Is it time for the West to plan for dissolving Pakistan?


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
Could Pakistan Dissolve Altogether?

Interview: Afghanistan scholar Thomas Barfield on Pashtun rebels, a nuclear Punjab, and how Islamabad played Americans for suckers.

— By Michael Mechanic

Boston University anthropologist Thomas Barfield has been publishing relentlessly ever since the mid-1970s, when he wandered northern Afghanistan doing doctoral fieldwork. He has since emerged as one of America's foremost experts on the region, focusing on political development, provincial-state relations, and customary law. In 2006, Barfield, now president of the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies, received a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship to complete his upcoming book on the changing concepts of political legitimacy in Afghanistan. I caught up with the professor to discuss the P-word—Pakistan—and its role in our current predicament. At the time of our interview, Pakistan's government had not yet signed its agreement with the Taliban that allowed for the imposition of strict Islamic law in six northwestern regions, including Swat.

Mother Jones: To what degree does future Afghan stability depend on reconciliation between India and Pakistan?

Thomas Barfield: The India/Pakistan relationship is probably central. Pakistan has from its inception defined itself in opposition to India, and that makes it difficult. But Kashmir needs to be reconciled. Pakistan could also dissolve: The four provinces have very little holding them together.



MJ: Dissolve into what?

TB: Four ministates or something, in which case your policy changes radically. If you're dealing with rump nuclear-armed Punjab and three separate, independent nations, then reconciliation almost becomes a moot point.

MJ: Can you make peace in Afghanistan without dealing with Kashmir?

TB: Yes, you can. Kashmir's a separate issue, and settling it would not necessarily stop the Pakistanis from meddling in Afghanistan—which they used to talk about as their fifth province.

MJ: And also an extension of their battle with India.

TB: They view everything as an extension of their battle with India. They bought our tanks and planes so that they could fight India, with which they have lost three wars. It's totally not in Pakistan's self-interest to do this, and yet they're utterly driven by it. But if you solve the India thing, I presume that would go a long way to providing regional peace.

MJ: What can the US do to facilitate this, given that India doesn't want outsiders involved in the Kashmir dispute?

TB: It's not clear Pakistan's military can survive without our subsidies—it's a bankrupt country. One of the things for us to tell Pakistan is that we may not want to get involved in this directly, but we want to see this problem solved. And in this the US is probably neutral, because there's no constituency in the United States that's keen on Kashmir one way or the other. Most people don't even know where it is.

MJ: Pakistan's army and ISI, its military intelligence service, basically made the Taliban what it is. Was this support driven by ideology or India strategy?

TB: Part of it was its India strategy, this "strategic depth" they talk about. The Pakistani belief was, "What if the Indians overran the plains? We would regroup in Afghanistan and drive them out." But one look at Afghanistan and you say, "Wait a minute, how are you going to move your equipment?" It's ridiculous. It's not strategic depth. It's nothing. The Pakistanis also have a paranoia—which they actually now might make true—that India is trying to surround them, since India has always had good relations with Afghanistan, and Afghanistan and Pakistan have always had bad relations.

MJ: How come?

TB: Afghanistan was the only state that voted against Pakistan's admission to the United Nations on the grounds that it was an illegitimate state, it shouldn't be allowed to exist. With Partition there were only two options: Join India or join Pakistan. The Afghans said there should be two more options, that the Northwest Frontier province and Baluchistan should be able to vote to become independent or join Afghanistan—they said people weren't given those options and therefore it was an unfair process. If you look at Afghan maps of Pakistan, they always include what they call Pashtunistan, which runs to the Indus River. As you can imagine, Pakistan is not real pleased to see maps like that, which give away half its territory. So there's been this hostility. And essentially, because India's been opposed to Pakistan, Afghanistan has had good relations with Delhi. But the big thing is that Afghans hold Pakistan responsible for most of the trouble in their country.

MJ: India has also been visibly doing good things in Afghanistan.

TB: Oh, a lot. When the truck bomb went off at the Indian Embassy last July in Kabul, the Indians saw that as a calling card from ISI saying, "Get out. This is our territory." And they responded by saying, "We're going to give Afghanistan another $400 million."

