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Bleeding borders

Mideast is in upheaval and course correction is already overdue in Pakistan. Split of the country according to Ralph’s map will be a sin that posterity will never forgive

Bleeding borders

In 2006, veteran US army officer and a military strategist Ralph Peters penned an article “Blood Borders” that was published in “Armed Forces Journal”. The article created ripples among concerned circles. Some of them debunked it as a sinister scheme of superpowers and some others delved for logic inside the re-drawn map of Middle East and parts of Africa and South Asia, including Pakistan.

Ralph asserted that the borders drawn after the First World War were arbitrary and distorted that resulted in madcap boundaries in Middle East. He particularly referred to ethnic tapestry in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran that eventually turned into a mishmash of fault lines in these countries.

His prophetic anticipation about dismemberment of Iraq is being witnessed today by the whole world. A flabbergasting thunderbolt by Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has ravaged strategic cities of Iraq occupying one after the other and declaring an Islamic Caliphate. Iraq’s current geographic architecture surfaced in the wake of First World War when France and Britain glued splinters of the shattered Ottoman Empire. Oil reserves defined the new landscape of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

After the 2nd World War, British Empire lost its sheen and paved way for American imperialism. Both USA and Britain, coddled Saddam lead Iraq during its war against Iran of post-Shah era. As long as Saddam had been serving imperial interests, he enjoyed complete impunity for using all kinds of weapons against Iran and Kurds. Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait resulted in twilight of its armory and Iraq was put under stifling scrutiny of UN.

By 2001 Iraq’s war power was almost completely eroded yet US decided to crumple it completely. American invasion sanitised it fully and brought the country under a stooge regime, which melted soon after departure of American forces. Next in line was Syria where in a stark hypocrisy, champions of war against terrorism are funneling resources in the coffers of Jihadi extremists to unravel its map.

Iran’s turn has been delayed by Bashar al Asad’s underestimated intransigence. Meanwhile, strides by jihadi extremists in Iraq have given a new twist to a premeditated scheme. Resultantly, Ralph’s map is being unfurled in Iraq. His prognosis of three parcels of Iraq and parturition of Kurdistan, Shia Arab State and Sunni Iraq proved prophetic.

Middle East is undergoing upheaval and may be sedated only after yielding several territorial flakes. Yet that will not be the end and Ralph’s curse would barrel towards new destinations. The protracted bloody conflicts in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan can maul their boundaries too.

The new jigsaw of Middle East is likely to include few splinters from Iran as well. The purported new Arab Shia state would also take a bite of Iran, where territory along Iraqi border in southwest is a home to some three million Arabs, predominantly Shias. The area, gripped by Sunni-Shiite tensions, has been pressing for greater autonomy in recent years. In the southern oil-rich province of Khuzestan, clashes erupted in March 2006 between police and pro-independence ethnic Arab Iranians, resulting in three deaths and more than 250 arrests.

Similarly, Iran has a sizeable population of 4 million Kurds, who are known to harbour separatist propensity. It triggered violence when Abdullah Ocalan, then-leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, was arrested in Turkey in 1999. Both Iran and Turkey are in consternation that creation of an independent Kurdistan will eventually detach their Kurd territories.

Iran also has roughly 1.4 million Baloch, comprising 2 per cent of its population. They reside in the areas bordering restive Balochistan province of Pakistan. Like Pakistani Balochistan, southeastern province dominated by Baloch is the least developed part of Iran. Atrocities by law enforcement apparatus on both sides have been decried by Baloch.

Ralph’s map shows both sides of Baloch population ensconced into a free Balochistan. Turbat and adjoining areas bordering Iran in Southwest of Balochistan are a hotbed of Baloch insurgency. The proposition of a Baloch land comprising Baloch dominated areas in Iran and Pakistan also echoed during a session of House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee of the US Congress in 2012. Baloch representatives beseeched the US to support an independent Balochistan comprising contiguous Baloch areas in both countries.

Fragmentation of Iran would satiate the US by creating two client states of Kurdistan and Balochistan in the region where it has to confront a deep rooted terrorism and a strident military and economic power, China.

