Another Tryst with Destiny: Will Swat Restructure the Sub-continent?

?There is virtual civil war in Afghanistan. There are three million Pashto speaking Afghan refugees in Pakistan. If the Afghan crisis is prolonged, both Afghan and NWFP Pashto speaking tribes might be expected to make common cause and revive the call for a Pashtunistan comprising areas of present day Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

"If that happens, Sind and Baluchistan will not lag behind. Already there are incipient freedom struggles in both states. 

"A war between Pakistan and Afghanistan, or even civil war within Pakistan, were it to come, would not remain confined to Afghan and Pakistani territories. Inevitably, it will spill over and involve India. In that unfortunate event, the painful process of war will confront the leaders of South Asia with the same challenge that they stubbornly refuse to face during peace: how to restructure the subcontinent and undo the legacy of a most unnatural Partition, and to establish in its place a new arrangement more natural to the character and genius of Hindustan. 

"Let us understand that the day of reckoning is not far. If not by the wisdom of our leaders, then despite their follies, if not by peaceful negotiation, then by painful war, the artificially contrived and grotesquely maintained fragmentation of the subcontinent must end. Nature has already begun to re-assert itself. 

"The people of India, most particularly the people of the Punjab, must prepare for the change. The best among them must work for it. Revolutionaries can create history only if they first learn to anticipate it."

This passage was published twenty years ago in a book authored by this scribe. The intervening period condemned him to isolation, criticism and ridicule. Now, at long last, may one dare hope that the restructuring of the subcontinent has begun? Consider recent events in Pakistan. 

The Pakistan government has allowed the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to be governed by Islamic law. In other words, the Pashto speaking areas now controlled by gun-toting Taliban will be administered by laws different from those prevailing in the rest of Pakistan. There is worldwide dismay and alarm over this development. Pakistan's Dawn columnist Murtaza Razvi has asked in his column: "How could you have two parallel justice systems running in the same country?" Good question. It needs to be followed by its logical corollary: Is Pakistan one nation? Nationhood is tested if people stay united voluntarily. That is possible only in democracy. Pakistan has yet to pass that test. 

The adverse reaction to developments in Pakistan could of course be hasty. The agreement was brokered by the NWFP provincial government. It was approved by President Zardari. It was announced immediately following President Obama's envoy Richard Holbrooke's departure from Pakistan after his talks with Zardari. The Pakistan government said that introducing Islamic law in the territory was not a concession to Taliban. The measure would be implemented only after peace prevailed in the region. Sufi Mohammed, the mentor of the Pakistani Taliban, has expressed confidence about persuading the Taliban to abjure violence. For the world, the most urgent objective is to separate local Pashtuns from Al Qaeda's Arabs and other foreign mercenary terrorists. Bereft of ground support Al Qaeda would become vulnerable. 

The present agreement is about a ten-day cease-fire in the first instance. It is being hoped that it becomes perpetual. The agreement was brokered by the National Awami Party (NAP) which governs the NWFP province. Asfandiyar Wali Khan, Abdul Ghaffar Khan's grandson, presides over NAP. In 2002 he recalled two basic lessons his grandfather taught him about the superiority of nonviolence. Asfandiyar stated: "My grandfather said that violence needs less courage than nonviolence. Second, violence will always breed hatred. Nonviolence breeds love." In 2007 Asfandiyar said: "The Taliban is not the creation of Pashtun society, but the creation of the Pakistan army." 

On assuming power in NWFP the first change Asfandiyar introduced was to pass a resolution in the NWFP assembly to rename the province as 'Pakhtunwa'. Only the national assembly can approve the name. Later, NWFP coalition partners and the opposition proposed the name 'Afghana' for the province. According to the 100 year unimplemented Durand Line Treaty, which lapsed in 1993, the FATA territory was to be ceded to Afghanistan. The conflict over the proposed new name for the province suggests that the Pashtuns are torn between Pakistan, Afghanistan and independence. 

Unless peace is restored US action against Al Qaeda and the Taliban will mount. President Obama has just sanctioned 17000 additional troops for Afghanistan. The people of the region desperately want peace. Peace is the first priority. Liberation from a medieval lifestyle can wait. There is no quick-fix formula to modernize medieval societies. Once peace prevails, this can be accomplished gradually and democratically. The Pashtuns for the first time in over a century have been offered the prospect of legitimized self-rule based on tribal identity. They will get this if they dissociate from terrorism and Al Qaeda. That is how the carrot and stick might work. Will they respond positively? 

An American university suggests that Osama bin Laden's sanctuary in NWFP has been located. If that is correct, US action to apprehend him could be imminent. Whether captured alive or killed, Osama's defeat could polarize the Taliban between peace and terrorism. In the event, what might follow? 

It is unlikely that the Pashtuns will easily surrender the prospect of their newfound tribal unity cutting across the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan. If terrorism ends, several things could happen. The FATA area could be incorporated into a larger Afghanistan as outlined in the Durand Line Treaty. That could destroy Pakistan as we know it. Or, the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan could merge into Pakistan, leaving the Uzbeks and Tajiks in the north to merge with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Afghanistan, as we know it, could then disappear. Or, there could be a sovereign, independent Pashtunistan. That would cripple both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Or, the present international borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan could remain intact as both nations arrive at a confederal arrangement that allows Pashtuns of both countries to intermingle freely and live as one people. Obviously the last would be the best arrangement. If it does emerge it could have a domino effect on the entire region to create a South Asian Union modeled on the European Union. Like the Pashtuns, the Kashmiris are divided between India and Pakistan, the Punjabis are divided between India and Pakistan, the Bengalis are divided between India and Bangladesh, and the Tamils are divided between India and Sri Lanka. 

At midnight on August 15, 1947 Pandit Nehru spoke in Parliament: "Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially?." After the leaders of the Congress Party betrayed their own commitments, their own followers and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, by accepting the Partition, the Frontier Gandhi, who sought merger with India but was spurned, gave the call for an independent Pashtunistan. Today, his grandson wrestles with the crisis in NWFP. Apart from Nehru, others too in India and Pakistan made their own trysts with destiny. Has the time come for them to redeem their pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but substantially?? 

Critics may dismiss such expectations as nonsense. They could be right. But one makes a humble submission. Wait for this year to end before passing final judgment. 


More by :  Dr. Rajinder Puri

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