The Great Game in Pak-Af: Pakistan at the Edge of an Abyss - Nearly

Explosions, suicide bombers and Army officers taken hostage in Pakistan by Taliban and others are as much disturbing and confusing as the diplomatic and other tensions between the leaderships of US and Pakistan and Afghanistan and simmering difference among and between political and military leaderships in Islamabad. So far the terrorists ,Taliban and other Jihadis have struck in Punjab and the Frontier province, what if the sparks reach Karachi, veritably a tinderbox of Pakistan’s unassimilated sub-nationalities, which was compared a few years ago to Beirut in the throes of a vicious civil war!   

After days of raging controversy in Islamabad, President Barack Obama signed a major aid bill granting US$7.5 billion to Pakistan in non-military assistance, more than triple the current level, over the next five years. This was to proclaim solid support for Islamabad whose total cooperation is vital in defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan and destroying al-Qaeda, whose leadership along with those from central Asia and Xinjiang are believed to be holed up in Pakistan's rugged frontier with Afghanistan.

"This law is the tangible manifestation of broad support for Pakistan in the US, as evidenced by its bipartisan, bicameral, unanimous passage in congress," cooed the White House .But this move to establish a "strategic partnership" with Islamabad "grounded in support for Pakistan's democratic institutions and the Pakistani people" backfired with Pakistan’s opposition parties and its powerful armed forces rejecting several of the conditions in the bill as violating the country's sovereignty and dignity, further accentuating an all pervasive anti-US sentiment in Pakistan.

But it was perhaps the sheer audacity of the attacks on security installations in Lahore - and in Rawalpindi just days earlier (and Peshawar later)- that took the Pak authorities by surprise.

“That may be the only excuse the security apparatus has for its handling of the assaults. “
In particular, the failure to stop the attack on the army's General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi on 12 October defies the imagination - since details of a forthcoming attack were published on the front page of ‘The News International’, a local English-language daily newspaper on 5 October. The report said that fighters from militant outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi - with the support of the Taliban in South Waziristan - were planning such an attack by using army uniforms to get into the the heart of the military's command. (If anything it proves that the security forces across the Waghah border are equally flat footed.)

The Tehrik-e-Taleban- e-Pakistan (TTP) the Pakistan and US and Nato forces are confronting is a cocktail of the myriad Pakistani insurgent and terrorist groups, which were originally trained in 1980s and armed in the past by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Special Services Group (SSG) , financed with billions of dollars gifted by USA, Saudi Arabia and other nations for use against USSR ( and India ) and for supporting the Afghan Taliban headed by Mulla Mohammad Omar, its Amir, now sheltered in the Quetta area of Balochistan. Most of these groups have since turned against the Pakistani State, which they look upon as apostate because of its co-operation with the US. The ISI and the SSG training has since been supplemented by the expertise imparted to them by Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Jihad Union, another Uzbek group, and by small numbers of Chechens and Uighurs, commented B Raman an Indian security expert.

New Militants?

Previously the militants originated from the tribal areas, now they are coming from the Punjab too and other parts of the country. Said Iftikhar Hussain, information minister of the troubled North West Frontier Province. "It is clear where the new wave of militants are coming from." "There needs to be a Swat-like operation in southern Punjab," he added. The responsibility for the Rawalpindi attack was claimed jointly by the Tehrik-e-Taliban (Amjad Farooqi group) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

Amjad Hussain Farooqi was one of Pakistan's most dreaded militants until his death in a shoot-out with security agencies in 2004 in the Sindh province. He had masterminded several attempts on the life of President Pervez Musharraf. He was originally a member of Jaish-e-Mohammad, one of Pakistan's most dangerous militant groups. Other Punjabi militant groups back in action are the Harkatul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi which tended to form the vanguard for al-Qaeda in this region. They fervently promoted anti-Indian feeling and following a 2002 ban, much of their cadres were either killed or sent to prison, and the leadership detained.

