharraf's party in the upcoming elections.

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INDIA & PAKISTAN

Many of Bhutto's supporters blame the government for her death, some accusing it of not providing adequate security and others of outright complicity. The government says Al Qaeda is behind the assassination.

"The country is facing the gravest challenge from these terrorists and extremist elements," says Javed Iqbal Cheema, the director of Pakistan's National Crisis Management Cell. "They are systematically targeting our state institutions in order to destabilize the country."

These events have taken an enormous toll on the President's popularity. Until recently, Musharraf had broad support. His economic policies--promoting free-market reforms and encouraging foreign investment have produced strong economic growth, almost as fast as India's, as well as a growing middle class.

Pakistan was created in 1947 out of the partition of British India into India and Pakistan. Mohandas K. Gandhi, the Indian independence leader, had pushed for a single united India, with both Muslims and Hindus. But Muslims, led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, insisted on their own state. Hundreds of thousands were killed in the violent aftermath of partition, when more than 10 million people migrated across the new borders--Hindus to India and Muslims to Pakistan. (In 1971, what had been East Pakistan broke away and became the independent nation of Bangladesh.)

Since Bhutto's assassination, the main challengers to Musharraf are former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Bhutto's party, now led by her husband and 19-year-old son, Bilawal, a student at Oxford University in England. It's unclear whether the elections will nudge the country toward democracy or further destabilize it.

"I'm not remotely optimistic," says C. Christine Fair at the Rand Corporation in Washington, who believes the Bush administration remains too focused on keeping Musharraf in power. "The U.S. always looks at the short term for Pakistan; they never look at the big picture."

CRITICAL THINKING

Discuss President Bush's stated goat of spreading democracy around the world and his support for President Musharraf, who seized power in a coup.

* Are these two policies compatible? Do U.S. security needs outweigh our

interest in promoting democracy?

* Long before 9/11, the U.S. sow military weapons and gave billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan, starting in 1951. What does this suggest about the strategic importance of Pakistan to the U.S.?

DEBATE

Remind students that the U.S. went to war in Iraq in large part because of the false belief that that country possessed "weapons of mass destruction."

* If it becomes apparent that terrorists might gain access to Pakistan's nuclear weapons, should the U.S. intervene militarily to prevent that from happening?

WRITING PROMPT

Have students write five-paragraph essays supporting either of the following statements: (1) "The U.S. should never support undemocratic regimes." (2) "The U.S. must sometimes support undemocratic regimes if it helps the U.S. achieve a larger, more important goal."

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

What do you think Pakistan expert C. Christine Fair means when she says the U.S. never Looks at the "big picture" in Pakistan?

What might account for the fact that Pakistan's government has so little control in the area where At Qaeda terrorists and Osama bin Laden are hiding?

FAST FACT

Pakistan is a young country; 37 percent of the population is under age 15, compared with 20 percent in the U.S. and a world average of 27 percent.

WEB WATCH www.ppp.org.pk/bb.html

Web site of Pakistan People's Party includes links to biography, photos, etc. of Benazir Bhutto, assassinated Leader of the Party.

(1) The current turmoil, in Pakistan began last year when President Musharraf

a ran for reelection.

b announced that he would not allow former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to return to the country.

c suspended the country's Chief Justice, prompting a round of protests.

d deported the Leader of an ethnic minority.

(2) As the turmoil grew, Musharraf

a requested United Nations peacekeeping troops to help quell the disturbances.

b declared martial Law.

c met with President Bush to review his options.

d offered to resign, then changed his mind.

(3) Briefly describe Pakistan's historical military relationship with India.

(4) Briefly describe why Pakistan is said to be crucial to the war on terror.

(5) Until. relatively recently, Nusharraf had broad support, due principality to his

a dose ties to the United States.

b economic policies.

c popularity in the Muslim world.

d program of modernizing Pakistan's military.

(6) Pakistan became an independent country in 1947 as a result of

a the partitioning of British India. b a United Nations declaration. c a war of independence. d a vote by the World Muslim Congress.

ANSWER KEY

QUIZ 1 PAGE TE 5

1 [c] suspended the Chief Justice, prompting protests.

2 [b] declared martial law.

3 They were engaged in a nuclear arms race.

4 It is a U.S. ally, it borders Afghanistan, and terrorists inhabit its remote regions.

5 [b] economic policies.

6 [a] the partitioning of India.

THE MOST DANGEROUS NATION IN THE WORLD?

1 President Pervez Musharraf's profession at the time he assumed Pakistan's presidency.

What is head of the Army?

2 The year Pakistan became an independent nation.

What is 1947? 3 Pakistan's decades-long enemy, to the east.

What is India?

4 This head of the terrorist organization Al Qaeda is believed to be hiding in a remote part of Pakistan.

Who is Osama bin Laden?

5 Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, assassinated in December, was twice dismissed on this charge.

5 What is corruption?

IN-DEPTH QUESTIONS

(1) Explain why you believe--or do not believe--that the United States and other Western countries have a right to enter remote areas of Pakistan in search of At Qaeda terrorists.

(2) Does U.S. support for Musharraf, who took power in a coup, undercut its commitment to spreading democracy around the world? Why or why not?

With reporting by John E Burns and Carlotta Gall of The New York Times.
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Title Annotation:INTERNATIONAL
Author:Smith, Patricia
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Feb 11, 2008
Words:1537
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