K N Pandita
It is a travesty that we look at the Afghan crisis exclusively from the lenses of international and regional politics. In doing so we tend to lose sight of the history of the region, the remarkable nationalist spirit of the people and the sacrifices they have made in preserving their independence and the ways of life from ancient times and in the face of great upheavals.
Afghanistan is called the graveyard of many mighty powers in the past and present. The Afghans are the descendants of various warrior races – the Aryans, Huns, Kushanas, Scythians, Macedonians, Turks, Mongols, Timurids and Qizlbash etc. In an ethnic sense, it is a real human mosaic and in terms of self-preservation, they have inherited the attributes of great warriors who fight, kill and get killed but ultimately emerge victorious in preserving their identity and freedom.
Yet one more little noted and less appreciated trait of their character is that they never invaded any country outside their native land, be it a close neighbour or a distant land. For millennia after millennia, they stuck to their ideal of maintaining the freedom of their land and resisting an invader tenaciously till forced to withdraw.
The name Afghanistan was given to the land-only about two and a half centuries ago. Before it, the region was identifiable by sub-regions of different nomenclature essentially drawn from ancient history or geography and finally confederated into one unit. Many name places that we come across in Afghanistan today are traceable in the Vedas and Buddhist texts. Bhakri of Vedic times becomes Balkh and Kapisa becomes Kabul. Kandahar is Gandhara of Mahabharata times and Helmand is ancient Heermand used by Ferdowsi in the Shahnameh
The ancient geographical regions of Aryana, Bukhara, Sogdiana, Saraoshan etc. across the Badakhshan Mountain, though controlled by local satraps for a long time, were ultimately sucked into the vast Aryana meaning the land of the Aryans, which finally assumed the name of Afghanistan based on the Afghans, the group that formed a large and strong community of Aryana. The early Mughal historians (Akbar to Shahjahan) have frequently used the term Awghans though in a derogatory sense because of their stiff resistance to the Mughal invading forces — like “qizlbash-e awbaash” meaning the weird Qizlbash.
Once a centralized government of unified regions was established, the administrative structure began to take shape in Afghanistan. Many Afghans had entered the service of the Mughals of India and rose to positions of eminence. With the establishment of the British colonial power in India, Afghanistan came under the radar of the imperialists.
The onset of the “Great Game” in Central Asia in the mid-19th century dragged Afghanistan into the vortex of international diplomacy of big powers. Afghans never knew that the strategic location of their homeland on the map of the Indian subcontinent would, one day, become the source of their misery and plight. The Bolshevik revolution of 1917 brought Afghanistan into the limelight of international politics. The British Indian Government led an incursion of Afghanistan intending to push the North Indian border deep into the Badakhshan Mountains and thus build a natural barrier to the southward movement of the Bolshevik revolutionaries. But the British invaders had to eat the humble pie. The fierce Afghan warriors butchered the entire British contingent leaving only one doctor alive to carry back the heart-rending story of the carnage.
Though Afghanistan is an ethnic mosaic yet the Pukhtoons (or Pushtoons) have always remained the numerical and political heavyweights, and hence the predominant group in Afghanistan. The ruling dynasty of modern times of which King Zahir Shah was the last ruler, came from Pukhtoon stock. The ethnic Pukhtoons are scattered deep in the eastern part of Afghanistan that ethnically runs into the areas of North-West Frontier Province carved out of Afghanistan-Punjab (now Pakistan) region. Pakistan has renamed it Pukhtunkhwa and includes Waziristan.
To reduce the resistance force of the Pukhtoons and minimise their manoeuvrability, the British colonialists divided the homeland of the Pukhtoons population. The most notorious Duran Line that divided their homeland has been fiercely resisted by them from day one. It is felt by observers that the Afghan issue will never be resolved unless the Duran Line award is withdrawn and the Pukhtoons are allowed to reunite. Afghans have never given up their claim to the historic Pukhtoon homeland. Whosoever was at the helm of political authority in NWFP, nursed sympathy and favour for the Pukhtoon homeland?
