Sunday, November 27, 2011

Confederation of Pakistan and Afghanistan

November 9, 2011

By Saeed Qureshi

Afghanistan strategically is, phenomenally important as it links the Central Asia with the Indian sub- continent. Its irresolvable drawback is being a landlocked country. All the invaders that descended on India marched through Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s culture is a mix of Iranian, Central Asian, and the tribal regions of Pakistan with mostly Pushto speaking population. The Afghanis treat the founder of Mughal dynasty in India Zaheeruddin Babar as a foreign invader since he came from the Central Asia.

During the rule of Sikhs over formerly NWFP, a sizeable number of Sikhs settled in Kabul and other cities of Afghanistan. The business is partly shared by the Sikhs in Afghanistan and they are married with the local females irrespective of religious differences. From that point of view Afghanistan used to be a liberal country and the kind of religious galore one can see in the Central Asian states has not been so overwhelmingly pronounced in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has been hostile towards Pakistan for reasons that have yet to be explicitly spelled out by the students of history. This hostility was born during the partition of the British India between Pakistan and India. As a result thereof some of the territories became part of Pakistan that even to this day Afghanistan claims to be hers.

Pakistan has twin border settlement problems: one with India and the other with Afghanistan on the western front. The Durand line being an artificial demarcation of borders is accepted by Pakistan but not Afghanistan. The Durand Line agreement was signed in 1893 by the then British foreign secretary H. M. Durand and Afghanistan ruler Amir Abdur Rahman Khan, to fix the limits of their respective spheres of influence between Afghanistan and what then colonial British India (now Pakistan) was.

As a result of that agreement a new province NWFP was created out of the annexed Afghanistan territory. Multan, Mianwali, Bahawalpur, and Dera Ghazi Khan that were part of the Afghan Empire from 1747 until around 1820s, were also annexed by the British. It is precisely for this annexation that Pashtoons and Baloch do not accept the Durand Line as the permanent borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This was a part of British ‘divide and rule policy’ to bifurcate the ethnic Pashtoons and Baluchis on both sides of an artificially created line. All these areas are now part of Pakistan. Pakistan is not to be held responsible for inclusion of these areas into its federation. However, this boundary line would remain porous, fragile and imaginary till the settlement of permanent borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan with acceptable alterations.

It would be an historical injustice to keep the Baloch and Pashtoons separate because of this line that was created by the British not to have any war with Afghanistan in which they were always defeated. There was a political exigency that was behind the creation of this demarcation of boundary line.

But after almost 125 years of its existence it would not be possible for Pakistan to go back to the original divisions of territories between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan has inherited these lands and did not annex these or forcibly occupy them.

Simultaneously any Afghan government would not disavow their claims of these territories although the partition plan of 1947 called for the inclusion of territories that actually existed within the British Indian dominion. But to silence Afghanistan on this question as India on Kashmir would be least productive.

The historical links between Indian sub-continent and Afghanistan have been there from time immemorial and particularly after the succession of forays of the invaders and conquerors from Central Asia such as Babar and Mahmud of Gazni from Central Asia and Nadir Shah Durrani and Ahmed Shah Abdali from Afghanistan.

However, the onslaughts of these Muslim invaders created an indissoluble religious bond between the population of India and that of Afghanistan and beyond that with Central Asia. In a way although not territorially, a common linkage through Islam had been established in these lands. That could be viewed as a rudimentary ideological confederation between the countries spread over a vast land incorporating Central Asia, Afghanistan and present day Pakistan.

As such a confederation of states between Afghanistan and Pakistan can be made possible if given serious thought. There can be a host of factors and variety of reasons that should form basis of such a confederation between these two neighboring countries which though are politically apart but profess the same religion.

Pakistan cannot complain of the past invasions carried out by the Afghan or Central Asian invaders. Similarly Afghanistan should not blame and force Pakistan to return the lands that became part of it as the successor state of British Empire in India.

With the confederal arrangement, the controversy over the legitimacy of the Durand line or the division of the ethnic Pashtoons and Baluchis would dissipate as they would be able to freely move across the borders without the restrictions they are exposed to after 1947.

In case of confederation coming into being in actuality, the two paramount bottlenecks of both these neighboring countries would be automatically resolved. The Afghanistan would no more suffer from the perennial sense of deprivation of being a landlocked country. Pakistan would be gratified by way of having a strategic depth that it has been aspiring for ages.

With the total areas under a combined system of government with virtually two independent administrations, the threat from extremist and radical militants would be easier to deal with. Pakistan being a regional state with a strong military network could effectively curb and debilitate the radical insurgents.

But in all probability, once the foreign occupation forces leave Afghanistan, the Taliban and other militants may call off their fighting and even join the government in some form and under mutually acceptable conditions. Once a truly democratic system is set in motion, the sharp divisions along pro-Russians and pro-American, socialist, secular or radical Islamists lines would gradually melt down.

If the decades old dynastic regimes can crumble in the Middle East and give way to the pluralistic dispensations, why cannot it happen in Afghanistan to emerge as a modern democratic state? Pakistan is already embarked on a democratic path no matter how fragile or faulty it might be. Afghanistan too is having democratic set since December 2004 though with a load of ifs and buts.

One can visualize the level of prosperity that both these countries can attain under a confederal system. There can be a safe land route via Afghanistan for overland transportation of merchandise between Europe, central Asia, and Russia on one side and Pakistan and India and even from Bangladesh on the other. The huge deposits of precious minerals in both Pakistan and Afghanistan can be tapped and utilized for economic boom that can catapult them to the dizzying heights of modern developing states.
The United States and the wealthy West should sponsor, coordinate and encourage the concept of confederation between these two countries that have been through mutual distrust and bellicosity for ages. The United States and the Western Europe, China and Japan should lend economic assistance for this land to shape up as an economic bloc that should be the envy of the world.

Presently, Afghanistan is perhaps the leading country in growing poppy and exporting such lethal drugs as heroin and marijuana, to the world at large. It would be pretty easy for both the states under a confederal arrangement to curtail and eliminate this most dangerous drug business and instead take to growing crops and corn, vegetables and fruit that can feed their own population and even export abroad.

One of the most salubrious developments would be that after almost over 100 years of break, the Pashtoons and Baluchis would join together as one ethnic entity. Predictably, the insurgencies and liberation movements going on in Pakistan since its inception would lose their import and ultimately die out.

A mechanism needs to be evolved by which the preliminary parleys between the parties can be initiated towards that ultimate formidable goal to convert this most volatile region into an abode of peace for the first time in the history.

If Europe can become an economic bloc, or there can be an Asean group and other regional blocs around the world, let there be one in the form of a confederation between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It can be joined later also by India and Bangladesh if it is desired to be expanded with the mutual consensus of both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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