PAKISTAN….Over at the Atlantic, Joshua Hammer describes a CSIS exercise a few months ago that posited an incident in Pakistan leading to an apparent coup attempt. What should the U.S. do in such a case?

At this point, the policy makers broke into groups and tried to come up with a strategy to deal with the apparent change of leadership. But this proved difficult: The groups were unable to resolve critical questions with confidence. Though most agreed that the military would continue running the show, as it has for 33 of the last 60 years, there was widespread concern over whether the new army brass would likely be pro-American, anti-American, or something in between. There was also no consensus on whether the military — with Musharraf out of the picture — could hold the country.

I’d say that perfectly describes the situation: nobody really knows what to do or what might happen next if we do it. The biggest question, as always, is whether Pervez Musharraf is really holding back a tide of Islamist sentiment in the world’s most unstable nuclear state, as he frequently claims, or not. Hammer continues:

Pervez Hoodbhoy, chairman of the Quaid-e-Azam University physics department, told me that the university has been “taken over” by Islamist fervor — more hijabs in the classrooms, more prayer, and “no bookstores, but three mosques with a fourth under construction” on campus. Hoodbhoy, a highly regarded nuclear physicist and a critic of military rule, told me that an Islamist takeover of the country, either by outright domination of the electoral process or in conjunction with a radical Islamist general, “is a real possibility.”

Yet despite their clout in parliament and their seeming strength on the street, the Islamists are not widely popular: Their parties won only 11 percent of the vote in the 2002 elections (gerrymandering gave them a share of seats far greater than their numbers). Even in their stronghold, the North-West Frontier Province, they polled only 26 percent. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the MMA’s growth is its abysmal record of governance: In the North-West Frontier Province, which the alliance controls, social services are disintegrating. Unless anti-Western sentiment reaches sustained and unprecedented levels, the Islamists seem highly unlikely to muster enough votes to gain control of parliament in the next decade.

Over at Informed Comment, Juan Cole suggests that the Islamist movement in Pakistan isn’t really very impressive, but adds that events could change that: “What is really significant, however, is that Qazi Hussain [the leader of the fundamentalist Jamaat-i Islami] is the only major party leader openly calling for mass resistance against Musharraf, a stance which will help the popularity of his party even if (as seems likely) he winds up in jail over it.”

And now a question for the masses. A couple of years ago I looked around for some good sites about Pakistan and came away empty handed. (By “good,” I mean something that provides perspective beyond what I can get from mainstream news sources.) The basic problem was that every site I found seemed to have a major axe to grind, and since I don’t have a strong position myself it was impossible to judge which axe grinders to listen to. So: any suggestions? Leave ’em in comments if you know of a go-to site.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!