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Redrawing national boundaries:Another think tank fantasy

01 September, 2006

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

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Armed Forces Journal has recently come up with another "brilliant" scheme of reconfiguring nation states in the Muslim World. The author of this new scheme, Ralph Peters, is in a long line of armchair theorists who have probably done more to hurt the cause of US reputation in the Muslim World than the real and perceived US injustices against the Muslims.  For one thing this brilliant gentleman is actually arguing for the realignment of the Muslim World along linguistic and exclusivist national lines in the information age, when the concern should, very logically, be to transform nation-states into constitutional democratic republics which guarantee good governance and equal rights to all their citizens regardless of their ethnic, linguistic and religious origin.


The question of who died and gave Mr. Peters the right to determine what constitutes a natural or an unnatural state is frankly beyond the scope of this discussion. It is also pretty clear to this writer, why Peters chose in particular the nation states between the Bosphorus and Indus for such vivisection and not , for example, the region lying between Pakistan and Bangladesh known as Modern India which is a single state presiding over thousands of ethnic, caste and parochial divides. Surely the idea that India has worked out a democratic framework is not enough for Mr. Peters to spare that country from similar vivisection, for after all Kashmiri, Nagaland, Sikh and other 15 odd freedom movements in India have as much validity as those he mentions in his article i.e. Kurds, Balochs, Naqshbandis, Eastern Christians, Ismailis, Shias etc etc.  Besides if democracy was criterion, how would this reconfiguration along minor communitarian lines help that cause?

The states that he hints at, as ripe for dismantling, are as natural as any states of Europe, Asia, Africa or the Americas .  Turkey, Iran and Pakistan are the historic successor states to great Muslim Empires of the past.In this respect they are not unlike Austria , Hungary, Germania, Spain and Britain etc.Pakistan especially is not just the natural consequence of Muslim suzerainty over South Asia, but has during the ages remained an independent entity for four millenia, distinct both from Afghanistan and the modern state of India, joined with either of these states only for brief periods under great empires i.e.  Mauraya, Ghaznavid, Turk and British. The Khyber Pass is a natural demarcation between Afghanistan and Pakistan and itis quite clear that no matter what cultural ties bind Afghans with Pakistani pushtoons, most Pushtoons will always choose to stand united with Pakistan.

Perhaps the Pushtoon regions of Afghanistan will break away and join Pakistan but the possibility of it happening the other way around would require wishes to be transformed into rocketships. As for the Balochs, they number 7 million in total of the Pakistani population of 150 million people, whereas Balochistan as a province makes up almost half the landmass of the Pakistani republic. Even out of these 7 million Balochs, only a couple of hundred thousand follow the anti-Pakistan tribal leaders.The idea that this would some how spin into a major separatist movement is again mere ignorance of the geo-political realities of this Pakistani region.

Since ancient times, the rivalry of Iran and Turan has been immortalized in folklores. Ottoman and Safavid Empires gave this rivalry a new meaning. The states that later became part of USSR were historically part of these two empires.  Therefore, there is a much greater chance of parts of Azerbaijan and the Central Asian states joining either Iran or Turkey than the other way around.Truth be told, the dream of having a Kurdistan, as the most pro-Western state between Bulgaria and Japan, is perhaps at the heart of Mr. Peters mental, geographic and political gymnastics.

While I am no fan of Saudi Arabia and its Wahabbi fundamentalism, I wonder what prompted Mr. Peters to declare Saudi Arabia an unnatural state?  If being united by a monarchy is his evidence, should he not raise a similar objection against the United Kingdom, which historically has been united by the royal family. Spare a thought oh great scholar for Scotland. Why not dismantle this most unnatural state and make independent England, Wales,Scotland and Ireland happy? Surely there must be some great and historic injustices that might be reversed over there? You see, I am very open minded about the idea of altering borders.  Come to think of it, what a great wrong would be reversed if California was to be made part of Mexico. Why stop there- how about Texas, or is the blood of slave-owners spilt at Alamo more important than the blood of millions who sacrificed their lives (or even those lives sacrificed unwillingly) in conflicts that created these borders in the first place?

The fact of the matter is that with the recession of colonialism, the Muslim World entered into the nation state phase and after 80 odd years, nationalboundaries within the Muslimdom" are now concrete realities. The way forward is not to breakdown and create new ghettos but to take existing nation states and help them democratize and modernize to become in step with the modern world. Thus this new redrawing the borders proposal is atleast 60 years too late. Instead of coming up with these hair brained schemes to alter existing borders in this day and age, perhaps a policy of hands off non-intervention (especially an end to all support to dictators and military rulers) would have been more advisable.

Unfortunately, American attitude historically has always favored wrong turns and a foolhardy belief in the notion that two wrongs make a right. This is precisely why Mr. Peters says so openly "Ethnic cleansing works!"  Truth be told, it is impossible in this day and age to satisfy each and every imagined identity group. Who is the judge of which claim takes priority, is a question that would continue to haunt those who wish to follow Mr.Peters' scheme.  Instead my suggestion is: Give democracy a chance and stop aiding military dictators in these states.


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