By Ray Fleming

BARACK Obama is not short of difficult problems to deal with. At the moment Libya may loom largest but Pakistan, although nominally an American ally and partner in the Afghanistan war, seems likely to be a greater problem in the long term. The shooting by gunmen of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's Minister for Minorities, earlier this week signalled that religious tolerance in Pakistan is paper thin beyond the always fragile Muslim-Hindu understanding. Mr Bhatti, the only Christian minister in the government was an open opponent of Pakistan's blasphemy law which carries a death sentence for those who insult Islam. In January Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, was murdered by a member of his own protection team; he too had called for the repeal of the blasphemy law. These killings are bad enough in themselves but even worse is the apparent equanimity of the Pakistan government's reaction to them. Rehman Malik, a fellow cabinet minister of Mr Bhatti, responded to his colleague's death by saying that he would be ready to shoot a blasphemer.

America's relations with Pakistan could hardly be worse, ranging from lack of help in fighting the Taliban, to concern over the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, to an imminent show trial of an American agent who shot two Pakistanis in the street recently. Yet a satisfactory and lasting end to the US's Afghanistan engagement is partly dependent on Pakistan's cooperation.