Ralph’s scissors then sneak eastward to Pakistan that had been in an ambivalent knot with the USA since its birth. His map shows a decapitated Pakistan sans Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. The latter has been shown subsumed in Afghanistan where Pakhtun majority dominates the polity. Ethnic Pakhtuns straddle on both sides of Durand Line that separates the two countries with 2,640 kilometres long porous border. It was established after an 1893 agreement between Sir Mortimer Durand of British India and Afghan Amir Abdul Rahman Khan to demarcate their respective spheres of influence.

Pakhtuns always repudiated this line and freely roved on both sides of the border. The ongoing civil war in the area has further eroded sanctity of this blurry border. Although Pakhtuns on Pakistan side do not have a fervent tendency of secession anymore yet any territorial array desired by international forces can exploit this ethnic fault line to assemble vestiges of a highly polarised and unstable territory into new agglomerates.

Military and political developments in the country are rapidly making it fragile and the state power is gradually withering away owing to a medley of reasons. Whereas Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are mired in a war like situation, the state of affairs in other provinces, specially in Sindh, is not stable either.

A nascent democracy is continuously stalked by undemocratic forces and at the same time elected regimes also lack desired political acumen. A mounting public frustration emanating from lack of democratic dividends is depriving democratic forces from public props.

The country ranks poorly on almost every internationally recognized index. It is being perceived as a nest of terrorism. Isolation in the international community on various accounts is reaching ominous proportions. In a recently issued report of The Fund for Peace, Pakistan has been ranked among the ten most fragile states of the world. Out of 178 countries, the country stood at number ten, preceded by South Sudan, Somalia, Central African Republic, Congo, Chad, Afghanistan, Yemen and Haiti. Astonishingly Iraq and Syria are ranked at 13th and 15th number insinuating that Pakistan is exposed to even greater degree of fragility compared to these two countries tormented by catastrophic civil wars and at the brink of fragmentation.

Initiated in 2005 as “Failed State Index” and later replaced with a softer metonymy of “Fragile States Index”, the 10th report shows that this is fifth time that Pakistan has featured in the group of the ten most fragile states. The ten years’ trend shows that Pakistan has actually descended from 13th number in 2013 to 10th number in 2014. A cursory look at the basket of indicators elucidates the rationale behind such an alarming ranking. These indicators include demographic pressure, refugees and IDPs, uneven economic development, group grievances, human flight and brain drain, poverty and economic decline, state legitimacy, public services, human rights and rule of law, security apparatus, factionalized elites and external interventions. Bad situation against each indicator is at its peak.

The prevailing fragility of the state is a cumulative outcome of all the aforementioned aspects and is an accumulated deficit of six and a half decades. Before one prompts to blithely dismiss the report, one ought to take an unbiased account of our history. Ostrich approach will not help to extricate the country from this morass.

Ralph’s map may not necessarily see the light of day, yet resolving internal political conflicts through brinkmanship does not portend well for the country. The people at the helm of affairs should revisit the policies and strategies that have brought the country at this brink.

Nurturing militancy under a flawed foreign policy and a flagrant denial of rights of federating units under a detrimental internal policy has fatally wounded the ethos of federation. Stung by own strategic assets, the powers-that-be should shun their obstinacy and avoid further obfuscation of narrative of the state. Unless Frankenstein of extremism is unequivocally denounced in all its forms, it will be difficult to launder decades old taints.

Similarly, without respecting rights of federating units and allowing democracy to take roots, territorial integrity of state would reside on the razor’s edge. Course correction is already overdue and delaying it further may lead the country teetering on the brink of Ralph’s map; a sin that posterity will never forgive.

Naseer Memon

naseer memon
Naseer Memon is a human rights activist and civil society professional. He may be reached at [email protected]

2 comments

  • Nice to see knowledge and current situation in world

  • Very good insight. So the post worldwar-I/II demarcation were arbitrary lines made rather in a rush and now being proposed to be corrected. Indo-Pak demarcation did not come into existence without a lot of blood, hence ‘blood borders’. Sounds scary.

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