Afghanistan is a country that is mankind’s last frontier of medievalism. Lady Butler’s famous painting of Dr William Brydon, reportedly the sole survivor, gasping his way to the British outpost in Jalalabad, helped make Afghanistan’s reputation as a graveyard for foreign armies and became one of the great epics of the Empire. It is an unshakable bastion of medieval ideology and needs to be looked microscopically through prisms of narration of the olden times. Any short term study is detrimental to the region and strategic thinkers alike. Bonn is an attempt of ‘instant glorification’ of an historical anomaly; a conference that ignores history and focuses only on recent trends, forgetting completely the ingrained hatred and historical burden that our region is laden with. And anyone who likes to make observations based on superficiality will not do any justice to the subcontinent with its present hatred-based mindset.
As World Gathers in Bonn today to chart Afghanistan’s Roadmap Beyond 2014, I thought it was important to look at the origins of this deep rooted problem. Instant gratification, through instant definitions of history and instant geography has become the pest and nuisance of the mindset of global leadership.
Planning Afghanistan’s future beyond 2014 is impossible unless we discover Afghanistan’s untold story of the ‘1000-year-old invaders (and since 1947) a buffer zone’ of the subcontinent! Afghan President Hamid Karzai, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will formally open the one-day conference of about 1,000 delegates in Bonn, incapable of persuading key southerly neighbour Pakistan to reconsider its boycott of an international gathering on Afghanistan’s future. Afghanistan’s western neighbour Iran though joins the conference, represented by Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.
The United States under U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and 100 countries and international organizations will be represented, with some 60 foreign ministers going ahead with promises of continued aid for Afghanistan; after most foreign forces leave the country, they all want a peaceful Afghanistan that will never again be a safe haven for international terrorism. The challenge is to wean Afghanistan out of the medievalism of 7th century AD — a country that is stuck in time. Afghanistan provides about 90 percent of the world’s opium, the unprocessed ingredient used to formulate heroin. Money from the opium trade is partly used to stimulate the insurgency by the Taliban.
History sets the records straight and cuts through all the drivel. To stabilize Afghanistan, the ‘War in Pakistan’ argument means changing the geography of India. The vandals Ghaznavi, Ghauri and others from the ‘North’ have been like the Visigoths that destroyed the Roman Empire; those Germanic uncouth tribes went on to produce Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner, Goethe and Kant and a great nation. Loutish and crudely ideologically insulated Afghanistan produced nothing intellectually; the region remained tied to its old customs. As the world moved on to the ‘Age of Knowledge,’ the dark curtain of ignorance remained firmly in place, only producing more guns, more violence over the last 1,000 years.
India’s historical misgivings towards North of South Asia bequeathed to Pakistan in 1947 are rooted in its psyche and can well be understood. The rationale is based on ‘these master invaders and looters’ from the North who came and bonded the Indian subcontinent for nearly a millenium, areas where today’s Pakistan is located was the crime scene. The crime scene of a 1000 years’ North India’s ‘inhumane bondage’ is firmly established in the minds of the subcontinent’s masses. They consider the 1,000 year old invasions as originating from the ancestors of these Pakistanis, though many of these originate from the hinterlands of India and only migrated after1947.
North of Pakistan by history, by facts, and today, political Islamic ideology, helps to widen the gulf further. There are those ‘Jihadists’ who want to unfurl the banner of ‘The Message’ further across the Khyber Pass deep into the hinterland of the subcontinent.
The hostile relationship between India and Pakistan is a by-product of South Asian history where for 1,000 years India’s North was ruled ruthlessly and mercilessly by the Muslim invaders from the north. The fact that their descendants could be cordoned in Pakistan, the north of the subcontinent, is a wonderful happenstance for India’s development. Partition, with the benefit of hindsight and in my opinion, had a soothing effect on the subcontinent as millions of Muslims were able to form a separate nation state without internally disrupting the development of an Indian nation that progressed immensely without interference of archaic beliefs.
This birth of a new nation was that ‘buffer’ a Hindu-dominated subcontinent definitely needed far earlier in the course of its history. Maybe all the battles would have not been needed in Panipath but the plains of Jhelum would have been the scene of the carnage.
