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October 1, 2006
A Graphical Depiction Of The Challenge In Afghanistan

With Pervez Musharraf appearing to retreat in the war on terror and Hamid Karzai demanding results, the situation in Afghanistan and the Waziristan region appears to be inexplicably troublesome of late. Musharraf and Karzai have more trouble than just borders in this situation, though, and what we are now seeing may be a nationalist movement that has escaped Western attention until now. The Toronto Sun's Eric Margolis explains the problem, and Swaraaj Chauhan at The Moderate Voice produces an interesting map to underscore his point.

In order to understand the difficulties, Margolis argues, one has to understand the tribalism in play:

Tribal politics lie at the heart of their dispute. The 30 million Pashtuns (or Pathans), the world’s largest tribal society, are divided between Afghanistan and Pakistan by an artificial border, the Durand Line, drawn by divide-and-conquer British imperialists.

Pashtuns account for 50-60% of Afghanistan’s 30 million people. The Taliban is an organic part of the Pashtun people. The Western powers and Karzai are not just fighting “Taliban terrorists,” but a coalition of Pashtun tribes and other allied nationalist movements. In effect, most of the Pashtun people. ...

The other half of the divided Pashtuns live just across the Durand Line in Pakistan, comprising 15-20% of its population. Pashtuns occupy many senior posts in Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. Pashtuns, including anti-Western resistance fighters, never accepted and simply ignore the artificial border bifurcating their tribal homeland.

Washington keeps demanding Musharraf crack down on Pakistan’s pro-Taliban Pashtuns. But Washington fails to understand that too much pressure on these fierce warriors could quickly ignite a major historic threat to Pakistan’s national integrity: A Pashtun independence movement seeking to join the Pashtun of Afghanistan and Pakistan in a new state — Pashtunistan.

Take a look at Swaraaj's map:


What we're looking at is something similar to the Kurds to the West. The Pashtuns spread out over a wide geographical area, and would be the dominant ethnic group in the region if not for the political borders drawn during the British administration of an earlier age. The Taliban sprang out of the ultra-Islamist Pashtun tribal structure, and that tribal society has a great deal of influence in Pakistani politics as well. Their stronghold is in the mountainous border region, including Waziristan.

So how does that impact the war on terror and on radical Islamists? This map shows that the entire effort in Afghanistan is taking place on enemy territory regardless of which side of the border one sits. Kabul sits in Pashtun turf, making it more difficult to ensure its security.

This shows the difficulty facing both leaders. Taking on the Pashtuns means fighting a significant component of both nations, and up to 30 million members of a closed-off tribal society. Their loyalties are to themselves rather than any sense of nationhood as the borders are drawn, and their recent actions may hint at a broader nationalistic impulse. Given their footprint in the area, that will play out mostly in Afghanistan, but it could threaten Musharraf's power in Pakistan as well.

No wonder Musharraf cut a deal in Waziristan. He wants to mollify the Pashtuns in order to keep them from rising up and demanding an expression of nationalism within Pakistan. He doesn't want to lose Waziristan as well as Kashmir. And this is why Karzai is so unhappy; without Pakistani pressure on the Pashtuns in Waziristan, they will have secured their flank enough to put all of their energy to undermine Karzai.

The problem with the Islamists might just be the symptom here of a greater tribal/nationalist problem.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 1, 2006 2:01 PM

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