This week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the US Congress that the situation in Pakistan “poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world.”. These are strong words. A “mortal threat” to the security of America, we would think, would require a serious military and strategic response.
That is why we titled our article as we did. Frankly, we were not impressed with Clinton’s outburst and neither were Pakistan’s Panjabi Generals.
Then Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that relations with the United States will be threatened unless Islamabad combats the rise of the Taleban. This was serious. After all, Pakistan’s Panjabi Army survives on American aid and so the Pakistani generals pretended to comply.
They told their friends in the Taleban leadership to withdraw from their new foray into the Buner province (70 miles from Pakistan’s capital) and the Taleban made a public show of its “withdrawal“. But, this was only for media consumption.
The American Newspapers and TV shows covered the new Taleban foray extensively and superficially. This coverage showed the total lack of understanding or insight into the Af-Pak problem and the type of urgent solutions needed. This prompted us to write this detailed article and propose the only solution that we think will work.
This position paper features the following sections:
- I. The Genesis of the Af-Pak problem
- II. Misconceptions, Ignorance and Denial in Pakistan and America
- III. An Immediate, Legal, Globally Acceptable, Cost-Effective and Simple Solution to the Af-Pak Problem
- IV. Is this Solution rapidly becoming obsolete?
- V. Final Choice that might be forced upon the Obama Administration
I. The Genesis of the Af-Pak Problem
The Af-Pak situation began in 1893 when the British-led Indian Army conquered South Afghanistan (the part of Afghanistan below the Khyber Pass) and forced the partition of Afghanistan into North and South. Under the 1893 Treaty, the Afghan King was forced to accede to annexation of South Afghanistan by British-India. Today’s border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is still called the “Durand Line” after Mortimer Durand, the Foreign Secretary of British India (see map below left).
When the British left India in 1947, Pakistan inherited the possession of South Afghanistan and the Af-Pak problem was created.
In 1949, Afghanistan declared the 1893 Treaty as ex parte and therefore invalid. Today, Afghanistan does NOT recognize the Durand Line as the legal border and claims all of South Afghanistan (or Pashtunistan as it is popularly called) as an integral part of Afghanistan.
(Durand’s Partition of Afghanistan) (Pink – Baluch, Green – Pashtuns, Grey – Panjabis, Yellow-Sindhi)
The map on the right above shows the ethnic composition of the territory controlled by today’s Pakistan. The area in green is the real Pashtun-i-stan or the land of the Pashtuns. This is today the home of the Pashtun Taleban and virtually all of it is under Taleban control. In this article, we refer to the section in green when we refer to Pashtunistan.
From 1947 to 1979, Pashtunistan remained quiet. Actually in 1947, a popular non-violence movement spread through Pashtunistan under the leadership of Badshah Gaffar Khan, popularly called “Sarhad-Gandhi” or “Gandhi-on-the-border”. Gaffar Khan wanted his province to become a part of India in 1947 but Nehru, in another act of utter, arrogant stupidity, refused.
So, Pakistan took over Pashtunistan and began the transformation of the non-violent movement into a movement subordinated to the interests of Pakistani Panjabis.
Then, in 1979, America entered the province and flooded it with weapons. Brezinsky toured the province and exhorted the Pashtuns to fight a holy war against the Russian Army that had occupied North Afghanistan. Under American leadership and with American encouragement, angry young men poured into Pashtunistan from all over the Muslim Middle East to fight the Russians. The rest, as they say, is history.
II. Misconceptions, Ignorance and Denial in Pakistan and America
From what we read or hear on TV, the American Media and the American Establishment lack the basic understanding of the nature of the Taleban and remain in total denial about the real problem. Virtually all American commentators are European-American and their frame of reference is the British frame of reference. Notable Pakistani journalists like Ahmad Rashid use this ignorance to sway opinion towards Pakistani interests and notable South Asian journalists like Fareed Zakaria continue to pander to the European-American line of thinking.
II.a – The Taleban Fight movement is a Racial conflict and NOT a Religious Conflict
Look at the ethnic map of Pakistan (above right). The fight in Pakistan is a war between the Green and the Grey; between the Pashtuns of Pashtunistan (or NWFP as Pakistan calls it) and the Panjabis of Pakistani Panjab. These are distinct ethnic groups that have fought wars for more than 2,000 years. Pakistani Panjabis are an Indian ethnic people while the Pashtuns are a mixed breed of Indian, Iranian, Tajik, Uzbek and even Greek blood (going back to post-Alexander days).
