Imagine it’s Christmas in the US – Pakistan has been a democracy for a while and a new generation of the army and intelligence is in charge there. A generation, that is no longer obsessed with India and is focused on eliminating terrorism from its soil. That itself would take something to achieve, but it would be worth it. And in this setting, terrorism would be eliminated or close to elimination from the Pakistani soil – right?
The western half of Pakistan essentially is the den of terrorists that are targeting the US. And as discussed in the part I of this blog, Pakistan has little control over this region.
The western half of Pakistan can be divided into 3 main regions – The tribal areas, the NWFP (North West Frontier Province) and Baluchistan.
The Durand Line (the artificial border between Pakistan and Afghanistan) has been a bone of contention between the two countries. If we shifted this line eastwards, the economic, political and social structure of that region could change dramatically.
The tribal areas and the NWFP are mainly inhabited by the Pashtuns. The irony is that the area across the border in Afghanistan is Pashtun as well. So what are these Pashtuns doing in Pakistan? Their fate was really decided in the late 19th century after the 3 Anglo-Afghan wars when the British annexed the territory from Afghanistan (read more: European Influence In Afghainstan). When the British left the sub-continent in 1947, they left in a hurry and made two major mistakes in the process:
- East Bengal, which essentially comprised Bengali Moslems, was branded East Pakistan even though it was a thousand miles away from mainland Pakistan (West Pakistan) and
- The Pashtun territory, which should have been handed back to Afghanistan, was included in West Pakistan.
The first anomaly was corrected in 1971 when East Pakistan declared independence and emerged as Bangladesh (read more: Bangladesh: Out of War, a Nation Is Born). It is about time to correct the second anomaly as well.
The tribal areas are an independent province, but are under the jurisdiction of the Governor of the NWFP. The governance structure in this area would be frowned upon even by a ruler from the medieval times (read more: Pakistan’s Tribal Areas). Full voting rights to the general populace were granted only in 1997. Before that, only the tribe elders (the maliks) were allowed to vote. The NWFP and the Tribal Areas combined, constitute about 16% of Pakistan’s population, but contribute only about 12% to the GDP. The poor economic and political condition coupled with the mountainous terrain, have made this area a safe haven for terrorists. Abbottabad – where Bin Laden lay in hiding, is part of the NWFP. Getting assimilated into the Pashtun region in Afghanistan, should usher in a new socio-economic era in this region and empower Afghanistan to exercise more authority over the terrorist menace in the region.
Baluchistan is essentially Baluchi with some Pashtun and the political landscape here is slightly different. First and foremost, Baluchistan has been very aggressive about its independence from Pakistan – to date, the natives have engaged in 5 formal conflicts with the Pakistan army. The theme here is more of autonomy/independence rather than becoming part of another administration (also read: The worsening conflict in Baluchistan). Baluchistan covers about 40% of the area in Pakistan, but contributes only 4.5% to the GDP. And despite the lowest Human Development Index among the various provinces in Pakistan, Baluchistan is rich in minerals with a potential port city – Gwadar. So it can be a self-sustaining economy if the US can help lay out an initial infrastructure and develop its human resources through training and education. Baluchistan shares a border with Iran so it would be in US interests to support development in the region and maintain it as an ally.
The new boundaries would make the map of the region look like below. The black line denotes the new Afghanistan boundary with Baluchistan and Pakistan and the red line denotes the new boundary between Baluchistan and Pakistan:
The execution of the plan is the key and the US needs to operate from behind the scenes like an agency of the respective governments instead of trying to be the government itself. With two new territories to manage, Afghanistan would need the US as a Defense Advisor. But Hamid Karzai needs to be given autonomy to assimilate the new territories using the US just as security experts to help eliminate terrorism in the new mountainous region.
Baluchistan will need some help building an economy that Pakistan has ignored for so long. Gwadar has the potential of becoming a key port city in the region and the US can play a great economic partner to the newly created nation – a partner that brings in prosperity to the region, without affecting the self-esteem of its leader. The US generals and diplomats will do well to let their output do the talking, instead of gloating about their power in the region. And for a change, it would be nice to experience the results.