The question of an independent Khorasan state Musa Khan Jalalzai


MPA (400+ posts)

The question of an independent Khorasan state Musa Khan Jalalzai

The three decades of civil war in Afghanistan caused state failure, linguistic conflict and the ethnicisation of politics. After the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, Afghanistan experienced new patterns of ethnicisation, discrimination and violence. The brutal rule of the Taliban from 1996 to 2001 scattered the ethnically embroiled mosaic of the country, undermined the ethnic balance and divided the nation into small pieces. This irresponsible method of governance empowered the voices of those politically alienated ethnic groups who finally demanded the division of Afghanistan along ethnic lines.

Their demand of territorial autonomy and decentralisation of power has received massive support in the northern and central parts of the country. Their leaders, like General Rashid Dostum, Ismail Khan, Atta Muhammad, General Fahim and others are in favour of such a system to defend their political autonomy. After the fall of the Najibullah regime in 1992, they kept intact their military might to keep their territories free of rival groups. As these ethnic warlords received a lot of military and financial support from neighbouring states, they dared to demand greater autonomy, to the extent of changing the name of Afghanistan.

The idea of decentralisation that they proposed was opposed by the majority of parliamentarians. Afghan technocrats believe that decentralisation can move in the opposite direction, or toward separation and secession. They also understand the process of decentralisation and the consequences of the disintegration of the state. In their understanding, a territorial decentralisation plan is not implementable while in an ethnically divided society like Afghanistan, decentralisation could be destabilising, leading to secessionism.

The question is, if we accept the idea of federalism or decentralisation for a moment, one thing is clear: this will further strengthen regional warlords and their capture of regional state structures as foreign military intervention has already changed the traditional balance of power among ethnic players. Today, ethnic groups are more powerful than in the past.

Another problem that enrages civil society in the country is that the leaders, warlords, war criminals and commanders who committed serious war crimes enjoy the political and military support of NATO and the US. They receive money and weapons and enjoy protection. Afghans consider these regionalist and separatist warlords a big challenge for the process of nation building in their country. There are hundreds of political, religious and ethnic problems, which are becoming precarious challenges for the future of Afghanistan. Some issues are decades old, never addressed by the Afghan rulers, and some have newly emerged. Similarly, the lack of modern education, research, political and democratic institutions, reforms and a legitimate functioning state has mainly caused the present wrench.

Sometimes a columnist can become confused among this irksome wretchedness and ask which one is most important to write on. The recent debate on the sanguinary demand of an independent Khorasan state has caused woes for the Karzai regime and its Pashtun partners. Though the demand for an independent Khorasan state has never been considered so strong and sacrosanct before the fall of the Taliban regime, foreign intervention strengthened the resolve of the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara communities to violently pursue their political agendas. Ten years ago, Tajik groups re-introduced themselves as the direct descendants of the Aryans and claimed that all Persian-speaking people belong to them. Having associated with this interpretation of history, they want to establish an independent Khorasan state and believe Afghanistan is the country of the Pashtuns and not the Afghans.

In their understanding, the demand for Pashtunistan itself is the denial of united Afghanistan and they say that the Pashtuns themselves want the partition of the country in terms of an independent Pashtunistan state. They regret supporting Pashtun political demands in the past because their recent demand for an independent Khorasan receives no support from their Pashtun brothers.

The first formal debate about the Khorasan independent state, according to a Benawa news report, started on the funeral of a Tajik, Syed Khalil, in Kabul last week. Supporters of a Khorasan state within the Afghan government, including Information Minister Dr Syed Makhdoom Raheen, former KHAD chief Amrullah Saleh and Vice President General Fahim, were leading the debate. Before going into the political background of the issue, I want to elucidate some historical facts about the Khorasan state and its geographical location in a few words. Historically speaking, Khorasan is the ancient name of todays Afghanistan. Emperor Babur has written in his memoirs that Indians used to call all non-Indians Khorasanis.

The big cities of Khorasan, according to this group, were Mashhad, Nishapur, Herat, Ghazni, Kabul and Balkh, Merv, Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, Khujand and Panjakent. From the 4th to 9th centuries, they believe, a large portion of todays Afghanistan was known as Khorasan and all four capitals of the state (Herat, Balkh, Merv and Nishapur) are now parts of Afghanistan and Central Asia. The non-Pashtun communities in Afghanistan claim that Khorasan was located in northern Afghanistan, northeast Iran and parts of southern Central Asia. Tajiks were the overwhelming majority and rulers of Khorasan.

During the Afghan jihad, separatism had never been an issue and no ethnic group ever demanded the partition of Afghanistan on an ethnic basis. Neither Pashtuns nor non-Pashtuns accept the partition plan. Neighbouring states like China, Iran, Russia and Pakistan have their own political and economic interests in Afghanistan, but none of them support the partition plan. Keeping in mind that competing ethnoscapes collide, the Panjsheri mafia and their Tajik partners propose that the country be divided into three parts: Khorasan, Pashtunistan, Hazaraistan.

There is another presumed threat of Balkanisation that experts expect after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. This was revealed for the first time by Robert Blackwill, a former US ambassador to India. Another proposal comes from some quarters in the north that partition would prevent a full-scale return of the Taliban. Supporters of independent Khorasan believe that there was no such country with the name of Afghanistan until Russia and Britain decided to create it as a buffer state in 1893. To what extent they are right or wrong I am not sure, but as a student of Afghan history I think this interpretation of historical facts is wrong. Yes, Ahmad Shah Durrani, as they say, was born in Multan but he is the man who established the Afghan state in 1747. Moreover, the issue of Balkanisation will not work in Afghanistan and Pakistan will never allow such a partition plan. During the last three decades of civil war, several attempts at division failed and no Afghan government ever succumbed to the partition plan. In my opinion, such a plan for partition can backfire and fuel inter-ethnic wars.