For the last 64 years of its insignificant existence, Pakistan has been bequeathed with this hatred of thousands of years of slavery and bondage – since 1000 AD after the decline of Chandragupta that gave rise to the Muslim Invasions. Gupta dynasty though not as big as the Mauryan Empire, saw huge developments in the field of art and architecture, the highlight being the Ajanta and Ellora caves. Some powerful kingdoms like the Satavahanas, Kalingas and Vakatakas in the southern part of India, and later dynasties like Cholas, Pandyas, Cheras, Chalukyas and Pallavas came into prominence and many regional powers rose but after the Northern Muslim invasions in 1000 AD Indian Hindu Kingdom was overtaken by the events from the north.
One ought to know that what is today modern Pakistan actually provides the buffer against northern invasion that India was saddled with for thousand years that came through the Khyber Pass – a mountain pass of great strategic and commercial value in the Hindu Kush on the border between northern Pakistan and western Afghanistan, a route by which invaders entered India. It was the political instability of India that gave opportunity to the Muslim invaders who raided North India successfully under Mahmud of Ghazni. The next invasion was by Mahmud of Ghauri who established foreign rule in India. Many of the famous dynasties like the Slave Dynasty, Khilji Dynasty, Tughlaq Dynasty, Saiyyid and Lodhi, Bahmani Dynasty, and Others came after that.
In the 16th century, Indian history saw the Mughal dynasty getting established by Babur, which lasted for 200 magnificent years. Some of the important rulers during this period were Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb. This period saw an amalgamation of Indian, Persian and Central Asian influences in the field of art and architecture.
All this happened through the routes that are now located in Pakistan and known as the gateway to India*: the Khyber Pass, a narrow pass over the Safed Koh Range between Afghanistan and Pakistan, over which came the Persian, Greek, Tatar, Mogul, and Afghan invasions of India; scene of bitter fighting between the British and Afghans (1838-42, 1878-80). Length: about 53 km (33 miles). Highest point: 1072 m (3518 ft.)
Afghanistan: To the north of Pakistan is a disintegrated land under pressure from neighbouring nations and historical battlefield where rival nations could wage their proxy wars. Indeed it is doubtful whether even many Western nations would have been able to cope with the strain faced by Pakistan. An Indian army of nearly a million face off Pakistan at the border and in the highlands of the Khyber Pass Pakistan is pitted against the fanatical Islamic terrorist. Instead of helping them, to kick them is foolhardy. Who else is going to do the job if Pakistan as a federation is condemned?
Had there been no partition in a United India, India would have had to contend with a 350-million strong Muslim minority with a keen awareness of their ‘ruled’ past united from North to South against dominant Hindu rule. Partition diluted the political folklore of a heavenly Muslim nation, rather, the failure of Pakistan to present itself as a functional democratic state has helped cool down the Islamic fervour amongst Indian Muslims. The rise of secularism within Indian society is across the sectarian divide. Though in radically charged Kashmir today it requires 700,000 troops to subdue and pacify the regional population, which has not reconciled itself with an imposed Indian identity. Can one truly imagine the consequences of a 350-million strong disaffected minority? Partition separated the most vocal and radicalised segment of the subcontinent’s populace in one area and created a huge buffer between secular India and the Islamic Republic. It also created a bigger distance from the warlords of the North once and for all. It is a blessing in disguise for India that they could phenomenally progress in peace without any intervention from religious warlords from the North or the disgruntled radicalised majority Islamic provinces.
The heavy weight of the violent North West Frontier province of India by that 1947 partition was bequeathed to a state which was young and created on the concept of a “homeland of Islam’. It was and is tainted with blood. What changed in 1977 was that these landlocked warriors whose forays never extended beyond north of India were put in bed with the most radical elements of the Wahabbi Islam.
