Clear & Future Danger to Pakistan from Afghanistan – Obvious to All But Not to Rawalpindi

Way back on August 9, 2008, in our very first article on Afghanistan, we wrote a section titled Danger to Pakistan – What kills you is the danger you don’t see. Our simple concept that any success of the Taleban would result in a violent blowback into Pakistan. 

This simple concept has now penetrated the American mainstream. So much so that, on March 28, 2012, Jon Stewart, the brilliant journalist who feigns comedy, asked Ahmad Rashid, the celebrity thinker/writer from Pakistan:
  • “Don’t they think at some point the Afghan Taleban, once they get stronger, will turn to the Pakistani Taleban and say “do you know we both have the same last name, perhaps we should get together and create Taleban-sylvania?” Is their fear of India, which is why I assume they are trying to quietly support the Afghan Taleban, ovewhelming them or blinding them to some extent to the danger that strengthening this new Taleban regime has created.” 
Taleban-Sylvania is the name Stewart gave to the term “Pashtunistan” that we have used since 2008. This common homeland of Pashtuns was partitioned in 1893 by the British into two parts, one that remains in today’s Afghanistan and one that is now occupied by today’s Pakistan. This “sin of England” has been visited on the Indian subcontinent for the past 60+ years and on America for the past 11 years. 

This topic was discussed at length by Ashley Tellis, the Carnegie Endowment analyst, in his article Pakistan’s Impending Defeat in Afghanistan. He writes:
  • “…Islamabad’s strategy promises to fundamentally undermine Pakistani security. Every one of the three possible outcomes of the Afghan security transition leaves Pakistan in a terrible place.”
What are the three possible outcomes?

I. “The most likely consequence of the security transition is a protracted conflict between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban that continues long after coalition forces have ceased active combat operations.” 

How would this impact Pakistan?

  • “A continuing insurgency in Afghanistan will further inflame passions in Pakistan’s own tribal areas and, given the links between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, will intensify the threats to Pakistan’s own internal stability….” 

What is the second possible outcome?

II. “The more serious, though still middling, outcome of the security transition could be a de facto partition of Afghanistan arising from a steady increase in Taliban control that is limited to the Pashtun-majority areas in the southern and eastern provinces.”

This outcome was put forth by Ambassador Blackwill as Plan B for Afghanistan back on January 8, 2011. Ambassador Blackwill suggested that such a partition might lead at an “irredentist Pashtunistan“. Mr Tellis comes to the same opinion in his article:

  • “Any Taliban control of southern and eastern Afghanistan would lay the geographic and demographic foundations for resuscitating the old Pashtun yearnings for a separate state, a “Pashtunistan” that would threaten the integrity of Pakistan. Given the current resentment of the Taliban leadership toward its Pakistani protectors, Rawalpindi should not to be consoled by the prospect of a Pashtun buffer along Pakistan’s western borders.”
The conflict between the Pashtuns (Taleban) and the Panjabis (Pakistani Army) is at least 1,200 years old. And the battles have generally been won by the Pashtuns. We discussed this in some detail on February 13, 2010 in the section An Existential Danger for the Pakistani Army

What is the third danger?

III. “The last and most dangerous potential outcome of the security transition in Afghanistan would be the progressive Taliban takeover of the south and east en route to a larger attempt to control all of Afghanistan.”

Why is this the most dangerous outcome for Pakistan?

  • “A cataclysmic conflict of this sort would be the worst kind of disaster for Pakistan… It would not just provoke major refugee flows…  It would also integrate the violence and instability currently persisting along Pakistan’s western frontier into a vast hinterland that opens up even greater opportunities for violent blowback into Pakistan itself…it would end up embroiling Pakistan in an open-ended proxy war with every one of its neighbors.”
The Taleban found it relatively easy to conquer the rest of Afghanistan. It would not be so easy this time. The Tajiks, the Hazara, the Uzbeck minorities remember the Taleban rule of the late 1990s and so do the neighbors.
So we would not be surprised to see a loose partition of Afghanistan into,
  • an Iran-supported Hazara region in the west, 
  • Tajik & Uzbeck regions supported by Tajikistan & Uzbeckistan in the north & north east, 
  • an eventual Chinese supported Tajik region in the northeast and 
  • a Pashtun Taleban region in the south and south east.
This arrangement would only allow an expansion of the Pashtun Taleban into the Pakistani-occupied Pashtun regions. This would also create an “irredentist Pashtunistan“, this time a more lethal one with ambitions on Pakistan itself.   

How lethal? This week, militants from Taleban leader Fazlullah released a video of 17 Pakistani soldiers they had ambushed and then beheaded. Fazlullah used to be known as Radio Mullah or FM Mullah because he used to openly broadcast his message on FM radio in the Pakistani region of Swat valley. 

What is his objective? Reuters reports:
  • “Sirajuddin Ahmad, Fazlullah’s spokesman and cousin, said the group’s aim was to recapture Swat, and take control of Pakistan.”
Currently, Fazlullah has only 150 fighters according to the Reuters article. What do they do?  
  • “Fazlullah’s men control a 20-km (12-mile) stretch of the rugged and largely unpatrolled border with Pakistan from areas in Afghanistan’s forbidding Nuristan province, described by nearby U.S. troops as “the dark side of the moon”.”
Surely, 150 fighters can’t pose a big problem, right? The Reuters article answers:
  • “He is extremely dangerous,” said a Pakistani security official. “Fazlullah has 150 men, rocket-propelled grenades and light machine guns. You just need a small amount of men to carry out effective operations. This is a big number.”
This assessment is echoed by a quote from a Western Diplomat:
  •  “He is a very big problem for Pakistan,”
This is today when the Taleban are mainly engaged in fighting in Afghanistan against coalition troops. What happens when the coalition troops leave and one of the above three outcomes becomes ground reality. Then the bulk of the Taleban forces with numerous warlords like Fazlullah will become free to attack Pakistani troops within Pakistani-occupied territories.

Unfortunately the Panjabi Generals in Rawalpindi can’t seem to grasp this reality, at least not yet according to Ashley Tellis. If they don’t wake up, they might learn first hand that the danger they didn’t see is what killed them.  

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