A powerful car bomb killed 80 in the Pakistani city of Peshawar today, just hours after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in the capital, Islamabad, less than 100 miles away. Islamabad is considered less dangerous than Peshawar, which lies closer to the lawless region bordering Afghanistan. With a population of nearly three million, Peshawar could be a bellwether of the troubled nation's future as battles between official forces and the Taliban escalates. As Pakistan's military continues its assault on Taliban forces in the Western tribal areas, was today's bombing an inevitable instance of retaliation? Or is it a sign that fighting could spill into the rest of the country, launching a full-blown civil war?

  • May 'Lead to Pakistan's Demise' Islamabad-based professor Pervez Hodbhoy pens "an SOS" on the rising extremism and fighting that he says could envelope the country. "A full-scale war is being fought in FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas], Swat and other 'wild' areas of Pakistan, resulting in thousands of deaths. It is only a matter of time before this fighting shifts to Peshawar and Islamabad (which has already been a witness to the Lal Masjid episode) and engulfs Lahore and Karachi as well. The suicide bomber and the masked abductor have crippled Pakistan's urban life and shattered its national economy," he writes. "Extremism is breeding at a ferocious rate in public and private schools within Pakistan's towns and cities. Left unchallenged, this education will produce a generation incapable of co-existing with anyone except strictly their own kind. The mindset it creates may eventually lead to Pakistan's demise as a nation state."
  • Pakistan's Make-or-Break Moment The Times of India's Ahmed Rashid thinks that Pakistan's future rests on its military campaign in Waziristan. "The spate of attacks could have been designed to prevent or delay the army offensive, but they also aimed to topple the government, impose an Islamic state and, if possible, get hold of Pakistan's nuclear weapons," Rashid writes. "Moreover, several within the militant leadership had direct connections to the army or the ISI. Police officials say that the Rawalpindi and Lahore attacks had help from inside because the terrorists were able to bypass the stringent security measures in place." He concludes, "The key to future stability is to bring the army, civilian government and the opposition onto one page with a common agenda to fight extremism, while amicably resolving other internal disputes, but so far that looks extremely unlikely."
  • Misguided Military Worsens Situation Mosharraf Zaidi argues in the National Post that the Pakistan and American militaries, not extremist violence, is to blame for deteriorating situation. "One recurring theme in the English language press in Pakistan, and across the Western media, is the shaping of the current crisis as a war against religious extremism. This is erroneous at best, and disingenuous at worst," he writes. "The focus on extremism allows state machinery to easily escape any scrutiny or accountability for the horrific counter-terrorism, and law and order failures that have produced episode after episode of successful terrorist strikes." Zaidi implores, "What will the impact of raining down ammunition on South Waziristan from F-16s be on the perceptions of battle-hardened, proud and tough-as-nails young Waziri men and boys? How many innocent Pakistanis will die as a result of the operation on South Waziristan? And what will be the response of their family and their kinsmen?"
  • Why We Can't Yet Know The Center for New American Security's pseudonymous Pakistani expert Londonstani relates reports from Pakistan but says it's impossible to know what's unfolding. "While the blow back is clear for everyone to see, no one really knows what is happening in the tribal areas themselves. Reporter friends have been up to Dera Ismail Khan and Peshawar to talk to those fleeing the conflict zones but their stories of having to flee after government forces suggested (in no uncertain terms) that it's time to leave did little to shed light on how the fighting is actually unfolding," he writes. "Of course, the government and the militants claim to be heaping humiliation on each other in buckets, but its anyone's guess what's actually happening."
  • Washington Backing Pakistani Fight The Washington Post's Walter Pincus reports on the beltway thinkers who want U.S. forces to support and emulate the Pakistan military's push. "Pakistan's military offensive in Waziristan, and the negotiations that preceded it, may be a paradigm for the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan as well as for the fight against al-Qaeda and other extreme Islamist groups in the Afghan-Pakistani border area," he writes, citing Frederick Kagan of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. "Kagan said he thinks the Pakistani military has learned lessons from its earlier efforts to defeat Afghan Taliban groups and is applying them to the current effort. If the Waziristan military campaign is successful, it must be followed by some troops remaining to hold the territory with Islamabad to support economic rebuilding. The positive effect of that could go beyond that immediate territory, he said, perhaps even to Afghanistan."