There are some elements in the State Department and Afghan minorities who insist that America may be engaged in a war against Pashtun nationalism rather than a religious movement espousing religious fundamentalism. As with all things South Asian, its not that simple but a warlord must understand the true self-interest of his enemy to bring peace and stability to a turbulent region.
It’s convenient for Westerners to view a conflict along lines drawn in their atlases. We rarely reshape countries’ borders but have no problem reshaping the power structures within those geographic lines. Kosova, Kurdistan, Israel and perhaps even America’s own Indian reservations are benefactors of America’s blind spot to unfair treaties, occupations and racist endeavors. Although Afghanistan has existed as a nation since the 1700′s, Pakistan’s uneasy alliance of ethnicities emerged only six decades ago. If one looks closely the simmering insurgencies in Baluchistan, Kashmir and the tribal areas along the Afghan border the more pessimistic might be tempted to hold off on granting Pakistan full nation status. Or more productively full partnership status in America’s war against terrorist groups.
America is fighting a war in Afghanistan that after eight years now finally includes killing enemies inside Pakistan. The world doesn’t seem to mind the targeted assassination campaign against our enemies and Pakistan bleats only when the civilian ratio to target creeps up. Legally the DoD can only operate in Afghanistan, leaving the CIA to conduct kinetic and intelligence activities in alliance with the Pakistani military and ISI. Quiet operations based in Bagram direct much of the Predator and covert operations, but officially America has no military presence in Pakistan. This is untrue, America has robust proxy, trainers, supporters and equipment inside Pakistan and is working directly with the Pakistanis to kill insurgent and terrorist targets. Targets that are simultaneously condoned and supported by Pakistan in their efforts against the United States in Afghanistan.
America’s enemy plays no such games, they freely use Pakistan as both operational funding, training and recruiting. Al Qaeda, Haqqanis, Hekmatyar’s Hizbi Islami, the Talban and the Tehrik Taliban are not shy about their overt presence and affiliation with the Islamic nation of Pakistan. Pakistan walks the razor edge by promoting and punishing these groups as it sees its national interests promoted or damaged. These groups will be long after we have turned to other wars and regions…and Pakistan knows it.
Pakistan is the second largest Islamic nation, a militant supporter of Islamic groups and a divisive impoverished nation wracked by violence since its birth in 1947. Pakistan was born from violence and continues to be a militant defender of Islam and proxy player using terrorist tactics.
Pakistan is comprised of many ethnic groups primarily Punjabi (44%) with Pashtuns (15%), Sindhis (14) and Seraikis (11%) forming the bulk of their population. These figures no not accurately portray the influence of Afghan Pashtun refugees or the territorial areas controlled by these ethnic groups. Kashmiris, Baluch and Afghans have far more influence on Pakistani foreign policy than their numbers would belie. The Baluch control a disproportionate amount of territory and the Pashtuns could lay claim to half of Pakistan’s land. If these two tribes were to unite with their brothers in Afghanistan along historical ethnic lines, Pakistan would become a tiny sliver of Punjabis, Seraikis and Sindhi’s. It is for that reason that Pakistan takes such great interest in the affairs of the Pashtun and the Sind. There has been a history of bellicose support of these groups and typically among the most orthodox Islamic leaders of these groups.
Those who have more than a cursory view of the conflict also understand that the war is not contained within the imaginary lines drawn on maps. It is educational to understand that ISAF offices rarely contained a map other than Afghanistan until the last few months. The term “AfPak” has just come into fashion in the last year but it artificially welds these two nations together to the detriment of a massive singular nation that straddles both countries.
The reality is that there is no “AfPak.” It’s a convenient extension of American interest that ignores the regional influence of Iran, Central Asia, India and the Gulf regions in the Afghan conflict and more disturbingly ignores the engine that maintains instability in the region.
At its simplest, the war in Afghanistan is driven by Pashtunistan and specifically the line that divides Pashtuns into two countries. Pashtuns are a race who consider themselves unique and united through history, shared experience, tribal structure and marriage. They consider themselves the original Afghans and their view of their domain is both territorial and nomadic. This creates a greater bond between races of both countries and confounds foreigners who work diligently to prevent this ease of movement. It is not unusual for Britain, America and Russia to respect or uphold borders in their international game of chess and checkmate, but it is that arrogance that has led to their defeat each time. Unable to deal with the transnational nature of the enemy they insist on centralizing, westernizing and replicating European concepts in this ancient part of the world.
The November 12, 1893 Durand Line Agreement was created to arbitrarily mark off areas of influence and sprung by the then obsessive need of the British to map and divide regions. Constant movement between warmer lowlands of Pakistan and the need for trade along with a very fixed view of land control typified in the large fortified compounds favored by Pashtuns are hallmarks of the race. How can a race be xenophobic and nomadic at the same time? It is more common to find villagers who work in Iran, Dubai and Pakistan inside Afghanistan than it is to find a rural American who has traveled to these regions. Protection of their culture through marriage to cousins, the extended family and the tribal structure are also ways to preserve their cultural and keep families strong. Alignment to power brokers, the ability to quickly raise lashgars or small, loosely aligned fighting groups and the ability to make, split or break allegiances is also a hallmark of the “wiley pathan.” This is something Americans understood during the Revolutionary War, but have seem to forgotten when fighting in Afghanistan. The tribal areas are analagus to the U.S. – Canadian border pre World War Two where border control was a casual formality and people could cross freely. Canadians and Americans linked through common immigration also quickly banded together to fight threats in major wars even up to Afghanistan.
