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Pashtunistan - 1973-1979

Afghanistan has been an independent nation since August 19, 1919, after the British relinquished control. A monarchy ruled from 1919 until a military coup in 1973. For many years Afghanistan never posed any military threat to Pakistan. During the reign of Afghan King Zahir Shah, Pakistan did not face a threatening military posture from Afghanistan that would require a force deployment on the Durand Line. This was the case even during the two wars with India in 1965 and 1971. Following the overthrow of Zahir Shah in 1973, the new Daud regime raised the issue of Pashtunistan, and for the first time moved the Afghan Army closer to the borders with Pakistan, which resulted in reciprocal Pakistani deployments. A large portion of the Afghan army was deployed along the Durand line. The 1973 coup by Daud in Afghanistan coincided with uprisings in tribal areas in parts of Baluchistan and NWFP actively supported by Afghan Intelligence.

On July 17, 1973 Prince Mohammad Daud, 65-year old first cousin of King Mohammad Zahir (and former strongman Prime Minister of Afghanistan 1953-63) executed a brilliantly organized takeover of the country, supported primarily by a small number of dissident military officers. Daoud's comeback was a return to traditional strongman rule and he was a particularly appealing figure to military officers. As prime minister, Daoud had obtained large supplies of modern arms from the Soviet Union and he had been a former army officer himself. Also, his strong position on the Pashtunistan issue had not been forgotten by conservative Pashtun officers.

The main foreign policy question in the region for new regime was what to do about the Pashtunistan question, which Presumably he will adopt strong position against recent divide-and-rule tactics of bhutto in nwfp and baluchistan, but if he learned anything from his expirience of 10 years ago, he will apply this policy more judiciously, perhaps in fashion resembling his predecessors of recent years at least in short term future.

By November 1973 Pakistan and Afghanistan continued to move slowly and steadily toward confrontation over the Pashtunistan issue. Each of the three players - Kabul, Islamabad, and the Pathan population of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province - was acting under strong domestic compulsions which are largely unrelated to the issue itself but which will continue to fuel rising tensions. Athough the situation is not critical, there were no signs that any side of the triangle is disposed to seek accommodation.

In Kabul, President Daud was locked in contests of strength with rival elements of his own government and with other centers of Afghan power. Daud, a leading proponent of the thesis that Afghanistan is the political manifestation of the Pashtun people and that Afghanistan therefore has a legitimate interest in Pakistan's Pashtun areas, probably would not push his irredentist policies to confrontation with Pakistan on the basis of his convictions alone. Given his uncertain domestic position, however, the issue may become the only point of agreement between him and his own government and between the government and the Afghan people. Daud already has locked himself into what is tantamount to an ultimatum to Pakistan over its actions in its tribal provinces, and his domestic future may depend on his ability to maintain an aggressive posture.

Wali Khan, the political leader of Pakistan's Pathans and head of the opposition National Awami Party (NAP), has waged a long and unsuccessful struggle against the expansion of central government authority in Pakistan's tribal provinces. Bhutto's government, through maneuver and coercion, has systematically reduced Wali's power. Wali's statements attested to Pathan frustrations; they also suggested he may have concluded that the invocation of the Pashtunistan issue was his only remaining hope to retain his position and that concern over a possible clash with Afghanistan over this issue may induce Bhutto to make new concessions--notably the restoration of governments in the two tribal provinces to NAP control.

For his part, Bhutto demonstrated little tolerance for any form of opposition and, mindful of Bangladesh, was especially intolerant of opposition based an ethnic lines. The introduction of the Pashtunistan issue into Pakistan's domestic equation not only confirmed his suspicions of Pathan secessionism but also provided him the pretext to take repressive measures against his political opposition. In order to nip the issue in the bud both at home and in Kabul, Bhutto felt that he must consistently react forcefully in response to NAP or Afghan statements on Pathan rights.

The Daud regime for the first time moved forces closer to the Pakistan border, which resulted into reciprocal deployment from Pakistan. But by 1976 Daud realized that his policies towards Pakistan were causing his government more harm than good. Daud agreed to recognize the Durand Line as the boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, before the agreement was signed, Bhutto was removed by General Zia-ul-Haq in a 1977 military coup d'état. A similar agreement was then reached between General Zia and Daud, but this time Daud's overthrow by Soviet-backed forces in April 1978 derailed the settlement.

Demands associated with Pashtunistan lost much of their meaning following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, following which the Durand Line became quite porous, with a massive influx of Afghan refugees into Pakistan.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:29:14 ZULU