Tuesday, January 24, 2006


The linguistic, sectarian, tribal and political fault-lines that run across Afghanistan, Baluchistan, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the North West Frontier Province impinge on the stability of Pakistan. Emphasis to date has been on the politics of the Punjab and Sindh. The trans-Indus dynamics might in fact be more relevant to the continuity of the Musharraf regime. This post will focus on the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan.

The Pakhtun North West Frontier Province and the adjoining Tribal Areas lay between the Mughal and Safavid empires. Ahmad Shah Durrani founded the Durrani empire in 1747 CE that included Afghanistan, the North West Frontier and the Tribal Areas. The three regions have strong ethno-religious links. Maharaja Ranjith Singh brought the Tribal Areas under Punjabi domination in 1818 CE. The politics of that region were linked to the Indian subcontinent from then on. The British imposed the 1,500 mile Durand line in 1893 that cut through Pakhtun lands. Afghanistan rejected the legality of the Durand line in 1949.

The colonial authorities chose not to directly administer the fiercely individualist Tribal Areas, a region of 10,500 square miles. Independent Pakistan continued the policy of autonomy. Tribal law supersedes the civil and criminal law of Pakistan. The Tribal Areas comprise Bajorr, Khyber, Kurram, Mohmand, Orakzai and Waziristan. It has a population of 3 million. The tribal chiefs or Maliks reign supreme. The fall of the Taleban in neighboring Afghanistan in December, 2001 changed the relative independence that the region enjoyed. Pakistan sent in 70,000 troops in 2004 as part of the United States sponsored Global Offense Against Terror. This led to increased restiveness in the Tribal Areas. The international media has not covered the simmering unrest partly because of a lack of access.

United States military activity in the face of increased instability in adjoining areas of Afghanistan heightened tensions. It launched a missile attack on January 13 targeting suspected militant cells in Bajorr. 18 civilians were reportedly killed in addition to 4 alleged Al Qaeda operatives. Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai had accused militants operating from the Tribal Areas of carrying out the suicide attack that killed a Canadian diplomat and two others in Kandahar on January 15, a suicide attack that killed 5 more in Kandahar on January 16 and a attack that killed 23 in Spin Boldak. The Governor of the Afghan province of Kandahar accused Pakistan of complicity.

The information is sparse and the implications unclear. This is much to do with the lack of access to the region. The events in the Tribal Areas might destabilize the adjoining North West Frontier Province, currently governed by the six party Islamist alliance the Muttahida Majlis-e Amal. The provincial government has crossed swords with Musharraf accusing him of being an "American slave". It has charged American troops carrying out earthquake relief operations of espionage. Another issue that comes to mind, albeit in an indirect manner, is the proposed Kalabagh dam that largely affects Pakhtun areas. In addition to withholding Indus river waters from the Sindh for use in the Punjab, it would submerge the Pakhtun city of Naushera. Several other Pakthun areas would face regular water logging.

Indian policy makers need to assess the potential for instability. The case for a greater Afghan involvement in the affairs of the North West Frontier Province and the Federal Administered Tribal Areas should be explored. The three units after all form part of an ethno-religious continuum unrelated to the Punjab. The Pakhtun partition was a mere accident of history. A Pakthun nationalism divorced from the Punjab and one that takes inspiration from the Durrani empire, the warrior poetry of Kushal Khan Khattak and the anti-colonial agitation of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan is in India's interest. This after all was the historic Indic frontier with the Farsi realm.


cynical nerd said...

Great post. I wanted ask you about the "trans-Indus dynamics" you commented early in my blog. I guess this answers that.

Two points on Pak's dangerous game with the US:
- Reg. missile strike, U.S. official Holbrooke said that it is impossible that Pakistanis did'nt know about it. Even assuming the US did not inform Musharraf about the drones, the Paki air-defense system would have caught it way in advance. In that sense, he said that if Musharraf wanted he could have prevented those anti-American protests.

- A recent NY Times report quoted a U.S. intelligence official who monitors SIGINT along the Pak-Afghan border. He says that the chatter light up like fireworks on the Pakistani side and none on the Afghan side. Coz the Taliban/al-Queda speak freely on their radios thinking they are safe there!

AFA India, I read the Indian consulate in Kandahar is rapidly growing much to the Paki's chagrin! Hopefully the mandarins at the South Block can take up the challenge to play the Great Game!

Jaffna said...

Cynical Nerd,

You are so well read on current affairs. This is impressive.

Here's more trivia for you. In the late 1990s, a fellow Sri Lankan Tamil had motored from Turkey to South India through Iran and Pakistan. The idea was to tour the four countries. In Baluchistan, he had heard Tamil being spoken and he stopped. When he got chatting, he realized that they happened to be members of the LTTE :-) This is truly an inter-connected world.

Anonymous said...

Oh this 'historic Indo frontier', this longing for Akhand Bharat. When will it leave Indians' consciousenss? Never!!

Jaffna said...

Ah anonymous, who is talking of Akhand Bharat here. All I was suggesting is that Indian decision makers explore the possibility of supporting a greater Pakhtunistan (independent of the Punjab) - quite a different story altogether.

cynical nerd said...

Jaffna: LTTE in Balochistan! The world is indeed small.

I 've met some Pak. Pakhtuns, they don't speak Urdu well so they could'nt understand my Hindi as well, though they are forced to learn it in public schools. And they hate the name NWFP. Time for them to know a bit more about 'Suya Aatchi' (self-governance) Dravidian style.

Anon: What 'Akhand Bharat'? All we are asking for is a little more 'autonomy & self-governance' for Pakhtunistan, Balochistan, Sindhudesh and Gilgitistan.

libertarian said...

Jaffna: great post. Yes, there's fires on the frontiers. Seems that strongman Mush is in relative control though (courtesy The Acorn). It's the standard strategy of monopolizing the use of force. For all his high-sounding sermons, Mushy wields a pretty mean baton. It's not for nothing that he's known as the Butcher of Baltistan. So while the Balochis and Pathans might be independent-minded they're up against a foe with vastly superior resources and the mindset to use them (like helicopter gunship strafing of the Balochis). Guess that's where India levels the playing field a little.

Jaffna said...

Hi Libertarian

I did not know of his role in Baltistan. I must read more about it. Thanks for the lead.

You might be right on the monopoly of force.

CN, Suya Atchi (or swarajya) is not Dravidian. It is Indian :-)

Best regards

cynical nerd said...

Jaffna: Sorry, I meant "manila suyaatchi" an Indian version of federalism.

Red said...

Fascinating analysis as usual. To continue an earlier conversation, I admit I was surprised at being pinned down and identified so easily.

I did go to law school in Bangalore and spent two stints working for ICES and the Human Rights Commission in Colombo. I love Sri Lankan food and the accent that Sri lankans claim they don't have. :)


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