by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

Pakistan’s bloodied Northwest Frontier Province is getting a new name: Pakhtunkhwa, or “Land of the Pashtun” tribesmen. A key demand of Taliban radicals, the new title isn’t an end, but a beginning.

Obsessed with the “integrity” of dysfunctional, artificial borders, US policy-makers struggle to come to grips with the Taliban, an overwhelmingly Pashtun organization. For its part, the Taliban functions as the shadow government of a ghost state sprawling across huge stretches of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakhtunkhwa already exists in fact, if not in the UN General Assembly. The writs of the governments in Islamabad and Kabul run up to the international border on our maps, but not in reality. We play along with the fantasy.

Census numbers are flimsy, but up to 42 million Pashtuns (or Pakhtuns or Pathans) live in the region, with perhaps 13 million in Afghanistan and double that number in Pakistan. That would make Greater Pakhtunkhwa a middle-weight nation, population-wise.

United by old blood and various dialects of Pashto, the Pashtuns are a collection of five-dozen major tribes that long have functioned as a primitive state, governed by tribal councils amid hundreds of sub-tribes. Although briefly united at a few junctures in history, their primary goal has been the defense of local territory against outsiders, not central administration.

Now the Pashtuns, as manifested by the Taliban, seek an authentic state governed by Sharia law. It isn’t good news for us, for women, or for the feeble states of Afghanistan and Pakistan. But how much of our blood and treasure is it worth to keep those wretched states on life support, while denying the vigor of a ghost state fighting to become flesh?

A Pakhtunkhwa that includes all of the Pashtuns would be culturally abhorrent. But it may be inevitable. Are we fighting forces our measures can’t defeat?

Nor is the ghost-state problem limited to our confused efforts in Afghanistan. The 6 million Kurds in northern Iraq are ethnically, linguistically and culturally different from the oppressive Arab majority to the south. Iraq’s Kurds are also the most-advanced Middle Eastern population outside of Israel (and the most pro-American).

Well, the ghost nation of Kurdistan isn’t just three Iraqi provinces, but a broader Kurdish state struggling to be born. Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria and the southern Caucasus hold 30 million Kurds between them, nearly all subject to Jim Crow laws and worse.

The Kurds are struggling for freedom. We find them an inconvenience.

But “inconveniences” don’t go away just because we ignore them. Consider yet another ghost state where US troops have engaged: Greater Albania.

Again, census numbers are sticky, but Albania itself has a population of 3 million to 4 million, with another 1½ million ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and a half-million more in Macedonia and Montenegro.

How much effort should we expend to prevent the natural emergence of Greater Albania? Doesn’t self-determination count in the clinch? (As for a “Muslim menace,” a third of Albania’s inhabitants are Christians. In the Balkans, organized crime’s a far greater threat than Islam.)

Of course, a ghost state of a different sort exists on our Southwest border and in northern Mexico. But, apart from a few rabid activists in La Raza, that’s one ghost state that doesn’t seek a real state. The difference? Individual rights and fair opportunities, guaranteed by the rule of law (on our side of the border).

Contrary to racist myths, few Latinos want to return our Southwest to the Mexico they fled. Nobody’s going to vote for death squads, corruption, poverty and a narco-state. While we need to fully control our border and boot out convicted criminals immediately, self-interest and economics will handle the rest.

Yet, we do need to recognize that the age of European Imperialism, to which we were an adjunct, left a legacy of international borders that range from the awkward to the impossible – and no state wants to give up an inch of territory, even when its efforts to control separatists appear suicidal.

We don’t need to play along, though, except when it’s clearly in our national interest. The question before us is blunt: Should our soldiers die to preserve the disastrous borders Europeans left behind?

Should Free Kurdistan, or Greater Albania, or even a full-fledged Pakhtunkhwa be opposed simply because their emergence would mean shifting desks in the State Department? Can our policy-makers even tell the difference between the expedient and the inevitable?

The borders Europe left behind are prisons. How long will we be the guards up on the walls? ExileStreet

courtesy NY Post / copyright 2009 NY Post

Ralph Peters’ latest book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.”

Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.


  1. Khalil L Says:

    I believe that it is true that people of Pakhtunkhwa are the prisoners in Pakistan. If we can bring the Pashtuns together under one state, it will certainly neuturalize the tense situation. In addition, it will be easier for a nantioal Pashtuns state to take more responsible approach in the future.

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