Relations between the United States and Pakistan have reached an all-time low. The Khyber Pass is closed to NATO cargo, U.S. personnel were evicted from Shamsi airbase and Pakistani observers have been recalled from joint co-operation centres.
Much more importantly, senior officials in Washington now know that Pakistan has been playing them false since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and understand that Pakistan was sheltering Osama bin Laden a few hundred yards from its version of West Point. The recent shelling of Afghan troops inside Afghanistan by the Pakistani army, and the NATO counterstrike, cleared in error by Pakistan, has further embarrassed the Pakistani military.
It should be obvious by now that Pakistan has no intention of doing what the United States has wanted for the past decade. The combination of wishful thinking, admiration for the emperor’s new clothes and $10-billion in payments to the Pakistani military have accomplished nothing. Admiral Michael Mullen was not wrong when he testified recently that the terrorist Haqqani network is operating as an arm of the Pakistani army. He might have added that the Taliban is the Pakistani army’s expeditionary force in Afghanistan. Pakistan shelters, funds, trains, supplies and advises the Taliban. The simple fact is that Pakistan is the world’s No. 1 state supporter of terrorism.
In Afghanistan, Pakistan will never be happy unless it has a puppet regime in Kabul and can run the country like a colony. Islamabad does not intend to allow the current Afghan constitution to remain in effect, and as soon as NATO pulls out, it will push the Taliban into an all-out civil war in Afghanistan designed to return it to power. All of which has led to a lot of hand-wringing in Washington, accompanied by a revolving-door procession of senior U.S. officials going to Islamabad to read a toothless riot act the Pakistanis can now recite by heart.
The permanent solution to the Pakistan problem is not more of this chest-beating appeasement. The answer lies in 20th-century history. In 1947, when India gained independence, a British Empire in full retreat left behind an unworkable mess on both sides of India – called Pakistan – whose elements had nothing in common except the religion of Islam. In 1971, this postcolonial Frankenstein came a step closer to rectification when Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, became an independent state.
The answer to the current Pakistani train wreck is to continue this natural process by recognizing Baluchistan’s legitimate claim to independence. Baluchistan was an independent nation for more than 1,000 years when Great Britain notionally annexed it in the mid-19th century. The Baluchis were never consulted about becoming a part of Pakistan, and since then, they have been the victims of alternating persecution and neglect by the Pakistani state, abuse which escalated to genocide when it was discovered in the 1970s that most of the region’s natural resources lie underneath their soil. Since then, tens of thousands of Baluchis have been slaughtered by the Pakistani army, which has used napalm and tanks indiscriminately against an unarmed population.
Changing maps is difficult only because it is initially unimaginable to diplomats and politicians. Although redrawing maps is the definition of failure for the United Nations and the U.S. State Department, it has, in fact, been by such a wide margin the most effective solution to regional violence over the past 50 years that there is really nothing in second place. Among the most obvious recent examples (apart from the former Soviet Union) are North and South Sudan, Kosovo, Eritrea, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, East Timor and Bangladesh.
An independent Baluchistan would, in fact, solve many of the region’s most intractable problems overnight. It would create a territorial buffer between rogue states Iran and Pakistan. It would provide a transportation and pipeline corridor for Afghanistan and Central Asia to the impressive but underutilized new port at Gwadar. It would solve all of NATO’s logistical problems in Afghanistan, allow us to root the Taliban out of the former province and provide greater access to Waziristan, to subdue our enemies there. And it would contain the rogue nuclear state of Pakistan and its A.Q. Khan network of nuclear proliferation-for-profit on three landward sides.
The way to put the Pakistani genie back in the bottle and cork it is to help the Baluchis go the way of the Bangladeshis in achieving their dream of freedom from tyranny, corruption and murder at the hands of the diseased Pakistani military state.
M. Chris Mason is a retired diplomat with long service in South Asia and a senior fellow at the Center for Advanced Defence Studies in Washington.