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As investors scramble for yield in markets awash with central bank liquidity, their eyes continue to be drawn toward the glitter of emerging markets, including those in the Middle East and South Asia, where I’ve been trolling for the past few weeks to probe the links between portfolio strategy and tail risk. Few countries offer as much fertile ground for such ruminations as Pakistan.

The Islamic Republic has its own special charm for diplomats, soldiers and spies, who worry about different risks emerging from the country and its growing stockpile of nuclear weapons. But below the Bloomberg radar, Pakistan may also have the potential to perturbate global financial markets. My time in Islamabad was brightened by winter sunshine and darkened by conspiracy theories.

“Assassinations, mayhem and lack of rule of law in some emerging-market locations often make them a marginal sideshow to global macro markets,” says Thomas McGlade, portfolio manager at London-based hedge fund Prologue Capital. “Even Syria can hardly get the attention of the markets, so the low boil that is constant in Pakistan rarely registers. But it’s the security and nuclear dynamic which could push Pakistan to the forefront.”

My diplomat friends aren’t eager to see a crisis in Pakistan, but some traders take a different view. Global macro hedge funds are starving from a lack of volatility, which is their lifeblood. Europe’s financial markets have healed dramatically since Mario Draghi promised last year to do whatever it takes to save the euro. The decision by Washington lawmakers to avoid any fiscal cliff–diving has provided a similar tonic on the other side of the Atlantic. China’s policymakers have engineered a soft landing for their economy. The civil war in Syria hasn’t spilled over into instability in the Gulf or posed a threat to global oil supplies. And on top of it all, central banks in Europe, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. continue to pump liquidity willy-nilly into global financial markets, forcing everybody into higher-risk, higher-return assets.

All in all, it’s a pretty benign environment for the global economy but one that makes macro traders squirm. Returns at many hedge funds lagged their benchmarks in 2012, and a lot of investors are still smarting about the 2 percent fees. “We could really use some volatility right now,” one London-based trader complained to me over a curbside lager at a Mount Street pub in Mayfair. “It’s hard to make money when things are this quiet.”