Thinking about the poverty-plagued South Asia, my thoughts veered off to the nature of conflicts. I wondered whether a conflict we register in our minds is created for valid or self-serving reasons.
What seems clear is that it is us who give rise to controversies. We also have the power to keep in our minds what we have invoked as discord. In which case, whatever we consider a conflict would stay inside our heads without affecting the world outside.
However, once we decide to act on what we have conceived as conflict, it will assume life, exit the limited zone of our heads, become an external force, and affect the security and material lives of others — in both good and bad ways.
Here, I am concerned about the reasons as to why some of us conjure up conflicts and why we then feel strongly enough about them to give them life by externalizing them, bringing them into the open, allowing ourselves to assume the right to act upon them, killing for them, even accepting the destruction of ourselves by them.
The reason behind most of today’s conflicts appears to be economic, religious, and ethnic differences.
However, if we dig deep enough, we will find that some of the problems are ego-driven and in reality don’t mean anything at all, neither to those who have invented them nor to those who pretend to believe in them.
In this context, I would like to mention two such conflicts that exist between the poverty-stricken South-Asian states of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
These disputes have remained unresolved for almost 70 years. That in itself indicates the senselessness of the disputes. After all, politics is said to be the art of the possible. If we fail to solve a problem over many decades, we must rethink the nature of the conflict and change our approach to it. Hopefully, we could then conclude that we have created a conflict not for reasons of national concern but for satisfying our own egos.
One such conflict is between India and Pakistan over the status of Kashmir. Another is the quarrel between Afghanistan and Pakistan over the Durand Line — the 1,500-mile border between the two countries, one that Pakistan insists is valid while Afghan leaders argue it isn’t.
Kashmir is endowed with exceptional natural beauty, once attracting a considerable number of tourists, bringing in much needed hard currency, and creating many service jobs. Today, the 12.5 million Kashmiri are economically desolate and live in a melancholy outpost at the foothills of the mighty Himalayas in the north of the Indian subcontinent.
Kashmir is India’s only Muslim-majority state.
And that is why Pakistan — a nation having seceded from India because of religion, having been a Muslim-majority part of India — feels that Kashmir, also a Muslim-majority part of India, should as well secede from India and become part of Pakistan.
Kashmir has caused three wars between India and Pakistan, two among the planet’s poorest and most overpopulated countries. Many believe a fourth war has so far been prevented only because both countries have, at enormous expense, acquired the nuclear bomb the destructive power of which has persuaded them to shy away from another war.
The Kashmir issue obliges both India and Pakistan to maintain, at prohibitive financial burden, large military forces.
Instead of trying to help the 30% of its citizens, who live below the poverty line, to rise above it, India spends $ 50 billions to maintain a huge military force. And instead of making an effort at reducing its foreign trade deficit of $ 145 billion, it spends every year about additional $ 30 billion to import weapons from abroad.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), India’s nominal per capita GDP of $1,620.00 ranks the country 139th in the list of nations. However, the one billion poor Indians have to carry most of the burden of paying for the 4rth largest standing army in the world.
Pakistan — the other party in this, in my view, senseless conflict—is no less profligate when it comes to prepare for war. Pakistan’s dirt poor 180 million people—out of a total of 202 million citizens — are plagued not only by poverty, overpopulation, terrorism, illiteracy, and corruption; they also bear the burden of an oversized military force. With a nominal per capita GDP ranking at 141st among other nations, the Pakistani people have to bear the cost of the world’s 7th largest standing army.
As long as the Indians and Pakistanis hate each other because of the 12.5 million Kashmiri — who have never been asked what they want — Pakistan will also worry about Afghanistan. Since Afghanistan’s recent governments have refused to accept the Durand Line as the official border between the two countries, Pakistan fears that Afghanistan could attack it should there be another war between it and India, forcing it to fight a two-front war.
To counter that possibility, Pakistan has been trying to control Afghanistan outright or keep it mired in an internal war so that it remains enfeebled and would be unable ever to form a threat to Pakistan — no matter what the circumstance.
During the 1990s, when Afghanistan had descended into an all-encompassing civil war, Pakistan grabbed the opportunity and made a successful, albeit short-lived, effort at bringing Afghanistan under its control.
Having been tired of having to deal with the chaos that had engulfed Afghanistan, the Clinton administration g outsourced handling the problem to Pakistan. With tacit approval from Washington and the financial support of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan created the Taliban, a large group of Afghan immigrants who had lived most of their lives in refugee camps in Pakistan and had been schooled in the Wahabi fundamentalist form of Islam in Saudi-run madrassas.
When the Taliban succeeded in taking over most of Afghanistan, they needed Pakistan’s technical and political support to run the war-torn country. With the Taliban depending on Pakistani assistance, Pakistan felt safe enough to withdraw most of its troops stationed along the Afghan border, redeploying them along its border with India.
America’s obsession with Osama bin Laden introduced another conundrum in the perplexing mix of regional events.
The Sudanese government gave way to Washington’s pressure and forced Osama bin Laden to leave Sudan, where he had been staying. Osama chartered a plane and flew to Afghanistan. There, he was received as a “mujahed,” or holy warier, and granted refuge.
After 9/11, upon the Taliban’s refusal to deliver Osama bin Laden to U.S. custody, America invaded Afghanistan. The surviving Taliban fighters fled to Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) reconstituted the Taliban and helped it return to Afghanistan to begin a guerrilla war. That war has rendered Afghanistan a week state that can only survive with international financial, military, and administrative support.
Pakistan, nominally an ally of the United States, has received at least $ 35 billion in military and financial help since 9/11 for fighting Al Qaeda and other terror organizations.
At the same time, Pakistan has continued until today to fuel the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, an endless war that has cost more than 2.300 American lives and $ 1 trillion.
Having played with terrorism’s destructive fire, Pakistan has become a hornet’s nest of terrorists and may have devised its own ultimate demise in the bargain.
I am not pointing the finger at the 1.512 billion unfortunate people who inhabit the three countries mention here. They are among the poorest and neediest people living among us and have neither anything to say nor anything to do with the folly of their governments. I am blaming the governments of these three countries for their narrow-mindedness and empty pride for wasting their human and scant financial resources in an endless effort that has led, and will continue to lead, nowhere but into the blind alley of financial bankruptcy, death, and destruction.
The conflicts I have discussed above materialized at the time of colonialism’s collapse. In the case of India and Pakistan, the Kashmir dilemma was perceived by leaders who felt the need to raise issues around which they could arouse their peoples’ patriotism in support of their newly independent states.
In the case of Afghanistan, its leaders thought they couldn’t lose anything in raising the border issue with the newly created state of Pakistan. If they won, they argued, they would be honored for having had the courage to right something that possibly had gone wrong a long time before. If they lost, as they did, they could make the ill-will of an unfriendly neighbor responsible for all their failures in running their country.
This sore state of affairs between the three countries is the result of conflicts which were conceived in the minds of their leaders, and they tragically and unnecessarily acted on them and caused human and economic hell for many people.
The area’s present leaders don’t possess the wisdom and courage to put the genie back inside the proverbial bottle, thereby freeing their financial resources, using the money to provide urgently needed services for the poorest sector of their societies.
Nasir Shansab has maintained homes, business interests and dual citizenship in both the United States and Afghanistan for the past three decades. To read more of his work, CLICK HERE NOW.
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