But since 2007, the leadership of these groups has been able to replenish their cadre and resources ,both from small donations by common citizens and large private donors in Pakistan and immigrant workers in Europe and the Middle East , with the city of Karachi, the main source of the largest revenue collection , with with security forces there doing little to stop it.

It was like a tentacle reaching out from a time when holy war was sanctioned by the state.

To comprehend the situation in the region let us have a look again at my article of 29 April, 2009:
Conflict Between Rulers and Clerics-Which way the Sunni terror monster turn!

Of the oldest of the three revealed religions, Judaism’s only state since ancient times, Israel, founded on leftist tenets has since morphed into a rule by Zionist-Military oligarchy. Christians after centuries of warfare in Europe managed to create secular polities which are still underpinned if not haunted by sectional religious ideologies. In the last of ‘the Book’ based polity Islam, the lines between the Mir and the Pir, the temporal ruler and spiritual ruler still remain blurred, contested and changing.

After the 1979 revolution in Iran, Shias created the ideal but mythical office of Imam in the person of Ruhoallah Khomeini. The status of the Imam was evolved into the doctrines of intercession and infallibility, i.e., of the faqih/mutjahid .But the Iranians have since found that a system based on the concepts of 7th century AD was inadequate to confront and solve the problems of 21st century. Nevertheless, like the first Imam Ali, Iran is ruled by the supreme religious leader, Ali Khomeini, who incidentally is Azeri Turk .The cement keeping Iran united now is its common heritage and Islam. In Syria the ruling Shia Alawite elite ,12% of the population has been staunchly secular under the Assads since four decades. In Lebanon the Hezbollah, which coordinates with some secular strands, combines in Hassan Nasrallah, the powers of both a military and spiritual leader. To understand the evolving situation around Pakistan and Afghanistan we might look at some what similar situations in Islamic history.

Prophet Mohammad was both the religious leader and military commander. But the Arab Caliphs lost power by 10th century to the Turkish slaves from central Asia who formed the core of their fighting forces .The Turks raised the minor title of Sultan to a high rank who literally became a protector of the Caliph, left with only spiritual powers. Even this role was seized by the Ottoman Sultans ruling from Istanbul.

After the defeat of Byzantines near lake Van in 11th century, the Seljuk hordes established a Rumi Caliphate at Konya in the centre of modern day Turkey But they had to brutally suppress religious leaders’ rebellions many times.To keep out the energetic soldiers and freelance militias instigated by fanatic religious leaders, Konya sent them out as Ghazis to harass neighboring Christian Byzantine territories. Out of these freebooters emerged a small band led by Ertugrul, whose small principality was expanded by his son Osman (Othman) and descendents into Europe right up to the gates of Vienna and along South Mediterranean up to Morocco and east up to Iran’s border and Oman on the Indian ocean.

Rise and Fall of Janissaries in Ottoman Empire

As Iran became a barrier to recruitment of non-Muslim Turks from central Asia, a practice which the Arabs had followed, the Ottoman emperors, who succeeded the Seljuk Turks in Anatolia as Turkey was then known, finally conquered the Byzantine empire and made Constantinople, its capital, their own Istanbul. They then started recruiting Christian young boys mostly from Balkans but even from Anatolia for its shock troops and top civil service cadre known as ‘Devshirme’.

Beginning with the forced recruitment from Christian prisoners taken as booty after the battle, the system progressively developed into a privileged and influential warrior force that converted young Christian boys to Islam and instructed them in the Turkish martial arts. Unlike feudal levies Janissaries owed loyalty to the Sultan only. Regimented training and strong moral codes transformed the Janissaries into more than an impressive military force, a political entity of such unchecked power (shades of ISI) that they unwittingly contributed to the very downfall of the empire itself. The Janissaries were an important factor in the military expansion of the Ottoman Empire ranging from the 1453 capture of Constantinople to the battles against the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

The next couple of centuries saw the growth of the power of the Ottomans, but a succession of uprisings by Janissaries resulted in more power flowing into their hands. The first Janissary revolt occurred in 1449 and served as a model for many later revolts, each of which brought them more power and pelf. The Janissaries reached such an enviable state of influence by the late 1600s that the Ottoman bureaucracy was effectively held hostage to their whims and demands. A mutiny led to change in the policy of the politicians. Eventually, the Janissaries started to engage in successful coups to topple even a Sultan who was not receptive to their specific desires. They put their own self-interests first and placed obstacles in the path of modernizing the army.

