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Redrawing the Map…Altering the Ethnographic Character of Afghanistan - By: Bruce G. Richardson
Saturday, 11.10.2012, 08:02pm (GMT+1)


Were any of us to conclude that the changing of or redrawing of another state’s borders represented but a negligible effect on the lives of the indigenous, one need only to look at the creation of Israel and its effect on the Palestinian people, the Kashmir-India dispute, or consider the human dislocation as a result of the controversial Durand Line crafted during the 19th century which has had profound consequences, both familial and economic, on the lives of millions of Pashtuns on both sides of the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. The familial dislocation aggravated by economic dispossession, as a result of British gerrymandering are truly profound. Why is this important today? There exists, external powers who since colonial times have harbored an adverse or anti-Pashtun orientation, and who currently advocate a redrawing of the map…constituting an ethnographical partition of Afghanistan. Their motivations were and are both economic and strategic. During the Nineteenth century, history attests that it was Great Britain and Tsarist Russia who sought to conquer and occupy Afghanistan utilizing the time-tried “divide and conquer” tactic with the drafting of the Durand Line, said at the time to establish and separate so-called ‘spheres of influence’. Few, if any issues have so fueled the fires of contentious debate and wrath amongst Afghan and Pakistan’s Pashtuns and their successive governments as has the continued existence of the Durand Line. Pakistan as the assumed or designated inheritor has since been seen in Kabul and elsewhere as an illegitimate inheritor of a quasi-legal treaty and resident interloper or squatter. (Nabi Misdaq 60-61).

Consistent with historical precedent, altered or reconfigured successor-states do not as an inherited rite-of-passage emerge as heir and potential litigant in cases seeking relief from damages in a time of war or what are termed ‘war reparations’. Were Afghanistan therefore to be partitioned, a new geographic configuration would likely render such cases as lacking legal merit as original complainants/litigants or entities have ceased to exist.

Later, during the twentieth century, the Soviet Union embarked on a scorched-earth campaign to dismember Afghanistan along ethnic lines as a divisive tactic to blunt Pashtun resistance to their invasion and occupation.  Storied, uncompromising resistance to foreign domination had long been the hallmark of the Pashtun majority in Afghanistan. During the 2001 American invasion and occupation camouflaged or recast as the so-called “war on terror”, Washington, perhaps suffering from a sympathetic, kith and kin colonial hangover, reminiscent of the British Raj era, again played the historic ethnic card as a divisive device to gain militarily, advantage against an indigenous, asymmetrical Resistance made up primarily of the ethnic majority Pashtun population. As history avers, a modicum of the ever-present anti-Taliban enmity is seen as rooted in failed negotiations between the Taliban and the US firm Unocal for the proposed Trans-Afghan-Pipeline (TAP) construction contract. This enmity was augmented by an intensive lobbying campaign to overthrow the Taliban, ostensibly to affect regime change by Unocal lobbyist and Bush official, Zalmay Khalilzad. The celebrated, yet failed negotiations were destined to serve as the precursor for war, a war now in its eleventh year. In addition, a storied character trait seen in Washington as intransigence as both the Bush and Obama Administrations are keenly aware, the Pashtuns are not and have not ever been subservient to foreign dictate and or interests.

Given potential litigation as a result of damages suffered during two ‘wars of aggression’, the supreme crime under international statutes, it is therefore in the interest of both Russia and the United States to preside over the partition of Afghanistan. Were Afghanistan to be divided, to cease existence as a unified state as it had been configured during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, any resulting recourse for complainants litigating war reparations from both the U.S. and Russia would be eviscerated through historical, legal precedent which demonstrates that reconfigured or successor states are not necessarily the inheritors of past territorial claims.

Operation Kaskad: Soviet Contingency Plans and Preparations for the dismemberment of Afghanistan along ethnic and linguistic lines.

December 1981, Afghan President Babrak Karmal was instructed in Moscow by Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev to lay the groundwork for the eventual annexation of the country to the USSR. According to KhAD Lt. General Ghulam Siddiq Miraki, who had first knowledge of the Soviet plans, and who later defected, Brezhnev’s original plan could not be easily implemented due to the enmity that persisted between the two Communist factions in Afghanistan, the Khalq and the Parcham (Bodansky 11). In consultation with his intelligence services, Brezhnev came up with a strategy to dismember Afghanistan, ’Operation Kaskad’ (Bodansky 11). Operation Kaskad, would implement covert actions as necessary for the sequestration of the nine provinces north of the Hindu Kush which are predominantly populated by non-Pashtuns, and annex them to co-ethnic republics of the USSR. The resultant southern enclave would become a nominally independent and Pashtun-dominated state which could then serve as a catalyst for the Greater Pashtunistan and Baluchistan separatist movements, irredentist movements which in a volatile region could prove invaluable for the Soviets to exploit unrest and to foment instability (Bodansky 11).

The Soviets were especially interested in Kunduz, Samangan, Badakhshan, Baghlan, Takhar, Balkh, Jowzjan, Badghis and Faryab provinces. This move would have enabled the USSR to pacify the region without relying on costly military operations and to secure critical lines of communication and re-supply. The population of the northern areas are predominantly Tajik and Uzbek; ethnically similar to the Soviet Republics to the north (Bodansky 12). Under the aegis of Operation Kaskad, KGB Border Guard Directorate troops took over the security of the northern provinces of Afghanistan as if they were an extension of the USSR’s Central Asian Republics. Under Kaskad, the north would be viewed as distinct from the south and southwest, and policy would be implemented accordingly. Moscow’s objective was to create a situation where local populations would have a vested interest in maintain the status quo.

