The core assumption about what ails Pakistan is false. Pakistan, which presents more nightmare scenarios for American policymakers than perhaps any other country, does have geographical logic. The vision of Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in the 1940s did not constitute a mere power grab at the expense of India’s Hindu-dominated Congress party. There was much history and geography behind his drive to create a separate Muslim state anchored in the subcontinent’s northwest, abutting southern Central Asia.
PAKISTAN: NOT A CARTOGRAPHIC PUZZLE, BUT REALITY – HISTORICALLY AS WELL AS GEOGRAPHICALLY
by Robert D. Kaplan
Note for WoP readers: Robert D. Kaplan wrote an insightful article back in 2009. The article titled as Strategic Planning for Pakistan’s nukes….. is heavily relevant to what’s happening now in Pakistan and what might happen if our leaders did not take timely decisions on estranged US Pakistan relations. [Nayyar]
Perversity characterizes Pakistan. Only the worst African hellholes, Afghanistan, Haiti, Yemen, and Iraq rank higher on this year’s Failed States Index. The country is run by a military obsessed with — and, for decades, invested in — the conflict with India, and by a civilian elite that steals all it can and pays almost no taxes. But despite an overbearing military, tribes “defined by a near-universal male participation in organized violence,” as the late European anthropologist Ernest Gellner put it, dominate massive swaths of territory. The absence of the state makes for 20-hour daily electricity blackouts and an almost nonexistent education system in many areas.
Later on, throughout the Middle Ages and the early modern era, Muslim invaders from the west grafted India to the greater Middle East, with the Indus River valley functioning as the core of all these interactions, as close to the Middle East and Central Asia as it is to the Ganges River valley. Under the Delhi-based Mughal dynasty, which ruled from the early 1500s to 1720, central Afghanistan to northern India was all part of one polity, with Pakistan occupying the territorial heartland.
Rather than a fake modern creation, Pakistan is the very geographical and national embodiment of all the Muslim invasions that have swept down into India throughout its history, even as Pakistan’s southwest is the subcontinental region first occupied by Muslim Arabs invading from the Middle East. The Indus, much more than the Ganges, has always had an organic relationship with the Arab, Persian, and Turkic worlds. It is historically and geographically appropriate that the Indus Valley civilization, long ago a satrapy of Achaemenid Persia and the forward bastion of Alexander the Great’s Near Eastern empire, today is deeply enmeshed with political currents swirling through the Middle East, of which Islamic extremism forms a major element. This is not determinism but merely the recognition of an obvious pattern.
The more one reads this history, the more it becomes apparent that the Indian subcontinent has two principal geographical regions: the Indus Valley with its tributaries, and the Ganges Valley with its tributaries. Pakistani scholar Aitzaz Ahsan identifies the actual geographical fissure within the subcontinent as the “Gurdaspur-Kathiawar salient,” a line running from eastern Punjab southwest to the Arabian Sea in Gujarat. This is the watershed, and it matches up almost perfectly with the Pakistan-India border. Nearly all the Indus tributaries fall to the west of this line, and all the Ganges tributaries fall to the east. Only the Mauryas, Mughals, and British bonded these two regions into single states. For those three empires, the Indus formed the frontier zone and required many more troops there facing restive Central Asia than along the Ganges, which was under no comparable threat.
Likewise, the medieval Delhi Sultanate faced so much trouble in Central Asia that it temporarily moved its capital westward to Lahore (from India to Pakistan, in today’s terms) to deal with the military threats emanating from what is today Afghanistan. Yet, for the overwhelming majority of history, when one empire did not rule both the entire Indus and the entire Ganges, the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan, most of Pakistan, and northwestern India were nevertheless all governed as one political unit. And the rich and populous Indus Valley, as close to the wild and woolly Central Asian frontier as it was, formed the pulsating imperial center of that unit.
Here, alas, is the conundrum. During the relatively brief periods when the areas of India and Pakistan were united — the Mauryan, Mughal, and British — there was obviously no issue about who dominated the trade routes into Central Asia. During the rest of history, there was no problem either, because while empires like the Kushan, Ghaznavid, and Delhi Sultanate did not control the eastern Ganges, they did control both the Indus and the western Ganges, so that Delhi and Lahore were under the rule of one polity, even as Central Asia was also under their control. Today’s political geography is historically unique, however: an Indus Valley state, Pakistan, and a powerful Ganges Valley state, India, both fighting for control of an independent and semi-chaotic Central Asian near abroad — Afghanistan.
Despite its geographical and historical logic, this Indus state is far more unstable than the Gangetic state. Here, too, geography provides an answer. Pakistan encompasses the frontier of the subcontinent, a region that even the British were unable to incorporate into their bureaucracy, running it instead as a military fiefdom, making deals with the tribes. Thus, Pakistan did not inherit the stabilizing civilian institutions that India did. Winston Churchill’s first book as a young man, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, wonderfully captures the challenges facing colonial border troops in British India. As the young author then concluded, the only way to function in this part of the world is through “a system of gradual advance, of political intrigue among the tribes, of subsidies and small expeditions.”
Pages 1 2
1. Empire’s Paranoia About the Pashtuns [in three parts] 2. Some Soul Searching: Pakistani Nationalism and Schooling
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ‘Wonders of Pakistan’. The contents of this article too are the sole responsibility of the author (s). WoP will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statement / s contained in this post.
YOUR COMMENT IS IMPORTANT
DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF YOUR COMMENT