MJ: Wasn't Jalaluddin Haqqani the bomber?

TB: Yeah. But he's an Afghan who fights for the Taliban, and this wasn't a Taliban operation. This was a message from Islamabad to India. The bomb went off as India's military attaché was coming to work, so it wasn't just a bomb; it was an assassination specifically targeting one of their high military officials.

MJ: Does Pashtun nationalism play any role in Pakistan's military activities?

TB: Pashtuns are a small minority—something like 15 percent—so their nationalism is looked upon very critically. The government and military are dominated by people from the Punjab.

MJ: Right. In fact, many Pashtuns basically live on reservations, the tribal areas, that operate under a 1901 law.

TB: Yes, the Frontier Crimes Regulation Act. Some of the Pashtuns feel like they are a colony of Pakistan. They're not full citizens, and the act gives the Pakistani government the right to collective punishment, to burn down villages, to ban trade, and even to put whole tribes under interdict—even if they're not living in the area. So it's fairly draconian, and it comes directly out of British colonial rule.

MJ: So if the army isn't Pashtun, how does a smaller element like the ISI exert so much control?

TB: A lot of people in the ISI are Pashtuns because they had the language skills. During the Soviet War period, [Mohammad] Zia ul-Haq began Islamizing the army. Before, the army was fairly resolutely secular, but since the '80s you saw a greater and greater influence of Islamists in the army as well as the ISI. By the time they were helping the Taliban, some [army officials] were highly sympathetic to this idea of a Wahhabi-style Islamic state. Pakistan was formed as a state for Muslims separated off from India—it's name means "land of the religiously pure"—and it's always been like, "Well, are we Muslim enough?" All states founded as places to protect a religious group run into that problem. Israel has that problem with its right wing, and in Pakistan it's even stronger.

MJ: How has army support of the jihadis imperiled the Pakistani government?

TB: The easiest example: The jihadis took over Swat Valley, which is full of Pashtuns, but was under the direct rule of the government and always had been. It had become one of the more secular, progressive areas of the Pashtuns, because it was a resort. It had ski lodges, and was a big tourist place for foreigners in the '70s and '80s. Swat is only a couple hours drive from Islamabad. This is like rebels taking Fredericksburg and sending their representatives to Washington saying, "We want autonomy. Northern Virginia isn't good enough for us."

MJ: And Pakistan has basically bent over.

TB: Yes, it really has. They have trained their troops to fight conventional warfare on the plains with tanks, with missiles, against India. So in a place like Swat, where you've got guys with guns fighting in mountains, and who are experts on ambush, they have just trounced the Pakistan army. The army is able to take back the major roads, the major towns, but its people are not trained and they don't seem to have the stomach for taking these guys on in essentially a counterinsurgency.

MJ: Yet we've given the Pakistanis more than $10 billion, some $6 billion for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the border, ostensibly to fight the jihadis. Has Pakistan taken us for a ride?

TB: Oh sure. But they took us for a ride during the Soviet War, too. They feel they're experts at playing us for suckers. A lot of these problems were evident, three, four, even six years ago, but nobody, including the Bush administration, was particularly interested. All the attention has been on Iraq. So this gave the Pakistanis a lot of flexibility to cause mischief. As far as they were concerned, at some point the US was going to get out of there; their whole strategy was to keep the Taliban in reserve and keep their own options open. Now people are seeing that the whole region could go up. Pakistan has nuclear weapons. It has 173 million people. It's big. So the focus and the context—even the appointment of [US diplomat Richard] Holbrooke to be special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan—implies that both countries are part of the problem.

MJ: So what happens if Pakistan dissolves?

TB: There will probably be an independent Pashtun state, unlikely to join with Afghanistan, because for all the lip service Afghans give to Pashtunistan, they can count. If they were part of this state, they would be a minority, and that's probably not a good idea from their point of view. There could be an independent Baluchistan. That's Pakistan's major gas producing area, and there's been an insurgency there for a long time. Some people say Baluchistan might join with Sindh, the other major populated area. Sindh is mostly Shia, and they feel persecuted by these radical Sunnis. There's really a large number of Shias in Pakistan that these radical Sunnis consider to be heretics—they are mostly in the south. Also in the south, in Karachi, you have all the so-called Muhajirs, the people who left India to resettle in Pakistan. So effectively you'd get three or four states. The most powerful would still be the Punjab. That would be the one holding the nuclear arms—Islamabad, Lahore, that area.

