Tensions in Pakistan have been high for months. Not just in terms of the political battles through the presidential and parliamentary election process, but militant attacks too, with more than 40 suicide attacks last year. Approximately 140 were killed during Benazir Bhutto's arrival procession on October 18. And then on December 27, over 20 more were killed along with Bhutto herself. Approximately 50 died in demonstrations in the weeks following her assassination. Already in 2008 there have been two major suicide attacks within Pakistan, the latest yesterday when 26 were killed in what is believed to have been a suicide attack outside Lahore's high court.
It is clear from these events that the extremists in Pakistan do not want to see the elections go forward on February 18. If they can raise the temperature sufficiently and lower security within the country, credible elections will not be possible: the leaders will not be able to campaign and the people will not come out to see them or to vote on election day.
It is important for Pakistan that legitimate elections take place soon. But, it is not clear what options are available to President Musharraf and his army and police force to enable them to better protect their society. Perhaps these attacks will backfire on the militants, ensuring that they are rejected by the people for punishing innocent civilians. And maybe in so doing, more intelligence will be revealed about their whereabouts and their plans.
Unless the attacks are stopped, Pakistan will come to look more like Afghanistan. Already we are seeing refugees from the FATA and NWFP flow into the latter hoping to find better security.