Friday, August 11, 2006

the other geopolitical quaqmire

From a trenchant article in the Toronto Star on Baluchistan, on the insurgency we are ignoring in order to waste more personnel and funds proving the President is a bigger man than his daddy:
Baluchistan is also home to poverty, radical Islam, Madrassa schools, drug trafficking and 231,000 Afghan refugees, all of which supplies the Taliban. What's more, the smuggling routes, both for drugs and Islamist guerrillas, run from Pakistan through Baluchistan and neighbouring Iran to Iraq. There couldn't be a better expression of the area's effective autonomy than the attendance, not long ago, of six Baluchistan politicians at the funeral of a Taliban commander.
What began as a peacekeeping mission for Canadian and US troops is rapidly devolving into a desperate bid for containment amidst the collusion of a supposed ally and the impotence of the Karzai government. Long have we realized that this is where al-Qaeda, our chief putative enemy in the struggle against violent extremism, has been coiled like a snake under a rock. But yet, Iraq has inexplicably become the centerpiece of US counterterrorism efforts as the jihadists hiding in the Hindu Kush are given little attention. That, I would argue, has emboldened the terrorists more than any Senate primary.

The problem with trying to drive the reemergent Taliban out of southern Afghanistan has multiple causes. First, there is no border with Pakistan to speak of: the area is a rugged desolate region far from Islamabad known as Baluchistan, and its people known as Baluchis. The British, in their typical colonialist cartographic zeal, drew the border (called the Durand Line) between Afghanistan and Pakistan in 1893.

Fifty-five years later in 1948, when Pakistan was granted independence by the British, the Baluchis too desired an independent nation. Like the Kurds, who are caught between the three nations of Iraq, Turkey and Iran, the Baluchis considered themselves an ethnically distinct people caught between Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. And also like the Kurds, they have been subject to a history of rebellion-crushing by their central government, the Pakistanis. During the mujahadin era of the 1980's, Baluchistan served as the jump-off point for Taliban forces battling the Soviets for control.

When the Durand line 'lapsed' in 1993, Pakistan moved Pashtun tribesmen into the ill-defined border region to form a barrier between Baluchistan and Afghanistan. However, instead of a barrier, the Pashtuns have been a conduit between the two lands for both Taliban recruits and their chief source of income, heroin. Pakistani President Musharraf is more concerned with supressing Baluchi separatism than trying to clear the Taliban from this area and the Baluchi separatists have little incentive to help the army. There is even whispers of the sinister ISI, the Pakistani secret police, aiding the heroin traffickers. And NATO troops have their backs up against the problem, trying to defend Kandahar and Helmand provinces in Afghanistan against the spreading resurgence of the Taliban. As long as Pakistan is unwilling to control a vast swath of its country, there remains little hope for its neighbor.

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