The aftershocks of Pakistan’s temblor will be felt for years

Russell Seitz in the Wall Street Journal:

K2The exaggerated verticality of northern Pakistan makes it scientifically transparent but politically opaque, with borders hard to define and harder to guard. The chaos in the quake’s aftermath has put the field in motion for fugitives of all stripes. Al Qaeda cadres and Islamist Kashmiri separatists can readily lose themselves among the flux of refugees in a region famed for discreet hospitality. It cannot have escaped Osama Bin Laden’s attention that in the 19th century the Aga Khan spent tranquil years in Hunza while internecine war made him a hunted man elsewhere in the Islamic world. Today, the Raj has evaporated in India, but in Pakistan’s Northern Areas some local notables’ business cards still read “Head of State.” Political parties–some religious, some ethnic–have proliferated in the Punjab and the parts of southern Pakistan that share an Urdu culture with India; but in the North, men owe their first allegiance to where they were born, not to where politicians in Islamabad want borders to be.

The region’s isolation in the months to come could erode Pakistan’s often-resented efforts to integrate the linguistically and ethnically distinct populations of areas like Baltistan, a “Little Tibet” where mountains five miles high enforce local autonomy–and where the central government’s authority fades out of sight of the now-obliterated roads built to enforce it. The temblor’s timing is itself disastrous, for the north helps feed Pakistan, and harvests have been isolated from the urban markets by the wholesale destruction of infrastructure. Far away, in Karachi and Quetta, the political impact is being felt, as food prices soar despite the imposition of price controls.

More here.