Why Afghanistan’s partition may be unpreventable

The ethnic tensions and recriminations, which threaten to undermine cohesion in the fledgling, multiethnic Afghan Army, are breaking along the same lines as when the invading Soviet forces withdrew in 1989, an exit that led to civil war.

America’s war in Afghanistan, the longest and costliest in its history, is finally drawing to a close. How this shapes Afghanistan’s future will have a significant bearing on India’s security. Will the fate of Afghanistan be different from two other countries where the US also intervened militarily – Iraq and Libya? Iraq has been partitioned in all but name into Shia, Sunni and Kurdish sections, while Libya seems headed toward a similar three-way but tribal-based partition. Will there be an Iraq-style “soft partition” of Afghanistan, with protracted strife eventually creating a “hard partition” ?

Afghanistan’s large ethnic minorities already enjoy de facto autonomy, which they secured after their Northern Alliance played a central role in the U.S.-led ouster of the Taliban from power. Having enjoyed autonomy for years now, the minorities will resist with all their might from coming under the sway of the ethnic Pashtuns, who ruled the country for generations.

For their part, the Pashtuns, despite their tribal divisions, will not rest content with being in charge of just a rump Afghanistan made up of the eastern and southeastern provinces. Given the large Pashtun population resident across the Britishdrawn Durand Line, they are likely sooner or later to seek a Greater Pashtunistan – a development that could directly affect the territorial unity of another artificial modern construct, Pakistan.

The fact that the ethnic minorities are actually ethnic majorities in distinct geographical zones makes Afghanistan’s partitioning organically doable. Ethnic minorities account for more than half of Afghanistan – both in land area and population size.


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