Global Watercooler: Death in Pakistan

Global Watercooler

Around the watercooler today: Extremism strikes again in Pakistan; Gates shoots down no fly zone; and Gorbachev cautions Putin.

The World’s Most Dangerous Place

When I was in Pakistan in December, one official after the other told me that what they feared most was not that their nuclear weapons capability would suddenly be seized by extremists. Instead, what worried them was creeping extremism throughout Pakistan–spreading through all of its institutions, schools and even the middle classes. The danger, they felt, was that their nuclear capability would fall into the hands of radicals through evolution and not revolution.

Those fears were driven home again yesterday when Islamic militants shot dead Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, one of the most prominent Christians in Pakistan. This follows the January shooting of Salmaan Tasseer, the Punjab governor I had met with in Lahore. Their crime: opposing the blasphemy law, which applies the death penalty for insulting Islam.

But what will make the sting longer lasting this time is that Bhatti anticipated death and released a shocking video that had been prepared for release when it happened. In it, he says death threats wouldn’t stop him from defending religious minorities. Said Mr. Bhatti, “I will die to defend their rights.”

Don’t get too distracted by Libya. Our larger problems are in Pakistan, which remains the world’s most dangerous place.  

No Fly Zone? Not on My Watch

You don’t have to read much between the lines to know that Defense Secretary Robert Gates thinks that enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya is more of a slippery slope than a brave gesture. “Let’s call a spade a spade,” Gates said in Congressional testimony. “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya.”

Writing in The Week, Daniel Larison says a no fly zone would “involve a significant commitment of already-limited military resources to an open-ended policing of Libyan airspace, and it would inevitably evolve into a broader military mission requiring the targeting of Gaddafi’s ground forces.” 

There’s a good side to this. However matters end up in Libya, no one will be blaming the United States or its allies. Downside: if the killing spreads, no one will be able to argue that we didn’t study the problem and decide the risks were too great. For all the UN’s new emphasis on R2P–the responsibility to protect–the UN itself doesn’t have the capability or will to intervene.     

So for now British and French planes and ships will be assisting refugees, not rebels. Both nations are helping to evacuate the thousands of refugees–mostly Egyptian–who have become stuck in on the Libyan and Tunisian frontier.

Gorby Speaks Out

No doubt inspired by the Mideast, Mikhail Gorbachev has broken his silence when it comes to the prospect of Vladimir Putin’s candidacy for president next year. Regretting the erosion of Russian freedom and democracy under Putin, Gorbachev declared that if he were Putin he would not run again. 

A Russian businessman friend recently did some odds-making for the 2012 election. He considered it 75% likely that Putin would run and win. He thought it was only 5% likely that President Dmitry Medvedev would run for re-election, his judgment being that Putin would not want to give him more time to establish his own power base. And he thought it was 20% likely that Putin would pick another individual who would essentially be a puppet he could continue to control.

When I asked how Mideast upheavals might influence that, he shrugged that it would merely increase the odds of “the puppet solution” and decrease Putin’s desire to run himself.   

Fred Kempe is president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. His latest book, Berlin 1961, will be available May 10.

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