A Permanent Solution to the Afghanistan Problem

President George Bush and his advisors have been talking a lot about finding "moderates" within the Taliban and forming a broad-based post-Taliban government of Afghanistan.

While these thoughts sound good, they are impracticable and will not work.

Afghanistan has been fighting a civil war for 23 years since 1978. Prior to the war, there were an estimated 16 million people living in Afghanistan. Now, there are four million Afghan refugees living in various countries of the world, primarily in Pakistan, but many are in Europe and America. One or two million people have been killed in Afghanistan. Nobody knows how many people are left alive in Afghanistan.
Freedom Fighters in Afghanistan
Freedom Fighters in Afghanistan

Compared with these numbers, the death of a mere six thousand people in the World Trade Center is just a minor incident.

Many wonder why the Taliban is defending Osama bin Laden and why they are fighting so hard against the so-called Northern Alliance. Aside from cultural and religious factors, there is one additional factor that the press has overlooked, which is that the Northern Alliance is led by the group which were in power before the Taliban took over.

The leaders of the Northern Alliance are vastly worse than the Taliban. They killed too many people when they were in power. They are likely to kill again if they are able to retake the country.

The Taliban received broad support from the people of Afghanistan because they substantially stopped the killing when they took over. The people of Afghanistan are fearful of what will happen if the Northern Alliance gains power again. It is called the "Northern Alliance" because their leaders spent years fighting against each other. After being pushed out of power, they became unlikely allies, and it is obvious that if they ever gain power again, they will start fighting and killing each other again.

Allowing the Northern Alliance to regain power in Afghanistan is simply not the solution. That will solve nothing and will only make matters worse. We need to find another solution. Most importantly, we need a solution which will enable the four million Afghan refugees to return safely to their country.

The only reasonable solution comes from the history of Afghanistan. Take a look at a map of Afghanistan. Have you ever wondered about the unusual shape? Have you ever wondered about that strange looking arm of Afghanistan which reaches East and touches China?

The Afghans did not create their own country. Afghanistan was created by a treaty between Russia and Great Britain. Throughout the 19th Century, the two major forces in Asia were the British, who were slowly moving North, and the Russians, who were slowly moving South. Britain gradually took over the entire Indian sub-continent and, during the same period of time, the forces of the Czar of Russia were taking over Turkic speaking areas, such as Samarkand and Bukhara.

Peter the Great of Russia had decreed that Russia must find a warm-water port. The British feared that Russia would try to establish that warm water port in Karachi. Meanwhile, Yakub Beg, the ruler of Kashgar in Turkestan, wanted to establish a country called "Greater Turkestan", which would encompass a two thousand mile long Turkish speaking area, from Urumqi in the Xinjiang Republic of China, to Istanbul. Both the Russians and the Chinese were terrified at the prospect of such a large country at their borders. Yakub Beg had invited the British to come to Kashgar and the Russians were worried about this.
Map of Afghanistan
Map of Afghanistan

Therefore, the Russians and the British made a deal. The Russians would stay North of the Oxus River. The British would stay south of the crest of the Himalayas. In order to make sure that neither country would come into conflict with the other, a sort of no-mans land was set up. A buffer state was created which would be in between the Russian and the British Empires. The name of that Buffer State was Afghanistan, the place of the Afghans. No such country had existed previously.

This is the reason why an arm of Afghanistan reaches out and touches China. That arm is called the Wakhan Corridor. There, the northern border of Afghanistan is the Oxus River. The southern border is the crest of the Himalayas and Hindu Kush mountains, which converge together at that point. It was important to the British that Russia never touch India. For this reason, the Wakhan Corridor, which is only eight miles wide at its narrowest point, was made part of Afghanistan and was extended to touch China.

While these negotiations were going on, the Russians were holding the King of Afghanistan in jail. Pursuant to their agreement to set up the buffer state of Afghanistan, the Russians agreed to let King Abdul Rehman out of jail. They returned him to his country. In 1891, the British drew what became known as the Durand Line. Everything North and West of that line was Afghanistan. Everything South and East of the line was British India, an area which is now in Pakistan.

The Afghans had really no say in this matter and have been complaining about this ever since. One of their complaints concerns what looks like a cavity in the Northwest corner of Afghanistan. The Afghans say that King Abdul Rehman was forced to agree to an exchange of territory. The Northwest Corner of Afghanistan was given to what became Soviet Turkministan. In exchange, Afghanistan was given what is now the Northeast corner, which is the area now controlled by the Northern Alliance.
King Abdul Rehman
King Abdul Rehman

It is noteworthy that the area which the Northern Alliance now controls is an area which was not traditionally part of Afghanistan.

Another curious fact about Afghanistan is that it is split in two by the second highest mountain range in the world, the Hindu Kush. The people north of the Hindu Kush have little in common with those south of the Hindu Kush. Their language is different as well as their religion. South of the Hindu Kush, the speakers are primarily Pashtu. North of the Hindu Kush, mostly Turkic languages are spoken, as well as Farsi.

In religion, Pashtu speakers are almost 100% Sunni Muslims, whereas North of the Hindu Kush and in Central Bamyan, they tend to be Shia Muslims. Many Pathans regard the Shias to be non-believers, so the Pathans call their war against those in the North a jihad against the infidels.

With these facts, the solution becomes clear. Afghanistan needs to be divided into two countries. Since the Northern areas are not strong enough to defend themselves against the Pathans, they can be incorporated into the former Soviet Republics of Turkministan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. This will require the agreement of those living in those areas of Afghanistan, but I believe that they will agree, especially since the majority in the North of Afghanistan either speak the Uzbek language, which is spoken in Uzbekistan, or speak Farsi, which is spoken in Tajikistan. There are virtually no Pashtu speakers north of the Hindu Kush.

The major city in Western Afghanistan is Heart. Herat is Shia and Farsi is spoken there. Several Wars were fought between the Afghans and the Persian Empire over Herat. The Afghans won those wars and that is why Herat is now part of Afghanistan. Iran probably wants it back and now they should be given the opportunity to take it.

In short, Afghanistan should be partitioned along logical geographic, linguistic and religious boundaries. The boundary between the two countries should be the crest of the Hindu Kush. This is the only possible permanent solution to the Afghanistan problem.

Sam Sloan

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