Veils continue to drop in Pakistan. Just weeks after Admiral Mike Mullen, the outgoing chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the Haqqani group a “veritable arm” of the Pakistan intelligence service, and in the midst of an ongoing political crisis in Pakistan over the so-called Memogate scandal, it appears that President Asif Ali Zardari is on the skids. If so, it means that the Pakistan military is moving once again to take the reins of power in its hands.
Among other things, that bodes ill for America’s war in Afghanistan, since it means that Pakistan may also be planning a major escalation of its insurgency there. Just yesterday, a terrorist group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, carried out a horrific massacre of Shiite worshippers in simultaneous bomb attacks in Kabul and two cities, killing scores of people. Prresident Karzai of Afghanistan said that he intends to confront the government of Pakistan about the massacre. "We are investigating this issue and we are going to talk to the Pakistani government about it," he said.
Zardari, meanwhile, reportedly suffered a mild heart attack and left the country for the United Arab Emirates. It isn’t clear yet if Zardari is quietly leaving power, but the UAE has always been a refuge for ousted Pakistani politicians-in-exile.
Over the last several weeks, Zardari has been caught up in a massive scandal called Memogate. According to the story, which has roiled politics in Pakistan, Zardari and Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistan ambassador to the United States—and no relation to the Haqqani group allied to Al Qaeda and the Taliban—sought US help in stopping a coup d’état by the Pakistan army in the wake of the May 1 killing of Osama bin Laden by US Special Forces. Zardari and Haqqani told Mike Mullen, through former Obama administration national security adviser Jim Jones, that they were prepared to launch a countercoup of their own, ousting the Pakistan chief of staff and the head of the ISI and reorienting Pakistan foreign policy away from support for terrorism. It was an unlikely plot, at best, but in case it may have sealed Zardari’s doom.
On Monday, at a forum that I attended at the Brookings Institution, Bruce Riedel—who was the architect in 2009 of President Obama’s Afghanistan policy—predicted that a slow-motion coup might likely bring Pakistan’s military into power once again.
If that’s what’s happening, then most worrying about the Shiite massacre in Afghanistan is that it could be a sign that elements in Pakistan are prepared to unleash unbridled violence, and risk and all-out ethnic and sectarian civil war, if they don’t get their way in Afghanistan. Pakistan is already taking steps against the United States, order the closure of the supply lines to the Afghan war and ousting US drones from a secret base in Baluchistan. And Pakistan boycotted a crucial international summit on Afghanistan on Monday, dealing a severe blow to US hopes that some sort of political accord might emerge to end the fighting in Afghanistan. Lots of observers are already predicting that a bloody civil war, like the one that preceded Taliban rule in the early 1990s, might erupt in Afghanistan as NATO forces leave. Maybe it’s already starting.