Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and the doomsday scenario


When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised the possibility in April of Islamist militants taking over Pakistan and its nuclear weapons, her words were dismissed as alarmist – and perhaps deliberately so as a way of putting pressure on Islamabad to act.

The problem with Pakistan is that it is almost impossible to come up with a view that is not either alarmist or complacent. It is such a complex country that nobody can agree a frame of reference for assessing the risk. It is the base for a bewildering array of militants including Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda and anti-India groups, yet also has a powerful and professional army which would be expected to defend to the last its Punjab heartland and nuclear weapons against a jihadi takeover.  Its potent mix of poverty and Islamist sympathies among a significant section of the population make it ripe for revolution, yet it also has a strong and secular-minded civil society which was willing to go out into the streets earlier this year to demand an independent judiciary.

You can assess the risk in Pakistan by looking at the rate of decline in stability there, and that was faster than anyone expected over the past year or so until a military offensive against the Taliban in Swat  which began in April halted the slide.

Or you can look at the worst case scenario, of Islamist militants taking over a nuclear-armed Pakistan, and decide that even if that outcome is unlikely, the potential dangers arising from it are so great as to put Pakistani stability at the top of global risks.