Though I have refrained from writing on the subject for long, the recent activity on the status of Durand Line, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) sanctuaries in Afghanistan, nationalist card being played by President Hamid Karzai and the melting pot that is Khyber Paktunkhwa (KPK) warrants, that the nation must be apprised of the vulnerabilities and challenges therein. Having failed to nibble into Pakistan’s integrity through the Baloch separatists, strategists have now turned their eyes on the north-western areas of Pakistan. To support their hypotheses, they have revisited 500 years history of the area; linked it to the pre-dominantly Pashtun resistance on both sides of Durand Line, internal instability and the aspirations of the people of KPK for a meaningful change through MMA, ANP and now PTI. The bottom line is that they want ‘peace’.

As mentioned in the article, “Voila! Federation”, of July 30, 2013, “the biggest responsibility and burden to give hope and doorstep delivery to the people lies on the shoulders of PTI supported by the federal government. Imran Khan has no choice, but to become a proactive leader of the people and the singular rallying point for nationalism”, it remains to be seen if the PTI government in KPK realises the urgency of its mission and how the federal government of PML-N supports it in this endeavour.

KPK is surrounded from three sides by the lawless tribal areas and cannot be considered as a governing unit in isolation. The federal and provincial governments have no option, but to formulate a policy in concert with the defence and intelligence establishment to ward off this sub nationalist card being played by state/non-state actors and some educated classes of KPK in re-evaluating the logic of the erstwhile NWFP referendum versus Bacha Khan’s concept of Pathanistan.

The absence of an inviolable international border along AfPak lends credence to this threat. The essay in no way challenges the patriotism of the majority of Pathans living in KPK and Fata. Rather it seeks to expose the nefarious designs of a few, supported by actors who wish to even out with Pakistan. Some believe that such an event could trigger a domino effect and, in due course, disintegrate Pakistan.

For the past 16 years, both as an analyst and military planner, I have been terming this as the romantic notion of a ‘Greater Pathanistan’ to the chagrin of many who having played their destructive cards agree. I concur with Helal Pasha, a senior journalist and political analyst based in the US, that: “The current Pak-Afghan relations are perpetuation of historical clashes that surfaced from the battles that Raja Ranjit Singh’s armies fought in 1837. The roots of the dispute emerged in 1837, rather than 1947.”

According to Yasser Latif Hamdani, a modern historian, that 1947 was a new beginning of the great game with Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Bacha Khan) and Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind at one end and Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah at the other, tugging the rope to claim NWFP and tribal areas. The Afghan government had laid claim to Fata and NWFP since 1944.

In April 1947, Giles Squire of the British Legation in Kabul gave some credence to the Afghan claim by suggesting that the tribesmen in the area could be given an independent status. Later, J.B. Kripalani of the Congress Party asked Lord Mountbatten that an option for independence should also be incorporated as part of the referendum for the people of NWFP. He was supported by Gandhi. As the commotion grew, Sir Olaf Caroe reported: “I am unaware of this Afghan incursion into Frontier Affairs.......there is reason to conclude that this move was, to some extent, inspired by Frontier Congress leaders with certain Afghan elements and considered when Abdul Ghaffar Khan visited Kabul for Qashan (USSR) last summer.......fact that Gandhi is wedded to Pathanistan idea will make it difficult at present juncture to approach this issue objectively.” According to Hamdani, “If Olaf Caroe’s telegram is to be taken on face value; it was the beginning of the new great game in Afghanistan, by none other than the Abdul Ghaffar. Bacha Khan himself.” Who was he playing for?

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a keen student of history, nearly succeeded in getting the Durand Line recognised, but was toppled and executed by a military dictator, who did not share his nationalist passion. Like successive Afghan regimes, this is the fire that Karzai’s team ably supported by the Indian great game, state/non-state actors, and elements in Pakistan are trying to reignite. There is no doubt that propensity of Pakistan to use proxies has been destructive and returns to haunt. According to Khalid Aziz, Pakistan for a long time has pursued a hermit policy that sometimes benefits and sometimes hurts others. Benazir Bhutto’s quest to bring an end to it in 1996 resulted in her ouster. Pakistan’s obsession with this single focal policy is oblivious to realities of internal and international stability.

From the above, it can be concluded that neither a permanent Durand Line, nor removing the spectre of a greater Pathanistan is in the interest of international actors as long as Pakistan continues to disrupt their interests in favour of its own. But there is a silver lining.

As mentioned in “Firewalls to Peace” of July 13 and “The Doha Initiative” of June 22, the stability of Pakistan’s north-western regions is linked to the progress of negotiations in Afghanistan and Afghan Taliban. In case they agree to a power sharing formula and elections in 2014, a degree of stability in Afghanistan will isolate the TTP forcing them to negotiate amicable terms of surrender. If not, there is likelihood that the two would merge in the real term of AfPak and take Pakistan to the next level of instability and anarchy. Karzai supported by Indians holds the TTP and Swat terrorists up his sleeve to exploit this.

Given such a volatile post-withdrawal scenario and an internally divisive political dispensation, the wisdom of rigging elections 2013 becomes all too apparent. It is foolhardy to expect and ensure the failure of PTI in KPK as its permanent death.  Imran Khan and PTI will fight its battle to the end. If he loses, Pakistan also loses. It is wise and statesmanlike of Imran Khan to ask the Chief of Army Staff to brief him and the Prime Minister on top secret diplomacy briefs and counter-terrorism policies before they together formulate a realistic and productive counter-terrorism policy. He realises the security challenges to Pakistan and will refuse to become part of a pliant regime that risks walking the 1970-71 edge once again.

The writer is a retired army officer, current affairs host on television and political economist.