IN DECEMBER 2007 Benazir Bhutto said, "I now think al-Qaeda can be marching on Islamabad in two to four years." Before this interview could even be published she was murdered, most likely by the Pakistani Taliban, an al-Qaeda ally. Benazir's words now look all too accurate. A jihadist victory in Pakistan, meaning the takeover of the nation by a militant Sunni movement led by the Taliban, would have devastating consequences. It would create the greatest threat the United States has yet to face in its war on terror. Pakistan as an Islamic-extremist safe haven would bolster al-Qaeda's capabilities tenfold. The jihadist threat bred in Afghanistan would be a cakewalk in comparison. The old Afghan sanctuary was remote, landlocked and weak; a new one in Pakistan would be in the Islamic mainstream with a modern communications and transportation infrastructure linking it to the world. The threat would be almost unfathomable. The implications would be literally felt around the globe. American options for dealing with such a state would be limited and costly.
The growing strength of the Taliban in Pakistan has raised the serious possibility of a jihadist takeover of the country. Even with the army's reluctant efforts in areas like the Swat Valley and sporadic popular revulsion with Taliban violence, at heart the country is unstable. A jihadist victory is neither imminent nor inevitable, but it is now a real possibility in the foreseeable future. This essay presumes (though does not predict) an Islamic-militant victory in Pakistan, examining how the country's creation of and collusion with extremist groups has left Islamabad vulnerable to an Islamist coup.