Partition in Afghanistan May Kill Pakistan

As the fog of weariness over the war in Afghanistan grows thicker, some political analysts advocate the partition of Afghanistan.

partition-afghanistanThis idea was put forward first in an article by Robert Blackwell, former US Ambassador to India and a presidential envoy to Iraq during the George Bush Administration, in Politico and then backed up favorably by The Financial Times, Newsweek, The Washington Times and The Economist.

Blackwell argues that since the present battle plan is not going to weaken the Taliban, and the Pushtun support for the US in the south is unwinnable, a “partition of Afghanistan is the best policy option available to the United States and its allies.”

In the same way, as reported by The Economist on July 22, 2010, a former UN and EU envoy to Kabul, Francesc Vendrell, has also held out that the approaching September parliamentarian elections could play as a mechanism by which “the south is handed over to the Taliban and the north to Uzbek, Hazara and Tajik warlords.”

Moreover, in an essay co-authored by three experts, Foreign Affairs (July/August) advises the division of Afghanistan on ethnic lines is the best option for the US to implement its core security interests. The authors conclude that a “mixed sovereignty,” not the present policy of centralized democracy will place the country on a path towards stability.

Under this approach, the Taliban will take over the south, but if they try to welcome Al Qaeda back or seek to attack the north, the United States will retaliate using air bombing, drones and surgical operations by its elite forces.

Partition could have an adverse impact on the Pakistani military because it may break ranks with the Taliban

As a result, Pakistan would reverse its current policy largely for the fear that partition of Afghanistan could turn its own Pashtun Taliban into a Baloch-like separatist movement for forming a greater Pashtunistan. The reality is that these scholar-officials have a run-of-the-mill local knowledge.

They perceive Afghanistan still in terms of Afghanistanism — the American newsroom argot of the 1960s, which was used as a metaphor for a far-away, obscure and negligible place or situation. In reality, however, as Richard Nixon put it in The Real War, Afghanistan “has long been a cockpit of great-power intrigue for the same reason that it used to be called the turnstile of Asia’s fate.”

Afghanistan has been an apologia for imperial miseries throughout its history. In his quest for empire, Alexander the Great was the first European emperor who rode across the Afghan mountains.

After conquering Persia in six months, he found his army bogged down in an endless war in Afghanistan. In a famous letter to his mother in 330 BC, Alexander wrote:

“I am involved in the land of a leonine (loin-like) and brave people, where every foot of the ground is like a wall of steel, confronting my soldiers. You have brought one son into the world, but everyone in this land can be called Alexander.”

However, for all that toughness, Afghanistan has a history of partition. The country suffered the pains of partition when the British Raj drew a border (known as Durand Line) between Afghanistan and British India in 1893. The aim of the partition was to divide and weaken the Afghan tribes. More than a century later, the Durand Line remains one of the most disputed borders in the world.

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Pashtun tribes in Pakistan and Afghanistan have never recognized this line. In the Afghan narrative, this border represents the greatest national disgrace. Viceroy of India Lord Curzon ingeniously predicted this by calling the border “the razor’s edge on which hang suspended the modern issues of war and peace, of life and death to nations.” This explains why Afghanistan was against the formation of Pakistan in 1947, calling it an evil strategic colonial conspiracy to weaken and divide Muslims of Indian subcontinent.

The British Raj worked for ten years to create Pakistan. In 1930, the British began to polarize irreconcilable enmities between Hindus and Muslim. Britain used its agents among Ismaeli Shiites and the Ahmadyya sect to pioneer the creation of an artificial country by forging together independent ethnic groups including Pashtuns and Balochis.

The ongoing armed ethnic conflicts and wars inside Pakistan are indicative that Pakistan still remains an unsettled country and a nation-less state. Using Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists is the last weapon used by Punjabi foxy generals in Rawalpindi to keep Pakistan as a country.

On the contrary, Afghanistan’s recent history offers ample evidence of resistance against the old colonial motto of divide and rule. During the past three decades, Afghanistan has had no functioning government, but it remained united against foreign invasions.

Afghanistan is indeed an ethnic mosaic. Except for two or three out of 33 provinces of the country, you can hardly find a place identified with one ethnic identity. Separatism has never been an issue of concern in Afghanistan.

During Afghanistan’s civil war in the early 1990s, when a fierce internal competition for control of Kabul was raging, no ethnic group and no warlord ever called for partition. The anti-Soviet resistance in the north remained always as strong as in the south. And let’s not forget that there are millions of Pashtun in the north as well.

Afghanistan’s partition would be an invitation to a Russian roulette in the regional nuclear club. It will strengthen the Taliban beyond imagination and hearten Al Qaeda for exploiting the crisis. Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons, and unpopular Iranian mullahs want such weapons.

The ripple effects will reach China and Russia and even the United State, who are already keen on playing their parts in the great game. If Americans try to partition Afghanistan, the United States will also be divided along ethnic lines. Anglo-Saxon, Spanish and African-Americans are even more unmixable entities than the Afghan ethnic groups.

Ehsan Azari Stanizai is an Adjunct Fellow with the Writing & Society Research Group, University of Western Sydney.

  • BritAfghan

    well written article Ehsan Jana, I am waiting for more articles by you.

  • Author misunderstands history

    The article states: “After conquering Persia in six months, he [Alexander] found his army bogged down in an endless war in Afghanistan [sic].” However, no such land known as “Afghanistan” existed in 330 B.C., it was all a part of Persia (Iran). Dari-Persian and Tajik-Persian are still spoken by millions of people in the land that we today call Afghanistan.

    • Xorasani Parsi

      “Afghanistan” itself is a Pashtun-British invention.

  • Darmaan

    Yes, Afghanistan those days was a part of Iran and even iranian border was strewn up to Gilgit and the Indus as a natural boundary. However, the Pashtuns or Afghans were still living in that land confronting Alexander. However the state of Afghanistan functions on the horizon of history for the last 1000 years and it is not a British invention. Xorasani should better re-read history.