Islamabad has already begun to take steps to appease the Pashtuns by announcing that NWFP will henceforth be named Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.26 This is to impress upon the Pashtuns who live in NWFP outside of the tribal areas that like Punjab and Sindh, the province will be identified as the stronghold of ethnic Pashtuns living there. At best, this will have a cosmetic effect. However, the forces that would bring about the formation of Pashtunistan, if and when that takes place, will sweep away this secondary identity of the Pashtuns.
Pashtuns in Pakistan believe, and rightly so, that endless drone attacks launched by the American UAVs to eliminate Taliban and innocent citizens in North Waziristan almost on a regular basis were allowed by Islamabad at the behest of not only the Western forces but also the Pakistani army and ISI”¦
There is no doubt in the minds of those who interact with the Pakistani army personnel occupying high positions that the greatest concern among the top brass today is the Pashtun question once U.S.–NATO troops begin packing their bags. The decade-long presence of the foreign troops in Afghanistan, and their categorisation of all Pashtuns as the Taliban, and hence the enemy of the Western powers, has brought about a sea change in the cooperation between Afghan Pashtuns and the Pashtuns of Pakistan. Islamabad’s efforts to quell the Pakistani Pashtuns so that they do not actively get involved in helping the Afghan Pashtuns fighting the foreign troops have embittered the Pakistani Pashtuns. They consider the foreign forces in Afghanistan their principal enemy. Furthermore, they also perceive the Pakistani army as a collaborator of the foreign forces. They cite Pakistani army’s operation in the Swat Valley and in the tribal agencies of North Waziristan, Bajaur and Orakzai in particular, as playing second fiddle to the foreign “occupiers” and committing atrocities against its own people.
This is exactly the process that in the past led to Balochistan’s virtual separation from Pakistan. In addition, Pashtuns in Pakistan believe, and rightly so, that endless drone attacks launched by the American unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to eliminate Taliban and innocent citizens in North Waziristan almost on a regular basis were allowed by Islamabad at the behest of not only the Western forces27 but also the Pakistani army and ISI, who are involved as well in providing the necessary intelligence for the drone pilots to execute the attacks. This has further lowered the trust level between the Pakistani Pashtuns and Islamabad.
Also read: Salvaging America’s Botched Strategic Foray into Asia – I
Besides the ongoing war, which is steadily moving in favour of the Pashtuns fighting the foreign troops, two other forces have begun to emerge to give shape to the post-war Afghanistan. One such force is represented by Britain and Saudi Arabia. The second force, represented by Afghan president Karzai and Pakistan, is a counter to the other force.
The Clamour for Pashtunistan
The British–Saudi authorities are in the process of negotiating with what they portray as the “moderate” Taliban, who can be induced to share power with Afghan president Hamid Karzai in the post-U.S.–NATO Afghanistan. By categorising some Taliban as “moderate,” what Britain and the Saudis are presenting to Washington in particular are those Taliban who have been indoctrinated with the Wahabi version of orthodox Islam, propagated solely by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. These Taliban are all Pashtuns who would be induced to demand a “Pashtunistan” over a period of time with the objective of combining the Pashtuns of Afghanistan and Pakistan using the ethno-religious identity of the Pashtuns of two different countries separated by the nonfunctional Durand Line.
“¦.consider the foreign forces in Afghanistan their principal enemy. Furthermore, they also perceive the Pakistani army as a collaborator of the foreign forces.
Eventually, the formation of such a Pashtun nation will result in the Balkanisation of Afghanistan, since the ethnic groups that represent the Northern Alliance will find no reason to remain within Pashtunistan as second-class citizens and would be agreeable to a state of their own. This would be possible only if there is an assured economic patronage that would guarantee to kick-start the new states economic infrastructure and growth.
None of these developments will happen overnight, but the seeds of these have been laid and watered well during the ongoing 10-year-old Afghan War. The geopolitical ramifications have a greater spill off on the being of Pakistan when viewed in the light of the map of Pashtunistan projected on the Afghanistan government’s website (see Map 1). The fragmentation of Afghanistan could result in Pakistan being reduced to two of its existing provinces, Punjab and Sindh.
President Karzai and the Pakistani army are not seeking to counter the so-called “moderate” Taliban concept. As a result, they are presenting a group of powerful Pashtun insurgent commanders, such as Mullah Mohammad Omar, Sirajuddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to share power in Kabul with President Karzai—a Popalzai Pashtun from Kandahar. It seems this group will not be interested in demanding a Pashtunistan but they would seek control of Afghanistan in its present state. That is why Islamabad is promoting them and President Karzai, who does not want the partition of Afghanistan since he also has a support base within the Tajik-Hazara-Uzbek communities that helped him to stay in power for the last eight years, is negotiating to accommodate them. Again, this is a complicated process. What the actual outcome will be is difficult to assess at this nascent stage.
