FOR most Britons, Pakistan's current local elections could hardly be of less concern. But just as political developments in Algeria and Morocco now affect the Arab population of France, so, in a sense, do elections in Pakistan take place in Bradford, Leeds and Leicester.
As the first wave of London bombings in July so cruelly emphasised, developments in western Europe and parts of the Muslim world are intertwined. Instability and extremism in certain Muslim lands have the power to damage Europe badly. Therefore, just as France should lead a massive European Union (EU) programme to help the Maghreb, so Britain should lead the EU in creating a development strategy for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.
Regional development should also be seen as part of a broader strategy for reintegrating Iran into the world community. Like it or not, the west must recognise that Iran is central to the economic future of this region; that if we are to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapons, then sooner or later we will have to fight or deal; and that given the horrendous risks involved in attacking Iran, we should try other alternatives first.
This is not so much a question of more aid as of a strategic approach to aid. Given the security threat it presents to the west, this region should take precedence over non-Muslim Africa. The commitment by Tony Blair, the British prime minister, to help Africa is honourable but in terms of British interests, Africa has to come second.
In the short and medium term, the Pakistani state is not in danger. The army is capable of holding the state together and preventing an Islamist revolution, although the terrorist threat from Islamists remains real. Pakistan's political scene, meanwhile, looks stagnant. Although some leaders have juniped from party to party, neither their ideas nor their political clans have changed. The parties have also been crippled by internal feuding and opportunism. The army has seduced with offers of jobs and money - and too many politicians have shown an eagerness to be seduced verging on political nymphomania.
This reflects not so much their personal failings as the consistent failure of Pakistani society to generate political parties that are more than congeries of local bosses and clan chieftains seeking state patronage. It is this society that must change before Pakistan can become a successful democracy, and it can only be changed by long-term economic development.
After many years of economic stagnation, Pakistan's economy is now growing quite well, thanks to a mixture of wise economic policies and western aid and debt forgiveness after the terrorist attacks on the US of September 11, 2001.
This should not, however, lull us into complacency. When on previous occasions Pakistan experienced high growth, this did not produce long-term political or social stability. For the benefits of this growth went overwhelmingly to a small fraction of the population, thereby increasing rather than decreasing social resentment. Corruption and tax evasion made it impossible for the state to transform Pakistan's grossly inadequate infrastructure or to create a modern education system.
Many of these critical failings still remain and until they are rectified Pakistan's progress will remain fragile and its long-term viability as a state threatened. The greatest danger stems from the combination of population growth and ecological crisis. By the year 2030, if the Himalayan glaciers continue to melt and Pakistan does not improve its water infrastructure, then much of the country will be as dry as the Sahara Desert - a desert with a population of 250m people.
This should matter greatly to Europe and in particular to Britain because, while there is no chance of the Islamists seizing power in the short term, they will stand an excellent chance of doing so if the state eventually crumbles. Moreover, because of the Pashtun population that spans their borders, Pakistan and Afghanistan are deeply intertwined.
If anarchy and a Taliban restoration in Afghanistan are to be prevented, western forces will have to remain in the country for a generation. Britain's role there seems set to increase once UK troops leave Iraq. Any disasters in Afghanistan or Pakistan will undoubtedly be used by Islamist terrorists to recruit British Muslims. So in helping Lahore, we are also helping Leeds.
The writer is a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington and author of America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism. Under syndication arrangement with FE