It will be reminded that soon after Lord Mountbatten, the Viceroy declared in June 1947 the British Government’s resolve to grant freedom to India and create two dominions, King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan began assembling the tribesmen on both sides of the Durand Line to arm them and prompt them to capture NWFP and create Pukhtoon homeland by the name of Pukhtoonistan with Peshawar as the capital. When partition took place and the new dominion of Pakistan was created, Pakistani leaders, trying to keep King Zahir Shah in good humour, proposed to arm the tribal lashkars and provide them with logistics to annex Kashmir which Pakistan would allow passing into the hands of the proposed Pukhtoon State. Zahir Shah seems to have given his consent and the rest is the history.
The Pakistani perfidy against Afghanistan and the Pukhtoon issue did not stop with the incursion of Kashmir by the tribal lashkars. The Durand Line, a bone of contention between the nascent State of Pakistan and its western contiguous State of Afghanistan, became the war-cry of nationalist Afghans and a force to be reckoned with. After many Afghan intellectuals returned from Moscow where they were fully indoctrinated with the tenets of Marxist ideology and began organized dissemination of that ideology among the Afghan youth, the Anglo-American bloc became exasperated. They entrusted their counter plans to the care of Pakistan and ISI, which after joining CENTO had come closer to the Americans.
Then there began appearing a wedge between the Pushtoons and Tajik-Uzbek ethnic populace of Afghanistan, which also carried geographic ramifications. Northern and parts of North-Western Afghanistan comprised predominantly the Tajik and Uzbek ethnic groups. When the Russians led an incursion into Afghanistan, these ethnic groups were at the forefront of resistance to the invaders. By a strange quirk of destiny, Northern Afghanistan being a stronghold of the Shia community did not receive the support from the Pushtoons to the expected level. Pakistan was fraternising the Pushtoons and planning for her influence once the Soviets withdrew.
War against the northern intruder ended. American arms and war material fell plentifully in the hands of not only the Afghan mujahedeen but also in the hands of the intelligence chapter of Pakistan. Now a new actor entered the Afghan political chessboard and it was the United States of America not directly but through its proxy, namely Pakistan.
Afghan political and war scenario went through a drastic change with Pakistan raising the Taliban in Kandahar province, which is contiguous to Pakistan. With Washington on its side, Islamabad worked on its policy of strategic depth westward. GHQ thought that sending terrorists across the LoC into the Indian part of Kashmir would, at best, keep the Indo-Pak tension boiling but was not going to reduce the perennial Indian threat of a surprise attack. Therefore, on the broader canvas of regional politics, Pakistan decided to establish its foothold in Afghanistan by providing logistic support to the Afghan Taliban who had successfully established links with Osama and his Al Qaeda. Moreover, Pakistan cultivated some resistance groups in Afghanistan, funded them frugally and used them not only against the nationalist elements within Afghan society but also against the Indian facilities.
India’s good relations with Afghanistan have a long history. But importantly, India always felt obliged to Afghans for giving protection and haven to the fugitives of the Indian freedom movement whom the British Indian rulers wanted to arrest and prosecute for sedition. India has invested more than 3 billion dollars in developing infrastructure in Afghanistan during the last couple of decades. Kabul regimes never supported Pakistan on Kashmir.
Now that America s have eaten the humble pie and left the war-ravaged country to its fate, the Afghans, unfortunately, are bogged with internecine. The Islamic country that is contiguous to her in the East is lionizing itself as the guardian of the Muslim world-over because it has the nuclear device. For the teeming millions of Afghans, it is a travesty that none among the Islamic countries or the 53-member strong OIC is telling Pakistan to stop aiding the tormentors who find pleasure in perpetrating inhuman atrocities on innocent people in the name of faith. Have not the Afghans the right to live a free and independent life and aspire for modernity and progress? Have not they the right to ask for removing the barrier of Durand Line imposed by outsiders only to divide the people? It is time OIC come out with stricture against those who are interfering in the life and future of the Afghans.
K N Pandita