If you listened only to Pakistan’s domestic media, you’d think the campaign against the Taliban in North Waziristan was going splendidly. Every day, there is a story about the number of terrorists killed (never any civilians), and weapons recovered. “Militant hideouts” have been “flattened” by airstrikes and “the terrorists are on the run“, as one military spokesman put it.But the truth isn’t nearly so rosy: 800,000 people have been displaced, a humanitarian crisis that has received little attention. The government has also passed laws allowing for indefinite detention without charge, and has banned meetings of more than four people in public. Hardly any high-value targets have been captured or killed. As an army officer himself admitted in a New York Times report, militants have escaped. They have either blended in with the refugees, or have fled to neighboring Afghanistan, looking to regroup.Meanwhile, Pakistan faces another looming threat: Sunni extremism has spread to the multi-religious southern province of Sindh, home to the country’s largest city, Karachi. The New York Times reports:
[A]s Islamist groups have expanded across Pakistan in tandem with the growing strength of the Taliban insurgency, so, too, are they making deep inroads into Sindh. Although banned by the state, such groups are systematically exploiting weaknesses in Pakistan’s education system and legal code as part of a campaign to persecute minorities and spread their radical brand of Sunni Islam. […]In recent months, Hindu temples have been defaced, Shiite Muslims have been assaulted and Christians have been charged with blasphemy. […]The Sunni supremacist ideology propagated by Pakistani sectarian groups is similar to the one that is proving so potent in the Middle East, where the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is flourishing. In Pakistan, such groups do not pose a direct threat to the state yet. But their growth in Sindh is a sobering reminder that a future threat to Pakistani stability could stem from the provincial towns as much as the distant tribal belt, where the Pakistani military is trying to disrupt havens for the Taliban and other militants.
With its haphazard war against an elusive enemy ongoing at the border, and extremism now infecting the religiously diverse south, Pakistan is facing threats that will be difficult to defeat. As the NYT points out, none of the Sunni extremist groups in Pakistan is as powerful or dangerous as ISIS. But even the slight prospect of a destabilized, nuclear country sitting right next to the imploding Middle East should be very troubling indeed.