Assassination Leaves Pakistan Security Shaken Last week's assassination of Punjab's governor Salman Taseer, reportedly by a member of the elite police force that was supposed to protect him, has increased anxiety over the future course of Pakistan. Host Scott Simon talks to national security expert Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution about the deteriorating security situation in Pakistan.
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Assassination Leaves Pakistan Security Shaken

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Assassination Leaves Pakistan Security Shaken

Assassination Leaves Pakistan Security Shaken

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

Thanks so much for being with us.

BRUCE RIEDEL: It's a pleasure to be here.

SIMON: And what does this assassination say about Pakistan at the moment?

RIEDEL: Pakistan is today probably the most dangerous country in the world - a uniquely combustible place where issues like the future of Islam, the future of democracy, but also nuclear weapons, nuclear war, terrorism, all come together in one place.

SIMON: And let me hone in on that phrase uniquely combustible, because I know that you even mean it in all senses. Does it concern you that at a time when the United States and other powers are assured don't worry about Pakistan's nuclear weapons because they are in the hands of people who have been vetted and are trustworthy, that somebody who was a member of this elite protective force, who was vetted and trustworthy, should apparently take this action?

RIEDEL: Oh, I think it's very concerning. We now know, reading the Pakistani press, that this individual on 18 occasions in the last year served as the bodyguard for either the president or the prime minister of Pakistan. This man, who had a known proclivity for Islamic extremism, if that's how good the vetting process is for bodyguards, it raises serious questions about the vetting process in the nuclear weapons program.

SIMON: And help us read the significance of something like this. It is reported that not a single registered mullah in the city of Lahore was willing to read Mr. Taseer's funeral prayers because they were too scared.

RIEDEL: The assassination of Mr. Taseer is bad enough, but it's the reaction to the assassination which is really disturbing. The assassin has been honored. The murdered governor has been generally forgotten, and no one in Pakistan is speaking out for him. In other words, in this battle for the soul of Pakistan, the Islamic extremists have scored an important victory in intimidating their opponents in the last couple of weeks.

SIMON: Mr. Riedel, I think anybody listening would be struck by the fact that what you seem to be describing is a kind of civil war. Not north against south, east against west, but almost block by block.

RIEDEL: It may not be full-scale civil war yet, but it's certainly approaching civil war. And a battle that now rages not just in the extreme northwest tribal zones, which we hear about all the time - the Waziristans - but in every major Pakistani city.

SIMON: Of course, we note that President Zardari traveled to the United States this week. Is the United States talking to the wrong person?

RIEDEL: My point is it's important to bear in mind with all of Pakistan's problems that there are civilian leaders. There's a civil society. There's a middle class that wants to get back to that vision of a moderate, modern Pakistan. We should recognize they're in the struggle of their lifetime. That struggle is immensely important to us. And we need to help those who want to build a modern Pakistan, not an Islamic emirate aligned with al-Qaida.

SIMON: Bruce Riedel, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, thanks so much.

RIEDEL: My pleasure.

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