In 1807, the Janissaries revolted against Sultan Selim III, and replaced him with Mahmud II. Mahmud II finally decided that the Janissaries had to be decimated in order to preserve the empire. In the summer of 1826, when the Janissaries staged another uprising, the rest of the army and the people were ranged against them. The Janissary force finally faced either death or retreat and exile. The survivors were banished and their wealth taken over by the state.

Like the Konya Sultanate the Pakistanis under its religious President Zia-ul-haq with financial support from US led West and Saudi Arabia and other Muslim states trained and sent Jihadist and militants’ aka modern day Ghazis into Afghanistan in 1980s, who forced the Soviets exit from Afghanistan. Eventually the Communist edifice under mined by Slav nationalism and Orthodox Christianity collapsed by the beginning of 1990s.

Would Pakistan Succeed in Destroying the Taliban?

A conglomerate of various militias, free booters, religious fanatics, nationalists and tribal chieftains classified as Al Qaeda, Taliban, Pakistani Taliban etc are somewhat like the Janissaries of the Ottoman empire, their most effective fighting force which terrorized European Christians and helped extend the Ottoman empire into Europe. But soon instead of terrorizing the enemies of the Ottomans, they threatened the Sultans. Finally the Janissaries had to be destroyed. Would Pakistan be able to do the same i.e. destroy the Taliban.

The tensions between the ruler, the clerics and religious warriors i.e. Mirs and Pirs have still not been overcome in Islamic world. It is in reverse gear even in modern Turkey, the only secular Muslim nation, with the ascendancy of the ruling religious AK Party with US $ billions of Saudi investment in Turkey and direct gifts to the party .Support of Saudi finances to Madarsas and mosques remains the major obstacle in the modernization of education and Islamic societies.

Democracy in Pakistan

Throughout the Cold War, the so-called democracy in Pakistan was basically a Western media myth to put its ally on a par with India. Utterances by Pakistan prime ministers against India made good copy in Western media. Barring perhaps Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (1972-77), after the military had been totally discredited in 1971 following the liberation of Bangladesh, the Pakistan armed forces have been de jure or de facto rulers of the country. In the 11 years between General Zia's death in 1988 and Musharraf's takeover, Benazir Bhutto and Sharif were eased in and out of power whenever they tried to interfere with the military's autonomy, or their control of nuclear arms, or the policy on Kashmir and foreign affairs.

Constantly squabbling the politicians nevertheless amassed huge fortunes by corrupt means. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif had the opportunity and political support to lay the foundations for democracy, but instead they chose despotic ways to steamroller the institutions that provided the checks and balances in the state. In spite of dire situation in Pakistan, Zardari, assassinated Benazir’s spouse, who became President by hoodwinking Nawaz Sharif, instead of jointly stabilizing the political and security situation in Pakistan, continue to play petty political games. This highlights the inability of Pakistani political elite to accept the give and take of a democratic system and administration.

For all the good copy that Benazir provided the Western media, she was perhaps one of the most incompetent administrators in Pakistan's history, with her husband, "Mr. 10 percent" Ali Zardari, making it worse. She played a seminal role in 1996 in promoting the stranglehold in Pakistan of the Jamaat-i-Islami and fundamentalist groups, now threatening Pakistan (and Afghanistan.) These groups have umbilical relationship with ISI, with many friendly elements deeply entrenched in ISI and the Pakistan armed forces and the establishment. Tacitly approved by the US and with support from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, Pakistan created the Taliban to provide’ stability and security’ in Afghanistan in 1990s so that US oil giant UNOCAL could lay pipelines from Central Asia to South Asia and beyond. The Taliban cadre is composed of madrassa pupils, mostly orphans of 3 decades of violence in Afghanistan and children of poor people. Somewhat like the forced ‘orphan’ Janissaries.