Both ethnic groups are Sunni Muslims and so the Pashtun-Panjabi struggle is not a religious struggle but a racial struggle. Panjabis dominate Pakistan, its Government and its all-controlling Army. They have deep contempt for the uneducated Pashtun mountain people.
The main aim of the Pashtun Taleban used to be to reconquer North Afghanistan and unite all of Afghanistan under Pashtun rule. The American presence in North Afghanistan and the determination of the Obama Administration have convinced the Taleban that America will not leave Kabul.
So the Pashtun Taleban have decided move south towards the plains of Pakistani Panjab, a much richer prize than impoverished Afghanistan. They now believe that control of Pakistani Panjab is possible and they have a game plan to win this prize.
The Taleban now controls virtually all of the green area of Pashtunistan. They began this control in the mountain regions called FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas – see map below left), consolidated this control, made peace deals with the Pakistani Panjabi Army and then slowly but surely began the same game further south into the NWFP or the more urban parts of Pashtunistan (see map below left).
Last week, they entered the border province of Buner, 70 miles from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan in Panjab, setting off the alarms in the Obama Administration. Control of Buner would enable the Pashtun Taleban to cut off the road link between Islamabad and Peshawar, the capital of NWFP.
II.b – Why doesn’t the Pakistani Army fight the Taleban? – Good Reasons
In 1947, Pakistan was created to comprise of West Pakistan (today’s Pakistan) and East Pakistan (today’s Bangladesh), separated by over a 1,000 miles of Indian territory. The Pakistani Panjabis had racial contempt for the more eastern Pakistani Bengalis. This racial superiority led to draconian rule by the Panjabis over Bengalis and fostered a deep anger in the Pakistani Bengalis.
In 1971, the Bengalis of Pakistan began a struggle for greater political rights and autonomy. The Pakistani Panjabi Army retaliated with a brutal campaign that backfired. The struggle for autonomy morphed into a struggle for independence and eventually dragged India into a war with Pakistan. This war created the independent state of Bangladesh and split up Pakistan.
The Pakistani Panjabi Army recognizes the parallels between today’s Pashtun movement and the 1971 Bengali movement. They also understand the racial element of this struggle and are trying to tone it down.
This is why Pakistan only deploys the pre-dominantly Pashtun para-military force (called the Frontier Corps) against the Taleban. In other words, Pakistani Army is using its Pashtun regiments to fight the Pashtun Taleban. Unfortunately, the Frontier Corps is a poor cousin of the Pakistani Army, poorly trained and poorly armed. The soldiers of the Frontier Corps come from the same villages that the Pashtun Taleban come from. So, their sympathies are with the Pashtun Taleban, their brothers and not with their Panjabi masters.
The Pakistani Generals have NOT deploy
ed its core Panjabi Divisions against the Taleban, despite the major advances made by the Taleban recently. They know fully well that if they do, they risk a full-scale Pashtun-Panjabi civil war, like the 1971 Bengali-Panjabi civil war. We are sympathetic to their point of view.
This is why the Pakistani Panjabi Army prefers to appease the Pashtun Taleban by signing peace deals with them and by ceding huge tracts of Pashtun territory to Taleban’s control.
II.c – Why doesn’t the Pakistani Army fight the Taleban? – Bad Reasons
The Panjabi Generals of the Pakistani Army remember 1971 vividly. They carry deep emotional scars from that humiliating surrender to the Indian Army and the split of Pakistan. They have sworn to not let that happen again. They also began a campaign to pay back India by trying to separate Kashmir from India.
They got their chance in 1979 when America poured its resources into Pakistan to create a Pashtun force to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis used American money, American weapons, American expertise to train the Pashtuns into a fighting force. When the Russians left Afghanistan, Pakistan, in a few years, moved the Pashtun Taleban into Afghanistan. This made Afghanistan a Pakistani vassal and gave Pakistan its much desired strategic depth against India.
Since that period, the Pakistani Generals have viewed the Pashtun Taleban as a critical ally and a weapon to be used against India without exposing the Pakistani Panjabi Army to India’s retaliation. This role makes the Pashtun Taleban a strategic asset of Pakistan’s Panjabi Army and such strategic assets are not given up regardless of whatever pressure America decides to use.
