As Islamabad plans to take over a huge chunk of semi-autonomous Pashtun– also called Pakhtun–, territory called the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Kabul keeps quiet even though the land historically belongs to Afghanistan.
The more than 10,00 square mile territory has a Pashtun population of five million. “More than 500 tribal elders had held a grand jirga on December 14 and rejected the possible merger of FATA with Khyber Pashtunkhwa,” Pakistan’s Geonews reported. Pakistan’s chief of army staff, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa is in the lead to merge FATA with Khyber Pashtunkhwa because of strategic reasons vis-a-vis Afghanistan.
Kabul timidity before Islamabad is mind-boggling as US fully stands with Afghanistan against Pakistan under President Trump. Thursday US vice president Mike Pence visited Bagram airbase to greet US soldiers posted in Afghanistan, where he starkly warned Pakistan to stop harboring militant groups that have long undermined the United States-led coalition’s mission, the New York Times reported Friday.
“For too long Pakistan has provided safe haven to the Taliban and many terrorist organizations, but those days are over,” Mr. Pence said. “President Trump has put Pakistan on notice. As the president said, so I say now: Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with the United States, and Pakistan has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists.”
Despite the US commitment to firmly stand with Afghanistan, Islamabad’s merger of historic FATA was treated as if it was a none event by the government of President Ashraf Ghani, a former Pashto linguist with the Pentagon.
Unfortunately, Ghani, whose ascendancy to the presidency was stage managed by the US, has so little support on the ground that he cant even fire a governor in his own country as his stand off with warlord Atta Muhammad Noor, the warlord-governor of Balkh province, shows.
“FATA was buffer between Afghanistan and what used to be the British raj. Today there is no voice from Kabul either on the Durand Line or FATA,” laments Najeeb Khan, a Pashtun who himself faced an assassination attack in Quetta, capital of Balochistan, four years ago.
There is a reason why Kabul is quiet. “Afghanistan fears that Pakistan will send suicide bombers,” says Khan, “Also Pakistan has the largest number of agents in the Afghan bureaucracy and the political set-up.”
A huge chunk of the Afghan territory, the Pashtun areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, was taken away from Afghanistan by the artificial Durand Line. According to the treaty, those areas were to revert back to Afghanistan in 1996, but in stead that very year Pakistan’s ISI installed its favorite Taliban regime in Kabul under the one-eyed Mullah Omar.
Another huge tract of Pashtun areas that historically belongs to Afghanistan, called southern Pashtunistan, is administratively part of Balochistan province.
Though Afghanistan weeps over Durand Line from time to time, Pashtun patriots say Kabul has been highly deceptive on the matter. “Kabul has for long been deceiving the Pashtuns and Baloch that they do not accept the Durand Line,” says Khan Arif, vice president of the Pashtunistan Freedom Movement, who now lives in Enshede, the Netherlands. “But in reality they have done nothing.”
Khan Arif appears to be right as Afghan deputy foreign minister Nasir Andisha is known for blocking people on twitter for simply saying the Pashtun areas of Pakistan belongs to Afghanistan, which is the official stand of Kabul. Andhisha is a bosom buddy of Senator Mushahid Hussain, the blue-eyed boy of the Pakistani Deep State.
Afghanistan has long borders with Balochistan and Kabul is well aware of the Pakistan army war crimes and crimes against humanity in Balochistan where Pakistan has killed 35,000 Baloch since a bloody insurgency started in 2005, but Kabul has kept mum. Baloch feel discriminated by some Afghan officials close to President Ghani and even routine work such as renewal of passports of Baloch naturalized in Afghanistan takes months at a time.
In spring this year, the Afghan Consul general in Dubai, Abdul Samad Afghan, a favorite of President Ghani who has no experience in diplomacy, refused to recognize two Baloch naturalized in Afghanistan as Afghan citizens and refused to give them their passports back for more than six months even though they had valid documents.
“The issue is not only of FATA. the whole stretch of land up to Margalla near Islamabad, belongs to Afghanistan,” said Khan Arif. “Merging the autonomous FATA with Khyber Pashtunkhwa badly affects the Pashtuns, but the Afghan consul general in Peshawar said it does not affect Kabul a bit if FATA was merged with Khyber Pashtunkhwa,” said Khan Arif.
Dawn newspaper quoted Afghan consul general Mohammad Moeen Marastial as saying at a news conference Wednesday, “Our government has no reservations over the merger, but the opinion of the people of the area is paramount before taking such a major decision.”
Kabul’s none of my business attitude and surrendering an area of its vital strategic interests to Pakistan has left Pashtun patriots on both sides of the artificial Durand Line anguished.
Not only that, Afghan expats who now live in the US too fear the power of Pakistan army and ISI. At protest rallies in the US, Afghan youths wear sunglasses and avoid their pictures from being taken.
While Islamabad was happy that Afghanistan had become a fifth province of Pakistan when it proxy was in power in Kabul, the Taliban systematically raped Afghanistan in the political, cultural and social spheres– stealing everything that they could lay their hands on.
Along with the government in Kabul, Pakistan has beaten Pashtun nationalists in Pakistan’s province of Khyber Pashtunkhwa and Balochistan into docility. Two nationalist parties, the National Awami Party, which is led by Asfandyar Wali Khan, a grandson of the legendary Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party of Mahmud Khan Achakzai, whose father was the legendary Abdus Samad Achakzai, have long accepted the Durand Line and no longer say they are part of the Afghan nation.
Pashtuns were the only nation that could challenge the dominance of the Punjab, which likes to control the region on the muscles of nuclear-armed Pakistan’s 6,20,000 soldiers. However, by using the Taliban, almost daily suicide attacks that has left tens of thousands of Afghans dead and targeting Pashtun patriots in Khyber Pashtunkhwa and more than 700 Pashtun elders in FATA, Pakistan army and ISI have made the fierce Afghans and Pashtuns lie prostrate before their grand designs.