Left: Funeral procession for Benazir Bhutto (بینظیر بھٹو), former prime minister of Pakistan
While sitting in the waiting room at my doctor's office yesterday, I continued my obsessive viewing of the news channels and their coverage of the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto. An older woman sat down, glanced at the television, and asked me if "these are the ones who want to build a nuclear plant?"
I informed her that she was thinking of Iran, and she chatted away in her blissful ignorance about world politics and the holidays and her husband's illness. I half-heartedly participated in the conversation, keeping one eye on the scenes of chaos, violence, and carnage being broadcast from some of Pakistan's major cities.
I did not see the need to worry this person about the dozens of nuclear warheads that Pakistan possesses.
Now, admittedly, I woke up this morning in a bit of a funk, and perhaps the pessimistic assessment I am posting reflects my cynical state of mind. Yet there is little in the way of positive news that I can see about the future of Pakistan, and I suspect a Pakistani civil war might be the least of our fears.
The possibility of the fracturing of the Pakistan state has never seemed more likely than at the present moment, and the Sindh province might become the center of a secession movement. Much of the country's industrial and commercial wealth is centered in Sindh, especially in the sprawling megalopolis that is Karachi. This modern city, with its millions of middle class citizens, lies in sharp contrast to the considerable poverty and religious traditionalism found in the northwest regions of Pakistan.
The Pakistani military might be strong enough to stave off the immediate turmoil that seems to be sweeping through Pakistan, but my reading of the geopolitical tea leaves leads me to believe that sections of the country are pulling in completely different directions. The killing of Benazir Bhutto was much more than just another example of Pakistani political violence; despite her flaws, Bhutto represented a vision of Western secularism that some powerful factions in Pakistani politics reject.
Lurking in the background, too, is the simmering dispute with India over the fate of the contested Kashmir region. India and Pakistan - both nuclear armed powers - have fought a series of small wars over the territory, and recent saber-rattling between the two nations does not bode well for the maintenance of peace in light of the current political chaos in Pakistan.
Also bouncing around my head is the historic parallel between the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and a similar act of political violence committed against an unpopular Archduke in 1914. My greatest fear is that this killing in Rawalpindi will be the spark that ignites a global conflagration that will make the First and Second World Wars resemble playground disputes.