In late 2004, when it was already clear that the Iraq war was going badly wrong, I got talking to a European official who had just visited the White House, and held meetings with Condi Rice and Dick Cheney. “Were they panicking?”, I asked. “These are not people who panic,” he replied gravely.
I wouldn’t have put Hillary Clinton down as a panicker, either. But her Congressional testimony on Pakistan yesterday sounded distinctly alarmed. Pakistan, she said, now faces an “existential threat” from Islamist militancy and the Pakistani government has “basically abdicated to the Taliban and the extremists.” This was positively cheery compared to the committee chairman, Howard Berman, who claimed that “Pakistan could collapse in as little as six months.” I was planning my next visit to the country for October, so it sounds like I’ll be just in time.
But is all this alarm really justified? Jason Burke of The Observer once pointed out to me that people have been predicting the imminent demise of Pakistan for years – but it hasn’t happened yet. I used to take some comfort from the fact that the hardline Islamist parties generally do pretty badly in the elections.