Murphy's Law: Pakistan Has a Plan, And It's Working

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October 26, 2007: The unrest in Afghanistan for the last three decades is mainly the result of unruly, and fractious Pushtun tribes living on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border. There are about 40 million Pushtuns involved, belonging to about a hundred different tribes and major clans. Ethnically, the Pushtuns are related to the Iranians, and many speak a closely related language, usually as a second language. Like the Kurds (another group related to the Iranians), the Pushtun tribes never united long enough to establish a nation. Currently, 70 percent of Pushtuns live in Pakistan, where they comprise 15 percent of the population, while most of the remainder live in Afghanistan, where they make up 40 percent of the population. Thus the Pushtuns are a dominant force in Afghanistan, but a major nuisance in Pakistan.

The independent spirit of the Pushtuns has always made it difficult for non-Pushtuns to govern them. The Pushtuns have been conquered in the past, but only there was something there to make it worthwhile. The areas where the Pushtuns live are not the source of any great wealth, and the Pushtuns are among the poorest peoples in Asia. Since the Silk Road (trade route with China) dried up (because Europeans built ships making it more economical to go by sea) four hundred years ago, there's not been much there there. Britain could not justify the expense of pacifying the Pushtun tribes for the two centuries they dominated the region. Others have, when they had to (the Mongols were particularly brutal, but the Persians were rather more clever about it.)

The Pakistanis have known, since the country was created in 1948, that they had to eventually take control of the Pushtun tribal territory, and gradually, since the 1950s, they have been doing that. Recently, the tribes have begun to notice. They are not happy with this creeping control. The Pushtuns have made their situation worse by allowing al Qaeda to hide out among them, forcing the Pakistani government so speed up their control program.

You cannot expect the unruliness of the Pushtun tribes to disappear quickly. The violence has been there for thousands of years, and the creeping pacification has been making slow progress over the last half century. It's a process of bringing government control to the major towns, and introducing new industries and businesses. More education causes more Pushtun to migrate out, and non Pushtuns to migrate in. The Pakistani army has recruited heavily among the Pushtun, and educated and changed those recruits, by exposing them to life away from the tribe. Eventually, as this process continues, the Pushtun will change. But it won't happen quickly, or peacefully.

 


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