The Pashtun corridor

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 19.02.14

Afghanistan is a landlocked country and is surrounded by Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan,
Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and China. To its southeast, Afghanistan shares a long but porous
border with Pakistan. Afghanistan’s major ethnic community, the Pashtun, inhabits the area
situated along both sides of the Pak-Afghan border called the Durand Line. Whilst the
border keeps both countries politically independent of each other, owing to their
settlements, the Pashtun established a corridor between them. The Pashtun corridor makes
both countries interlinked (and to some extent interdependent) socially. In this way,
between the two countries, if politics is a divergent factor, society is a convergent factor: the
interplay of ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan are political versus social. Nevertheless,
there is no denying the fact that the social domain shapes the political destiny of a country.
The same is true for both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In recent history, the Pashtun corridor has affected Pakistan more than it has impacted
Afghanistan. For instance, the Pashtun corridor kept Pakistan in the Afghan war (1979 to
1989) to force out the former Soviet Union, a superpower of that time, from Afghanistan.
Secondly, the corridor sucked Pakistan into the power vacuum created after the departure
of the former Soviet Union in 1989. Thirdly, the corridor has been keeping Pakistan tied to
Afghanistan’s internal situation, which surfaced after the year 2001. In the same vein, the
corridor has the potential of keeping the internal situation of Pakistan linked to — even if
not tied to — the internal situation of Afghanistan even after 2014.

From 1979 to 1989, the conflict of Afghanistan with the former Soviet Union not only
destroyed Afghanistan physically but also made at least two fault lines prominent: first,
Afghan society was divided along ethnic lines and, secondly, the religious orientation of
Afghan society was also divided along sectarian lines. Both kinds of divisions have been
the bane of Afghanistan’s existence since 1989, as both began determining the future of
Afghanistan. Nonetheless, the thought — if not ideology — procreating such divisions has
also crept into Pakistani society, especially since 2001. The Pakistan of today has been
struggling with circumventing the possibility of becoming the replica of Afghanistan.

Within the aforementioned context, the future of Pakistan rests on answering two questions:
first, whether or not Pakistan has the ability to pull Afghanistan out of the crisis it is in now
and, secondly, whether or not Afghanistan has the ability to pull Pakistan into the morass it
is in now. While answering these questions, there may be several variables but a constant
(and permanent) factor is the Pashtun corridor. This point begs the next question: can
Pakistan dissociate itself from the internal situation of Afghanistan, and consequently save
itself?

To answer these questions, the Pakistani political and social stream is divided into two
visible halves. One school of thought advocates the nationalist orientation of Pakistanis and
advises Pakistan’s separation from the internal affairs of Afghanistan. This school
considers political standing more important than social bonds — social bonds must be
subservient to political ones. However, the second school of thought advocates pan-
Islamism and advises staying attached to the internal affairs of Afghanistan. This school
gives precedence to the social relationship with Afghanistan over the political relationship
— the political must be subservient to the social. Furthermore, the expanse of the concern
of pan-Islamists also encompasses the welfare and protection of those settlers who do not
originally belong to the Afghan land or the Pashtun corridor. This difference of opinion has
surfaced a sort of conflict between nationalists and pan-Islamists (of
all ethnic hues) in Pakistan. Secondly, as the internal situation of Afghanistan has been
affected by foreign forces in the post-2001 era, the consequences of their presence have
brought both nationalists and pan-Islamists to defy each other.

A reflection of this conflict originated from both reasons can be seen in the debate making
the rounds about whether Pakistan should be run by a man-made constitution or a
religiously ordained one. The nationalists are supporting the former option while the pan-
Islamists are backing the latter one. One of the major reasons of the conflict between the
two schools of thought is that the pan-Islamists consider that their agenda cannot be
promoted in the presence of the man-made constitution, which does not support pan-
Islamism. Apparently, the pan-Islamists are showing little understanding of global realities
emanating from the present age. They think that if the past were superimposed on the
present, their objective would be achieved easily. Nevertheless, it is apparent that both the
focus and the intensity of the debate divulge clearly that the conflict has matured for a final
settlement, whether by dialogue or otherwise.

The nationalists are also confronted with another challenge: if Pakistan becomes able to
dissociate itself from the internal situation of Afghanistan, will that act guarantee Pakistan’s
safety? This is a worrying point for Pakistan because of the pent-up anger against the
internal situation of Afghanistan, which is affecting the internal situation of the Pashtun
corridor first and that of Pakistan later. The understanding of this relationship brings the
importance of the sentiments of the Pashtun corridor to the fore but herein lies the catch.
The Pakistani half of the Pashtun corridor may not remain indifferent to the happenings in
the Afghan half of the corridor. This is another dimension of the constant factor vis-à-vis
several variables.

The next and perhaps the last challenge that upsets the nationalists is this: in
disassociation of Pakistan from both the internal situation of Afghanistan and that of the
Pashtun corridor, what is the cost, and is Pakistan is ready to pay the cost? The cost
should not only be calculated in monetary terms but also in men and material terms.
Secondly, the cost should not only be valued in terms of the target loss but also in terms of
the collateral loss. It is a million dollar question to answer if Pakistan is ready to pay the cost
or not.

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