Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Obama's Afghan legacy: federalise Pakistan?

Let's recap the state of play in Afghanistan.

Is complete bureaucratic control of all of Afghanistan possible from Kabul? Answer: No.

Is Taliban victory over the Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek north Afghanistan realistic, given their economic and military support from India and the West? Answer: No.

Is a split-state solution between the north and south of Afghanistan achievable and likely to happen? Answer: I no longer think so. But none of the other options look realistic.

The third of the three options took a boost in October 2009 with an apparent change of American strategy: here -
The new American thinking is that what they deem the "nationalist" Afghan Taliban may be divided from its more extreme elements - and also from al-Qaeda, whose cohorts of foreign fighters are interested almost exclusively in jihad against the West.
I'd like to think President Obama had read what I wrote two months earlier in August 2009 (like the bit about "Western diplomats in the Afghan capital no longer enthuse about women's rights, democracy and nation-building"), but my own thoughts were a product of the time even a year before in 2008. I'd gained knowledge of the importance of Pashtun culture reading HBD blogs like Steve Sailer and GNXP.

Anyway, it's worth reading again what the middle ground in this conflict looks like.
The price of an eventual deal could be allowing Taliban governors to take over southern provinces – perhaps Helmand and Kandahar - the imposition of strict religious laws, and allowing former insurgents to take government posts.


Taliban leaders are looking for guarantees of their personal safety from the US, and a removal of the "bounties" placed on the head of their top commanders. They also want a programme for the release of prisoners held at the notorious Bagram US air base in Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo Bay.

In return, he says, the Taliban would promise not to allow Afghanistan to be used to plan attacks on America – the original reason for American invervention, and the overriding aim of US policy in the region.
So as I argued in my article and on EU referendum forums, against a lot of doubters, it seems the Taliban Pashtun may be willing to split from the Arab dominated Al Qaeda terrorist organisation in exchange for power and status they would not get in a Kabul government. 

There, Indian-supported Tajiks like Mohammad Fahim (Panjshir Valley) and Ishmael Khan (Herat) have come to dominate the Afghan government, with non-Pashtun minorities like Hazaaran vice-President Karim Khalili  (Wardak Province). 

Even Pashtun President Hamid Kazai is a divisive figure. Kazai's Duranni tribe gained power because they were willing to trade away government positions to the Tajiks, and other non-Pashtun Afghans. This was something demanded from them by the West but it meant there was little room inside the tent for non-Duranni Pashtuns, and enmity from the Duranni who lost out. 

Where there are substantial numbers of poor Duranni tribesmen, like Helmand Province, the Taliban lean on their cultural ties to gain support for the fight against the non-Pashtun and "traitorous" Pashtun. This is why the Taliban group is a distinctly Pashtun phenomenon rather than Tajik even though the two populations are Sunni Muslim: the Tajik gain out of the government, most Pashtun don't.

Since Pashtun dynasties traditionally have flipped between Ghilzai and the Duranni families the key to security in the Pashtun region is a deal between the Ghilzai, who form the leadership of the Taliban, and the Duranni, of the Afghan government.

The Intra-Pashtun conflict and inter-ethnic conflict with non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan mean that Obama's legacy in the region cannot be anything other than a solution in which all the powerful interest groups can be bought off separately.

A two-state solution could take a number of forms. I don't know at this stage which is more likely. 

1. A sovereign "Pashtun" state which has a seat in the United Nations 

Good: Tajiks, Uzbeks, Haaza get to dominate a state in the north of Afghanistan that has few Pashtuns. Since Pashtuns tend to cause the wars in Afghanistan and run Afghan governments this might lead to moderate levels of economic development. Taliban Pashtun dominated south might again wipe out opium farming.

Bad: Pashtun state has no defined borders. While the vast majority of Pashtuns live in the south and south east, there are pockets in the north. Then there is the question who is going to control Nimruz Province, and the new road to Iran, strategically important for the north because it has reduced their dependency on Pakistani transit.

In 1993 the Durand Line border separating Pakistan from Afghanistan expired after 100 years. A new border would have to be brokered for the new state. Since Pashtuns live well inside Pakistan they might claim Pakistani cities of Quetta and Peshawar inside a new Pashtunistan. Thus Pakistan might block a Pashtun state.

2. Pashtunistan could become part of a devolved Afghan federation in which the Pashtun areas are governed from Kandahar and are responsible for their own police and security. The army would be run from Kabul.

Good: As above. Being essentially two states all groups should get a slice of the pie and cooperation should increase. 

Bad: Pashtuns might not accept a deal without their own army divisions located in the south, staffed by Pashtun officers. There would be the arguments over jurisdiction also noted above, where Pashtuns in non-Pashtun regions would want to rule themselves and vice versa. There may be a Pashtun assault on the north to control the whole of Afghanistan and more ethnic cleansing. This would be fairly easy for the Pashtuns to do, as it has been done before, because the north population is more landlocked than the south (which has close connection with Pakistan).

3. The Pashtun region could be made part of a larger Pakistan

Good: Can't think of anything.

Bad: Still the question of where to draw the border between north and south Afghanistan. Added problem of Pakistani Taliban already fighting the Pakistan government. Thus Pashtun groups would likely oppose Pakistani rule.

I have to say I'm now considering the option that Obama may eventually leave the future of Afghanistan in its past: a random mess.

The only other option I can think of is a federalisation of Pakistan in which Pashtunistan, Baluchistan, Sind and Punjab - there may be others, Bangladesh already lost - all have their own local government within  a Central Asian Republic kind of state. The Pakistani army, which already receives $1bn a year aid from the United States, would be responsible for external security.

In fact, a 2009 paper "Managing Ethnic Diversity and Federalism in Pakistan" by Mohammed Mushtaq argues that Pakistan should be federalised. Maybe that is the only solution to Afghanistan.

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