What is perhaps happening in Pakistan today - a terrorist state consumed by its own terrorism - happened on a much smaller scale in Punjab during Khalistan violence. But while Julio Ribeiro/ K.P.S.Gill managed to control Punjab terrorism before it got out of hand, Pakistan is a goner. It will end up in five to ten years, or earlier, as an urban or plains version of Afghanistan controlled by assorted warlords who determine the rulers and their ideologies and worldviews.

While most Indian states have land-related family disputes, Punjab has more than its share of it. One reason given for Punjab terrorism is that land fragmentation as a result of growing families and added generations brought down agricultural prosperity and profitability, increased rural unemployment, turned the youth to crime and easy money, and all this found their biggest outlet in separatist violence. Terrorism that spread its net independent of socio-economic fractures could not escape from its embrace too long. Land disputes festering because of delayed trials were sought to be ended violently with the employment of terrorists. Local killings were attributed to terrorism. Personal terrorism slowly became indistinguishable from political terrorism, and in the process, terrorists became extortionists, businessmen leading double lives, "protectors" of politicians, and some even entertained political ambitions. In the border districts of Punjab, terrorists became synonymous with criminals, looting and raping, which is when the local population turned against them. The tide against Punjab terrorism turned when the people they claimed to represent actively cooperated with the state against them.

The point is, most movements which begin with innocence amuck themselves eventually. It is a similar cycle of rape and extortion that turned the Kashmiris against terrorists. Pakistan has entered that stage irreversibly, or is immersed in that situation, where every section of society is turning against every other, and terrorists are being requisitioned to settle scores. For example, a section of the state, call it the Pakistan military, the intelligence establishment, or a ruling coterie, or all of them, or some of them together, called in terrorists to assassinate Benazir Bhutto. And if you don't believe that President Parvez Musharraf staged those two attempts on his life in December 2003, the option left is by far more frightening, that the Al-Qaeda and sections of the military were behind the assassinations.

And that trend of the state turning against itself has only hardened in the subsequent five years, and especially since the Lal Masjid raid in July 2007. Since then, suicide bombers have attacked the army headquarters, the ISI, the Special Services Group (SSG), the Naval War College in Lahore, the Federal Investigation Agency office in Lahore again, and so forth. In some of these attacks, the role of insiders has been suspected, especially in the attack on the ISI. If the melt-down continues, sections of the military will conspire against other sections, the ISI will turn on itself, and every section will use terrorists against every other section, as has already begun, and eventually, the Pakistan state would pass into terrorist control.

Punjab showed in a small way what happens when terrorists attempt to take over society, but Afghanistan is the biggest and worst example so far. The more you consider how Afghanistan was destroyed, the more you curse the Soviets for imposing their failing ideology on that benighted country and then the Americans for arming and financing the so-called mujahideen war. The assorted "mujahideen" ran Afghanistan to ground, and then the Taliban, who were supposed to restore order, threw back the country to the Stone Age, and gave sanctuary to Osama Bin Laden, who was crazed with loathing against the US, and ready and prepared for any manner of Arab barbarism. Today, Afghanistan is a battle ground for foreign forces and foreign terrorists, and Afghans are scared to enjoy the fruits of democracy in fear that medieval terror will return. It is this spectre of medieval terror that looms large over Pakistan today.

The logical endpoint of that is that nothing by way of central authority will survive in Pakistan. Democracy will be and is already a casualty in that country. President Musharraf, who appears suddenly powerful as the elected coalition government stumbles and weakens, will also find his power dissipating, and the threat to his life will substantially rise. General Ashfaq Kayani, the army chief, will realize before long that large sections of his forces have mutinied, as has happened in bits and pieces in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. In place of these present actors, warlords will take control, or at any rate, there is a rising threat of this.

It is such a situation of Pakistan's collapse, with nuclear weapons falling in wrong hands, that India has to prepare for.