Greater than a century in the past, the Russians and the British performed the Nice Recreation for the management of Afghanistan. Immortalized in Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim,” this recreation outlined three generations of troopers, spies and diplomats. Because the outstanding Rory Stewart data, the Nice Recreation by no means ended. The Soviets and the Individuals carried on the place the Russians and the British left. Now, a brand new nice recreation is about to start.

Is Afghanistan Going to Break Aside?


As is properly chronicled, Afghanistan emerged as a buffer state between the Russian and British empires. Dominated by the Pashtuns, this state remained an inchoate entity of competing ethnic teams, feuding clans and autonomous villages. As Tabish Forugh and one of many authors famous in an earlier article on Honest Observer, this Pashtun-dominated order crumbled when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The Taliban introduced again this order within the Nineties and are establishing Pashtun primacy but once more.

New Life to Outdated Identities

Modernity has not been sort to Afghanistan. Till the Nineteen Seventies, this nation was a land the place hippies confirmed as much as smoke pot and have a very good time. Older Pakistani buddies reminisce about driving from Peshawar to Kabul to purchase videotapes of Bollywood motion pictures and bask within the comparatively liberal milieu of Afghanistan. When the Soviets intervened in 1979, this idyllic model of the nation disintegrated. For all of the efforts of Soviet troops, engineers and directors, communism failed.

By February 1989, Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan. Later that 12 months, the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union itself imploded in 1991. The loosely allied mujahideen turned their weapons on one another and a bloody civil warfare adopted. The Tajiks, the Uzbeks and the Pashtuns had been at one another’s throats. Finally, the Pakistani-trained, Islamabad-backed, Pashtun-led Taliban triumphed in 1996. Their rule was lower brief by the 9/11 assaults in 2001, which introduced American intervention and commenced a 20-year experiment with democracy.

Sadly, the democratic experiment has failed too. In June 2021, Forugh and one of many authors wrote that President Ashraf Ghani occupied “his fancy palace in Kabul because of the barrels of American weapons,” and, as soon as the Individuals left, he can be toast. Individuals established a presidential system based mostly on their very own mannequin that was destined to fail in a famously numerous and fractious society. Observe that the US leaders after World Struggle II selected parliamentary democracy for Germany and Japan, two industrial societies with a far greater diploma of homogeneity. If Washington blundered at first, its choices had been catastrophic on the finish. At the moment, democracy is lifeless and buried, the fanatical Taliban rule the roost and ethnic identification is changing fragile multiethnic Afghan nationalism.

The Rise of Ethnic Nationalism

As said earlier, Afghanistan is the place two increasing empires met. The British had digested modern-day Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, then British India. The Russians had taken over an odd assortment of clans and khanates in Central Asia, lots of whom had been descendants of Genghis Khan and Timur. Similar to the boundaries drawn by the British or the French, the Russian ones had been arbitrary too. As ethnic nationalism rises in Afghanistan, it’s going to spill over into Central Asia.

As late as February 2020, the US State Division declared that “a safe and steady Afghanistan [was] a prime precedence for the Central Asian governments.” It inspired these governments to spice up financial and commerce ties with their Kabul counterparts. American hopes for “steady governance of multi-ethnic, Muslim-majority international locations” now lie in tatters. Kazakhstan demonstrates that Russian realpolitik of supporting strongmen has triumphed.

But even the Kremlin can not maintain again the tide of ethnic nationalism that’s unfolding in Afghanistan and spreading to Central Asia. The Tajiks led by Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud have the tacit, if not express, assist of the Tajikistan authorities. The Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum fled to Uzbekistan when the Taliban took over. Because the Pashtuns go away not even scraps on the desk for others, it’s only pure that minority ethnicities are trying throughout the border for a greater future. Simply as in former Yugoslavia, ethnic nationalism is now on the rise in Central Asia.

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Pakistan’s Frankenstein Monster’s Drawback: Radical Islam

To a big diploma, Pakistan has fostered, if not created, the ethnic nationalism now rising in Afghanistan and spilling over into Central Asia. It’s an open secret that Pakistan’s navy elite created the Taliban. As Ishtiaq Ahmed explains, “the Garrison State” has at all times been paranoid about its lack of strategic depth. The lack of East Pakistan that received independence as Bangladesh in 1971 has scarred the Pakistani psyche and made the nation’s political elites double down on political Islam. Within the Eighties, Normal Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq moved Pakistan alongside a fundamentalist arc. Jihad turned the order of the day not solely in opposition to the Soviets in Afghanistan but in addition in opposition to India, which he sought to “bleed by means of a thousand cuts.”

Zia was not an exception to Pakistani hostility to India. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the person Zia ousted by means of a navy coup and held on the gallows, vowed to wage a “thousand 12 months warfare in opposition to India.” In 1974, Pakistani mobs massacred 1000’s of Ahmadis and, as a substitute of delivering them safety or justice, Bhutto introduced in a constitutional modification declaring the Ahmadis non-Muslims. The identical 12 months, he declared Pakistan would go nuclear, claiming “We will eat grass however have our bomb.” Islamic fundamentalism and Pavlovian anti-India ethos drive Pakistani state coverage no matter whether or not the nation is below civil or navy rule. 

