There seems a dangerous disconnect between the challenge confronting Pakistan and its response to it, formulated under pressure of outside powers like the US and Saudi Arabia . The inadequacy of its response could prove fatal for Pakistan. The challenge facing it is clear enough. Genuine grievances of NWFP and Baluchistan have been exploited by Al Qaeda led insurgents to create a real threat of balkanization. Al Qaeda appears to be striving to create its own sovereign state comprising Afghanistan and parts of NWFP, Baluchistan and Kashmir, as an ideological launching pad for its global terrorist war. To successfully pre-empt this is the real challenge facing Pakistan.
In response to Al Qaeda's challenge, Pakistan is in the process of lifting a fraudulently imposed Emergency, installing Musharraf as a civilian President, and holding a general election in January. Is not this the worst scenario for Pakistan? But this apparently is what the US and the Saudis want. How, then, should Pakistan react?
One possible response that suggests itself is for Pakistan to postpone an election that will, in the natural course, further divide politicians and civil society. Instead, an interim national government could be formed which would take collective decisions under the chairmanship of Musharraf. This proposed government would represent all the major parties. Every leader who has attracted media attention in recent months would have a role to play in uniting Pakistan against the common enemy, Al Qaeda: Nawaz Sharif could consolidate Punjab; Benazir Bhutto could consolidate Sind; Maulana Fazlur Rehman could speak for the NWFP. Even Imran Khan, with his one-man party, could play a useful role, acting as a bridge between Pashtun orthodoxy in NWFP and civil society in Punjab and Sind. Musharraf and the army could help coordinate the government.
What needs to be recognized by the leaders of Pakistan is that the unique challenge facing them could, if not met effectively, destroy their nation. They need to forget the past, forget mutual recrimination. They need urgently to unite Pakistan against Al Qaeda and its funding directors and patrons. They need to commit themselves to suitably amend Pakistan's Constitution once Al Qaeda is defeated ' ensuring more autonomy for provinces, and redressing the genuine grievances of Baluchistan and NWFP.
Failing this, Pakistan could drift towards disintegration. Those in India who derive a gloating satisfaction from this might consider its dangerous consequences. India needs to be mindful and to formulate urgently contingency policies. If an adjacent house sharing common walls catches fire, would it not be ridiculous to sit back and watch the spectacle?