The combination of young bin Laden’s with Zai’s and Pushtoons by the thousands, in the eagerness to bring USSR down, brought about new dynamics of a global Jihad. Once this huge apparatus of green-turbaned radical Arabs and radical warriors of the Northwest were freed from the Russians, they made plans to free the house of Islam from the usurpers. Those who brought USSR down should not have been left orphaned in a sign of desperate expediency. 911 was not planned in vacuum: Iraq – Afghan war was a result of political expediency and deserting of key allies. Result: a trillion dollars were spent and thousands of American soldiers died because of this short-sightedness. The peace dividend as a result of the fall of USSR should have been shared with these fighters who were only renowned for fighting and nothing else.
The reason Pakistan is not Afghanistan or Iraq is because the historical circumstances differ. Afghanistan was a lawless buffer zone between British India and Imperial Russia for the last two centuries. Afghanistan’s prime contribution to civilisation has been to deposit hordes of invading Turko-Iranian tribes upon the Indian sub-continent. This inherent tendency towards guns, mutual disagreements and Lashkar (Holy War) is integral to the Afghani Pashtun culture.
The tribal loyalties which inhibit nationalism, the paucity of functional institutions and lack of a federal security force has contributed to the dysfunctional character of Afghanistan. “Warlordism” is not a new phenomenon and the invasion by the USSR was the last straw on the camel’s back that shattered any coherency Afghanistan might have had.
The Tajik and Hazaras, who speak Dari, with a significant proportion harbouring sympathy for Shi’ite Iran, are diametrically opposed to the Pusthoons, whose puritan strain of Islam is akin to Wahabiism. Not only does Afghanistan suffer from the ethno-linguistic divide, it suffers from an ideological one as well!
Without national institutions, Afghanistan is bereft of an affluent and intellectual elite, unhindered by parochial loyalties, which would bind these factions into a harmonious modus vivendi. Conversely the Pakistani national establishment is the defender of federalism and foments an artifice like Pakistan into a fledgling state. Although a young state and created ‘artificially’ it has seen similar federations disappearing into thin air like USSR and Yugoslavia.
To compare Pakistan with Afghanistan or Iraq is an absurdity that, under normal circumstance, would merit no retort. However given its popular prevalence it must be comprehensively answered. One distinction from Iraq and Afghanistan that has saved this nation from disintegration and disaster is the one which is loathed the most i.e. Pakistan Army. Take this institution out and this will become a lawless land, a balkanized piece of geography. Saddam’s Iraq was stable with a strong regimented Army; the biggest mistake of the Allies was to dismember that Army soon after the occupation. De-baathification like De-nazification did not work. In the land of Beethoven it did. But in the entire expanse of Islamic world, from Morocco to Dar-us-Salam, the concept of strong man leading the nations is deeply embedded.
One popular misconception is that the eventual disintegration of Pakistan will be followed by the seizure of its nuclear arsenal by Islamic terrorists. This belief is fundamentally flawed because if Pakistan were to have ever collapsed as a nation state, it would have during the 80’s when it took on the Soviet Empire and brought them to a halt. Despite overwhelming American aid and support, the internal ramification rendered to Pakistani society by the Afghani war, was cataclysmic. Nevertheless Pakistan has survived so far. If it could successfully withstand a confrontation with the world’s largest emporium then that is a testament to its tenacity as a nation.
Peace in Afghanistan actually ensures peace in the subcontinent; it is all about India not Pakistan alone. Take Pakistan out of this equation for a minute, what one is left to grapple with is the long history of bloody invasions that literary crippled Indian subcontinent for 1,000 years. Imagine a ‘united subcontinent’ without the 1947 partition dealing with the nemesis of Talibinsation. An Indian army fighting a war against active northerners without the support of predominant Muslim army of Pakistan would have resulted in a massive revolt amongst the entire so-far quiet Indian Muslim population. Muslims don’t mind as far as eradication of Taleban is carried out amongst brothers.
The historical reasons for the disproportional size of Pakistan’s army: The region between the River Jhelum and Peshawar were the recruiting grounds for the British land forces during the British Raj. The British knew the inhabitants as the “martial races” and it was with armies comprised of these peoples that Col Nicholson in 1857 subdued the Sepoy mutiny in India.
The Sepoy rebellion occurred when Hindu-Muslim contingent soldiers of Uhud, Jansi and Lucknow restored the Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zuffar, to the throne in Delhi. This was fundamentally a rebellion by India in response to British rule, which was put down by the ancestors of the modern Pakistanis, the Pathans and the Punjabis.
