Why is Afghanistan against FATA merger with Khyber PakhtunKhwa?

There is an Urdu saying “بیگانی شادی میں عبداللہ دیوانہ” about those who like to stick one’s nose in other people’s affairs. This idiom fits Afghanistan’s “rejection” of Pakistan’s parliament decision to merge FATA with KPK province. Personally i was counting on Kabul to react. i would have been surprised if it hadn’t.

Many unsuspecting Pakistanis take this at face value and simply call it interference. They never wonder why Kabul is against the merger & mainstreaming of the tribal belt. Meanwhile many Ethno-nationalists (mostly from ANP) have been confused by this news from Kabul & have turned on their patrons just because they failed to understand the actual thought process of the Afghan deep state. They have drank the kabuli kool aid so much that they cant figure out why Afghanistan, whose establishment acts like representatives of Pashtuns is against two Pashtun areas merging? Why Achakzai is against it, Why Fazal ur Rehman is against it?

Even though the common goal of the above mentioned trio is to keep FATA from merging with Khyber Pashtunkhwa. There isn’t one answer. Every faction has its own interests & narrative. The last two are easy to answer. Fazal ur Rehman wants his own province while Achakzai is an Afghan nationalist. He handed KPK over to the afghans in one of his statements.

Kabul’s statement

The statement as reported by Pajhwok Afghan news reads “The government of Afghanistan rejects the decision of Pakistan Parliament for merging FATA in to KPK and asked for Consensus of the people on this issue.”

In this statement, Kabul has tried to act like the reasonable & logical one by demanding “Consensus of the people”. First thing first, The decision of the parliament is the Consensus of the people. The second thing, Afghanistan has never cared about Consensus of the people of KPK which has the honor of being only province that chose to be in Pakistan through a referendum. This statement is a mere ruse devoid of facts or reason. Moving on.

Here o will try to explain Kabul’s POV & motive. but let me specify few facts before painting the real picture in Kabul today

Two years after the creation of Pakistan, On July 26, 1949, Afghanistan officially declared that it did not recognize the 1893 Durand Line agreement any longer between the two countries. I have explained their narratice & Pakistan;s counter narrative regarding Durand Line in detail here. I, however did not point out the different lens that Afghanistan uses to view FATA.

Even though Afghans claim everything east of river Indus, their intellectuals & state apparatus knows that these claims have no value in any international court & forum. Balochsiatn is not a Pashtun area that Afghanistan can claim while KPK (NWFP) is the only province that voted to join Pakistan. This leaves FATA, where the British, Congress & Muslim League met with Jirgas to decide its post partition fate. As referendum there wasn’t possible due to lack of settled areas, Jirgas of tribal elders were consulted to settle the issue.

Seven weeks before the partition, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, member of Indian congress, demanded to add Pashtunistan into the NWFP referendum at the Bannu Resolution. But this was rejected by the Raj. When congress leader Nehru visited tribal areas to campaign, he was attacked by tribal in landi kotal & Mehsud tribals of waziristan staged a walk out. Pakistaniat trumped thno nationalism & Indian secularism. Jirgas overwhelmingly decided to join Pakistan, much to the frustration of Abdul Ghaffar Khan & Kabul who had nick named him Fakhr-e-Afghan “pride of Afghans”.

Even though Jirgas are valid according to local custom & local elders enjoy power due to Pashtunwali, in international law such entities can be termed un elected representatives. This slim sliver of technicality is the only thing on which Afghans think they can rest their claim on.

For years Afghans have used certain adjectives & terms to describe FATA.

Some of these terms are, “independent nature”, “separate entity” & “buffer zone between Afghanistan & British”. There is a deep narrative behind these words & they are still used. Apart from news media, the earliest mentions of these terms i have found have been in “Da Afghanistan Kalanay“. It was Afghanistan’s state published almanac and yearbook, It was published annually from 1932-1990. These terms carry meaning for they give a glimpse into Kabul’s plans. These terms were not coined by some random refugees hiding in Europe but by Kabul.

Let me connect the dots for you

When you watch national geographic consistently you will notice a pattern. The predator always tries to isolate the prey from the herd. And when the prey is at its weakest (away from the herd), the predator pounces & claims it. Flesh, bone & all.

Afghanistan is using its assets to isolate FATA from mainstream Pakistan. It used them to demand Pashtunistan in 40s, is using them to establish a fail separate province today & autonomous region rest of the time. Seventy years ago it was Abul Ghaffar khan. Today it is Mehmood Khan achakzai & Maulana fazal ur Rerhman. But why? you ask.

Afghanistan needs FATA as an independent & integrated & lawless area to claim it. Kabul knows that separate province or state will not survive for long. FATA is a thin strip of landlocked land with no infrastructure or economy to support itself. Even if entire KPK (then NWFP) & tribal areas had been declared separate state called Pashtunistan as per Ghaffar khan’s demands, it would have failed in few months, but then again, making it a successful separate state has never been the intention. The intention was to feed the predator. Once a separate state would have been established, Ghaffar khan would have handed it over to Afghanistan within a week. Afghanistan could not directly demand tribal areas from the British. It sold these areas in the late 19th century.  One of the reason Afghanistan did not ask for tribal areas from the British in the 40s but from Pakistan. Loya jirga was silent from 1893-1947.

Same is the case today. Kabul’s assets are trying to keep it as far from mainstream Pakistan as possible to maintain that weak technicality & “independent nature”, “separate entity” & “buffer zone between Afghanistan & British” narrative.

With merger this fragile technicality dies as there will no longer any entity called FATA. It will be made part of a province that chose to join Pakistan. This forces Afghan state to either claim entire KPK, which they know is mere rhetoric for them now Or propagate segregation of tribal areas from Khyber Pashtunkhwa, which earns them lot of ridicule from KPK & FATA. This has already strained Kabul ties with its blue eyed ANP. Many of Kabul’s assets, old & new, are already accusing ANP for “cooperating with GHQ”. Kabul knew it will be caught between a rock & a hard place & for this very reason Achakzai issued this statement “if something bad happens to Pakistan due to merger of FATA with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, those supporting the reforms now would be responsible for it.”

The merger furthers Pakistan’s broader strategy of solidifying its western border. Pakistan knows that if it wants to preserve its military gains in FATA, economic development and improved governance are vital. FATA as separate province would have been a disaster. Imagine Thar being made a province. Doesn’t matter how much portion it gets from the NFC, A region that can not pull half of its own weight is bound to collapse on its own. Which has been the aim of predator since last 70 years & it nearly succeeded in late 2000s & early 2010s.

The benefits Pakistan & FATA can reap through mainstreaming are limitless & enemies will naturally oppose it. The merger will take five years to be implemented. The screams of agony from Kabul will heard in Pakistan through out this period. But whatever happens, the process of mainstreaming & Pakistaniziation must not be stopped before it can reach its ‘logical conclusion’.

Written by: Asfandyar Bhittani