A plan for Afghanistan’s partition

Published: November 9, 2010

The writer served as chief secretary of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and political agent of North Waziristan [email protected]

Faced with rising opposition at home, diminishing political support, increased casualties on the battlefield and growing reluctance of allies to continue with the war in Afghanistan, the United States is looking for a way to cut losses and reduce its presence in Afghanistan. Different solutions are advocated on how to contain the Taliban war machine after the drawdown of US forces. However, it is feared that suggested remedies may end up destabilising not only Afghanistan but much of Central and South Asia.

One proposal recently mooted is by a former US Ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill. In his “Plan B: The de facto Partition of Afghanistan,” Blackwill argues that the best alternative for the US is a de facto partition of Afghanistan. According to this proposal, Afghanistan’s Pakhtun areas will be cordoned off from the rest of the country by a ring of garrisons that will act as fire-bases.

Blackwill thinks that such a division of Afghanistan will allow the Taliban and anti-Taliban forces to consume themselves. To conduct the military aspect of this plan, he advocates the retention of a 40,000-50,000 strong US force as compared to the existing 120,000. Blackwill suggests that the US should continue to target al Qaeda and the Taliban within the indicated ‘killing zone,’ and in their safe havens in Fata and other parts of Pakistan.

This plan has dangerous consequences. It would leave the Afghan Taliban in control of most of their historic stronghold in the south and the east. At the same time, regional powers like Russia and its former Central Asian Republics will form a ring to the North to prevent the outflow of violence towards the soft underbelly of Russia. If the Taliban break through this northern ring, then the situation in the Caucasus will change drastically to the detriment of Russia. The US hopes that Iran too will join this plan so that the Taliban are precluded from influencing the Afghan western and central provinces where there are Shia populations. This plan foresees the Chinese cooperating to prevent radicalisation of the Sinkiang (Xinjiang) region.

Blackwill advocates targeting the Taliban along Pakistan’s border. In other words the Afghan war will shift into Pakistan and thus have dangerous implications. Blackwill’s creation of a ‘killing zone’ in Afghanistan will affect Pakistan’s Pakhtuns in Fata, KP and Balochistan. The Durand Line that is the international border, extending some 2,240 kilometres dividing Pakistan from Afghanistan, will disappear as the killing zone extends east and southwards from Afghanistan. Therefore, the plan will not only strangle Afghanistan but also Pakistan.

If Blackwill’s policies are implemented, the existentialist threat to Pakistan will increase. The resulting chaos and violence may force the 40 million Pashtuns who reside in Pakistan to consider the dynamics of establishing a separate state. Given Pakistan’s ethnic fragility and simmering discontent in Balochistan, Blackwill’s prescription will destabilise Pakistan.

A larger risk is also inherent in the Blackwill plan. If the writ of the Pakistani state deteriorates, it is likely that Pakistani jihadi outfits will emerge as international agents in their own right. Their narrative will not be that of Pan-Islamism like Osama’s but more embedded in the subcontinental religious rivalry between Hindus and Muslims. Their obvious target will be India.

As local jihadi organisations emerge, they will direct their efforts against India. In the event of such a likelihood India will strike Pakistan. Pakistan, threatened with disintegration, will likely opt to use the nuclear option. In the absence of a US restraint as in December 2008, such a situation could lead to a nuclear Armageddon. On the other hand, India is fast developing into a future great power of the 21st century and thus has much more to lose from the Blackwill plan. This will force her to be more forbearing and patient. However, there is also a rabid anti-Pakistan lobby in India. How this insane hate-game will roll out is anyone’s guess. Pakistan must strategise early to prevent the actualisation of the Blackwill plan.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 10th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Ronit
    Nov 10, 2010 - 12:32AM

    Mr. Aziz, I don’t see anything bad for India in this as you are making out but we dont want Pakistan to break coz that is against our principle of “pluralism” i.e diversity. Sooner or later we’ll have to find peace between us but i see a lot of bloodshed in future, lets keep our fingers cross!!Recommend

  • Nov 10, 2010 - 2:47AM

    A former Ambassador prepared a report? And that is the basis of your analysis? Please show your readers some respect, partitioning a country is not that easy to begin with, and given that he is a former Ambassador how is his recommendations going to translate into policy.

