US-Pakistan-Afghanistan – A global perspective

By Johan Galtung

Washington, Carnegie Endowment, 18 April 2012

Ladies and gentlemen,

First, thanks to the American Muslim Association Foundation for organizing a forum on this controversial topic in the heart of Washington!

You have given me the global perspective on this panel, taking into account much space and time; kind of einsteinian. Seeing the world from above, five trends are talking as backdrop, context, for the theme: the fall of the US empire; the de-development of the West; the decline of the state system in favor of nationalisms from below and regionalisms from above; the rise of the Rest; and the rise of China.

And then, spiraling down toward the ground, we see those three actors and the countless sub-actors in deadly embraces, so well described by Ahmed Rashid in his Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Let us highlight some aspects.

We see a wound 1,600 miles long dividing Pashtuns, 40 million, between what was in 1893 when Durand – an English imperialist foreign secretary of “British India” – drew the line between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thus, Pashtuns crossing the line are not entering a “safe haven”, but are at home. The “treaty” was in English, which Afghanistan’s emir did not know. Another signatory was sovereign Baluchistan, later invaded by and incorporated into Pakistan. The Pashtuns were not included.

We sense the US reification of conventional world maps of states, like the two mentioned. Yes, they have governments more or less of, by and for the people, not only one percent, and they have more, or less, or not at all failed states, presidents or prime ministers. But they throw a veil over more important maps of nations, more informative today given the decline of the state. And maps of civilizations, like Arabs, Muslims, Christians, Jews. Not only Muslims have the dilemma of who am I, a citizen of a secular state member of the state system, or a believer in a faith, the ummah for the Muslims.

We see Pakistan’s concerns: internal divisions between nations, and the conflict with India, above all, but not only, over Kashmir.

We see Afghanistan’s concerns: others invading, occupying, conquering, from Alexander the Great via the Mongols and three English invasions, one Soviet, and now USA-NATO in a US-led coalition; with varying pretexts. Like hiding the search for a base close to China (Bagram), and for oil from the Caspian to the Indian Ocean, under a pretext of 9/l1 coming from Afghanistan in general and bin Laden in particular; without delivering any public proof of the assertion.

We see the USA committing the same elementary mistake again and again: the enemy of my enemy is my friend; working well for some issues, but that friend may also have some other points on the agenda. Use bin Laden to beat the Soviets, but maybe he is against secularism in general, not only the Soviet variety? Use Pakistan to beat islamists on their own ground, but may be on top of their agenda is to beat India in having influence in Afghanistan, and hence protecting Pashtuns, Taliban and housing the key enemy bin Laden? Leading to a de facto war, the Pakistani secret service, Inter-Services Intelligence, ISI, taken by surprise by Obama ordering a US SEAL extra-judicial execution on their lands.

And in the background Ali Bhutto’s islamic bomb, adding to the evangelical, anglican, catholic-secular, orthodox, confucian, judaic and hindu bombs, competing for god-like omnipotence. Israel’s goals, to eliminate that bomb, and stop one in Iran, become US goals. The tail wagging the dog? Partly, but even more important is how the two countries came into being: taking over somebody else’s land in the name of their faith; killing, pushing inhabitants into exile or into reservations.

The much longer history of India can also be read in such terms. Maybe a basis for the USA-Israel-India alliance in the area: if one of us falls so does the other, from illegitimacy? Well, they are not the only ones; look at much of Latin America.

How about US-Pak relations? Agendas that coincide only on some points and diverge wildly on others will drive them from one conflict to the next as they have for a decade or two. But Afghanistan, and Pakistan in general and ISI and the Army in particular, also use the USA as a milking cow – Pakistan to the tune of $3 billion a year or so.

Some cow. These are the meager, not the fat, cow years. Milk is printed, comes as vouchers, old arms. Not a lasting relation anyhow, and even less so in an Afghanistan where they have to create army and police for the milk transfer. Not strange that the more or less willing partners and US civilians cooperate to have dialogues with the Taliban to get off the hook, the US military saying “give us only X years more and we’ll beat them”, with drones and SEALs.

USA and NATO will withdraw and bones of the US empire will be buried on Afghan soil. Maybe NATO too. That game offers no solution.

We are back to the grand lines of the opening: power moving to the south and the east, states yielding to federations and regions. Pakistan can probably only survive as a federation with very much autonomy for the parts, and as part of a Central Asian community with eight Muslim neighbors.

The more open the border the more will the Durand wound heal, not by Pakistan or Afghanistan yielding territory to the other, or a new Pashtunistan, but more creatively. And that region will be more interested in good relations with China – already owner of enormous resources in Afghanistan – than with the USA.

And the USA? Hopefully withdrawing before the war with Pakistan becomes hotter. Into the same, the fate of the times. Maybe a North American region. Or a US-Israel-India civilization, with all the problems that will imply? A true federation of WASPs and dominated nations in the USA? A conference with Pakistan to exchange experiences, compare notes from the old days 2001-2014? Who knows?

Where love is missing, separation may be better. Or even divorce.

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