Pakistan Polity

In any case, unlike India, Pakistan began with weak grassroots political organizations, with the British-era civil servants strengthening the bureaucracy's control over the polity and decision-making. Subsequently, the bureaucracy called for the military's help, but soon the tail was wagging the dog. In the first seven years of Pakistan's existence, nine provincial governments were dismissed. From 1951 to 1958 there was only one army commander in chief, two governor generals, but seven prime ministers.

While the politicians had wanted to further strengthen relations with the British, the erstwhile rulers, General Ayub Khan - encouraged by Washington - formed closer cooperation with the Pentagon. And in 1958 General Ayub Khan took over power, beginning the military’s stranglehold on Pakistan. A mere colonel at partition in 1947, with experience mostly of staff jobs, Ayub Khan became a general after only four years. Later, he promoted himself to field marshal. He eased out officers who did not fit into the Anglo-Saxon scheme of using Pakistan's strategic position against the evolving Cold War confrontation with the communist block.

General Zia ul-Haq was a cunning schemer, veritably a mullah in uniform with delusions of spreading Islam in central Asia with Islamabad as the fulcrum .While posted in Amman, Zia helped plan the military operations, which expelled Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization from Jordan in the 1970s. But he is more remembered for having prayed at all the mosques of Amman, if not in the whole of Jordan. He seduced the north Indian media with lavish praise and chicken and tikka kebabs meals. While planning Operation Topaz, which fueled insurgency in Kashmir in 1989, he hoodwinked Indians with his goodwill visits to promote cricket. His Islamization of the country made the situation for women and minorities untenable, while the judicial killing of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 turned General Zia into a pariah. But the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan made him a US darling, restoring and strengthening the Pakistan military's links with the Pentagon. This made the Pakistani military and the ISI's hold pervasive, omnipotent, omniscient and ominous in Pakistan.

This defense alliance, the seeds of which were planted by Ayub Khan, and the symbiotic relationship between the ISI and the CIA midwife under General Zia, can not be dismantled or disentangled. Now it is like a marriage gone sour with Washington wanting Islamabad to toe its orders including Pak military killing Jihadist /terrorists, its own children, who against Soviet troops in 1980s were hailed as Ghazis. Pakistan ISI and military, the real rulers of Pakistan have based their power on anti-India policy. Their policy of over-reach and control of Afghanistan is both for strategic depth and to erode the existential reality of the Durand line. But the non -acceptance of the Durand line by Pushtoons makes the very concept of Pakistan’s territorial integrity a nightmare.

Washington; Pakistan's External Constituency

It is an accepted truism that three As - Allah, Army and America form the most important pillars of the state of Pakistan. China is equally vital for Pakistan’s survival based on Beijing’s strategic objectives of tying India down and looking for a new energy 'silk route' for western China’s access to the Gulf by land and strategic outflanking of India via Gawadar port in Balochistan.

Following the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan and subsequent collapse of USSR, a triumphant Washington left the monster of Islamic fundamentalism intact in Afghanistan and Pakistan, partly because US administrations with corporate personnel have short term annual balance sheets objectives. They let the Jihadist to fester even leaving with them Stinger missiles. In any case the Jihadist would only create problems in Russia and its near abroad, China’s Xinjiang province and India. Who cares! America’s rulers began dreaming of a New American Century with Washington as the New Rome of 3rd Millennia with plans to control world’s energy and other resources and strategic spaces.

