October 31, 2011

PAKISTAN = Anglo-Saxon project gone rogue!

The more I try to learn about South Asia, the more I am convinced that Pakistan is an Anglo-Saxon project gone rogue! (something like Ra.one)!


Geopolitics of Durand Line

Questionable status as international border

by G. Parthasarathy AS the “end game” of American withdrawal from combat operations in Afghanistan begins, there is increasing resort to bluff, bravado and bluster challenging American power and influence, in Pakistani pronouncements. The Pakistan Army’s grandiose schemes for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan have been premised on ensuring that Afghanistan is ruled by an internationally isolated Pariah regime, which would result in it becoming a de facto client state of Pakistan. Given its pretensions to power and influence in Afghanistan, the brief period of Taliban rule was regarded by the Pakistan military as its golden age. But behind this bluster and bravado lies a key strategic calculation. A Pariah regime in Kabul would have neither the influence nor power to aggressively assert Afghanistan’s historical claims to territories seized from defeated Afghan rulers by Imperial British power. No Afghan Pashtun ruler has ever accepted the Durand Line, which divided and separated Pashtuns between Afghanistan and British India, as its international border with Pakistan.

The Prime Minister’s Special envoy to Af-Pak, Mr Satinder Lambah, has recently published a study of the Imperial machinations that led to the Durand Line being imposed as the “frontier line” between British India and Afghanistan in 1893 following negotiations between Afghanistan’s then Amir, Abdur Rahman Khan, and Sir Mortimer Durand, the then Foreign Secretary of British India. With Tsarist Russia extending its empire across Central Asia and into Persia, the 1893 agreement also set the limits of British territorial ambitions in the “Great Game,” after Imperial Britain and Tsarist Russia had agreed on the limits of Russia’s sphere of influence in 1873.

Sandwiched between an expansionist Russia and Imperial British power, the hapless Afghans had no choice but to accept the inevitable. The British sought to widen the terms of their rule over what later became parts of the Northwest Frontier and Baluchistan provinces of Pakistan. The “frontier line”’ became the “frontier” after the then Amir, Amanullah Khan, was compelled to accept a peace treaty with the British in 1919. But the flames of Pashtun nationalism could not be extinguished. No Afghan ruler ever accepted the legitimacy of the division of historical and traditional Pashtun homelands.

The first time that the Durand Line was referred to as an “international boundary” was in a statement by Pakistan in 1947. The British Government, thereafter, referred to the Durand Line as the “International Frontier” between Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1950. This was not surprising. Egged on by its erstwhile Governor of the Northwest Frontier Province, Sir Olaf Caroe, the British, who had developed a distinct distaste for Prime Minister Nehru’s left-oriented nonalignment, decided to adopt a pro-Pakistani tilt. Caroe, who was an ardent admirer of Jinnah, persuaded American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles that it was essential for the Western allies to support Pakistan as a Muslim state which was to be designated to safeguard Western access to the “wells of power” — the oilfields of the Persian Gulf.

The Afghans held that the disputed Pashtun region should not only have been given the option of joining either India or Pakistan, but also the additional option of becoming an independent state joining Afghanistan through a referendum. The Afghan position remains that the areas that historically and legally formed a part of Afghanistan were forcibly taken away between 1879 and 1921 and subsequently made a part of Pakistan. Afghanistan’s claim that territories extending till the River Indus constituted its frontier, together with its demand for the inclusion of the port of Karachi in Afghanistan, was voiced in secret negotiations with Nazi Germany. Thereafter, in November 1944, the Afghans urged the British that Pashtun tribal areas under British rule should be given the choice of independence or reuniting with their “motherland”. They also urged the British that Afghanistan should be given a “corridor” to the sea through Baluchistan. The Afghan National Assembly passed a resolution in July 1949, rejecting all “unequal” treaties signed with the British and denouncing the description of the Durand Line as the international frontier with Pakistan. The Afghan government also staunchly opposed the grant of UN membership to Pakistan.

Under pressure from Afghanistan over the Durand Line, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto retaliated by inviting the fundamentalist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to organise cross-border insurgency to destabilise the Daoud regime in Afghanistan. Gen Zia-ul-Haq thereafter used the opportunity of the ill-advised Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to put together an alliance of Wahabi-oriented parties, to wage an armed struggle against the Soviets and, with Western backing, to seize power in Afghanistan. According to a German journalist who interviewed him the day before he died, Zia was beset with delusions of grandeur and spoke of Pakistani influence extending from the ramparts of Delhi’s Red Fort, across Afghanistan, to Central Asia. Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid asserts: “Zia’s vision of a Pakistani influenced region extending into Central Asia depended on an undefined border with Afghanistan, so that the army could justify interference in that country and beyond, as a defined frontier would have entailed recognising international law and the sovereignty of Afghanistan.”

Pakistan thereafter entered into a dangerous game of imperial overreach into Afghanistan and Central Asia, by challenging the international community, through support for what Ahmed Rashid describes as “surrogate regimes such as the Taliban”. It has left virtually no space for backing off on this score. While the Punjabi-dominated Pakistani military may have brutalised lightly armed Baluchis and Bangladeshis, it fears the Pashtuns. General Kayani thus has a difficult choice. If he chooses to try and fulfil Zia’s ambitions, he will have to confront American and Western wrath amidst concern in Iran, Central Asia and Russia. Even if the Taliban succeed in capturing substantial parts of the Pashtun areas in Southern Afghanistan, they will find that unlike in the past they will be faced with determined resistance from the non-Pashtuns in the country, backed by Western powers, Russia, Iran and the neighbouring Central Asian states.

In the ensuing turmoil, the already dwindling writ of the Pakistani state in its Pakhtunkhwa Province and tribal areas will be further eroded. We will then have a de facto Talibanised “Pakhtunistan” on both sides of the Durand Line. Have General Kayani and his Corps Commanders seriously thought through what would happen as a consequence of their ill-advised swagger, bluff and bluster? I think not. Historically, apart from the foray of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s brilliant Sikh General Hari Singh Nalwa, Punjab’s rulers have never prevailed over the Pashtuns. General Kayani would be well advised to remember this.

Reggie Sinha

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