MJ: Who would be in charge?

TB: The Punjabis. They see themselves as the dominant group in Pakistan. They're more moderate on the religious and political spectrums—as long as they can be in charge. The army that you see now is mostly Punjabi, so you'd have this large army overlooking this rump state with lots of nukes. The other thing to consider is the elites are highly modern and moderate, highly westernized: Could a social revolution break out in which the elites who have run the place since it was founded are displaced by an entirely different social class that is more radical—that doesn't have the same vested interests or education? The army has always stood to prevent that, so presumably if they would hold on to the army, the army would hold on to Punjab and prevent things from getting out of hand. But then the question would be, if it starts to fall apart like that, would India feel the need to make a preemptive strike to go after the nukes?

MJ: Yikes!

TB: Yes. They do not want to see it that way, because when people start planning three or four moves ahead and worrying about preempting this and that, things can get pretty dangerous pretty fast.


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
Is it time for the West to plan for dissolving Pakistan?

How many nations of our times are based purely on a religion and recognized by other nations as independent nations? Only two – the Vatican City and Pakistan. Ironically they share in common some traits. Both have helped in the unravelling of the USSR but not of Communism – for it still survives behind the People’s Republic of China and is working towards global dominance. Both have been courted by the USA in its Cold War struggles. Neither has disappointed. Both exert influence on the global politics disproportionate to their actual size, economy, military capabilities, and the capacity to contribute in any meaningful way towards a modern, knowledge based, technological and information society. Both manage to do so by manipulating their historical images as projections into the future.

But there the similarities end. The Vatican’s leadership has made amends to its historical victims, and has shown its flexibility and readiness to change with the times. It has steadfastly refused to underwrite radicalism of the theological variety [the severe castigation of the Liberation Theology for example]. This may change in the future. But the leadership of the Vatican have proved themselves consummate statesmen in the concessions and compromises that they have made while never abandoning the fundamental objective of total global ideological domination. This is an objective that would have been a crime if not from the “one and only true message” for any other “religion” in the times when the Church ruled supreme. But now in the days of “total religious tolerance”, there is nothing wrong in having a declared agenda of “harvesting all souls”. In fact, legal and state coercive machinery can be used to guarantee protection of any proselytizer – even someone swearing by texts that recommend putting the unrepentant unbeliever to the sword.

Where Pakistan differs is not in its protection of organizations claiming the right to practice “Dawa” or spreading of the Islamist beliefs – but in its total lack of statesmanship. Unlike the Vatican, the Pakistani leadership never apologizes to the victims of its Islamists, never acknowledges that it has nurtured Jihadis in its madrassahs, never concedes to modernization in education and social practices, never really allows any land reforms or dismantling of feudal exploitation in its backyard.

Pakistan is basically an anachronism, a nation whose only foundational claim for identity is a religion – in a historical period where the world is leaving behind, exclusive and historical claim based religions. Moreover, that religion is not even unique to the country – it is shared by a host of other nations, some of whom have louder and more well established claims of being the centre for that religion. So Pakistan is based on a type of ideology increasingly irrelevant globally as national foundation, and moreover on an ideology based identity shared with other “nations” – and therefore has no real claims of distinction from other nations. It cannot look at history and culture, for in spite of the best sadistic efforts of generations of “mullahs” – elements of pre-Islamic cultures lie firmly interwoven in the national fabric, and those elements are shared by its imagined nemesis – India. In fact the pre-Islamic cultural element proved so strong that a part of it broke away in reaction in 1971 as Bangladesh.

