The Intertwining of Afghanistan, Pakistan & India
First published March 7, 2007. Recently, Vice-President Dick Cheney made a surprise visit to Pakistan during which he apparently lectured Pakistan’s President Parvez Musharraf for not doing enough to fight Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. Clearly, this visit and lecture were meant for US consumption otherwise, Mr. Cheney would also have noted that Pakistan has lost more soldiers in this fight than NATO and US troops in Afghanistan put together and that it is Pakistan’s stability that is being threatened by our War On Terror, not the stability of any of the others. Mr. Cheney might also have noted some of the reasons for Pakistan’s vested interest in Afghanistan, an interest that will still be there after the last coalition soldier has long gone.
Since their independence in 1947, India and Pakistan have been interfering in Afghanistan, not because either country has territorial desires over Afghanistan but because each wants to use Afghanistan as a counter- balance against the other in Kashmir, an entirely different arena. Contrary to popular mythology, Kashmir has much less to do with territory than it does with the one resource that is destined to become the single most important resource in the world; Water.
Afghanistan is not entirely averse to machinations in its area because it has still not forgotten the Agreement that led to the establishment of the Durand Line which divides Pakistan and Afghanistan. After the Third Anglo-Afghan War of 1919, the Afghan king Abdul Rahman signed a peace treaty with the British which established permanent boundaries and ceded a large portion of Afghanistan to British India along the Durand Line. Ever since the independence of India and formation of Pakistan, Afghanistan has claimed a large portion of its ceded territory back from Pakistan, supporting a not-very-popular movement for Pukhtunistan. The Pukhtunistan Movement demands that the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and parts of Pakistani province of Baluchistan, be incorporated into Afghanistan in order to reunite the Pukhtun (also known as “Pashtun”) people. In playing its own game with India against Pakistan, Afghanistan hopes to create enough fissures within Pakistan to help regain its ceded territories.
In the last years of British rule, it was decided by all parties to divide India into a Muslim-majority country called Pakistan and a Hindu-majority country called India. Partition was planned in accordance with British census figures as reflected by The Imperial Gazetteer of India published in 1931, in which the borders of Muslim-majority areas of India were clearly defined.
Pakistan took its first form as East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (now Pakistan) about 1100 miles apart, on either side of India. Other independent areas within India were the states of Hyderabad Deccan and Junagadh & Manavadar (overrun by India in November 1947); both these states enjoyed very short lives and were overrun by Indian forces shortly after independence. Portuguese territories in India (Goa, Diu, Mapuca etc.,) began to be overrun by Indian forces in 1954 and the last of the Portuguese territories was overrun in 1961; French territories of India (Pondicherry, Karikal etc.,) were peacefully ceded by France to India, in increments between 1950 and 1956.
The Kashmir problem was created at the end of British rule of India and lies at the heart of a lot of the instabilities in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India and the shifting animosities between them. The departing Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, made no secret of his dislike for the nascent state of Pakistan and for its leader Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Mountbatten joined Nehru in trying to persuade Sir Hari Singh, the Hindu Maharaja of the Muslim-majority Jammu & Kashmir to accede to India, notwithstanding the agreed rule of allocating territories to each country according to faith-majorities. After much vacillating, the Kashmiri ruler acceded to India. Britain then, in a departure from earlier agreements, allocated the adjoining Gurdaspur district to India as well, in order to afford India with land continuity with Kashmir.
Upon independence hostilities began between India and Pakistan for possession of Kashmir. Each side claimed the moral high ground either because the ruler sided with one side (India) or, because the population sided with the other (Pakistan). There was a brief glimmer of hope in 1949 when India agreed to a Plebiscite in Kashmir and settle the issue peacefully once and for all. However, India quickly withdrew from that agreement when it saw that the result may not favor it. Since then, there has hardly ever been a time when the two sides have not exchanged fire over Kashmir; including two major wars in 1965 and in 1971. Pakistan has been unwilling to give up the source of the Indus, its only large river, to a hostile country which has already dammed up three of its other large rivers (originating in India…see Indus Waters Treaty).
India wants to have Afghanistan on its side because it helps to keep Pakistan off-balance. To that end, India has supported separatist and destabilizing movements in the Pakistani provinces of Sindh, Baluchistan and NWFP (with its Pushto-speaking population).
Pakistan wants Afghanistan on its side because it does not want to stand vigilant on two battlefronts. While a neutral Afghanistan would be acceptable to Pakistan, it would like to see active Afghan support for its war for Kashmir and would like to see Indian leverage weakened. To that end, Pakistan has supported separatist movements in the Indian states of Punjab and (in the past) Assam.