Backed by the US and Saudi Arabia, the Pakistan-backed mujahideen introduced the Soviet Union to its knees. In opposition to India, Pakistan has adopted an uneven technique of championing irregulars, rebel and terrorists from its very inception. Within the first of a three-part sequence analyzing the fallout of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Rakesh Kaul factors out how Pakistan supported a Pashtun jihad in Kashmir as early as 1947. The marauding tribesmen killed Kaul’s great-grandfather, “tied his lifeless physique to a horse and dragged it by means of the streets to terrorize the native inhabitants into submission.”

Ranging from the Eighties, Pakistan’s Inter-Companies Intelligence (ISI) unleashed terror as an instrument of state coverage in opposition to India. First, the ISI backed the violent Sikh insurgency for an impartial state of Khalistan, a method that it continues with until right now. Second, the ISI supported the insurgency in Kashmir that blew up in 1989 and persists until right now. Third, the ISI created and supported militant jihadist teams similar to Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed to overwhelm India by means of a number of terrorist assaults. With a crisis-ridden economic system and far smaller navy, Pakistan has guess on uneven terror ways and nuclear deterrence to tie India down.

Nonetheless, Pakistan is discovering that whenever you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind. Like Victor Frankenstein, the Garrison State has created a monster: radical Islam. For the reason that Eighties, Pakistan has develop into illiberal, sectarian and violent. Minorities have confronted persecution and suffered ethnic cleaning. The case of the animistic Kalash individuals in Chitral is a working example. Many documentaries have recorded how they’ve confronted persistent persecution and compelled conversion. Consequently, a mere 3,500 Kalash are left and so they could not survive for too lengthy.

Radical Islam was meant to be a instrument the Pakistani state used in opposition to its neighbors. Now, it has unfold like most cancers all through all facets of the nation’s life. As an alternative of Pakistan’s corrupt and inefficient authorities, madrasas now present schooling for refugees and lower-class Pakistanis. Lots of them are hardline and churn out jihadis by the 1000’s. As an example, a lot of the Afghani Taliban management graduated from the madrasa Dur-ul-Uloom Haqqania.

Spiritual figures can now deliver the nation over a standstill immediately. Violent protests repeatedly erupted after French President Emmanuel Macron mentioned that Islam was in disaster. Terror assaults inside Pakistan have shot up. Roohafza, a sugary syrupy drink, has changed whiskey in officer messes. Many officers now sport flowing beards and provide prayer 5 occasions a day. Within the phrases of Javed Jabbar, Pakistan has skilled “a gradual retreat into showy religiosity and visual piety within the public area and in most media.” A brand new regulation makes it obligatory for each little one to be taught Arabic.

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Pakistan finds itself in a bind. It has to direct the 1000’s of jihadis graduating from madrasas in opposition to exterior enemies to keep away from internecine strife. In actual fact, it’s only a query of time earlier than radical Islamists will infiltrate all organs of the Pakistani state. The Taliban’s victory has satisfied them that Allah is on their facet. The dangers of a normal like Zia or a cleric like Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini taking up and unleashing nuclear terror or nuclear warfare are getting greater by the day.

Radical Islam and Pashtun Delight Make an Explosive Cocktail

If radical Islam is harmful, radical Islam mixed with ethnic nationalism is terrifying. After 20 years, the Pashtun-led Taliban is again in energy. They’re surging with confidence after humbling the world’s superpower. This time, they’re battle-hardened, higher skilled and savvier than their predecessors from the Nineties. The Taliban even have a powerful sense of historical past and look again to the expansionist 18th-century Ahmed Shah Durrani as a mannequin to observe. 

Durrani was a historic determine who despatched troops to Central Asia, defeated the Marathas within the historic 1761 Third Battle of Panipat with help of native Muslim rulers and created the fashionable nation of Afghanistan. Durrani’s younger nation quickly fell sufferer to the Nice Recreation and misplaced a lot territory to the British. Led by Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, the British delineated the modern-day border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Until date, many Pashtuns haven’t accepted this border.

The Taliban are expansionists. Within the north, the Tajiks and the Uzbeks will combat a guerilla warfare, making certain their eventual retreat. To the west lie Turkmenistan and Iran, two ethnically distinct entities the place the Taliban can not increase. To the south and east lies Pakistan the place the Taliban skilled and the place their Pashtun kin reside. Moreover, the Pashtuns have a deep reminiscence of raiding and ruling the plains of Indus and the Ganges. When Babur swept down from modern-day Uzbekistan to modern-day Pakistan and India by means of the Khyber Move, he defeated a Pashtun sultan who was ruling Delhi.