Besides, due to its deeply ingrained anti-India mindset, the Pakistani Army will not even consider moving its core Panjabi divisions from the Indian border. That would signal utter defeat of their dreams and of their strategy of the past 38 years.
Remember that the Panjabi Generals created the Pashtun Taleban, fed it and built it to its current state. They simply refuse to believe that their child would turn on them. They also refuse to believe that they would not be able to squash the Taleban if they really chose to do so.
The Pakistani Panjabis have deep racial contempt for the Pashtuns. They consider the Pashtuns to be illiterate, uneducated, mountain hilly-billies who are way beneath the cultured Panjabis with their literary traditions. Pakistani Panjabis, beginning with their founder Jinnah, used Islam as a banner to unite the poor but never believed in it themselves. The Pakistani Panjabi Generals claim their heritage from the British Army and still carry on the scotch-drinking, non-religious traditions of the British Generals.
Unfortunately, America relies on these Pakistani Panjabi Generals for support as well as knowledge and insight. Admiral Mullen, America’s highest military officer, says that he trusts Pakistan’s General Kiyani totally and implicitly.
Both America and Pakistan seem to have forgotten the lessons of Iran. America trusted the Shah of Iran implicitly and totally. America believed that the Shah, with his large, American supplied army, would be able quell any rebellion in Iran. The Shah of Iran remained supremely confident until he found out that his army would not fire on his people. Then, one day, he left Iran forever.
We fear the same in Pakistan. The racial contempt of the Pakistani Panjabi Generals is making them blind to the realities on the ground. The Pashtun Taleban are getting Panjabi recruits and building a Panjabi Taleban sub-movement. This combination is rapidly making inroads into rural Panjab and seems poised to take over some semi-urban areas in Panjab.
When they succeed, the Pakistani Panjabi Generals will find that their soldiers are not willing to fire on their rural Panjabi brothers. Then, the Panjabi Generals will leave Pakistan to go to their estates outside Pakistan. Nawab Sharif, Panjab’s civilian landlord leader, will run back to Saudi Arabia and Asif Zardari, the Sindhi President, will return to London. America will then exit Pakistan as it exited Iran 30 years ago.
II.D. – America’s conception of Taleban a murderous, fanatical Islamic organization
You have to admit that the behavior of the Taleban fits the murderous and fanatical label. Their actions against women have revolted people in Pakistan and around the world. Special Envoy Holbrooke described the Taleban as “murderous” in a CNN interview last week.
But labels can blind people and countries to the underlying reality. The Taleban are not stupid, illiterate crazies as the Pakistani Panjabis and Americans think. The Taleban leaders are extraordinarily intelligent men who understand tactics and strategy. Their game plan combines military tactics with social, religious and media tactics to win hearts & minds besides winning on the ground.
They use their brand of Islam as a way of influencing society, winning recruits and keeping them loyal. They understand that love of land and love of customs is a powerful force. They use Islam as a cry against the secular civil society of Pakistan. This is similar to the “anti secular-progressive culture-warrior” cry of right-wing American opinionators like Bill O’Reilly.
The Taleban are smart. They retreat very quickly when they realize they have made a mistake. The Taleban leaders realized that they made a big mistake when their followers flogged a woman in public. Their media spokesman immediately clarified that this bad behavior was triggered by the presence of “western white women who have entered Pakistan to fight”. The New York Times might scoff at this explanation but it does make sense in conservative Pashtun territory. This is sort of like liberal Europeans scoffing at the “American crudity” of Bill O’Reilly.
II.e – The return of Aurnagzeb’s model
The Mughal dynasty of Delhi faced the problem of governing a predominantly Hindu population. One extreme model was the “respect for all religions” model of Akbar, called by history as the Greatest Mughal. The other extreme model was that of was his grandson, Aurangzeb.
Every reader of this blog has heard of the Taj Mahal, the greatest monument to love in the world. A few readers might know the name of Shah Jahan, the ruler who built the Taj Mahal. But, very few readers are likely to have heard of his son, Aurangzeb.
Aurangzeb revolted against his father Shah Jahan and his elder brother Dara ShuKoh, the Crown Prince. He won the battle, imprisoned Shah Jahan and killed Dara ShuKoh as well as all his other brothers. Then, Aurangzeb created his model for ruling India.