For the same considerations India supported the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980’s, while Pakistan was on the side of the Mujahideen. The Mujahideen were the Afghan refugees fleeing to Pakistan from Soviet occupation of their country. Once in Pakistan, they were trained under CIA supervision; growing up, the Mujahideen were taught in strict faith-based schools (Madressas) funded by the United States where religion was important only because they financiers were able to leverage it into hate for the “Godless Communists”. Once the Soviets vacated Afghanistan, the US lost no time in vacating that area as well, allowing Afghanistan to fall into feudal wars and chaos. The Taliban (successors to the Mujahideed) emerged out of this carnage and forced a peace in the country as they took over the governance. Their Soviet-era hate for non-Muslims came with them and degenerated into a complete intolerance for any deviation from their own strict interpretation of Islam. Being a Muslim country and one that helped in the war against the Soviets, Pakistan was well-positioned to ease itself into a significant position with the Taliban at the expense of India.
The battle for Kashmir began to heat up all over again.
Huge numbers of soldiers have been killed and wounded in battles fought since 1947 but each side keeps its losses secret. Billions of dollars have been spent in pursuit of warfare between the two nations just to get the upper hand in the battle for Kashmir. Bizarrely and at the same time, millions of people within each country constantly face death by starvation and preventable disease. Things as simple as drinkable water and sewage systems are practically non-existent; illiteracy is the rule and populations are booming to catastrophic proportions. It is unacceptable that people do not have food for the family but each nation has enough nuclear weapons to destroy the other’s land for hundreds of years.
The only problem in Kashmir that gets any attention is the human rights situation blamed on India or Pakistan, depending on the point of view, but the problem is far more complex. While India regards Kashmir as a part of India and therefore has national pride and honor involved; it is a matter of survival for Pakistan, because the only remaining major river of Pakistan originates in Kashmir.
At the time of Independence, there were six major rivers flowing through Pakistan. Except for Indus River, five of them flowed through the province of Punjab (“Five waters”) in North Eastern part of West Pakistan. Four of these rivers, Ravi, Sutlej, Beas and Chenab, flowed from Indian East Punjab while Jhelum flows from Kashmir. In the 50s, India drew up plans to divert some of the rivers that flowed through Pakistan, for its own agricultural uses. Nine years of negotiations later an agreement was made between India and Pakistan which resulted in the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960. This treaty gave up three of the rivers, the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej for India’s exclusive use while Indus, Jhelum and Chenab were to be shared with Pakistan.
The mighty Indus which was used for fishing as well as for river-borne commerce is no longer mighty. In fact, during the dry months it becomes almost stagnant at its mouth in the South, permeating the air with the smell of rotting vegetation. Over a hundred miles upstream from the sea, one may cross this now slow stream, on foot in the Summer without ever getting one’s knees wet.
Small wonder Pakistan should feel insecure if India controls the headwaters of the Indus, the Jhelum and the Chenab.
Currently, Pakistan is accused of supporting the “terrorists” in Kashmir. These are largely Kashmiris supported by Pakistanis who are struggling to remove Indian rule from Kashmir. Pakistan does support them by giving them protection, shelter, and some military support. This is no different from Indian support of rebels in areas of Pakistan like Baluchistan, North-West Frontier Province and Sind. In fact the largest support India has given to any rebel movement in Pakistan (against which anything Pakistan has done in India would appear insignificant) was to the Bangladesh freedom fighters. This support first began in 1971 as providing shelter to the Mukti Bahini, the Bangladesh liberation army. The support continued to escalate until finally war was declared between India and Pakistan resulting in the independence of Bangladesh. In hindsight, this was a just war for India to be involved in; the Bengalis were oppressed and near-genocidal action was being taken against them by the (West) Pakistan Army. On the other hand, one could make a similar argument for the Kashmiris of today and the support by Pakistan, of their liberation movements.
Since independence, India has dissolved at least three popularly-elected state governments of Kashmir. The Muslim governments of Kashmir failed to toe the Indian line and demanded more and more autonomy so India imposed Presidential rule over them, each time lasting for years. During the last 55 years of war and terror between India and Pakistan, only a few voices have been heard demanding Kashmir for Kashmiris and both sides ignored them. Why not vacate Kashmir and leave it for the Kashmiris to rule? Such a step would lead to the first rapprochement between the two warring nations. It would also allow the beleaguered Kashmiris their first opportunity to live and prosper in peace.
In such a scenario, Kashmir would be a neutral independent state. In the beginning, both India and Pakistan could provide just a tiny fraction of their military billions to help build a viable economic infrastructure in Kashmir with help from the much richer West. A Kashmir with open borders would give people from India and Pakistan opportunities to meet, promote mutual understanding and invest there in joint ventures. The elimination of tensions in Kashmir would be followed by a scaling back of nuclear arms and later perhaps, demilitarized borders.
Once Kashmir is no longer an issue, it may only be a small step towards a closer relationship; initiation of a loose cooperative alliance involving India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, followed by a federation along the lines of the early European Community and then closer, until it becomes as tight or tighter than the current European Community. All three nations spring from the same source; families have been split between the three sides and even culturally, the similarities far outweigh the differences.
Resolving the Kashmir issue may be the first and greatest step in preventing many future wars and separatist movements in South and Central Asia. The removal of tension may even help bring democracy to Pakistan where the “security” is the catchword for all sorts of repression by successive governments, civilian or military. It could help India with its separatist movements and Afghanistan could finally be allowed to resolve its internal splits and settle down in peace.