UNDER THE AFPAK VOLCANO, Part 1 Welcome to Pashtunistan
By Pepe Escobar
There must be some way out of here
Said the joker to the thief
There's too much confusion
I can't get no relief - Bob Dylan, All Along the Watchtower
PARIS - Something's happening in AfPak, but you don't know what it is, do you
Mr Beltway think-tanker?
As Washington mashes up the "Taliban" - be they Afghan neo-Taliban or Pakistani
Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) - in Empire of Chaos logic to justify perennial United
States/North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops stationed in AfPak, an
increasing number of Pashtuns living on both sides of the border have seized
opportunity and started to look to the Taliban as a convenient facilitator for
the emergence of Pashtunistan.
But the Pentagon, make no mistake, knows exactly how to play its New Great Game
in Eurasia. Balkanization of AfPak - the break-up of both Afghanistan and
Pakistan - will engineer, among other states, an independent Pashtunistan and
an independent Balochistan. Empire of Chaos logic is still British imperial
divide-and-rule, remixed; and, at least in theory, yields territories much
easier to control.
Don't mess with Pashtun nationalism
Tribal Pashtuns (from eastern Afghanistan to western Pakistan) have never given
up on being united again. Everyone familiar with AfPak knows the region is
still paying the price for the fateful and - what else - divide-and-rule
British imperial decision in 1897 to split tribal Pashtuns through the
artificial Durand Line. The line remains the artificial border between Pakistan
and Afghanistan. Anyone who ever crossed it at, for instance, Torkham, at the
foot of the Khyber pass, knows it is meaningless; people swarming on both sides
are all cousins who never stopped dreaming of a pre-colonial, Afghan Durrani
empire that straddled a great deal of contemporary Pakistan.
Few have noticed that Pashtuns were recently insisting on a very basic demand -
that North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) in Pakistan have its name changed to
Pakhtunkhwa ("Land of the Pashtuns"). The demand was shot down this past
September by the dominant Punjabis in Pakistan. Pashtun nationalists protested
en masse in fabled Peshawar, the NWFP capital. Pashtun national liberation is
at fever pitch. Pashtun Guevaras are already issuing a call to arms.
But as much as Washington, now with a little help from its friend/client
government of President Asif Ali Zardari in Islamabad, has been conducting
essentially a war on Pashtuns since 2001, this is no monolithic movement. It
all goes back to the early 21st-century maxim that virtually every Taliban is a
Pashtun, but not every Pashtun is a Taliban. There are significant strands of
secular Pashtuns that shun the TTP and its brand of Islamic fundamentalist
dystopian dogma, even while the Pashtun masses may see in the TTP the ideal
vehicle for the advent of Pashtunistan.
If we follow the money, we see that the TTP in Pakistan is now being financed
mostly by wealthy, pious Gulf businessmen and not anymore by Islamabad. The
financiers are more interested in jihad than in Pashtun nationalism, and that
undermines the legitimacy of the Taliban as vehicles for Pashtun nationalism.
At the same time, if the TTP and its Pashtun allies manage to establish full
control over a strategic corridor straddling eastern Afghanistan and western
Pakistan, with or without jihadi support, and for example with a partial
control of Peshawar thrown in, the public relations coup couldn't be bigger:
that means an Islamic emirate for all practical purposes constituted as
Other factors apart from the TTP facilitate the drive towards Pashtunistan. The
West's economic and aid packages to AfPak are pitiful and never trickle down to
the average Pashtun. The "revelation" in the US of what was never a secret in
Afghanistan, that Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of the "winner" of the soiled
Afghan presidential election, has been on the Central Intelligence Agency's
payroll for years, erased any possibility of Pashtuns believing in anything
emanating from Kabul.
United States corporate media dabbles on the Afghan presidential election kabuki
(with rice) while ignoring that what passes for US and North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO) intelligence is bribing top warlords for on-the-ground
"security" (a swell business for them) coupled with bribing the Taliban for a
license not be killed by their explosive devices. And bribing itself just won't
do; the Taliban, via their former foreign minister, Mullah Muttawakkil, have
just refused an American offer of eight permanent NATO bases for six provincial
Taliban governorships. They want their Kabuli rice - and eat it too.
Islamabad's military and security establishment, a state within a state,
remains an annex of Washington's; Pashtuns see the current offensive in
Waziristan as Zardari selling out to Washington - same as "Busharraf",
president Pervez Musharraf, before. A Pakistani failed government, this one or
any other one, has zero chance to control what are de facto Afghan lands on the
Pakistan side of the Durand Line. In 2009 alone, more than two million Pashtuns
have been forced to become refugees; there's ample talk of a "Pashtun
So it would be so much easier, and infinitely less bloody, for Washington to
adopt the Pentagon line all the way: let's pull another Yugoslavia; let's
Balkanize; let's restore the Afghan Durrani empire.
The second coming
A rough beast, its hour come at last, Pashtunistan is already being born.
To start with, those "cousins" on both sides of the border are all tribal
Pashtuns, mostly rural. They follow the same conservative religious rituals,
enshrined by the ultra-reactionary South Asian Deobandi school of Sunni Islam
and propagated by a vast network of made-in-Pakistan madrassas (seminaries).
Their business is thriving, as can be attested by a visit to Spinbaldak, in
southern Afghanistan, on the way between Kandahar and Quetta; the big fish
thrive on smuggling and the narco-trade, and everyone else thrives on
transportation or the timber business. The cash flow, in and out, is massive,
especially out of remittances from Pashtun workers toiling around the Gulf and
Politically, the Pashtuns are represented by parties such as the
Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islami (JUI). Diplomatically, they are very well connected to
the Persian Gulf and to most of the Organization of the Islamic Conference
countries. From a military point of view, they are represented by myriad
Taliban groups, not only the TTP. And strategically, they perform a delicious
irony: a rural, ultra-religious, nationalist movement fighting tooth-and-nail a
corrupt, urban-based government as if they were a post-colonial fantasy of the
noble tribal savage - a la Rousseau - fighting the colonialist West.
This may not be what leftist, relatively secular Pashtun intellectuals had in
mind; they maintain that the Punjabi-infested security agencies control both
the Taliban and the Pakistani army, and they would rather get rid of both. A
nationalist group such as the Pashtun Awareness Movement believes Pashtuns
themselves should get rid of the Taliban, not the Pakistani army under the boot
of the Pentagon. As for the predominantly Pashtun Awami National Party, which
is in power in NWFP and has to compose somewhat with Islamabad, its dream of a
more balanced Pashtunistan is still a long way away.
There may be only one thing missing for Pashtunistan to come of age: a
passport. It's not hard to see who will profit from it.