We used the term Pashtunistan when we began writing about the current conflict in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area. While a new term for most readers, it was a natural term. The Samskrut suffix “Sthan” or “Stan” (its Hindi-Persian pronunciation) means “place of” or “land of”. The fact that Pashtuns (or Pakhtuns) live on both sides of the artificial “border” led to the natural term Pashtunistan for the area on both sides of the Af-Pak border.
Our basic tenet has been that the current conflict can only be resolved by unification of Pashtuns on both sides of the so-called Af-Pak border. Such unification would unite all Pashtuns and free them from the domination of the Pakistani-Panjabi military. Such unification would also enable the USA to box in all the extremist Taleban forces, then surround them by US troops to force surrender or acquiescence. A unified Pashtunistan would enable the Pashtun majority to support America because their own interest would match America’s interests.
We envisaged the unification of the Pashtun land in Pakistan-controlled Afghanistan with today’s Afghanistan to recreate the historically united Afghanistan . This is a pipe dream as we were repeatedly told by well-connected American reporters and authors. The problem they explained was that such a unification would destabilize Pakistan.
(Green – Pashtun Area in Af-Pak – source wikipedia )
Recently we read an interesting article by Robert W. Blackwill that follows our basic logic but comes to a diametrically opposite recommendation. Rather than uniting today’s Pakistani-occupied South Afghanistan with today’s north Afghanistan, Ambassador Blackwill recommends a partition of today Afghanistan into a southern Pashtun region and a northern Tajik-Uzbek-Hazara region. His recommendation can be summarized as:
- The US Forces & the ISAF would leave the Southern Pashtun region of Afghanistan (in green above the black Af-Pak border in the map above) to the Afghan Taleban and retire to the northern Tajik-Uzbek-Hazara region (in white). But at the same time, the US Forces would intensify their (primarily aerial drone based) attacks on this southern Pashtun region AND on the so called border sanctuaries.
- America can do this with a much smaller force and without incurring the large casualties it is suffering now. With a smaller budget, a much smaller footprint and with a far lower casualty rate, this mission might be politically sustainable for a very long time.
- First and foremost because it does not require any consent from the Pakistani military which has NO locus standi within today’s Afghanistan.
- It will create a smaller, limited mission that might get the cooperation of Iran, Russia, China, Tajikistan & Uzbekistan. In short, it might succeed.
- It would remove a great deal of leverage from the Pakistani military because the much smaller US presence would need far less logistical support through Pakistan.
- Finally, because it would force the Pakistani Military to finally come face to face with the Pashtun nightmare it has created. Rather than destabilizing Pakistan, it might force the Pakistani Army to its senses.
- And that might actually lead to a united Pashtunistan, an irredentist Pashtunistan (entire green shaded area in the map above) as Ambassador Blackwill puts it.
- Current U.S. policy toward Afghanistan involves spending scores of billions of dollars and suffering several hundred allied deaths annually to prevent the Afghan Taliban from controlling the Afghan Pashtun homeland — with little end in sight.
- The United States and its allies are not on course to defeating the Taliban militarily……Nor, with an occupying army largely ignorant of local history, tribal structures, languages, customs, politics, and values, will the alliance win over large numbers of the Afghan Pashtuns, as counterinsurgency doctrine demands.
- As the Economist put it “Less than 3% of recruits (of the Afghan National Army) are from the troublesome Pushtun south, from where the Taliban draw most support. Few will sign up, fearing ruthless intimidation against government ‘collaborators’ and their families. As a result, northern officers who only speak Dari have to use translators when in the Pushtu-speaking south. Northern infantry are reluctant to go there at all.”
- …….Washington should accept that the Taliban will inevitably control most of the Pashtun south and east and that the price of forestalling that outcome is far too high for the United States to continue paying….while deploying U.S. air power and Special Forces for the foreseeable future in support of the Afghan army and the government in Kabul, to ensure that the north and west of Afghanistan do not succumb to the Taliban as well.
- In short, President Obama should announce that the United States and its Afghan and foreign partners will pursue a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy in Pashtun Afghanistan and a nation-building strategy in the rest of the country, committing to both policies for at least the next seven to ten years. Reluctantly accepting such a de facto partition………..
- ...the United States and its allies would withdraw ground combat forces over several months from most of Pashtun Afghanistan, including Kandahar. ISAF would stop fighting in the mountains, valleys, and urban areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan………The United States would make clear that it would strike against any al Qaeda targets anywhere, any Taliban encroachments across the de facto partition line, and any sanctuaries along the Pakistani border. No terrorist safe havens would be exempt from intensified U.S. attacks on either side of the Durand Line.
- Such a change in U.S. strategy would make clear to all that the United States, through its prolonged military presence in Afghanistan, intends to remain a power and influence in South and Central Asia for many years to come. It would dramatically reduce U.S. military casualties and thus minimize U.S. domestic political pressure for a hasty withdrawal. It would substantially lower U.S. expenditures on Afghanistan ………
- It would encourage most of Afghanistan’s neighbors to support an acceptable stabilization of the country. It would reduce Islamabad’s capacity to use the U.S. ground role in southern Afghanistan to extract tolerance from Washington regarding terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
- Accepting a de facto partition would not lead to a civil war; such a conflict is already being fought. What partition would do is help stabilize the situation by making clear which side holds what territory.
- Might this course lead to the emergence of an irredentist Pashtunistan and undermine the stability of Pakistan? Managing Islamabad’s reaction to a de facto partition would be a daunting challenge, because such a course would indeed stoke Pashtun separatism on both sides of the Durand Line. But the Pakistani military is already contributing to such problems through its cross-border support for the Afghan Taliban, so in truth Islamabad has little grounds for complaint. If anything, the emergence of a clear division in Afghanistan might provide just the sort of shock the Pakistani military apparently needs in order to appreciate the dangers of the game it has been playing for decades.
- Would this course lead to a proxy war in Afghanistan between India and Pakistan or destabilize the region more generally? At this point, intensified competition between New Delhi and Islamabad in Afghanistan is probable no matter what policy the United States pursues. But so long as Washington maintains a long-term military commitment there, India will not put troops on the ground, and so the possibility of a major or direct conflict between India and Pakistan will be reduced.
- Reluctantly accepting a de facto partition of Afghanistan is hardly a utopian outcome in Afghanistan. But it is better than all the alternatives. (our emphasis in the above excerpts)
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