So now Pakistan finds itself in a terrible dilemma. To strengthen and give uniqueness to its national foundation, it has to become more Islamic than “others”. Becoming more Islamic means more and more unquestioning obedience to a strict and literal interpretation of the core texts. That in turn means more Jihad with violent means which accelerates the competition between the ruling feudal elite, the army, the mullahs, the commons, the militants – to become “purer” than the others. That means an almost perpetual state of national Jihad. Purer Islam can only be maintained by preventing modernization – in education, productivity, technology and above all the questing mindset. Which means Pakistan will become more and more dependent on largesse from interested external sources and be a drain on the global economy as the sources would spread the cost around.

So the West and the global community should perhaps start thinking of dissolving the entity called Pakistan. Here are the brief reasons :

(1) Dissolving Pakistan saves the West (and therefore the world economy )a huge amount of money and resources needed to keep the state afloat, and a total drain, because none of that capital goes into productive capacities.

(2) Even though the Chinese are now playing second fiddle to the West, it is uncannily similar to the Ribbentrop-Molotov handshake where both sides appear to be buying time. Eventually, Russia and China could come together with Iran (or whatever is left of it even if a so-called revolutionary liberalization and democratization takes place there under non-theologians) to which the CAR will lean. As long as Pakistan remains an independent entity, it can play the prostitute and threaten to kiss the higher bidder or the one more willing to pay. That is both a security risk and a potential disaster, if everything given to Pakistan lands up in Russian, Iranian or Chinese hands and the West’s presence is virtually terminated in the Afghan-Pakistan frontier. Dissolving Pakistan takes away this worry.

(3) Dissolving Pakistan and putting up new independent states actually creates new multiple centres where Jihad can be protected and nurtured. One Pakistan becomes many and the western problem multiplies. One of the best bets is to allow India to absorb the populations and the territories. India is a growing economy which can absorb the costs. It has the capability and the will to manage multicultural groups and religious animosities. Culturally Indians of the western part of the country will be closer to the Pakistanis across the border [Punjab for example shares the language across the border in spite of the state sponsorship of Urdu] compared to any other external ethnicity or country. Moreover the costs of developing infrastructure and the economy or carrying out necessary social reforms will be borne on Indian shoulders and not on the west.

(4) As the price for non-intervention in the absorption, the West could extract concessions from India that it will have assured access and facilities to reach the CAR through channels and routes maintained and developed through Pakistani territories connecting the Karakorum Highway and other CAR approach routes.

(5) The Taliban lose their foster home, and are buffered off from the crucial supply routes of Karakorums and the Arabian Sea. The so-called Kashmir problem vanishes as the Pakistani military and ISI mechanism to foment terrorists inside India vanishes. So one of the greatest excuses for maintaining Jihad from the Pakistani side vanishes.

India, because of linguistic and unique cultural history, will remain firmly in western and specifically the Anglo-Saxon or Atlanticist orbit for generations to come. There are sufficient fissures in the Indian ruling class for the west to exploit and protect western interests.

It is worth a try – at least the largest source for generating terror of the Jihadi and allied kind (through international crime and other non-religious or ethnic militancy) will be effectively liquidated. At one stroke West no longer has to face Islamist terror, pay for upkeep of Jihad, and instead can profit from a growing economy which bears all the costs!


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
Commentary: Gulliver's Lilliputians

WASHINGTON, March 16 (UPI) -- India's two Ambani brothers can buy 100 percent of every company listed on Pakistan's Karachi Stock Exchange and would still be left with $30 billion to spare. This was one of many comparative conclusions about the two countries by Farrukh Saleem, a Pakistani writer focused, with a twinge of envy, on the giant next door.

The four richest Indians, he writes, can buy all goods and services produced over a year by 169 million Pakistanis and still be left with $60 billion to spare. The four richest Indians are wealthier than the 40 richest Chinese, is another conclusion.

As the U.S. Stock Exchange was bottom fishing, Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries became a $100 billion company (dwarfing the entire KSE, which is capitalized at $65 billion). Saleem's blend of admiring envy lists the baubles Neeta Ambani received from her husband for her 44th birthday last fall: A $60 million jet with a custom-fitted master bedroom with bathroom, a sky bar, entertainment cabins, game consoles and so forth. And Mukesh, now building for $1 billion, the planet's most expensive new home -- Residence Antillia (after a mythical, phantom Island somewhere in the Atlantic) -- isn't even India's richest man.

