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Zakaria: 'Spiraling chaos' possible in Pakistan

  • Story Highlights
  • Zakaria says militants in Pakistan's Swat Valley pose an international threat
  • World must separate hard-core militants from the "accidental guerrilla," Zakaria says
  • David Petraeus was the man who led the U.S. into the Sunni Awakening
  • Zakaria: Real core of this struggle has to be fought by the Pakistani army
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Fareed Zakaria is a foreign affairs analyst who hosts "Fareed Zakaria: GPS" on CNN at 1 and 5 p.m. ET Sundays.

Fareed Zakaria

CNN analyst Fareed Zakaria says the situation in Pakistan could spiral into chaos.

(CNN) -- Taliban militants, who implemented Islamic law in Pakistan's violence-plagued Swat Valley last week, have now taken control of a neighboring district 60 miles (less than 100 kilometers) from the capital, Islamabad.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned this week that Pakistan is in danger of falling into terrorist hands because of failed government policies and called on Pakistani citizens and expatriates to voice more concern.

"I don't hear that kind of outrage and concern coming from enough people that would reverberate back within the highest echelons of the civilian and military leadership of Pakistan," she said.

CNN spoke with Fareed Zakaria about the situation in Pakistan.

CNN: Last week, on your show "Fareed Zakaria GPS" and in this Q&A, you warned about the precarious situation that Pakistan was in. How much worse has it gotten in one week's time?

Zakaria: Much worse. Last week, the Taliban had secured their position in the Swat Valley, some 100 miles away from the Pakistani federal capital of Islamabad. This week they have infiltrated and taken control of the Buner district, which puts them just around 60 miles away from the capital. They are moving ever closer to the center of power in Pakistan, and that's a very dangerous thing.

CNN: Beyond their proximity to the capital, what makes this such a dire situation?

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Zakaria: Well, I read that the spokesman for the Taliban told The Associated Press this week that the Taliban would protect Osama bin Laden if he, or any of his brethren, wanted to come into the Swat Valley. The doomsday scenario here is the militants take power in Pakistan, get control of the estimated 100 nuclear warheads that the country currently has and share their new "toys" with al Qaeda. That is highly, highly unlikely, but what is possible is spiraling chaos in the country, which would create more "badlands" in which terror cells can operate more freely.

CNN: Didn't Pakistan recently make a deal with a powerful cleric in Swat Valley to keep an eye on the Taliban?

Zakaria: That's right. Control the Taliban in Swat, the Pakistan government said to Muslim cleric Sufi Mohammad, and we will authorize you to impose sharia law in the Swat. But obviously Mohammad hasn't held up his part of the bargain. He's imposed sharia, but he isn't controlling the militants at all; they are running completely free. The Taliban was supposed to disarm, but they have not. I'm not sure he was the right person for the supposedly democratic government of Pakistan to make a deal with. Mohammad had a rally in Swat this week, attended by thousands of people, where he reportedly told the crowd that democracy has no place in a Taliban-ruled Pakistan, that the Pakistani parliament is "unlawful" and that the nation's judges are "rebels" against Islam. But my sense is that the Pakistani military was making a virtue of necessity. This was not a peace deal; it was surrender.

CNN: So what's the answer to the crucial question: How does Pakistan regain control?

Zakaria: What the world needs to find a way to do, and quickly, is separate the real bad guys, the global jihadists in this area, from the people who are joining the Taliban there because it's the thing to do or are being paid -- what counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen has termed the "accidental guerrilla."

In a place like Swat, those "accidental guerrillas" are caught up in the frenzy. Maybe one of their friends dragged them to Sufi Mohammad's rally this week and somebody handed them a gun and told them to go fight. But they aren't ideologues who are fighting the "infidel" because of a great conviction. Therefore, they can be bought with cash and brought on to our side. And that's what we need to do. Remember, these guys are not Arabs or foreigners; they are locals. They're not going anywhere, so we have to find a way to work with some of them.

CNN: And you think that will work?

Zakaria: It certainly did in Iraq, where it was called the Sunni Awakening. But obviously, Iraq isn't Pakistan. And remember, U.S. forces aren't even in Pakistan; they have not been invited in by the government, have no U.N. mandate there, etc. It would probably make things worse to introduce foreign troops at this point.

But the real struggle for anyone trying to implement such a thing in Pakistan will be figuring out: a) who the right militants are to talk to, b) what would induce them to quit and then, c) how to seal the deal with them.

David Petraeus was the man who led the United States into the Sunni Awakening, and I have great faith that if the people, including David Kilcullen, that advised Petraeus put their minds to the situation in Pakistan, they could land upon a way to make it work. Let's hope that he and his associates can find a similar path in Pakistan.

CNN: And if it doesn't work?

Zakaria: Well, the real core of this struggle has to be fought by the Pakistani army. They would need to fight a civil war against these militants to protect their own country, something they are loath to do. They have preferred the "phantom" war against India, a simple old-fashioned deployment that they understand. Insurgencies are tough, and they are trying to avoid dealing with it. But they need to understand, this is the existential threat to their country. India is not trying to capture Punjab, the Taliban is.

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