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Pakistan's Army is the Real Obstacle to Peace

The Pakistani military "shelters jihadists and cows liberal civilian politicians," Mira Sethi, a native of Lahore, wrote in the Wall Street Journal and whose article has been reproduced and distributed by the Ministry of External Relations of India.

Two months after Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, was assassinated by his own bodyguard for criticizing the country's blasphemy law, the only Christian member of the Pakistani cabinet, Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, was killed for doing his job—advocating protection of the country's two million Christians.

Taseer's assassination prompted a debate: Was the blasphemy law, introduced by Gen. Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s in his bid to "Islamize" Pakistan, being exploited for mundane interests? Was it leading to witch hunts? Bhatti's death should prompt Pakistanis to ask themselves an equally disquieting question: Does Pakistan have a future as a successful nation state, at peace with itself and the world?

The civilian government's reaction to Bhatti's death has outraged many Muslim and Christian Pakistanis. As after Taseer's murder, it retreated into vague bromides. At Bhatti's funeral in Islamabad, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani vowed to "do the utmost to bring the culprits to justice." There was no mention of who these culprits were (the Tehreek-e-Taliban of Punjab has claimed responsibility), no mention of the ideologies, religious parties and jihadi organizations fueling their actions, and no mention of the blasphemy laws that Bhatti had campaigned against.

But the deaths of Taseer and Bhatti are the outcome not just of the Pakistan People's Party abandonment of the principles that once made it an appealing, popular force. They are the result of a decades-long imbalance in governance and power, which now has the PPP and other liberal and centrist civilians cowering in fear.

The failure of the political classes to initiate democratic, constitutional reform after Pakistan's separation from India in 1947 enabled the military to quickly define "national interest" as an anti-India ideology. This ideology, a type of Islamic nationalism, is one from which the Pakistan military has reaped rich dividends. It has kept civilian politicians on the defensive and the people numbed.

With the onset of the Cold War the U.S. armed Pakistan for its own strategic purposes. When the Pakistani army undertook adventures creating instability in the region—wars with India and attempts, eventually successful, to build nuclear weapons—the U.S. suspended military and economic aid.

But the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 put the Pentagon and the Pakistani army on good terms again. This time, Gen. Zia extracted huge sums from Washington: Pakistan's army was paid billions of dollars in direct correlation to its usefulness in organizing an anti-Soviet Islamic jihad. The '90s saw a nasty separation—aid was suspended again—and a reunion followed after 9/11, when the U.S. needed Pakistan's help in Afghanistan.

Now Zia's "children" have come of age. Extremists of all stripes—the Taliban and the mujahedeen—roam the streets of Lahore and Karachi unchecked by the security agencies who once thought it would be a good idea to arm them. Anger and frustration fueled by inequality are making young Pakistanis turn to religion for answers.

As in Egypt, over 60% of the population of Pakistan is under 25. Unlike Egypt, they want an Islamic revolution, not a democratic one. Salman Taseer's police bodyguard—all of 26 years old—killed him for "insulting" the Prophet Muhammad. (The governor had criticized a manmade blasphemy law, not the Prophet, but his assassin didn't know the difference).

Slowly, the U.S. is beginning to understand that Pakistan's existential confusion is the result of the grand strategic designs of the Pakistani military, an army that has carried out three coups to thwart the development of a democratic political system. In the process, Pakistan's civilian leadership has been eliminated—Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto hanged, Benazir Bhutto, Taseer and Bhatti assassinated—the country dismembered, ethnic subnationalism, regional tension and inequalities aggravated.

The U.S. must support civilian supremacy and recognize the Pakistani army's game for what it is. Alarmed by the idea that if America leaves Afghanistan its U.S. funds will dwindle, the military is loath to crush the Islamist warriors who can be "calibrated" to deliver strategic value to it. Until the U.S. recognizes this, Pakistan's military will continue to hold the world to ransom.

Ms. Sethi, a native of Lahore, Pakistan, is assistant books editor at the Journal.

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