    As for: Blackwill advocates targeting the Taliban along Pakistan’s border. In other words the Afghan war will shift into Pakistan and thus have dangerous implications Isnt that already happening? Nothing new here? That doesnt support your argument, it just goes to show that the US can implement its policies regardless of international borders. Bifurcating Afghanistan will not serve any purpose, given the regional dynamics, and neither is China nor Russia going to support such measures.

    And: As local jihadi organisations emerge, they will direct their efforts against India. In the event of such a likelihood India will strike Pakistan. Pakistan, threatened with disintegration, will likely opt to use the nuclear option. Arnt you getting ahead of yourself? Jihadi organizations have already “emerged” and that hasnt prompted anyone to launch nuclear weapons. Just because the calculations predicts a doomsday scenario, doesn’t add to the intellectual strength of the argument. Recommend

  • Nov 10, 2010 - 3:28AM

    a. Blackwill has written about a de facto partition of Afghanistan, not Pakistan.
    b. Pakistan is strong nation and cannot disintegrate.
    c. Under no circumstances is an insane nuclear option justifiable.
    d. Nothing would grow on Pakistani soil for centuries, if there’s a nuclear exchange, ever. Get it?

    I’ve recommended that the establishment stop cribbing all day long, improve realpolitik and diplomatic ties with India to figure out soft landing scenarios under various permutations of circumstances.Recommend

  • subramani periyannan
    Nov 10, 2010 - 4:22AM

    It seems a better option to give independence and formation/creation of new nations on ethnic lines/religious lines to solve their problems on their own.Recommend

  • Parviz Porjosh
    Nov 10, 2010 - 4:30AM

    What is your advice for your own military and ISI?

    Using common sense, they should abandon using the Taliban barbarians as a proxy if they wish to avoid such an eventuality. The policy has already radicalized Pakistan and the cancer is spreading fast to Central Asia. Who is the winner? Wake up Pakistanis before it is too late!!

    The foremost victims are Muslim countries, not India. Otherwise, it wouldn’t warm up to the partition idea. Recommend

  • salman khan
    Nov 10, 2010 - 12:52PM

    The writer only advocates what india should do. Rather he should focus his energy to advising the political / military leadership to take steps to sincerely eliminate the terrorists and their proxies in the country.Recommend

  • Aristo
    Nov 10, 2010 - 1:32PM

    Mr. Robert Blackwill is not just a retired diplomat, he is currently a Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Hence, his report cannot be flushed away into a toilet. Who would have thought in 1990 that Yugoslavia will break up into so many independent states, it is a reality today, isn’t it.Recommend

  • Aamir Ali
    Nov 10, 2010 - 11:00PM

    This sort of redrawing borders and partition etc talk is utter garbage and waste of time.Recommend

  • Anoop
    Nov 10, 2010 - 11:16PM

    When I first heard of the plan I thought it was brilliant. You cannot expect to control the whole of Afghanistan when the Taliban have safe havens in Pakistan. But, you can turn this disadvantage into an advantage by saying,”We cannot control the Southern Part, we will make sure you never control the Northern Part”.

    Yes, Pakistan will suffer a lot. It will be blamed by the US and made a scapegoat for the Taliban resurgence and Aid will be promptly withdrawn, which Pakistan desperately depends on.

    But, your analysis that ultimately India will be affected is hogwash. India has Pakistan as its buffer and its Army is too strong to be beaten by the Taliban. Pakistani Army will not let the Taliban gain control of Islamabad or the areas connecting India. So, India is not in danger considering that it uses modern Technology to seal off the border.

    This is a plan which must be implemented and very easy to implement also.

    But, things dont have to go this way, all Pakistan needs to do is stop giving Pakistan sanctuary and things will fall into place.Recommend

  • harkol
    Nov 11, 2010 - 1:39PM

    Pakistan, threatened with disintegration, will likely opt to use the nuclear option.

    errr… Repeat that! ‘nuclear option’?? What ‘option’?

    Threatened with disintegration, pakistan will use an ‘option’ to ensure disintegration??

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