When Pakistan received independence, Pashtun opinion was divided. Some like Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar wished a homeland for Muslim Indians within the form of Pakistan. Others like Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a pal of Mahatma Gandhi, fought for a unified India after which for an autonomous Pashtunistan. Nonetheless others wished reunification with Afghanistan. Worryingly for Pakistan, Pashtun refugees have streamed into the nation from Afghanistan since 1979. Encyclopedia Britannica tells us that there have been “about 11 million Pashtun in Afghanistan and 25 million in Pakistan within the early twenty first century.” A number of estimates point out Pashtuns to be over 15% of Pakistan’s inhabitants. In Afghanistan, they comprise about 42% of the inhabitants. As soon as all-out ethnic battle erupts in Afghanistan, Pashtun identification is just prone to strengthen.

Up to now, the Punjabi elite working Pakistan has co-opted the Pashtun elite by giving it plum positions within the state equipment, particularly the navy. The ruling elite has additionally used Pashtuns to combat wars and proxy wars in Kashmir since 1947 when each India and Pakistan emerged as two impartial entities after the partition of British India. Through the 20 years of US presence in Afghanistan, cross-border incursions into and violent incidents in Kashmir declined as a result of Pashtuns had been too busy combating a jihad at house. Now, these jihadis will flip their consideration to Kashmir.

Not all jihadis are fixated with Kashmir. A few of them are sworn enemies of the Pakistani state such because the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. With the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pakistan could have achieved its long-cherished strategic depth in opposition to India, nevertheless it now has the tail of the Pashtun tiger in its fingers. Pakistan’s ISI has no possibility however to deploy Pashtun jihadis in opposition to India in Kashmir. Failure on the Kashmir entrance might set off Pashtun dissatisfaction in opposition to Punjabi management.

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A tiny wrinkle many neglect is that Pashtuns see themselves as a warrior individuals and the pure leaders of Muslims within the Indian subcontinent. They’ve efficiently overwhelmed again the British, the Soviets and the Individuals. Pashtuns see the Punjabis as mushy, loud and showy. Just like the Balochs, the Sindhis, the Muhajirs and others, Pashtuns resent the Punjabi domination of Pakistan. Moreover, many Pashtuns regard the banks of the Indus, not the Durand Line, as their pure border.

Blood Borders

Pakistan’s Pashtun downside is a selected instance of a extra widespread phenomenon. Many of the present borders in Africa, the Center East and Asia are colonial legacies that don’t make sense. In 2006, Ralph Peters revealed a controversial article in Armed Forces Journal titled “Blood Borders” the place he argued for redrawing “arbitrary and distorted borders.” Peters took the view that “important ‘cheated’ inhabitants teams, such because the Kurds, Baluch and Arab Shia” deserved their very own states. He blamed “awful-but-sacrosanct worldwide boundaries,” not Islam, for a lot of the violence within the Center East and South Asia.

Since 2006, many analysts have slammed Peters. The US has resolutely upheld the soundness of the borders in former British and French colonies even because it has championed the independence of countries as soon as below the Soviet yoke. That coverage is perhaps nearing the top of its shelf life. In its second of triumph in Afghanistan, Pakistan may need set wheels into movement that can result in its personal disintegration.

At the moment, Pakistan is held collectively by an anti-India Islamic identification. The totally different linguistic ethnic teams that comprise Pakistan have lengthy been pulling in several instructions. Due to this fact, Pakistan has fostered a siege mentality amongst its individuals and created an identification that appears to Arab, Turkish and Pashtun conquerors of India for inspiration. Pashtun identification is way extra cohesive, time-tested and actual. After humbling the US, Pashtuns are unlikely to play second fiddle to the Punjabis for for much longer. Inevitably, they’re sure to take cost of their very own future as they’ve completed many occasions up to now.

So as to add gasoline to the fireplace, Pakistan’s economic system is in dire straits. Final 12 months, the Worldwide Financial Fund instituted one more bailout and launched $6 billion to Islamabad in November. Over the past three years, the Pakistani rupee has fallen by 30.5% in opposition to the US greenback. Inflation and unemployment are working excessive. In such circumstances, anti-India rhetoric is helpful, fascinating and important to maintain the nation collectively. 

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly condemned India’s “descent into fascism” and claimed that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Get together (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s dad or mum group, of being Nazi-inspired entities. This places stress on Khan’s authorities and his navy backers to behave in opposition to such a poisonous neighbor and evil enemy. The difficulty for Khan and his delusional buddies in Islamabad is that state coffers have little cash to fund battle with a much more affluent and quite a few India. Khan and co are riling up a mob that they’re sure to disappoint. The last-ditch effort to maintain Pakistan collectively can be warfare with India and, if Islamic radicals had been to grab energy in Islamabad, the chance of nuclear warfare would solely flip too actual.

Whether or not battle with India is typical or nuclear shall be decided by circumstances sooner or later. It’s clear that the Taliban have unleashed ethnic nationalism not solely in Afghanistan but in addition in neighboring Central Asian states. Inevitably, the Pashtuns in Pakistan shall be contaminated by that sentiment as properly, particularly as Islamabad leads the nation to financial and navy catastrophe. The situation Peters conjured of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier tribes reuniting with their Afghan brethren and creating Pashtunistan would then come true. Each Afghanistan and Pakistan would now not be the identical once more.

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Honest Observer’s editorial coverage.