Sunday, March 3, 2013

Irredentism Is Not Automatic

This piece raises the spectre of a greater Pashtunistan movement as Afghanistan may fraction in the aftermath of a NATO withdrawal.
 The Pashtuns, despite their tribal divisions, will not rest content with being in charge of just a rump Afghanistan made up of the eastern and southeastern provinces. Given the large Pashtun population resident across the Britishdrawn Durand Line, they are likely sooner or later to seek a Greater Pashtunistan — a development that could directly affect the territorial unity of another artificial modern construct, Pakistan.
I am no expert on Pashtuns, but I have written a book on irredentism.  And the first rule of irredentism club is do not assume that there is a single, shared vision or nationalism among a group that have a common label.  As the Canadian, American, and other troops fighting in Kandahar and nearby have learned, the Pashtuns themselves are divided by tribe.  I do not know how the Pakistan Pashtuns fit into the tribal structures of the Afghan Pashtuns, but I doubt that it is uncomplicated.

The key is that the Pashtuns on either side of the border have lived largely separate lives, so I doubt that they load the same meanings and content into Pashtun nationalism.  What does it mean to be Pashtun? Who counts as in?  Who is out?  Indeed, who would govern Pashtunistan--the Afghan or the Pakistani Pashtuns?  These are not theoretical questions, but ones that have real interests attached. 

The funny thing is seeing an Indian outlet raise the fear of irredentism when the region has seen much irredentist effort--Kashmir--but no success and a lot more secessionist effort.  Is a partition (hard or soft, official or de facto) a realistic possibility for Afghanistan?  Sure, it is possible.  But a real irredentist campaign from Afghanistan towards Pakistan?  Not so sure.  Can Indians look at such a campaign as good news as it would direct Pakistan's generals away from India?  Not at all.  The rise of multiple groups in Pakistan aimed at the government has not reduced much the fixation with the "Indian threat."  So, why should Pashtun irredentists? 

Again, there is something here--that the Pashtuns do not recognize the boundary as legitimate, which has constrained President Pander Karzai.  This irritant in the relations between the two countries has mattered, feeding Pakistani support for the Taliban (primarily Pashtun!) and the Haqqani network.  But I would not be betting on irredentism as the big threat to Pakistan in the future (near or distant).

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