Once the Soviets took direct control, operational patterns (particularly aerial bombardment) indicated a systematic effort to depopulate select areas on an ethnic basis, i.e., the overwhelmingly Pashtun-populated areas, stretching from the southwest to the eastern provinces…by killing hundreds of thousands and driving those who survived the bombing into exile.

A second more subtle and covert aspect of Operation Kaskad was to recruit and coopt and organize elite forces from among the local non-Pashtun nationalities, reinforced with Soviet co-nationals, to consolidate and hold power in the northern regions on behalf of Moscow (Tanai, Margolis, Shebarshin, Liakhovskii, Grigor’ev, and Gromov). The code name assigned to the intelligence-gathering and implementation phase was Chameleon (Schofield, 113). Noteworthy amongst the Soviet collaborators and the primary focus of Chameleon was Ahmad Shah Massoud’s Armed Opposition of the Panjsher (IOAP) and Abdul Rashid Dostum’s Jowzjani, (53rd Division) cited for innumerable atrocities and human rights abuses by the international community. Both factions currently allied with American-led NATO now known as the Northern Alliance (Margolis, Tanai, Shebarshin, Liakhovskii, Grigor’ev, Gromov, Heinamaa, Leppanen and Yurchenko).

An American-led NATO has, as with their Soviet contemporaries, recruited and deployed Afghanistan’s ethnic minority, the Northern Alliance, both militarily and politically. Northern Alliance and Russian troops attired in camouflage have fought alongside NATO forces against the Taliban, while unmarked Russian aircraft once again in a replay of history fly bombing missions against fixed Taliban positions in the south of the country (Pavel Felgenhauer, Pravda). From the political spectrum, seeking to garner international recognition and public acquiescence, Northern Alliance spokespersons, supported by the United States, Europe and Russia attend international conferences and seminars in academia, lobbying for a partitioned country under such revered and altruistic utterances as federalism, broad-based-government and or democracy, etc., etc., hollow terms used ad nauseam by powerful nations to conceal covert as opposed to rhetorical interests and objectives. Make no mistake about what it entails: this is a major disinformation strategy that involves diplomatic, Intelligence, and media resources.

Strategically, a newly configured Afghanistan, hosting multiples of US military installations provide proximity to and economic advantage over Iran and China and thus access to a plethora of natural resource riches located in the northern environs of the country and access to the oil-rich Caspian Basin. Geology Professor Jack Schroeder of the University of Nebraska has estimated that there are some 300 rare earth elements to be found in Afghanistan’s subsoil to include lithium, widely used for the manufacture of computers and other high tech implements.

Partition is a seditious remnant from colonial times, guaranteed to be to the detriment of the indigenous and for the distinct advantage of imperialist powers. For the people of Afghanistan, however, the partition of the country would negate past territorial configurations and demarcations during a time of war and therefore arguably entail insurmountable legal hurdles and or challenges for the country as a potential litigant in pursuit of relief from damages in any war reparations litigation. Both the US and Russia would likely argue that Afghanistan as a litigant/complainant no longer exists and that the USSR is also no longer in existence. An additional consequence of partition would take the form of the loss of territorial integrity, external/foreign interference and sponsorship, and would present itself with the construct of an array of fiefdoms or foreign protectorates which would ensure familial and economic dislocation for thousands of Afghans and thereby a continuation of a seemingly endless cycle of violence.    



For additional reading see:

  Afghanistan: Political Frailty and External Interference, by Dr.Nabi Misdaq, 2006, pp.60-61.

            The Fall of Kabul has not slowed the Pace of Regional Strategic Change, Defense& Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, Washington, by Yossef Bodansky, 1992.

  The Russian Elite: Inside the Spetznaz and Airborne Forces, by Carey Schofield, 1993, p.113.

              Russia’s Secret Wars: Moscow Times, by Pavel Felgenhauer, 2012.

          An Interview: with Shah Nawaz Tanai and Bruce G. Richardson. Translation by Afghan Journalist Sayed Noorulhaq Husseini, Rawalpindi, Pakistan, October, 1997.

              Poletiat Li Nashi Rebiata Bombit Afghan: Komsomolsk Skaia Pravda, 2011, P.7.


   Operation Kaskad, and Operation Chameleon, Afghanistan, a Search for Truth, by Bruce G.   Richardson, 2009, pp. 59-69.


The Hand of Moscow, by Leonid Shebarshin, Director, Foreign Intelligence KGB, Translated by Professor Ian Helfant, Department of Slavic Languages and Literature, Harvard University, 1992, pp. 177-214.


Limited Contingent, by General Boris V. Gromov, Translated by Professor Ian Helfant, Department of Slavic Languages and Literature, Harvard University, 1994, pp. 188-197.


The Pandzhsher from 1975-1990, by S.E. Grigorev, 1997, p. 40.

Plamya Afgana, by A.A. Liakhovskii, Translated for the Cold War in History Project by Gary Goldberg, 1999, pp. 485-486.


The Soldiers Story, by Anna Heinamaa, Maija Leppanen and Yuri Yurchenko, 1994, pp. 113-122.

American Raj, Liberation or Domination: Resolving the Conflict between the West and the Muslim World, by Eric S. Margolis, 2008, p.196.


Bruce G. Richardson

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