Who is Ralph Peters? Reference to him has been made earlier in these columns. He is a retired US Lieutenant Colonel and defence analyst who wrote an article entitled “Blood Borders: How a better Middle East would look” for the US Armed Forces Journal which is reputedly close to the Pentagon’s thinking. That article expressed what is commonly recognized in India. Namely, that the colonial era had left artificial international borders. Lt-Col Peters relying on rational criteria drew the map of a New Middle East that would balkanize present nation states to create enduring stability. He envisaged that “Pakistan, another unnatural state, would also lose its Baluch territory to Free Baluchistan. The remaining “natural” Pakistan would lie entirely east of the Indus, except for a westward spur near Karachi.” In other words he anticipated independent Baluchistan, either an independent Pashtunistan or Greater Afghanistan, and a truncated Pakistan comprising Punjab and Sind.
Over the years this scribe has blown hot and cold, talked hard or soft, regarding the future of Pakistan. His dilemma was understandable. The bottom line for enduring Indo-Pak relations suggests that the cultural nationalism of both nations finds expression through free intermingling of its common cross-border sub-nationalities. Peacefully, without altering present borders, that can be accomplished only by creating a South Asian Union. The alternative is the restructuring of the subcontinent and redrawing its international borders which suggests conflict and civil war in Pakistan. Now it seems that India may be spared making a choice. Developments suggest that US-Pakistan relations could escalate to that end.
In mid-July the US is pledged withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan. Many things have to be put in place before that. First let us consider the current context. The sharp exchanges between US and Pakistan army top brass reveal mistrust and open hostility. Exposures by Wikileaks reveal an unsentimental and realistic US view of Pakistan’s ISI role in fomenting terrorism. And it is in this atmosphere, with time running out for the US before the deadline to start troop withdrawal from Afghanistan expires, that the most recent developments need to be assessed.
There are three developments on the ground that could be more critical than anything stated at the official level by any of the concerned governments.
Assuming that the WSJ report is correct the key question is who leaked such devastating information about confidential parleys? The source of the closed door meeting between the Gilani-Kayani duo and President Karzai can be either the Pakistanis or the Afghans. The Pakistanis can be ruled out. President Karzai would know that the leakage of the report would amount to a breach of confidentiality that leaves no line of retreat. By the leakage the die has been cast. It ends prospects of cooperation between Kabul and Islamabad . And after the leakage the Afghan military incursion into Pakistan occurred. Now it has to be seen where all this leads.
First, the recent report in the Wall Street Journal that on April 15 Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani along with Army Chief General Kayani conferred with Afghanistan President Karzai has stunned the US. According to the report the Pakistani duo tried to persuade President Karzai to dump the US and rely on China and Pakistan for its future growth. President Karzai did not reveal his reaction. The Pakistani spokesperson has rubbished the report. But the WSJ is too reputed a newspaper to be easily dismissed. The US that is being bled by Pakistan for billions of dollars aid is understandably livid after this report.
Secondly, in preparation of America’s impending troop withdrawal the stated proposal by Robert Blackwill that US troops should be confined to northern non-Pashtun Afghanistan is already looking practicable. The emergence of the demand for an independent province of Khorasan peopled by Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazaras and Persian speaking Shiites creates the potential foundation for future balkanization. The division of Afghanistan between the Pashtun and non-Pashtun regions would be clearly demarcated.
Thirdly, last Wednesday April 27 the most serious military clash since May 2007 occurred between the Afghan army and Pakistani troops in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region. Officials of both countries accused each other of starting the firing. The Afghan spokesman said: “Their attack was completely unprovoked and without reason. The fighting is still continuing, there [have not] been casualties on our side." The Pakistani spokesman said: “Afghan forces fired several mortar shells on one of our military check posts, leaving one soldier dead and injuring three others. We fired in retaliation; our troops are using artillery and mortars." Now it remains to be seen whether matters cool down or escalate. If escalation occurs what will be the result?
If armed hostilities between the Pakistan army and the Afghanistan army flare up with whom will the Pashtuns of Pakistan’s tribal belt, which is an area claimed by Afghanistan as per the provisions of the Durand Line Treaty, side? If the Pashtuns of Kabul are denied Southern Afghanistan because of the emergence of Khorasan, would not reclaiming the Federally Administered Territorial Agency (FATA) in Pakistan, populated by their brother Pashtuns, provide sufficient compensation? Would not escalating conflict unite Pashtuns across the borders including the Taliban against the predominantly Punjabi Pakistan army?
The leaders of Pakistan should worry. Especially since, as pointed out in these columns earlier, a balkanized Pakistan may protect adequately China’s core interests. Access to the port of Gwadar through an independent Baluchistan, the access for a future China-Iran pipeline through Baluchistan and present FATA region of Pakistan, and expanding trade with India would in no way be imperiled by the balkanization of Pakistan.