Saturday, November 16, 2002

What Next for Afghanistan?

Regular readers of this space know that Afghanistan and its people inhabit a special place in my heart. The Afghan people are warm and kind to strangers, regardless what you may have heard. They are not war mongering loonies, just people like you and me who want nothing more than to be let alone, to live their lives and raise their children. But today, they are being left alone by the West, and our worst fears about the region may be about to be realized. As we learned in Viet Nam (did we really learn?) one can be penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to failing to support our friends.

It isn't even money this time. After Taliban fell, the international community pledged billions of dollars in aid to the war-ravaged country. But the Bush administration is failing to lean on our allies to ensure that they pay up. The result of this penury may be a disaster, not only in the region, but for all of the enemies of Taliban and al Qaeda world wide. The results of the recent Pakistani elections were a disaster for freedom loving people everywhere, with religious fundamentalists winning widely, but especially in the border areas of Baluchistan and the Northwest Territory. President Musharraf may be in mortal danger, as he has survived six assasination plots already. An Islamofascist government in Pakistan is bad news for us, but worse news for Afghanistan, as the loonies taking over in Pakistan feed the insurrection in that impoverished land. Which would bring us right back to where we were last year, with total lawlessness giving our enemies a base from which to operate against us.

Reports from the once and future war zone are not encouraging, unless you are a Taliban fan. And it seems that, rather than a return to Taliban rule, the long sought Pashtunistan may now become a reality. In case you are wondering, that means a country made up of the south and east parts of Afghanistan, plus the western part of Pakistan, with Pakistani Nukes and North Korean missiles to deliver them. If you liked Taliban, you're gonna love Pashtunistan. And its happening right now, because we in the West refuse to pay the bills for food, medicine, and a few roads and bridges, plus of course an army and police force for the Afghan nationalists currently in power in Kabul. Exactly one year ago, Indian columnist Rajinder Puri wrote this:
Hordes of Pushtuns stream into Afghanistan from Pakistan to fight the war. A bigger number streams into Pakistan from Afghanistan to escape the war. With each passing day the Afghanistan-Pakistan border gets more blurred. It could soon disappear. If that happens the ethnic realities of Afghanistan will assert themselves. A government, any government, imposed on Afghanistan by outside powers, would then start to fall apart. The world will recall and recognise that Afghanistan is an artificial nation. Different tribes, speaking different languages, in a remote and rugged territory, were cobbled together into a nation. This was done at the end of the Great Game played in the nineteenth century by Imperialist Britain and Tsarist Russia pursuing their respective interests.

As a medieval, tribal Afghanistan, battered by history, staggers into the twenty-first century, nationalist aspirations are bound to assert themselves separately in the various ethnic groups. The Pushtuns are Sunni Muslims with a tribal history that precedes Islam. They are known as the Beni Israel ? the sons of Israel. Israeli researchers of the Amishav Organisation, investigating the Diaspora, have confirmed that Pushtuns are ethnic Jews.

The Pushtuns inhabit southern Afghanistan up to the Hindu Kush mountain range that divides it from the north. They are most densely clustered in the Jalalabad and Kandhar regions. The Taliban do not reflect the Pushtun ethos or attitude. But with the help of Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, they have used terror to usurp power and subvert Afghanistan.

The Pushtuns have a long and honoured tradition of money-lending that is anathema to fundamental Islamic tenets. The true icon of the Pushtuns was Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, compatriot of Mahatma Gandhi. He demanded an independent Pushtunistan free from theocratic Pakistan. As the big powers led by America attempt to create a modern, multi-ethnic Afghanistan, they will eventually confront a resurgent Pushtun nationalism. The world might then have to reconcile itself to the division of Afghanistan.

This is a tragedy in the making, that is of such importance for the world that it can not be underestimated. The cost of this thing only goes up. As they say, pay now, or pay (much more) later. The Afghan people do not want a continuation of war, or the breakup of their country. A little help today might save us an awful lot later.

(For a more detailed vision of the post Taliban South Asian and Middle Eastern world read this.)