At its simplest the Durand Line was created to demarcate the limits of the then warring Afghans under Abdur Rahman Khan and the British Empire in India. The Agreement effectively faced the Pashtun nation towards Pakistan since previous rulers had actually favored Persia as their cultural partners. Dari was introduced by the Durranis as the educated language replacing Pashto as the official language of the country.
The real reason was that the Afghan ruler knew that the Russians were moving southward towards his north border and the British had shown they had every reason to expand their Indian empire westward. The Durand Line conceded massive swaths of Pashtun homeland and remains as a Western inspired boundary, but it was actually an Afghan (who was a Barakzai pashtun) solution. The tribes were given unusual freedom of movement across the border and with in the tribal areas in Pakistan effectively aligning the Pashtun tribes in Pakistan with Afghanistan rather than towards the Punjabi areas of Pakistan. The Durand Line also ended the development and structures that the British normally delivered to their colonies. A legacy of isolation and tribal infighting that exists to this day.
After World War Two, the partition of India to create Pakistan put additional focus on this oft ignored boundary and pushed the Pushtunistan issue into the forefront. During the 50′s and 60′s the concept of Pashtunistan became a vigorous debate. The surkh post or Red Shirt movement was formalized as the Awami Party and was only hindered by the inability of the Pashtun tribes in reaching a concensus. The poorest and most brutally divided tribes in Waziristan were a flash point for this movement ( just as the modern Tehrik i Taliban is today) and the Pakistani government responded with eerily similar vigor in crushing this movement. Along with “Azad Pashtunistan” or “Free Pashtunistan,” Baluchistan and Kashmir are similar movements to unite ethnically pure regions away from the splits created by former colonial masters. They are also ignition points for outside interlopers who seek to support underpowered race inspired movements. Russia exploited the Pashtun demand for a homeland positioning Pakistan as a violator of Pashtun’s rights. America, through the ISI, funded primarily Pashtun fundamentalists to fight the Russians and Pakistan again supported the Pashtun Taliban in the mid 90′s. Although the U.S. found little to no support from Pashtuns against the Taliban, they promoted Hamid Karzai to his current position. Pashtuns are only around half of Afghanistan’s population and there is no unwritten rule that a Pashtun must rule just as there is no law that a middle-aged white man must rule America.
Afghanistan, even up to President Karzai, has supported the concept of Pashtunistan obliquely by denigrating the Durand Line and the separation of tribes aka families. One of the safety valves has been the Pashtun focus of Russia and the United States which has always insisted that a Pashtun be a ruler of the country and specific tribes be involved in resolving conflicts. President Karzai is a living example of un-entitled leaders artificially promoted by outside forces into an elected official.
More importantly, the Durand Line has been used by the United States and Pakistan to their advantage. During the Soviet times, Pakistan based refugees found safe harbor in Pakistan while fighting the Russians. The millions of refugees that flooded across the border found relief from the war and continue to be a well of recruits for the current jihadi groups.
Pakistan has used the Durand Line to both justify its territory and also debate its territory in Kashmir. Their manipulation of the Pashtuns’ hostility along the border was always the “poison pill” that would prevent India from launching a serious war in the region. America finds itself fighting the Pashtun Taliban which began in Pakistan and the Pakistanis find themselves fighting the Pakistani Taliban along the same border. Afghan minorities found themselves fighting Pashtun Taliban and modern Afghanistan still finds itself divided along Pashtun and non-Pashtun political groups.
When the Taliban were in power they did not officially seek a Pashtun state but intuitively viewed the tribes and camps as their supporters. Their banner of jihad under a tribal form of sharia carried with an implicit understanding that this was a retrograde (Sunni whahabist) Pashtun, tribal movement and was rooted in the diaspora experience of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, Soviet occupation and Pakistani prejudice to the Afghan refugees. In a word “Sunni Pashtun homeland” was never printed on the white Taliban flag but established an implicit understanding and resonance. The Taliban continue to use the distorted lens of madrassah training, foreign occupation and orthodox Sunni interpretation of their tribal system that automatically filters out other groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. When the Taliban ventured into Kabul and then the north, the true brutal nature of conquest and domination began to appear. In other words, the Taliban movement resonates in Pashtunistan and Pashtun pockets but only if controlled by Pakistan and only if the Taliban do not formally confess the underpinnings of their movement.
What does this mean to the warlords of Afghanistan? It means that General McChrystal must understand this dynamic when “defeating the Taliban” since he is also defeating the dream of a Pashtun homeland in the eyes of many Pashtuns. He must also see that the ethnic warlords from the Hazara, Tajik, Uzbek and other minorities see the Taliban movement for what it is and have the thousands of dead compatriots in mass graves to prove it. Pakistan’s covert support of the Pashtuns has backfired creating a flare up in tribal areas that it now must defeat or risk losing both Pashtunistan and Balochistan. The recent degradation of the Taliban in Karachi, with the CIA and DoD’s help, is a direct attempt to find a safety valve to hinder the Pashtun group spreading from infection to epidemic inside their own country.
Underlying all these conflicts is a sense of racial not national unity. There is no liberation, no rights, no grievances to right but these groups are being used to leverage control by agitators. Any attempts to “negotiate” with the Taliban should be viewed no differently as supporting racially pure movements that have spawned even more conflict when they were given special treatment or territory.