This is the third in a series of entries looking at what we can expect in 2013. Each weekday, a guest analyst will look at the key challenges facing a selected country – and what next year might hold in store.
By Michael Kugelman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. You can follow him @michaelkugelman. The views expressed are his own.
Four years ago, the U.S. Congress announced the findings of a bipartisan investigation into weapons of mass destruction.
Chillingly, the study predicted a nuclear or biological attack by the end of 2013 – with a high likelihood that it would originate in Pakistan.
Could this prediction come true next year? The risk of Pakistani nukes falling into the wrong hands is certainly high. Last August, militants attacked an air force base near Islamabad thought to store nuclear weapons. Several weeks later, security officials acknowledged a “serious” threat from the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) to assault one of Pakistan’s largest nuclear installations. All this in a country where, according to an unsettling Atlantic report, assets are frequently exposed: “[N]uclear bombs capable of destroying entire cities are transported in delivery vans [by the military] on congested and dangerous roads.”
This potential nuclear nightmare will undoubtedly consume many minds. Yet the nightmare we should really be focusing on in 2013 is the one Pakistan’s already living – increasing sectarian strife, economic struggle, and general insecurity.
Various forms of violence afflict Pakistan, but 2012 was the year of the sectarian attack. This autumn, 150 members of the Shia Muslim minority were killed in a four-week span. By early December, nearly 400 had died in 2012 – the most since the 1990s. One prominent Pakistani commentator has described his country’s anti-Shia violence as “genocide unfolding before us.” Other religious minorities are besieged as well – especially Ahmadis, a Muslim sect most Pakistanis regard as heretical.
Expect this all to continue in 2013. State responses inspire little confidence; arrests are rarely made, and protection is scarcely provided. After the recent desecration of an Ahmadi cemetery, police promptly announced they would not provide security at such sites.
Yet the worst is still likely to come. Sectarian attacks are usually carried out by groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, but the TTP has asserted responsibility for some of the most recent ones – suggesting an emerging alliance between two of Pakistan’s most vicious Sunni extremist entities. This is an ominous development in a nation where, according to polling, 41 percent of Muslims don’t regard Shias as true Muslims.
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