Distracted by the deadly violence in Mali and Algeria, no one seems to be paying adequate attention to the tragicomedy under way in Pakistan.
This matters because recent events demonstrate without equivocation that Pakistan is an utterly failed state -- but one that possesses nuclear weapons. The country is tumbling down the abyss. Where else could a fundamentalist Muslim cleric who lives in Canada draw tens of thousands of fans to a rally calling for dissolution of the government -- speaking from inside a shipping container with a bulletproof window?
That's just one in a litany of absurdities under way there.
At the same time comes the latest round of unresolvable acrimony between President Asif Ali Zardari and the supreme court, which has been trying to bring him down for years.
Two years ago, the court ordered the prime minister of the time, Yousuf Raza Gilani, to open a corruption investigation against Mr. Zardari -- as if Pakistanis didn't already know that Mr. Zardari, like most every government official, was thoroughly corrupt. After all, since the time his wife, the late Benazir Bhutto, was prime minister, Mr. Zardari has been known as "Mr. Ten Percent" for the money he purloined from every business deal he managed.
The court ordered Mr. Gilani to ask Swiss officials for documentation of Mr. Zardari's in-absentia conviction on money-laundering charges 10 years ago. Mr. Gilani refused, noting that the president is supposed to be immune from prosecution.
The court scoffed. One justice spat: "Obedience to the command of a court" is "not a game of chess or a game of hide-and-seek." And soon after, the court forced Mr. Gilani to resign. Raja Pervez Ashraf, the information technology minister, took his place. Right away the court landed on him with the same request: Help us file corruption charges against Mr. Zardari; get those Swiss documents.
The new prime minister also resisted, and wouldn't you know it: Right now the court is trying to forcing him out of office -- charging him with corruption. It's almost comical. But all of this seems to have paralyzed an already ineffective, incompetent government.
Just a few days ago, an officer in the state anti-corruption agency who was investigating the allegations against Mr. Ashraf was found hanged in his barracks. Police called it a suicide. Awfully convenient timing.
At the same, in northwestern Pakistan, thousands of protesters shouting anti-government slogans put the bodies of 15 villagers on display, charging that security forces shot them dead in their homes.
The chief security agency, the shadowy, mendacious Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, did not comment but did finally respond to a court inquiry into the fate of seven men who were arrested in 2007. A court ordered them released. But then, all seven men simply disappeared. Finally, an ISI lawyer acknowledged the "lack of incriminating evidence" against the seven men, but he went on to explain that they were arrested "on moral grounds."
Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry shot back that the ISI simply cannot detain suspects indefinitely and unlawfully -- particularly on so-called "moral grounds."
"Morally, they can put any one behind bars, even me," Mr. Chaudhry charged. "According to them, all the people are guilty." But despite years of heinous abuses, neither the court nor anyone else in government ever tries to rein in the renegade spy agency.
Why should we care about any of this? After all, Pakistan is hardly the only failed state in the world. Think about Somalia, Sudan, Haiti, Zimbabwe. But have any of these other states received more than $12 billion in aid from Washington over the last decade -- with another $688 million payment now before Congress, awaiting almost certain approval?
And do any of the other failed states -- Afghanistan, Chad, Nigeria, Uganda -- possess nuclear weapons? No. Pakistan is the only state that has bombs -- and a vibrant Islamic insurgency intent on toppling the absurdly ineffectual government. And don't forget that senior leaders of al-Qaida live there, too, most of them resident in Pakistan's eastern borderlands. Of course, Osama bin Laden also resided there, completely undisturbed until U.S. forces killed him in 2011.
If the Taliban do ever succeed in toppling the government, they would almost certainly seize the nukes -- a terrifying prospect.
Right now, though, Taliban militants, responsible for manifest mayhem and thousands of deaths in recent times, appear to be sitting back and watching, most probably with smiles on their faces. Their goal is to destabilize the state, but it's quite obvious now that the sitting government is much better at that than they are.
Joel Brinkley, a professor of journalism at Stanford University, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent for the New York Times.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun