Could Pakistan Become Another Syria?

Two kidnappings and an execution reveal a growing and dangerous radicalization in a nuclear-armed country.

By Farhan Zahid.

In March, thousands of Pakistanis celebrated a convicted murderer who killed a reformist politician. The governor, Salman Taseer, was assassinated five years ago, but his murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, was only executed this spring. The execution sparked mass demonstrations praising the assassin. Meanwhile, two high-profile, political kidnapping victims, including the assassinated governor’s son, finally escaped after years of captivity. This year revealed that radical Islamist forces have adopted a new strategy in Pakistan: they want to throw the nation into turmoil and turn the country into another Islamic State.

In 2015, Pakistan improved its standing by three places on the Fragile State Index, becoming only the 13th most at-risk nation, but that was more a result of Iraq and Syria being newly ranked as worse than Pakistan. The situation is dire. Pakistan is nuclear-armed and the sixth most populous nation on earth. If it descends into conflict, the situation will be worse than Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Somalia combined. And that may be exactly what radical factions want.

Kidnapping has frequently been a strategy of the Islamist terrorist groups operating in Pakistan and the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas since the beginning of the global war on terror in 2001, but something has changed. Formerly, the tactic was to target Westerners and ransom them for high sums; two recent cases now reveal a move towards using kidnappings as part of a grand push for radicalization in the country. In both cases, Islamist terrorists deliberately targeted the sons of influential members of a secular party, the Pakistan People’s Party, which has been a strong and vocal opponent of radical Islamist groups in Pakistan. The message to Pakistani’s government has been clear: if you oppose Islamist factions, you are at risk.

One of the earliest kidnapping targets of Islamist groups was …

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