17 November By Marian L Tupy

Why partition could be the best way forward for Afghanistan


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AS THE war in Afghanistan continues, it is perhaps worthwhile to spend some time thinking about this country after the war. For example, take Mr Blair's grand social engineering scheme. Britain and the US, he tells us, will work with the local tribes to establish a ruling body consisting of all the tribes. This broadly-based get-together of tribal chiefs will then be charged with the task of giving Afghanistan a sustainable form of government, which will presumably be at least partially democratic and accountable.

This kind of scheme is, to say the least, naive. There is no reason to suppose that the tribes that have been fighting each other for the past 30 years will suddenly sit down and, with the welfare of their country at heart, turn to the problems besetting the Afghani society. With the art of compromise virtually non-existent, these warriors are more likely to focus their energies on trying to obtain absolute power over their foes and then to exterminate them.

Afghanistan is a country where people habitually take law into their own hands and where blood feuds run deep. The fact that Western liberal values are not of much use there should be clear to all, except of course to New Labour politicians, who believe that reason and love can overcome everything.

This naivety is perhaps most pronounced in Mr Blair's wish to address the underlying problems of the Afghani society, such as poverty, lack of education and healthcare. This endeavour will be immensely expensive. More importantly, it will do little to stop the civil war and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

And yet, there is a way out of this seemingly insolvable conundrum. If Mr Blair truly wishes to address the roots of the problem, then he must understand that this rests in the unwillingness of the different Afghani tribes to live together. He must also understand that the existence of Afghanistan as a united country, with all its different tribes suffering together, is not set in stone. Indeed, the answer to the Afghani problem might well rest in the partitioning of the country.

First of all, partition will take away the main underlying problem that the civil war in Afghanistan tried to address. This problem, it seems, is the inability of the different Afghani tribes to live together in peace. Whatever the cultural or genetic reason for tribal loyalty, it is clear that rule of one tribe by another cannot work, and because power-sharing government is unlikely to happen, separating the different tribes is the commonsensical way forward. If Tajiks prefer a Tajik government as opposed to a Pushtu one, they will find it - in Tajikistan. Equally, since Pushtus are not very keen on non-Pushtus, let them join with Pakistan, where Pushtus are a majority. Uzbeks will, likewise, probably feel better in Uzbekistan. Iran will be given the Western, Persian, part.

Secondly, it will be much cheaper. Though neither Uzbekistan nor Pakistan is an ideal state, both already have a working bureaucracy and administration, which they simply need to extend into the newly-acquired territories. With some Western financial help, this is a manageable task, especially since the Afghani tribes are likely to see these kinsmen regimes as liberators.

Thirdly, partition will enable the West to remain on the sidelines and not to be seen as heavily involved in the determination of the destiny of the Muslim people. This should lessen the criticism Muslims levy against the West for interfering, without the risks that the actual non-interference carries. Though there will clearly be voices of discontent, it will now be up to the Islamic countries of Pakistan and Iran to defend their acquisition of Afghani territory.

The above proposal is drastic. But, it is important to recognise that territorial integrity of states is not eternal. It could, of course, be argued that although countries are born and die all the time, partitioning is relatively infrequent. This is true, but international recognition, which every state needs in order to be independent in the legal sense, makes the creation of every new state subject to international arbitration.

Partitioning of Afghanistan is just another kind of international arbitration and it should not be feared. Not only is the end to lawlessness and anarchy that partition will facilitate a better solution to Western concerns, it is also likely to benefit the people of Afghanistan, for they will thus acquire a better and more acceptable form of government.

Marian L Tupy is a PhD student at the Department of International Relations, University of St Andrews.

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