At a time when Indian economy started perking up after 1991 and US corporate interests looked at India for investment and for laying pipe lines to transfer energy from central Asia to India and beyond to Japan, Pakistani leaders complained of neglect by its ally which had used Pakistan like a French letter to enter Afghan and then discarded it.

The Al Qaeda World View

Throughout its colonial era to protect its interests the British encouraged Islam and its extremist strains to divide and browbeat national and socialist movements in Asia, Middle East and elsewhere. London encouraged and helped Jinnah in his dream of Pakistan, so that a weak Pakistan in alliance would keep the Russians away from the oil wells in the Gulf region dominated by the Europeans. This policy was appropriated by the new leading western power USA after WWII. Thus the creation of the monster of Islamic fundamentalism was a natural Western gambit to tire out and unravel USSR. Supporting the Jihad in Afghanistan was a Faustian pact between the Christian Crusaders led by America and Muslim Wahibis/Salafis.

After the Soviet Union’s collapse, the Islamic fanatics, believing they had defeated super power USSR, put into operation their plans against US led Christian Satan. It included firstly to expel US troops from the sacred soil of Arabia, then remove non Salafi rulers from Muslim Ummah such as in Egypt and others, even Saudi Arabia and liberate Muslims from non-Muslim yoke in India and finally create Islamic Caliphates ruled by religious tenets as perceived by them e.g. Taliban rule in Afghanistan up to 2001 and in Swat now. This Jihad against USA began with attacks on US diplomatic missions in east Africa, inside USA and finally culminated in the 119 stunning attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, symbols of US economic and military might.

We will not go into the suspicions that US organized 119 or let it happen. But Washington now went in to implement Neo-con driven agenda of making US the hyper power brooking no resistance. It first bombed Afghanistan to acquire bases there and in nearby Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan ostensibly for its war on Taliban and Al Qaeda, but to occupy Russia’s strategic underbelly. Still driven by hubris and backed by Tony Blair’s UK, USA then invaded Iraq against the UN charter and the wishes of majority of its members on the basis of allegations which appeared even then to be cooked up to any intelligent observer.

But Washington needed Islamabad to protect itself from a backlash of its earlier Afghan policies of creating the monster of terrorism and acquire bases in Pakistan and support from an unwilling ally in Islamabad .US threatened to bomb Pakistan to middle ages if Islamabad did not comply with its fireman, publicly aired by Pakistan ruler Gen Parvez Musharraf and also narrated in his autobiography. (By 2006 Gen Musharraf knew his rule was to end and as per US custom, a new proxy ruler would be installed in Islamabad. After Benazir’s assassination her widower Asaf Ali Zardari was installed.)

After 11 September, Washington also desperately wanted to stop Pakistan's nuclear bombs or material from falling into Jihadi hands. US spokesmen have stated from time to time that Pak nukes are in safe custody. But according to one version ,Gen Musharraf, realized that the nukes were Pakistan’s crown jewels, a leverage against Indian conventional military superiority and a handle to threaten and black mail one and all. It was the only positive outcome of Islamabad having been exploited for West’s war in Afghanistan which resulted in the spread of narcotics use and Kalashnikov culture in Pakistan. It is said that parts of the nuke systems were removed to Chitral near the Chinese border and if threatened, Chinese troops from across the border would move in and take them away. Who knows the truth!

Military in Politics in Pakistan and Turkey

Military has been a major force both in Pakistan and Turkey. I have kept an eye on Turkey since 40 years, with ten years spent in Ankara in two diplomatic tenures. An Indian diplomat has to live with and understand Pakistan, an anti-India profession created by the perfidious Albion. Situated east and west of Iran, now in opposition to the policies of yesterday’s declining hyper power USA, Pakistan and Turkey, Washington’s non- NATO and NATO allies respectively, are undergoing fundamental changes which would have ramifications not only for the region but alter the world’s political and strategic calculus. Especially in Pakistan. If Turkey is situated at the crossroads of a Europe, Central Asia, Middle East and Africa, and influenced by the cross currents, then Pakistan connects South Asia to Central Asia and Middle East, and central Asia and China to the energy rich Middle East in the Gulf waters.

