Can the Center Hold?

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned...

This fragment of William Butler Yeat's immortal poem, "The Second Coming," is apt for Pakistan today, where innocents lie in pools of blood and jihadis gleefully claim responsibility for inhuman acts in the name of religion. The country, imperfectly formed, with millions of the subcontinent's Muslims left outside the "land of the pure" (Pakistan's birth name), and with its eastern part amputated in 1971 as Bangla Desh, is in the grip of a civil uprising. The question, indeed the key question for the region is: can the center hold?

The center is, of course, the Pak Army, and the central question today is whether the Army, the steel frame of Pakistani society, can hold the line against the rising tide of Islamist radicalism. Opinions vary: some see the possibility of a "colonel's coup" against the establishment; others see the Punjabi-led officer corps as the country's main bulwark against jihadi mobs.

During the recent tumultuous visit of a head-scarved Hillary Clinton, a new catch phrase emerged: there is a "trust deficit" between the two countries. The fact is that there has frequently been a "trust deficit" between them, and for at least two reasons. First, Pakistan is an unsatisfied country, cheated at the beginning out of Kashmir by the whim of the latter's Hindu maharajah, and then defeated in two wars by its bigger sister country, India. Second, Pakistan's masses, radicalized en permanence during the regime of the "neutralist" Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, are out of step and out of tune with the country's -- mostly Punjabi -- elites.

Thus the grumbling and the sourness that Secretary Clinton encountered during her visit reflected the raspy relationship that, for a good part of the time, has existed at the political level of this "alliance" (even while, at the operational level, things continued more or less to perk along).

The restrictions on aid placed by the U.S. on Pakistan because of its nuclear weapons program accounts for a large part of the "trust deficit" on the Pakistani side. This is liable to increase in view of the new American rapprochement with India and its nuclear dimension. The rapprochement being the major, if not the sole, accomplishment of the Bush administration, it should be preserved and kept in mind when issues such as Afghanistan and Kashmir come up.