He was a practicing Muslim but not a fanatic. But his actions seemed fanatical. Like all right-wingers, he ruled to gain the abiding loyalty of his base, the right wing Islamists. He even imposed a tax on non-Muslims called the “Jeeziya”, simply for being non-Muslims in his kingdom. He tried to destroy temples but stopped when he realized he was going too far.
The Taleban approach is based on the Aurangzeb model. It has a deep and historical resonance in the entire Indian Subcontinent, let alone Pashtunistan. It evokes memories of the days when the Pashtuns dominated India. A couple of weeks ago, we read a story that the Taleban have imposed the Jeeziya tax of Aurangzeb on the Sikh community in Pashtunistan, a tax for simply being Sikh in Taleban country. Aurangzeb’s model worked for him in North India. Who is to say that his mod
el would not work for the Taleban in Pakistan?
So, when America and Pakistan feel racial and cultural contempt for the Taleban, they should watch out. Decisions based on racial and cultural superiority often exact a steep price in war.
Recall that the French despised Ho-Chi-Minh and the Vietnamese racially and culturally. They expressed disdain for this savage “who would teach military strategy to the country of Napoleon”. Unless our history is wrong, Ho-Chi-Minh defeated the French Army in the decisive battle of Dien-Bien-Phu. The French left Vietnam in disgrace and America entered Vietnam to inherit French racism and the French outcome.
III. An Immediate, Legal, Globally Acceptable, Cost-Effective and Simple Solution to the Af-Pak Problem
To solve a problem, we often need to go to its genesis. The Af-Pak problem originated in 1893 with the partition of Afghanistan. The solution begins there.
III.a – A Legal, Globally Acceptable, Political Solution
Afghanistan is a protectorate and an ally of America. Nato is involved in Afghanistan and the UN backs this effort. It is time for the United States to back the legal stand of Afghanistan that the 1893 Treaty between British India and Afghanistan is ex parte (because British India does not exist any more) and hence invalid.
America can then push for the reunification of North and South Afghanistan. This will enable America to take the war to the Taleban strongholds in South Afghanistan or Pashtunistan.
America is the ethnic, spiritual, economic and military successor to England. America is ideally placed to invalidate the 1893 British treaty.
England and Continental Europe will support this solution. This solution is in Russia’s interests and after some face-saying gestures, Russia will support it. Saudi Arabia, which is getting increasingly worried about the Taleban, will support this solution and so will the Emirates, Kuwait and other Middle Eastern states.
This solution benefits Iran strategically and Iran would support this solution. Iran would get a greater influence in a moderate united Afghanistan than in a virulently anti-Shia Taleban-controlled Afghanistan.
The only obstacle could be China. This solution would possibly cut off China’s land access to the Persian Gulf through Pakistan. But, given the global stakes involved, China would abstain from opposing this solution.
It is not generally known that the majority of the Pashtuns in Pashtunistan do not support Islamic fundamentalism. Recall that in the last election, the Pashtuns voted for secular, non-religious parties in Pashtunistan and not for the Islamic parties. Unification of Pashtunistan with Afghanistan and the consequent unification of the Pashtun society on both sides of the Durand Line would be a dream come true for the Pashtuns.
This support of the Pashtuns would be the greatest strength of this legal solution. It will help the Obama Administration finally solve the Af-Pak problem by winning the hearts and minds of the Pashtun people.
The UN ratification of the unification of Afghanistan would be a legal globally acceptable political solution to the Af-Pak problem.
III.b – A Cost-Effective, Quick, Decisive Military Solution
Special Envoy Holbrooke said last week on CNN that the Frontier Corps of Pakistan was originally created by the British. He is correct.
The British created the Pashtun Frontier Corps when they gained legal control of Pashtunistan from the 1893 Durand Treaty. The Frontier Force kept control and peace in Pashtunistan and served as a military liaison between the British Indian Army and the tribal elders of Pashtunistan. This military-administrative-social structure continued until the Pashtun Taleban destroyed it recently. They did so by killing many of the tribal elders, waging attacks on the Frontier Corps and by scaring the administrators into obeying the Taleban.
