Pakistan is a nuclear power balanced on the edge of another disaster.
While the Obama administration is trying to disengage from Afghanistan without ceding power to Taliban guerrillas, Taliban in Pakistan, a nuclear power, are everywhere, including Karachi, the country's commercial hub and port of 25 million.
and the world's third largest city.
Today's Pakistani Taliban are no longer confined to the tribal areas straddling the Pak-Afghan border.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who served in the same post twice before (1990-93; 1997-99), was deposed by President Pervez Musharraf in 1999 and spent almost a decade in Saudi Arabian exile where he developed close relationships with key royals.
Musharraf is now on trial for treason -- ordered by Sharif -- in Islamabad. And army commanders are unhappy in a military coup-prone nuclear weapons power.
Altogether, this is an explosive mix in a nuclear power that has spent half of its 67 years as a nation under military rule. And this will happen again unless Sharif alters course from a geopolitical compass heading that reads -- TALIBAN!
One astute observer of the Pakistani drama said privately, "Taliban are gaining ground and political canvas under what some consider a smart play by Nawaz Sharif. He is facilitating the political emergence of Talibanized Sharia law under the watchful eye of Taliban's thought-control police."
These strictly orthodox Sunni Muslims advocate the forced, compulsory return to the earliest days of Islam.
With what Sharif believes is a smart politico-religious play, Talibanized Sharia will become the law of the land, policed by Taliban under a Saudi Wahabi umbrella.
Provided the army stands idly by, Sharif sees himself as the Amirul Momineen (Commander of the Faithful) of the nuclear caliphate, a region that, in his mind, would stretch from Pakistan to Mauritania on the Atlantic coast of West Africa.
Delusions of grandeur? No doubt. But Saudi Arabia, in the light of Iran's momentarily postponed nuclear weapons plans, feels naked without the means of a nuclear riposte in case of attack.
Until now, secret Saudi funding (including marked down Saudi oil) for the improvement of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal didn't include the transfer of nuclear weapons and their missile delivery system to the kingdom. The next phase of the secret compact may well include the transfer of nukes to the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia's national security adviser, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, is a key voice in the ongoing debate of what's best for the kingdom.
U.S. and European policy planners must soon face an inevitable Pak dilemma: 1) Talibanized Sharia rule or 2) moderate army rule to curb and cut the influence of an evil, medieval nexus.
The Saudi leadership concluded in recent months that the United States under the Barack Obama presidency is no longer the security guarantee it once was. Having their own nuclear weapons capability would give the kingdom the added measure of security it now judges to be indispensable.
Last month Amos Yadlin, a former Israeli military intelligence chief, said, "The Saudis are no longer willing to wait. They've paid for it and they want it now."
Yadlin was defense attache in Washington 2004-06 and then appointed head of Israel's Military Intelligence Directorate. He was one of eight pilots selected to carry out Operation Opera against Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in June 1981 during the Saddam Hussein regime. His 5,000 flight hours include 250 combat missions.
The Saudi leadership concluded late last year that a rapprochement was under way between Iran and the Obama administration. They see the United States softening its stance toward Iran's nuclear weapons program. Iran is suspending its work on producing a nuclear weapon but not abandoning it.
In Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry believes the United States will be rid of President Hamid Karzai when Karzai's second term expires this spring. He avoids contact with senior U.S. officials. When U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel decided not to go to Kabul and stopped in Islamabad instead, Karzai left for Iran the same day.
Other recent Karzai moves:
-- Working with Nawaz Sharif/Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, also known as Pakistan Taliban whose enemies are India and the United States.
-- Working with India and the "Northern Alliance" versus Pakistan and TTP.
-- Working with Iran versus the United States and Pakistan Taliban.
It is confusing and intended to be. Karzai is also trying every avenue to establish a link at the top of the Pakistani army versus the United States and India. But this gambit failed.
The Pak army wants Karzai completely out of power. They describe him as an unguided missile.
Karzai has also danced around the imperative need to sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States. He is buying time to insert himself in any power-sharing arrangement available.
Continuation in any topside capacity following the U.S. withdrawal at the end of this year seems to be Karzai's objective. Taliban appear to be satisfied with Karzai's survival antics. This enables Taliban to gain more time to consolidate an anti-Karzai front.
Sharif appears to be encouraging Karzai. But Pakistan's new army chief Raheel Sharif is convinced terrorists inside Pakistan -- i.e., Taliban -- are a greater threat than India.
Sharif favors negotiation with his domestic Taliban whereas the army is determined to take a hard line against all terrorists and insurgents, reports South Asian commentator Ammar Turabi.
The Pak deck is stacked. Unless Sharif backs down and abandons his politico-religious extremists, the Pakistani powder keg is ready to blow again, Turabi says.
NATO supply lines -- used mostly to evacuate U.S. equipment from Afghanistan -- remain blocked by Sharif's political ally Imran Khan, the former cricket star now political chief in the province that leads to the Khyber Pass.
Khyber will remain blocked as long as the United States continues drone strikes against Taliban in Pakistan's tribal areas.
The good news: Pakistan's new army chief is siding with the United States.
The outlook: Increased mayhem in a nuclear power.