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What Robert Blackwill Doesn’t Say!
|by Dr. Rajinder Puri|
Former US Ambassador to India and present Fellow at US Council of Foreign Relations Robert Blackwill had created a stir earlier by advocating the de facto partition of Afghanistan. In a recent article Mr Blackwill has returned to his theme. His case is simple. He agrees with the widely held assessment that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won militarily. He accepts that a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by NATO could lead to chaos and immense problems for neighbouring countries. He recognizes the ethnic divide in Afghanistan between the largest community of Pashtuns and the remaining clusters of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Shiites and the rest. So, he offers a simple alternative to a strategic US defeat resulting from its withdrawal by any stated deadline.
Blackwill recommends a de facto partition of Afghanistan. He would like US troops to be stationed in the northern parts of Afghanistan inhabited by the non-Pashtuns. He would withdraw US troops from the south and the east where the Pashtuns dominate. He would allow the Pashtuns to rule themselves in their area, but he would reserve the right to bomb their areas if they transgressed into the territory controlled by the US or if they harboured the Al Qaeda and allowed it to pursue its activities against neighbouring countries.
Blackwill is a strategist. He has been driven to his conclusion after studying ground realities. He has offered his version of a practical plan for the US to disengage itself from Afghanistan in a phased manner. In so doing he has, without specifying the consequence of his plan, totally vindicated the formula for resolving the Af-Pak crisis repeatedly advanced by this scribe through these columns. Consider what would follow if Blackwill’s suggestions were implemented.
Stretching from central Afghanistan down south across the tribal belt in Pakistan right up to Peshawar the Pashtuns would have virtually no foreign interference among their tribes. Already the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is almost invisible due to cross border movement. A de facto Pashtunistan would have been created. Already Islamabad has little or no control over its tribal belt area. What would emerge? Would it not be a loose, undeclared version of the Pashtunistan dreamt of by the late Frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan? How would Islamabad or Kabul counter the growing sentiment for the formal emergence of this entity? Let it be noted that there are thrice the number of Pashtuns in Pakistan as there are in Afghanistan. And let it be further noted that the most popular leader among the Pashtuns in Pakistan presently is Afsandyar Wali Khan, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s grandson. A sovereign independent Pashtunistan would alter present international borders to divide both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
There would be only one option left to avoid alteration of present international borders. And that would be the creation of a South Asian Community with joint defence, common market and free movement of goods and people across international borders. That alone would allow cultural nationalism to find expression within the present status quo. Rest assured that if such events unfold in Afghanistan the situation in Kashmir would not remain unaffected. The choice then would be clear. Either South Asia must coalesce into a Community or it must face restructuring of international borders. What would Islamabad, Kabul and New Delhi choose?
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