Unlike civilian controlled armed forces in conventional democracies, in both these countries the military’s role is embedded in the polity with dominance in decision making. In Turkey the military under the leadership of Kemal Ataturk, first fought a dogged war to protect the nation against Western led invasion and occupation after the collapse of the Ottoman empire and then helped create a secular republic after abolishing the office of the Sultan and the Caliphate in 1923.

Musharraf’s Turkish Connection and Ataturk as a Model

At his very first press conference soon after taking over in October, 1999 as Pakistan's chief executive, General Musharraf spotted some journalists from Turkey. Speaking in fluent Turkish, Musharraf told them that he was a great admirer of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic and its first president. "As a model, Kemal Ataturk did a great deal for Turkey. I have his biography. We will see what I can do for Pakistan." Not only is he more at home with Turkish than Pakistan's national language, Urdu, Musharraf also admires Turkey's generals and the country's political model, having spent his most impressionable school years in early 1950s in Ankara, where his father was posted as a junior diplomat. Ataturk's legend of forging a new, vibrant, modern and secular Turkey out of the ashes of the decaying deadwood of the Ottoman Empire left an indelible mark on young Pervez, as evidenced by his remarks above and his subsequent actions as the leader of Pakistan.

However, following his statements lauding Ataturk, the Jamaat-i-Islami, the largest of Pakistan's religious parties, immediately expressed its opposition to the secular ideology of Kemalism. As a result, Musharraf then also highlighted the aborted vision for Pakistan of Qaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the country's founding father and its first leader after independence in 1947.

At best Musharraf can be said to have succeeded in emulating his publicly undeclared model Gen Evren and that too not that well. There are some similarities with Ataturk. Delhi-born Musharraf's family comes from east Uttar Pradesh (India). Blue-eyed Ataturk was born in Salonika (Greece) and his family came from Macedonia. Ataturk was able to rally the world war-weary Turks, whose land had been occupied by foreigners. At first he battled the Ottoman Sultan's forces sent to kill him and then vanquished friend turned foe rebel Ethem and his ragtag Green army, which had helped fight off invading Greeks who had almost reached Ankara. This was something like the various jihadi forces and foot-loose groups that Musharraf faced. However, Ataturk ruthlessly crushed religious revolts led by feudal Kurdish tribal chiefs and others. And to fulfill his destiny, he even got rid of his earlier nationalist comrades, who were in favor of continuing with the Caliphate.

Failure of Gen Musharraf

Musharraf, too, succeeded in sidelining many unreliable generals but not completely. Despite his belief in his avowed destiny, his proclaimed good luck in escaping many mishaps, he did not show the boldness and ruthlessness of Ataturk. September 11 and December 13, provided him with a golden opportunity to go the whole hog in the fight against the virus of fundamentalism and usher a new era in Pakistan on the lines of Ataturk’s reforms. He would have got unstinted support from US led West, India and others.

Ataturk had boldly and ruthlessly carried out westernizing and modernizing reforms against religious obscurantism and dogma and forged the remnants of the Ottoman Empire with a 99 percent Muslim population into a secular republic in the 1920s. But he had kept his external ambitions in check, he did not claim former Ottoman provinces lost in World War I, and had concentrated on building a new Turkey from the bottom up.

Musharraf, a child of his times, had to step down, after September 11, from the fundamentalist tiger he was riding and had helped nurture. But he was not fully in command on the home front, with attempts to assassinate him and suicide bombers having a run of the country. He did tighten up from time to time, with some arrests of ranking Al-Qaeda members and others to please USA. But Musharraf's childhood Ataturk-inspired dream was not realized. Perhaps he is not ruthless enough, determined and single minded like Ataturk.