The American Military and Nato should, after the above legal deal, take immediate control of the Frontier Corps. US Special Forces and US Military Advisors should then guide and train the Frontier Corps. The American Air Force and its Airborne Predators should fly over Pashtunistan legally, take out Taleban strongholds and kill Taleban leaders on sight.
This is the model that allowed America to destroy the Taleban regime in Afghanistan without putting American boots on the ground. In that war, the boots on the ground were those of the Afghan National Alliance. They were advised by US Special Forces and supported by American precision air power. In Pashtunistan, the Frontier Corp would play the role played by the Northern Alliance in North Afghanistan.
The support of the local Pashtuns would provide ample local intelligence just as the support of the north Afghani people provided intelligence during the 2001 war against the Taleban in Afghanistan.
The 2001 war in North Afghanistan was quick, decisive and highly cost-effective. We are convinced that a 2009 war in Pashtunistan would be just as quick, decisive and cost-effective.
Once America and Nato seize military control of Pashtunistan, the Taleban insurgency would be encircled like in Iraq. Then, the David Petraeus strategy can be put into effect in Pashtunistan with the support and participation of the Pashtun tribal elders. Pashtunistan can then be made peaceful as was done in Iraq.
III.c – What About Pakistan?
The political leaders of Pakistan would be in tacit support of this solution. Nawab Sharif’s economic interests and political base are in Pakistani Panjab. He stands to lose it all if the Taleban take control of rural Panjab.
Asif Zardari is a Sindhi. He is also a wealthy businessman. He has no interest in maintaining control of Pashtunistan. He would be a big supporter, at least in private, of this solution.
The silent majority in Pakistan would probably oppose an imposed American solution but would accept a globally backed UN solution supported by the Middle Eastern countries. We believe that the average Pakistani Panjabi is angry at the Pashtun Taleban, holds them in racial contempt and is petrified at the thought of being governed by them. So, we believe that the silent majority of Pakistani Panjabis and the Sindhis would support a globally backed unification of Afghanistan.
This leaves the Generals of Pakistan. This solution would end their dreams of strategic depth against India and would create a fear of Indian encirclement via a partnership between a United Afghanistan and India.
But, we are convinced that the Pakistani Panjabi Generals would not oppose a global solution backed by America, Saudi Arabia and the UN. They would not survive if they did so. After all, this solution would leave their empire in Pakistani heartland unchanged and undamaged.
America, Europe and Saudi Arabia can promise substantial civil aid to Pakistan’s Panjab and Sindh provinces for their support of the globally acceptable solution. As a result, this solution might finally bring both peace and prosperity to this troubled land.
IV. Is this Solution rapidly becoming obsolete?
As we have said before, the Taleban leaders are not dumb. They remember how their rule in North Afghanistan came to an abrupt e
nd in 2001.
The solution we have proposed may be new to the American Establishment but it will not come as a surprise to the Taleban leaders. They know such a solution would work and work quickly. So, they are rapidly moving to make this solution obsolete.
How? By using a variation of the Donald Rumsfeld dictum. The Taleban are rapidly making the problem bigger, much much bigger.
They are doing so by moving their soldiers and supporters into urban provinces like Buner that border Pakistani Panjab and into Panjab itself. By gaining sanctuary and support in Pakistani Panjab, the Taleban are making the problem so big that it might remain unsolvable.
The Pakistani people might support the cessation of Pashtunistan and the resultant occupation of Pashtunistan by American Military. But, they will not support any occupation of Pakistani Panjab, the society’s heartland. The Taleban know this and that is why they are rapidly moving into Pakistani Panjab. The Pakistani Panjabi Generals know this and that is why they allow the Taleban to encroach into Panjab.
V. Final Choice that might be forced upon the Obama Administration
“Speed Kills” is a favorite line of John Madden (the great NFL coach and TV Sports Analyst). The Obama Administration is moving ahead with slow, deliberate planning in their Af-Pak analysis, while the Taleban is moving with great speed to implement its plan. So far, the Taleban speed is killing the chances of success of the Obama Initiatives.
Soon, we fear, the Obama Administration would be faced with two alternatives:
- Leave Af-Pak to its own misery and take the risk of being attacked in the American homeland OR
- Get into a military confrontation with the Taleban inside Pakistan and with the Pakistani Military.
The first choice would be far worse than Vietnam and the second choice would be far worse than Iraq.
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