The radical Islamic massacre of 79 persons, many of them Christian children, on a playground on Easter Sunday changes things in Pakistan. The terrorists’ choice of Lahore, the second largest city in Pakistan and its most sophisticated, starkly demonstrates the threat of the new terrorism. Jamaat ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Taliban which claimed responsibility for the atrocity, pledges its allegiance to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
Lahore is capital of Punjab province, home of more than 60 percent of Pakistan’s 185 millions. Noted for their pragmatism and modern outlook on the world, Punjabis are widely represented among the Pakistanis who have gone to live in the West. Punjab is the power base for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother, the chief minister and power broker. Punjab had been largely spared the terrorism of the last two decades and the answering counteroffensive of the military.
The Sharifs’ success has depended on support of the religiously devout, and the financial assistance of Saudi Arabia. Pakistan has been under military rule for more than half its existence, and the civilian rule of the Sharif brothers now stands in jeopardy. The military has been struggling to control a growing radical Islamic insurgency in Karachi, the enormous port city. Terrorists massacred 132 Muslim children at a military school in Peshawar in 2014, the northwest frontier province adjoining Afghanistan.
Massacres in Pakistan, inflicting a toll far greater than in massacres in the West, have been largely ignored by Western media. These new strikes at the heart of the civilian regime signals a growing danger in an unstable country. At its creation, carved from Muslim majority areas in British India in 1947, Pakistan was made up of two disparate territories at the extremes of the subcontinent, separated by nearly a thousand miles of Indian territory. The eastern half of Pakistan broke away in 1972 and became Bangladesh. Pakistan was confronted with other contradictions. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founding leader of the country who died shortly after the creation, was not a devout Muslim. Neither were most of his colleagues, nor the military leadership. That changed.
Pakistan has had an on-again, off-again alliance with the United States since the 1947 partition, and lately growing ties between the United States and India have soured Pakistan’s once close friendship with the United States. Closer ties between the United States and India have given rise to anti-Americanism sentiment in Pakistan.
Washington policymakers had once regarded Pakistan as a bloc to Soviet ambitions to reach the Indian Ocean, and as a counter to Jawaharlal Nehru’s alliance with the Soviets. After the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan at the end of 1979, the United States used Pakistan as a base to oust the Soviets with the help of NATO allies, and later to oust the Taliban regime. If the Pakistan generals can’t curb the growing terrorist movements, Pakistan might become a fertile recruiting ground for the Islamic State and its dream of a worldwide Muslim terrorist network. That would be bad news for America and the West.