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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Durand Line & geopolitics

The News
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Zeenia Satti

When has a state ever been able to curb an insurgency without firm control over its borders? Under the guidance of the Pentagon's planners, Pakistan and Afghanistan are in the process of making history. Each seeks to curb the insurgency within its territory while keeping open its border with the other, ostensibly the very source of insurgency.

The current insurgency notwithstanding, the Pakistani-Afghan border, the Durand Line, is contested since 1947. Pakistan upholds the 1893 demarcation while Afghanistan claims more territory. The UN uses the Afghan maps. The US and NATO use the Pakistani map but mouth the Afghan view.

Pakistan had an opportunity to secure Kabul's endorsement of the Durand Line when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001. Because all three of the current incumbents, the PPP, the PML-N and Musharref held office during this period, each is to blame for missing the most expedient geopolitical moment to secure bilateral settlement of the Durand Line. In 1998 Jalaluddin Haqqani's appointment as minister for border affairs in the Taliban government meant that the key portfolio in the matter was held by the ISI's protégé. During the time in question, a nuclear-capable Pakistan, oblivious to the geostrategic implications of the 1991 invasion of Iraq, remained preoccupied with conventional strategic depth, vis-à-vis India, through Afghanistan, and failed to secure its immediate border interest.

The United States' invasion of Afghanistan turned Pakistan's "strategic depth" into a strategic nightmare. Pakistan faces a myriad of geostrategic hazards which include the cross-border infiltration of insurgents who are frequently bombed by the US in Pakistan's "lawless" areas. The locals feel terrorised and unprotected as their civilian casualties mount. Musharref's combat with the insurgents as U.S proxy provoked their incitement of the Pakhtuns against the "foreign yoke." The emotive cry of Pakhtun dignity under attack is echoed within the NWFP by groups such as the Pakistani Taliban and the Pakhtun Democratic Council. This has given rise to a Pakistani insurgency akin to the Afghan one.

India's influence in Afghanistan's Pakhtun region is enormous. Pakistan's policy has alienated everyone in Afghanistan, including Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks, as well as the Pakhtuns. Pakistan-Afghanistan relations are at their worst, which makes the Durand Line a possible flashpoint of the future. Washington's declaration that FATA is a threat to US security magnifies the danger.

The current environment renders even positive developments vulnerable to manipulation by Islamabad's detractors. The ANP's victory exposes the marginality of extremism, legitimising Islamabad's fight against it. Paradoxically, while extremism serves the Taliban's purpose, the ANP gives the Karzai government an opportunity to woo Pakhtun nationalism. Both the Afghan contestants now have other avenues in the NWFP to exploit.

The Pentagon labels the Afghan insurgency "Taliban resurgence." US civil society follows suit. During a briefing in Washington's Woodrow Wilson Centre on April 18, a Rand Corporation associate and a Georgetown University professor lamented that NATO's goal in Afghanistan is complicated by a highly decentralised enemy. They called the enemy "multiple Taliban, with varying loyalties, depending on their geographic locations." The academicians failed to explain the logic through which a variety of insurgent groups are given a title that until 2001 identified a distinct Afghan faction.

Because the Afghan insurgents wear baggy clothes and do not shave regularly does not hoodwink the US commanders into believing all are Taliban. There are reasons why the insurgents are labelled so. The US intelligence seeks to shape political realities through political articulation. It seeks to isolate the population from the insurgents by identifying them as a discredited group. It also seeks the international community's acquiescence in the insurgents' massacre. Further, it triggers the resurgence of the Northern Alliance, which crystallised in 2006 as the "United Afghan National Front Opposition Group." The northern warlords' partnership with Karzai is insincere. He is considered a US puppet, just as the Taliban were considered Pakistani puppets. Karzai's appeasement of the moderate Taliban makes the northerners dread a government dominated by undesirable Pakhtun elements, motivating the northerners' reorganisation. Karzai's presence and the hoax of Taliban resurgence create fissiparous fissures in Afghanistan, straining its nationalism. If Iraq is any example to go by, this tendency will intensify under US occupation.

The Pakistani Pakhtuns left to the political and economic periphery hitherto defined themselves as peripheral. The war on terror is pressuring them into separatism. It is a maxim that in common catastrophe men move into unison. The brutality of the Afghan war is a common catastrophe for the Pakhtuns. Unless Islamabad bifurcates its Pakhtuns from the Afghan ones, their struggle to protect themselves and their interests may lead them to seek strength in cross-border territorial unison. Kabul has every incentive to fan separatism in the NWFP.

There are no economic and political boundaries in FATA. Once such boundaries are established, ethnic identities will cease to exist as "autonomous" and will become "relational" instead. The politico-economic boundaries will define the Afghan and Pakistani Pakhtuns vis-à-vis each other. With the advent of rapid development through mining, the border citizens of Arizona began to identify themselves as Mexican Indians and American Indians vis-à-vis each other, whereas in the pre-development stage they looked upon each other as one. There is a consensus among anthropologists and sociologists that ethnic identities are not static but dynamic and are socially constructed and politically contingent.

Whereas the Afghan insurgency goes beyond the Taliban, the Pakistani insurgency does not. It is peripheral and can be controlled. The first step towards the goal is to impede the Taliban mobility to and from Afghanistan. Since late August 2006, Pakistan has conducted patrol of its border jointly with the Afghan military and NATO under a tripartite agreement. This would have sufficed, but for latent interests that have pushed Pakistan in the line of fire.

The way out of this peril is the sealing of the Durand Line and its high-tech monitoring, the integration of FATA into NWFP and its rapid rural development under a robust security network. The United States' hunt for Osama bin Laden through aerial bombardment is a gimmick. Dangerous individuals are apprehended covertly, not through bombardment. Actionable intelligence on Al Qaeda should be responded to by Pakistani covert forces in the field. Withdrawing forces from FATA is a blunder equivalent to fighting the insurgency on the neocons' terms. The mess they have made on foreign lands is unacceptable even to Americans. Pakistan's leadership needs to act like Russia's Putin to prevent its fissiparous fissures from deepening.

The writer, based in Washington, is an energy consultant and analyst of energy geopolitics. Email: zeenia.satti@

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