Monday, May 11, 2009

Pakistan, "Pashtunistan," and Punjabis

I highly recommend Selig Harrison's op-ed in Monday's Washington Post on the Pashtun-Punjabi split in Pakistan. It is one of the clearist descriptions I've read lately. 
The Pakistani army is composed mostly of Punjabis. The Taliban is entirely Pashtun. For centuries, Pashtuns living in the mountainous borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan have fought to keep out invading Punjabi plainsmen. So sending Punjabi soldiers into Pashtun territory to fight jihadists pushes the country ever closer to an ethnically defined civil war, strengthening Pashtun sentiment for an independent "Pashtunistan" that would embrace 41 million people in big chunks of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Harrison also includes some policy recommendations:

Politically, U.S. policy should be revised to demonstrate that America supports the Pashtun desire for a stronger position in relation to the Punjabi-dominated government in Islamabad.

The Pashtuns in FATA treasure their long-standing autonomy and do not like to be ruled by Islamabad. As a March 13 International Crisis Group report recognized, what they want is integration into the Pashtun Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP).

The United States should support Pashtun demands to merge the NWFP and FATA, followed by the consolidation of those areas and Pashtun enclaves in Baluchistan and the Punjab into a single unified "Pashtunkhwa" province that enjoys the autonomy envisaged in the inoperative 1973 Pakistan constitution.

Harrison takes argues that the differences between Pashtuns and Punjabis mean the country could be headed toward a civil war that has been simmering for decades if not centuries. I read the tea leaves a little differently. I believe that because of the ethnic differences the Taliban cannot defeat a 700,000 person Punjabi army and take over Pakistan. The Taliban will not rule Pakistan, but that doesn't mean the fighting won't be long and ugly.

1 comment:

  1. Why not create an independent Pashtunistan