The manner in which they completed the conquest confirmed the historical discipline towards military ethics that had existed amongst these peoples since time immemorial. At the amazing speed of 27 miles a day this army reached Delhi, subdued it and suppressed the rebellion. Whose side were these proto-Pakistani troops fighting but for the British Empire. There has always been a loyalty amongst the people of this region to the British Empire and especially to its army, a close affiliation that has existed till today with Pakistan remaining loyal to America.
The history of the 13th Lancer division is a poignant reminder of the loyalty of these people to their allies rather than a pan-Islamic Ummah. This Pathan division was commanded by a British commander and fought the Ottoman Empire (which was considered the Islamic Caliphate) in the Holy Land. For the Pathan to defeat the Ottomans in Palestine is emblematic of the origins of the Pakistan army. The Guide cavalry, the Probyn Horse, Hobson horse, the Baluch tribesmen and Punjabi infantry have had the honour and distinction to serve in the First and Second World Wars. Thousands of them lay buried in Sommes, Gallipoli, Suez and these soldiers were cannon fodder for the British Empire and served with distinction.
The reason ‘Militarism’ became so deeply entrenched in Pakistan is that because the British never trusted the Indian south. They realised that Col Nicholson’s men and the martial races were the recruiting grounds for the Indian Union army. This is why the Muslims have had a disproportionately large representation in the British army with the consequences being that the Pakistani army has become a very hierarchical and secular organisation, which takes immense pride in its British past.
It is a strange comedy of errors; the best thing to have happened to the subcontinent was that the North was cut from its mainland and the possibility of the wars in the suburbs of Panipath was replaced to the environs of Khyber Pass. Sans partition today India would be fighting this war. You can change everything but not the history of the subcontinent.
*[Indian subcontinent has a history which dates back to more than 5000 years. Its origins lie on the banks of the river Indus and thus came to be known as the Indus Valley Civilization. Soon after the Indus Valley Civilization laid down the foundation of India and Indian history, the Dravidians came in as the inhabitants of this civilization which was called the Harappan culture and flourished for 1000 years.
”Gradually, Aryan tribes started infiltrating from Afghanistan and Central Asia, around 1500 B.C. They occupied the whole of the northern parts of India up to the Vindhya Hills. Thus the Dravidians were urged to move to the southern parts of India. The Aryans brought new ideas, new technology and new gods with them and this became an important era in the history of India. The Aryan tribe started expanding and was grouped into sixteen kingdoms, of which Kosala and Magadha were the most powerful ones in the 5th century B.C.
The next great invasion was around 500 BC by the Persian kings Cyrus and Darius. They conquered the Indus valley but then India went through times of speculation and indefiniteness. Then in 327 BC India again came into light due to the invasions of Alexander the great, from Macedonia. Although, he was not able to extend his powers into India.
As the Mughal Empire faded out, other foreign invasions started from the 15th century. India was a country rich with spices and minerals and so was made the target for invasions and colonization – starting with the arrival of Vasco da Gama in Goa. Later came the trading post by the East India Company in Gujrat. Gradually East India Company established trading posts in various other cities like Madras, Calcutta and Bombay. This commercial link later turned into administrative control. The French also established themselves in a few parts. There were continuous struggle between British and French emperors for establishing supremacy. Eventually, the victory in the battle of Plassey established the dominance of British in the subcontinent. 18th Century in Indian History, the British had Arrived]
The war in Afghanistan will only end if the Pushtoon populace leaves this medieval mindset of Talibenisation. I wish Stalin had taken this region too and swallowed it like the other “’Stans” for fifty years or Brits would have been successful in intergrating this lawless region within the Empire; we would have seen tremendous human development as a result. It is not Pakistan but history and ideology of Islam that bonded Indians into slavery from invaders from the north for a lot of its last millennium history. Uzbekistan, the home place of Babur, is far more progressed and enlightened than Afghanistan, maybe forced communism or forced colonialism may have helped the education of the tribes. It was not to be, the veneer of political appropriateness and pragmatism missed the whole region. We today are prisoners of that historical drift of minds.