The flawed US policies over the last decade have rendered peace prospects in Afghanistan and Pakistan dim. But peace can yet be established. It requires patience and right priorities. Before peace is attempted some hard facts need recall.
First, traditional Pashtun values are now totally divorced from the Taliban. To begin with Mullah Omar, of modest lineage and hailing from a remote village, was moderate. The Al Qaeda through finance and indoctrination converted him to global jihad.
Secondly, the continuing influx of Afghan youth trained in Pakistan's madrassas who now comprises the bulk of his cadres has made him a prisoner of their mindset. From early teens these youth are segregated from women, indoctrinated to despise them, hooked to glorified violence in the name of jihad, and imbued with robotic discipline. They are an army beyond redemption and reasoning.
Thirdly, the silent Pashtun majority is terrorized into submission by Taliban warlords. Especially the women, despised and tortured by the Taliban, retain a yearning for traditional Pashtun values.
Fourthly, the bloodshed of the last decade and a half have brutalized and dehumanized all Afghan warlords, Pashtun and non-Pashtun, beyond belief. They are extraordinarily barbaric.
Fifthly, the internecine warfare between the warlords for the past decade has created an unbridgeable divide between the Pashtuns, the Tajiks, the Uzbeks, the Hazaras and the Persian speaking Shiites of Herat. The past mutual ethnic cleansing and betrayals have created visceral hatred among different tribes.
Sixthly, the Pashtun dominated Taliban still cling to the idea of Pashtuns ruling over all Afghanistan which the minorities no longer countenance.
Seventhly, the ethnic demarcation of territory in Afghanistan can be outlined. South of the Hindu Kush up to Kandahar the Pashtun warlords rule. In the west around Herat the Persian speaking Shiite warlords dominate. Up North the Uzbek and Tajik warlords flourish. In central Afghanistan at Hazarajat the Shiite Hazaras reside. Kabul, the capital in the east, is a mixture of different tribes. This complicates the problem. During the battles between these different ethnic warlords in the past decade the Uzbeks, such as Rashid Dostum, sought sanctuary in Uzbekistan or Turkey; the Persian speaking Shiites, such as Mullah Ismael, sought sanctuary in Iran. The peripheral regions of Afghanistan are linguistically and ethnically tied to the neighboring countries.
President Hamid Karzai is trying valiantly to revive a united multi-ethnic Afghanistan through power sharing even while military action against the Taliban continues. It is unlikely he will succeed. Even in the remote event of a total defeat of the Taliban, the deep fissures created between the different ethnic communities are unlikely to disappear. How then should peace efforts proceed?
First, a peace proposal should be prepared and announced even before fighting ends and the Taliban agree to talk. The terms of the peace formula might well facilitate an earlier end to fighting. Secondly, military action against the Taliban must continue and intensify until its cadres are sufficiently mauled to come to the negotiating table. Thirdly, the separate turfs of each ethnic community should be carefully and realistically demarcated. Fourthly, only after fighting ends and territories are divided between the various ethnic tribes should the long drawn process of institutional reconstruction that might coax the Afghan people from a medieval to a modern culture be attempted.
The peace proposal should ensure self rule by each ethnic group in its respective province. The Pashtuns might be weaned away from the goal of ruling entire Afghanistan if they are compensated by the right to rule over the Pakistan territory historically peopled by Pashtuns. The Durand Line Treaty imposed by the British artificially divided the Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan. By its provisions after a hundred years the Tribal areas of NWFP were to be returned to Afghanistan in 1993. This was similar to the agreement on Hong Kong which the British made with China. Pakistan did not surrender its Tribal areas to Afghanistan. No Afghan government accepted the Durand Line. President Daud of Afghanistan even laid claim to Peshawar because it lay west of the Indus River. Through the ages land east of the Indus was traditionally considered Hindustan.
For over a hundred years no outsiders have effectively administered Pakistan's Pashtun tribal belt bordering Afghanistan. Nevertheless Pakistan will not accept dilution of its sovereignty by surrendering that area. The only way to provide self rule and consolidation to the Pashtuns in Pakistan and Afghanistan without altering international boundaries would be by creating a South Asian transnational community modeled on the European Union. That arrangement could be extended to help defuse tensions in Kashmir and Sri Lanka too.
Former President Musharraf and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh came very close to an agreement over Kashmir by a package that envisioned joint management of Kashmir giving autonomy to both its parts held respectively by India and Pakistan. That would have made borders irrelevant. The proposal was bound to fail. It put the cart before the horse. Joint management of Kashmir appeared ludicrous while New Delhi and Islamabad continued to act as military rivals. Had an agreement in principle been reached to create an EU style South Asian community in a given time frame, offering joint defence, common market and no visas ' joint management of Kashmir would have appeared eminently feasible.
Now it is up to New Delhi and Islamabad to rectify past errors and get their priorities right. An agreement even in principle to create a South Asian Union in the context of Kashmir could go a long way to lay the foundation for a durable peace in Af-Pak, and indeed in entire South Asia. If Islamabad's leaders persist with present policies they could disintegrate Pakistan. In that event the aftermath could be extremely messy. It would most affect India. Therefore India should stop looking at America and itself initiate moves.