LONDON: One of the most explosive spots on earth today is the so-called Durand Line, the 2,640 kilometre border, much of it in harsh mountain country, between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is where the United States and its NATO allies are battling the Taliban — and are facing the possibility of military defeat.
Of all the challenges which will face the new American administration next January the ongoing war across the Afghan-Pakistan border could be the most difficult and dangerous. It is likely to overshadow the contest with Russia in the Caucasus, the rise of Iran as a major regional power, the search for an honourable exit strategy from Iraq, the impact of the collapsing Arab-Israeli peace process, and even the horrors of global warming, Arab daily AL-Hayat said.
The Durand Line was a British creation. It was demarcated and then signed into a treaty on 12 November 1893 between the ruler of Afghanistan, Amir Abdul Rahman Khan, and Sir Mortimer Durand, foreign secretary of what was then British India.
The tribal areas on both sides of the Durand Line have always been autonomous. Anxious to safeguard this autonomy, the tribes resist control by the central government, whether in Islamabad or Kabul. For centuries, their overriding impulse has been to protect their Muslim religion and their traditional way of life from foreign interference.
They do not want a Western model of society forced upon them. The morality they live by is that of the Pashtunwali Code, which means giving asylum and hospitality to visitors (which today may include members of Al-Qaeda as well as a wide variety of common criminals) and avenging any slight or attack.
A major mistake was the diversion of U.S. military effort from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2003 – a policy largely driven by neo-cons in Bush’s Administration, primarily concerned to destroy Iraq in order to enhance Israel’s security environment. But the switch of focus proved immensely costly in men and treasure. U.S. armed forces are overstretched; deficits have ballooned; the shattering of Iraq has handed Iran a strategic victory; and the Taliban have been able to regroup their forces on both sides of the Durand Line and are now a formidable force.
The U.S.-backed Karzai government in Kabul has a tenuous hold on power. The insurgency has spread to many parts of the country, indeed to Kabul itself. The military situation for the U.S. and NATO is worse today than it has been since 2001. At the same time, neighbouring Pakistan has been destabilized. President Asif Ali Zardari, like his predecessor President Pervez Musharraf, has to face a public which has become fervently pro-Taliban, and as fervently anti-American.
A fundamental rethinking of Western strategy is therefore urgently required. This could include:
* The declaration of a unilateral ceasefire.
* Political negotiations with the Taliban and the Pashtun tribes in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the aim of separating them from al-Qaeda. This would most probably involve guaranteeing the autonomy of the tribal areas, substantial financial subsidies, and offering the Taliban a share in government.
* Winning support from the main regional powers for a peace settlement across the Durand Line – Pakistan and Afghanistan, of course, but also India, Iran and even China.
The Indian-Pakistani conflict over Kashmir and their competition in Afghanistan has contributed to stoking the fires of revolt across the Durand Line. Finding a solution to the Kashmir problem should be a priority for the international community. It would rob Pakistan of a motive for promoting jihadi militancy.
Afghanistan would also greatly benefit since Pakistan has covertly backed jihadis in that country, if only to counter the growing, American-encouraged influence of India. Pakistan’s perennial fear is of being squeezed between India on one flank and an Indian-dominated Afghanistan on the other. The resolution of conflicts, rather than the use of military force – whether in south and central Asia or in the Middle East — is the only way to lessen, and ultimately defeat, the threat from terrorism. But it is not a lesson the United States has yet learned.-SANA