The fragmentation of Afghanistan could result in Pakistan being reduced to two of its existing provinces, Punjab and Sindh.
In tune with the old British colonial concept, billboards demanding Greater Pashtunistan have appeared in Swat Valley, Dera Ismail Khan and other areas of the NWFP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) in recent days. The map of Greater Pashtunistan that has been circulated includes Balochistan, NWFP and Afghanistan. The Swat Valley, located in the northeastern part of the NWFP, has already become autonomous and has imposed Wahabi-style Islamic Sharia law, in violation of Pakistan’s constitution. For all practical purposes, Islamabad has handed the Swat Valley over to the Saudi-funded Wahabis. Since all these developments have occurred within a short span of eight years, one wonders what caused such rapid deterioration.
On 19 September 2007, a British historian who uses the pseudo name “Rumbold”28 said: “However much we try and dress it up, both Afghanistan and Pakistan are in the midst of civil wars. In Afghanistan, the situation is serious enough to warrant thousands of foreign troops assisting the Afghan army to hunt down the remnants of the Taliban and their allies. In Pakistan, tens of thousands of Pakistani troops, demoralized and under constant attack, are attempting to fight Al-Qaeda, local tribes and fugitive Taliban.”
The Swat Valley, located in the northeastern part of the NWFP, has already become autonomous and has imposed Wahabi-style Islamic Sharia law, in violation of Pakistans constitution.
“Both countries’ governments are fighting against the same people: the Pashtuns. Most Pashtuns live in Afghanistan and in the part of Pakistan known as the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). My proposal (albeit not a novel one), is to create a Pashtun homeland based in the NWFP and a sizeable section of Afghanistan,” Rumbold added.
He went on to say: “Partition in South Asia has had a chequered history, but it should be pointed out that the reason why the Pashtuns do not have their own country is because the British and Russians carved it up during the Great Game so that a buffer state could be created between British and Russian territory.”
Rumbold also made clear that “Pashtunistan would allow the British and the Americans to help consolidate the rest of Afghanistan. More importantly it would substantially reduce the chances of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of disgruntled Islamists. This should be the clincher for Britain and America. Pashtuns would be happy because they would have their own homeland, while those who chose to stay in other countries would have made a conscious effort to renew their loyalty to said country. Civil war is the most debilitating of any type of war, as it divides people of the same nation. Pashtunistan could put a stop to it.”
Echo in America
In the July–Sept 2008 issue of the US Military Intelligence Journal, an article titled “Secessionist Jihad: the Taliban’s struggle for Pashtunistan,” by Michael D. Holmes, pointed out29 “. . . One of the reasons for our failure to subdue the Taliban insurgency may be that we have not identified the proper causes behind it. We have labelled the Taliban a jihadist movement and ascribed motives to them based on religious traditionalist goals, in part because that is what the Taliban itself has stated. But had we looked deeper, we might have found that the root causes behind the enduring and resilient nature of the Taliban have very little to do with religion, and much to do with an ancient ethnic struggle between the Pashtun people, and virtually everyone else in the region. And much like the enduring struggles of the former Yugoslavia, religion has become a blanket for what, in reality, is an ethnic and cultural struggle between tribes in a zero-sum game to control territory.
“¦the chances of Pakistans nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of disgruntled Islamists. This should be the clincher for Britain and America.
“. . . By mentally segregating the Taliban as an ‘Afghan’ problem, by not addressing their roots of support inside the border with Pakistan, and by ignoring the obvious truth of their largely homogeneous ethnic composition, I believe that we have misdiagnosed not only the nature of their insurgency, but also the best way to deal with that insurgency. This approach has put us on the path of treating the symptom, but not the disease.
“As a result of this imprecision, we have applied a series of remedies designed to combat religious extremism (but not ethnic separatism) with lackluster results. However, had we correctly identified the ethnic nature of this conflict early on, and applied remedies designed to counter and combat an ethnic secessionist insurgency, and in so doing faced that transnational nature of ‘Pashtunistan,’ we would very likely have been more effective in combating them.
“Up to this point, we have viewed the Taliban as a Jihadist Muslim insurgency, composed largely of Pashtun tribesmen. I argue that what we should be doing is viewing and, more importantly, treating the Taliban as a Pashtun ethnic insurgency, composed largely of Jihadist Muslims.”