At 500-foot tall, gushes Saleem, Mukesh's new family home will be a 30-story Mumbai skyscraper (first seven floors for parking and auto maintenance, eighth for theater, health club and swimming pool, two floors for Ambani family guests, followed by four floors for the Ambani family with superb views of the Arabian Sea. To top it all, not one, but three helipads. The new Ambani home will be staffed by 600 employees.

Saleem then marvels at India's penetration of America's domestic scene. Imagine, he says, 12 percent of all American scientists are of Indian origin; 38 percent of doctors; 36 percent of NASA scientists; 34 percent of Microsoft employees; 28 percent of IBM's payroll. And there's much more to come, says Saleem.

Sabeer Bhatia created and founded Hotmail; Vinod Khosla, Sun Microsystems; Vinod Dham fathered the Intel Pentium processor that runs 90 percent of all computers; Rajiv Gupta co-invented Hewlett Packard's E-speak project; Indians run an average of four out of 10 Silicon Valley start-ups; six Indian women have won Miss Universe/Miss World titles over the past 10 years; and Bollywood produces 800 movies a year.

Now on a roll, Saleem, indirectly chastising his country Pakistan, writes that Azim Premji -- India's Bill Gates -- is the richest Muslim entrepreneur on the face of the planet. Forbes lists him among the world's Top 50. Chairman of Wipro, one of the world's largest software companies, he's worth about $20 billion. Mukesh Ambani, says the admiring Pakistani, is now the world's numero uno with $63.2 billion. Forbes downgrades him to fourth with $29 billion. Give or take a billion or two, who's counting!

More importantly, India is the second fastest growing investor in the United States after the United Arab Emirates, according to Robert D. Hormats, the under secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs.

Saleem says he believes he understands why Indians do better than Pakistanis. "We have the same genetic sequence and the same genetic marker (M124); the same DNA molecule; the same DNA sequence; our culture, our traditions and our cuisine are all the same; we watch the same movies and sing the same songs; so what is it that Indians have and we don't?" Saleem's answer: Indians elect their leaders; they don't focus on religion; neither do they spend time and money devising ways to kill their own and everyone else over religion."

Unpleasant to hear, but a great deal of truth to Saleem's conclusions.

And these were also some of the reasons that pushed the last three U.S. administrations to cultivate relations with India while they tried to find Pakistan's unlisted geopolitical numbers (e.g., ISI's covert link with Taliban). The Obamas' first state dinner for India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh didn't quite swing it. Nor did George W. Bush's nuclear deal that allowed India to dodge the nuclear quarantine it found itself in after testing nukes outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This, in turn, allowed the United States to sell nuclear power plants to India. But India was already looking elsewhere.

U.S. President Barack Obama's priority has been Afghanistan and ever closer cooperation with Pakistan. India, meanwhile, sidled back into Russia's embrace, an old Cold War relationship that gave India 70 percent of its military hardware from the Soviet Union. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin flew into New Delhi and flew back with firm Indian orders for $7 billion in a first tranche designed to cover no less than 12 multibillion-dollar nuclear reactors; an aircraft carrier; and a new fleet of MiG-29s.

As UPI's Martin Walker reported, Putin did not get an Indian commitment to select Russian warplanes for its planned $11 billion purchase of 126 advanced fighter jets. Russia, Europe and the United States are vying to sell India a technological edge in the air over China and Pakistan.

Come election time, Indian politicians are prone to consult mendicants and yogis who dust off their cosmic calendars. India's geopolitical thinkers and planners don't need soothsayers to conclude the United States puts a higher premium on its relations with China and for the foreseeable future will be more concerned with Pakistan than with India.


Super Mod
Mar 24, 2009
Country flag
Thanks ajtr. Looks like a pretty convincing argument from this person about dissolution of Pakistan. All forumers have at one point or the other talked about it. We have a thread for that as well. I wonder if it can be discussed even more in depth?

Latest Replies

Global Defence

New threads