(May 14, 2011) Pakistan would be a more stable and peaceful place if its four component nations were unstitched from one another
Since Osama bin Laden was found living unmolested in a Pakistani military town, debate has raged over how to deal with this duplicitous, faction-ridden country. Should the United States and others in the West continue to provide Pakistan with billions in foreign aid, in the hopes of currying at least some influence among elements of the Pakistani leadership? Or should we get tough, and declare it to be the state sponsor of terrorism that it is, knowing this course of action could cripple our efforts to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan and drive Pakistan further into the Chinese sphere of influence?
Neither course would be satisfactory and neither should be adopted. Instead, the West should recognize that the muddle it faces stems from Pakistan’s internal contradictions. This is not one cohesive country but four entirely distinct nations, having little in common save their animosity toward one another, a predominantly Muslim faith and Britain’s decision to confine them within the same borders in partitioning the Indian subcontinent more than a half century ago. The West’s only sensible course of action today is to unstitch the British patchwork, let the major nations within Pakistan choose their future, and negotiate coherently with new national administrations that don’t have impossibly conflicted mandates.
The first A in the word “Pakistan” represents Afghania, a province (since renamed North West Frontier) predominantly inhabited by Pashtuns, the same tribal peoples who live in much of adjoining Afghanistan. They mostly share the same Pashto language and culture as well as religion, and they trade among themselves largely as if a border didn’t separate them.
And, they look out for one another, leading Pashtun factions within Pakistan’s intelligence service to serve interests among their cross-border brethren. In fact, a chief source of conflict between Pakistan and Afghanistan stems from the separation of the Pashtuns by a British divide-and-conquer stratagem. The North West Frontier should be hived off Pakistan and allowed to vote for independence or union with Afghanistan, a more natural home.
South of North West Frontier lies Balochistan (the “t-a-n” of Pakistan), the largest and poorest of Pakistan’s four provinces, despite providing the country with 40% of its natural gas, as well as oil, copper and other minerals. Balochs, a largely secular and proWestern people with their own language and customs, have repeatedly tried to break away from their forcible incorporation into Pakistan. The most recent attempt, begun in 2005 with rumoured assistance from India and the CIA, has to date been suppressed by Pakistan’s military, by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and by the many Taliban fighters that Pakistan hosts in Balochistan’s capital, Quetta. Human rights reports, which detail numerous instances of torture and the disappearances of some 5,000 Balochs, peg the number of internal war refugees in Balochistan at 240,000. Balochs, who consider the federal Pakistani govern-ment to be an occupying force, would welcome independence and freedom from their religiously militant Taliban oppressors.
Sindh (the S in “Pakistan”) is one of Pakistan’s two industrialized states, literate and economically developed. With a 7,000-year history, one of the oldest on Earth, Sindh also has its own language and customs, profound grievances with the federal government and a separatist movement. Like industrialized Punjab (the P in Pakistan), which likewise has its own language and customs, an independent Sindh would be a coherent country that could develop without the many contradictions that come of needing to live within an incoherent federal structure.
With the possible exception of Punjab, which is now the top dog in the Pakistani pack, the new nations to emerge from a breakup of Pakistan likely would soon become more prosperous as well as more free, leaving them better off. This breakup of the Pakistani federation would almost certainly be preferable from the West’s perspective as well.
Under the status quo, the monstrous hybrid that is Pakistan for decades has been one of the greatest forces for instability in the world. Apart from its role as a breeding ground for terrorism, Pakistan has been the single biggest proliferator of nuclear weapons technology, its A. Q. Khan network having made or helped make nukes available to North Korea, Iran, Libya and Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
In dealing with a Pakistan that has careened from one unstable government to another, most of them dictatorial and with no genuine national interest, the West has had no effective basis for diplomacy apart from bribes, aimed at securing short-term goals, in the form of foreign aid and military hardware. Once Pakistan is broken up into entities with true and distinct national interests, grievances that give rise to strife and terrorism would abate and the problems the West now faces in Pakistan would become more manageable.
Lawrence Solomon is managing director of Energy Probe Research Foundation and a founder of Probe International. LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com