Some people say that Musharraf did make some attempts, including beginning a dialogue with India, which made considerable progress. Maybe there were just too many cards stacked against him external and internal. By 2006 he realized that his time was up so he wrote his biography and soon enough there was pressure from USA and internally, encouraged by outside powers for a change of regime in Pakistan. USA favored Benazir Bhutto, while another financier Saudi Arabia’s choice was Nawaz Sharif, but with luck with some maneuvering, the crown now sits uneasily on Zardari’s head.


The future of Pak-Af depends on how Afghanistan shapes up which has been divided since 1980s. The kingdom was created in the 19th century at the end of the Great Game as a buffer to keep the Russian and British empires from treading onto each others corns. In spite of many attempts, the British had failed to subdue the Afghan tribes and had got a bloody nose in the bargain.

Since then the two empires, the British in South Asia and the Russian/Soviet in central Asia have disappeared and been divided. Thus the raison d’être of the Kingdom remaining united has disappeared. The break up of Afghanistan composed of warring Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and others has created pressures on the already eroded Durand line, whose so called British enforced legality ended in 1993. Dominated by Punjabi speaking elite with leavening of Pashtuns, Pakistan has remained feudal in social makeup and has failed to create even a territory based national identity. The most dangerous possibility is a stand off and war between the Jihadist/terrorists and the Military with Punjabi- Pathan mix with the latter’s unity being unraveled , unraveling the state itself.

West may not mind the break up of Afghanistan and even of Pakistan if the new states are beholden to it as it did in Yugoslavia. It will help neutralize the Chinese objectives of direct land access from west China via Pakistan to the Gulf. This explains Chinese investments in Balochistan and its Gwadar port, next door to the Gulf of Hormuz, the Middle East energy exit point. However the likely economic collapse of UK and USA weakens their hand. Moscow is quite happy seeing US and Nato in a pickle in Afghanistan and Pakistan and slow leaking of Western military and economic powers. Russia, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and India would play more important role than the 2002 agreement in shaping what happens in Afghanistan. But ultimately it is the people of the lands who would be the deciders.

An Autonomous Pushtunistan!

In any case the contours of an autonomous Pushtunistan have slowly emerged. Wrote Jason Burke in the Guardian of 7 August, 2009:

“Finally, over the last three decades something that could be termed the "Deobandi complex" has emerged in the broad spread of land between the Indus and the central Afghan highlands. It is not a state but has virtually every other attribute of statehood short of printing stamps and money. There is religious homogeneity: the conservative southwest Asian Deobandi strand of Sunni Islam that has established itself with its system of mosques and free schools across the region. There is ethnic homogeneity: the Pashtuns. There is a commercial sector of big businessmen involved in smuggling, transport, timber, drugs and a range of legitimate businesses. There is political representation: parties such as Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islami. There is diplomacy with connections to the Gulf and elsewhere in the Islamic world. There are significant flows of cash in and out, often through remittances from overseas workers. There is a broadly accepted culture: the conservative, rural, religiously-infused values of the Pashun hill tribes. And there is a military: the various Taliban groups. It is unsurprising that those marginalised by other relatively unstable and relatively chaotic political entities – such as Pakistan – should look to find a home within Deobandistan or Pashtunistan or whatever name might eventually be put on its passport stamps.”

What happens in Afghanistan and Pakistan has serious ramifications for India. The current Indian dispensation remains too beholden to Washington and has not kept up with Moscow and annoyed Tehran too. China is also upset at the close embrace between Delhi and Washington. Instead of nimble footed strategic policy one only sees flat footedness. Internally the structural flaws in Indian security set-up were brutally exposed by its ineffectiveness during the 26/11 rape of Mumbai. Let us hope India is better prepared now to face the consequences of turmoil and even a disunited Pakistan, something like Iraq now, under US occupation.

K Gajendra Singh, Indian ambassador (retired), served as ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan from August 1992 to April 1996. Prior to that, he served terms as ambassador to Jordan, Romania and Senegal. He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies.
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