In his recent analysis for the Hoover Institution, Colonel Ralph Peters called Pakistan a little empire. He sees two separate geographical entities within Pakistan straddling the Indus River with their respective distinct cultures. The side of Pakistan east of the Indus, he asserted, has the population and resources required to colonize the rest of Pakistan west of the river.
He claims that the ethnic groups on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line (west of the Indus River) wish to govern themselves, which the “colonizing empire” Pakistan cannot allow without further dissolution (the country already suffered one in 1971 when East Pakistan became Bangladesh).
This kind of thinking is pervasive in a certain section of American analysts and policy-makers. Robert D Kaplan presented a similar view describing what’s wrong with Pakistan. He said the entire Indian subcontinent could be dissected into two principal geographical regions: the Indus Valley and its tributaries, and the Ganges Valley and its tributaries.
Historically, only the Mauryas, the Mughals and the British were able to hold the two regions together while the areas west of the Indus served as the border region, requiring extensive military investment to ward off threats from the Central Asian steppes. At the end of his essay, Kaplan correctly summed up by saying that Pakistan today is not what Jinnah, the country’s founding father, originally intended.
Interestingly, at the beginning of the same essay, Peters confesses that this belief of Pakistani decision-makers that Americans do not understand the region is, in fact, correct. Everything he says is a lot less factual beyond this confession. The essay, in its essence, displays not just ignorance but also dangerous arrogance typical of a policy hawk in Washington.
The ethnic groups residing in this region chose Pakistan through self-determination at the time of Indian partition, something Kashmir was never offered; a fact conveniently lost in western capitals. It is true that social, political and administrative problems abound, however, members of ethnic groups here have also enjoyed privilege, prestige and power at the top echelons of provincial and federal administrations.
These respective ethnic elites are among the many beneficiaries of the system who deprive the common man of his rights. They are part and parcel of what is wrong with Pakistan; guilty of the perversity which ail the country today.
Even so, out of the 16 heads of the country’s powerful military who have served to date, one has been from the Hazara community and three have been Pashtuns, including its first martial law administrator, General Ayub Khan, who is credited with opening the door to military intervention in the country’s politics. One of every three active military servicemen is a Pashtun, and almost half of the country’s intelligence operatives belong to this ethnicity; which Peters claims to be among the oppressed in Pakistan.
The problem at the heart of Pakistan is neither its geography nor its history, but its politics of segmentation and exclusion. Pakistan has a very complex society of 200 million people packed together in a piece of land slightly larger than Texas which neither inherited nor was allowed to develop any stable and inclusive civilian institutions. The dominant majority of the country still firmly believes in the logic of its creation; the truth of the Two Nation theory re-affirmed thanks to Indian Hindutva under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Pakistani society is deeply immersed in conspiracy theories multiplied by religiosity
Pakistani society is deeply immersed in conspiracy theories multiplied by religiosity. This is a country where truth is fiction, and lore and legend are believed as facts. This is a society held together only by its conviction in political Islam, the righteousness of the cause of its creation, and the hegemony its military has over its people.
In the eyes of many Pakistanis, the name of Peters is a reminder of “American conspiracies” to redraw borders of Islamic countries along ethnic and sectarian lines. In this part of the world, he is not recognized for his 29 books but for his paper in the US Armed Forces Journal over a decade ago that looked a lot like what Condoleezza Rice called “the New Middle East.” They see everything that has happened since as just a continuity of that “secret plan” by the Americans because “it just fits, look at the Arab Spring.”
The Pakistani decision makers as well as the general public look at the American tolerance of anti-Pakistan militants within Afghanistan as a logical extension of this “secret plan” to destabilize and dissolve Pakistan. The country’s decision makers now suspect the recent Pashtun social mobilization, Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), as the other side of the same coin and not as a Pashtun Spring.
In this society with a taste for sensationalism, it is believed that “the Freemasons, the Illuminati, and the devil worshipers” are continuously “exploiting” Pashtuns because of the central position they allegedly hold in possible Islamic revival, as well as Christian and Jewish eschatological traditions because of their legendary descent from the lost tribes of Israel.
Some expect them to initiate the “army of the Mehdi” and “conquer India” in the oft-referred “Ghazwa-e-Hind” carrying black flags before heading to Damascus, Syria to join the fight against the Dajjal (the Islamic version of the anti-Christ). Indeed, the only war between India and Pakistan ending in the latter having a clear upper hand was fought in 1948 largely by Pashtun volunteers. The Pashtuns are commonly referred to in biblical parlance as the “unpaid army of God” or “God’s battle axe.”
In such a “scenario,” thousands of militant volunteers from around the world will also flock to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region to take part in the “Ghazwa-e-Hind” because of the position the tradition holds in Islamic eschatology.
This was precisely the case in Syria, where scores of militants have joined the civil war in the hope of participating in the “end times battle” just in time to realize that they are embroiled in a proxy war between global and regional powers. Such a conflict here will be catastrophic both in humanitarian and geostrategic terms and will dwarf the Syrian crisis many times over due to the sheer size of the population in the region.
The Pakistani decision makers as well as the general public look at the American tolerance of anti-Pakistan militants within Afghanistan as a logical extension of this “secret plan” to destabilize and dissolve Pakistan
No one can fairly establish whether the PTM is what the decision makers say it is due to a complete national media blackout. However, whatever rare information is available makes a strong case for a very delicate management of the issue. One can disagree with PTM demands, or denounce their rhetoric, but it is not rationally possible to designate their four core demands as unconstitutional or illegal at this point as per the available information.
Manzoor Pashteen, the leader of the PTM, has reportedly called for the establishment of a “truth and reconciliation commission” for addressing the grievances of tribal Pashtuns. Such commissions have been used by other nations in the recent past to foster greater national harmony and strengthen the federation.
However, Pashteen, or PTM for that matter, does not represent the entire Pashtun ethnicity because more Pashtuns are affiliated with federal, religious or other nationalist political parties and groups than with PTM.
Pashtuns, as already stated, also make up a third of the Pakistani army and are fairly represented in other state organs. What is paramount for Pakistani decision makers at this point is that all concerned should exercise restraint and that a policy of inclusiveness is adopted and extended. Plans are already underway, according to local reports, for state organs and PTM to sit down and negotiate, which is a step in the right direction.
The people of Pakistan, Pashtun and non-Pashtun alike, harbor deep suspicion of “sinister American policies” in the region since President Donald Trump announced his policy for the region last year. People like Peters in the policy circles of Washington help further cement this deep suspicion.
Today, what stands between the world and total chaos is this “little empire” he calls Pakistan; its people, its ethnicities and its army. The country has bled more for the rest of the world in the “Long War” than the entire rest of the world put together. Instead of a little regard, what it gets in return is a dangerously arrogant proposition of Pakistan’s dissolution. Those adamant about such a preposterous idea are an equal threat to humanity and global security as they are to US-Pakistan relations.