|'Pashtunistan' issue back to haunt
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - Faced with the uphill task of
curtailing extremist elements in South and Central Asia,
such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the United States
appears to be leaning towards a policy of promoting
instability in the region, with the biggest loser in
such a game likely to be Pakistan, even though it is
Washington's stated premier ally in the "war on terror".
Reports emerging from Pakistan's North-West
Frontier Province (NWFP)and Balochistan suggest a
revival of Pashtun nationalist activity over the
sensitive issue of the Durand Line, which demarcates the
border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, at a time when
military operations continue in the Pakistani tribal
belt, much to the annoyance of the local tribals towards
the Pakistan army and the establishment.
coalition of six fundamentalist, pro-Taliban and
pro-Osama bin Laden parties under the umbrella of the
Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) came to power in NWFP in
last October's general elections, and the MMA is a part
of the ruling coalition in Balochistan.
the present Afghan government believe that the agreement
reached between Afghan king Abdur Rahman Khan and
British colonial official Sir Henry Mortimer Durand in
1893 that defined the Durand Line was for 100 years
only, and expired in 1993. The Afghans are now asking
the US to renegotiate the border, and some Afghan
officials have already issued a new map that shows such
major Pakistani cities as Peshawar and Quetta in
Asia Times Online sources close to
Pakistan strategic circles report that there has been
recent contact between Afghan leader Hamid Karzai and
Pashtun leader Khan Abdul Wali Khan, much to the alarm
of the Pakistani hierarchy, which is convinced that the
meeting took place at the instigation of the US.
Khan's Awami National Party, which is
traditionally anti-establishment, was wiped out in the
last elections. His father, Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan,
opposed the partition of British India in 1947, and
because of his close association with Mahatma Gandhi he
was called Sarhadi Gandhi (NWFP is called Sarhad in Urdu
and Hindi). Like his father, Wali Khan has close ties
with India and Afghanistan. After the former USSR
invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s, Wali Khan coined the
concept of "Pashtunistan" and called for a "red
revolution" in Pakistan to welcome Soviet forces to help
in the unification of Pashtun lands on both sides of the
The meeting between Wali Khan and
Hamid took place against the backdrop of an organized
campaign in the shape of seminars and public gatherings
in NWFP and Balochistan designed ignite debate over the
issue of "Pashtunistan", and with clear US patronage.
Afghan delegations from Europe and America have visited
Peshawar and Quetta, where they spoke openly of the
Durand Line issue, and urged Pashtuns to unite and claim
They said that the Durand Line had
not only affected the history of Pashtuns, but had also
changed their social and economic conditions.
Germany-based Afghan Makhan Shinwari said that the
Durand Line was the result of a conspiracy aimed at
breaking Pashtun power. Such talk has not been heard in
the volatile region for many years.
last played this card during their occupation of
Afghanistan in the 1980s in an attempt to destabilize
the country. But after the collapse of the USSR and the
communist government in Afghanistan, nationalist
factions dropped the issue and joined hands with
rightwing parties like the Pakistan Muslim League
(Nawaz) for the first time in the history of Pakistan,
if only to show that the demand for a Pashtun land had
never been indigenous, but always instigated by
But now, with the Pakistani military
intervention in the tribal belt, and the complete
silence of the MMA, nationalist elements are furthering
their move for a greater Pashtun territory from Kabul to
Peshawar and Quetta.
This development has
broader implications. An immediate one could be a
revival in the movement for a greater Balochistan.
Ethnically, Baloch areas exist in Afghanistan, Iran and
Pakistan. Pakistani Balochistan is known as the "Third
International" as it is the most important segment of
the Baloch regions and could play an important role as a
catalyst for revolution in Afghanistan and Iran.
For this reason, the former USSR invested a lot
of resources in making Balochistan a breeding point of
nationalism and socialism. These anti-establishment
trends were then exported to Iranian Balochistan.
Inflammatory issues such as Pashtunistan and
"Greater Balochistan" have the potential to slice the
existing power bases in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.
Iranian Balochis, for example, are culturally and
religiously (being Sunnis) as well as politically
(liberal) totally different from the majority of Shi'ite
A Pashtun nationalist revival could also
stir a counter revival movement in northern Afghanistan
in the ethnically Tajik and Uzbek areas, leading to the
And further afield, who
knows what other indigenous movements could be awoken -
from a "Greater" Kashmir - which is already simmering -
to a "Greater" Punjab.
This is long term though.
The immediate result of raising the Pashtunistan issue
is instability in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, which
is already in deep turmoil, and help for the US in
enhancing its influence in the region.
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