Why not break up Afghanistan?


Everyone is aware of the difficulties ahead in order to achieve a viable coalition government in Afghanistan that can meet the needs of all the various ethnic groups, approximately 70 in all.

Considering that Afghanistan’s neighbours have a stake in the outcome of the region I wonder if dividing up the country amongst the neighbours wouldn’t be a better long term solution. It seems to me that Afghanistans neighbours have a better chance at controling the “wild west” atmosphere of the region. The five major ethnic groups, comprising 93% of the population could be divied up amonst five of Afghanistans neighbours as follows.

  1. The Pashtuns, 38% of the population primarily in the west and south could be annexed by Pakistan. Already, the Pashtuns are the second largest ethnic group to the predominant Punjabis, and the extra Pashtuns could provide more ballance to Pakistan.

2.The Tajiks, 25% of the population,in the north,could be annexed by Tajikistan.

3.The Uzbeks, 6%, in the north, to Uzbekistan.

  1. The Turkmen 5%, in the north to Turkmenistan

5.The Hazaras 19%. in the central mountain region, speak Persian and have the same Shia religion as Iran. I’m not sure of exact location, but may require a corridor to join Hazaras and Iran. That could be a buffer between Pakistan and Central Asian republics as well.

Afghanistan reminds me of the old lawless west, and I don’t believe its people have the maturity at present to move from a “territory to a state” . Afganistan as a country was a 19th century British-Russian concept, and perhaps now is the time to question the wisdom of this conglomeration of ethnic groups which really has no reason for being.

One vote here “against”, mainly because I think they ought to at least be given a chance to see if they can make it work and join the rest of the world in the 21st century. If they don’t at least try, then they (and we) will always wonder whether they could have done it.

And, I don’t think there’s much to choose from between places like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and some sort of coalition Afghan government.

And how in the world would you divide it up, logistically speaking? Just by tribal boundaries? Like, you’re assuming that the tribes themselves agree on where the boundaries are? Um…

So, who gets all the poppy fields? And how will the “have nots” feel about being cut out of the lucrative opium trade?

What happens when the ones who get the parts with the roads decide they don’t feel like maintaining the portion of the roads that goes out of their “country” into a neighboring country, because “those guys” are the wrong tribes and don’t deserve to have road access to the “other guys”? Supposing we divvied up the Midwest, and the Land O Linkiners decided they didn’t feel like maintaining the part of U.S. Route 36 over in Edgar County that goes into Indiana, 'cause them Hoosiers is a passel of ignorant hillbillies and don’t deserve to have road access to the Land O Linkin, and the local folks don’t need Route 36, they can get around on the county roads?

What happens if the Hawkeyes, who have the only functioning power plant in the entire Midwest up in Dubuque, decide that the Cheeseheads are too stupid to deserve electricity, and cut off their power? And what if they decide to start charging double to the Land O Linkiners and Hoosiers and ShowMes, just because they can and there’s no Dubya to stop them?

Balkanization. That’s the word. You’d end up with another Serbia/Croatia/Macedonia/Bosnia/etc. What a mess.

**What about the pipeline !!! ** What ? oh, okay…

Different take to Goosie but a similar conclusion.

Well, there are any number of answers but perhaps one of the simplest is to imagine asking each ethnic group a variation on this theme:

Dear Pashtun (for example) Tribe, would you like to forsake your national identity for Pakistani and – as a bonus – become a very small fish in a big pond, or would you like to retain that identity for which you’ve fought for at least 20 years, try to make a go of a new, probably democratic Afghani homeland, remain a big fish in a little pond and also benefit from $ billion of western investment – what ? you’ve had enough of others telling you how to think and what to do in your own land and you don’t want the Pakistani army and police telling you now what you can and can’t do !

I suspect your suggestion might be viewed as just five separate invasions, especially given that many of those ethnic groups are minorities in the neighbouring countries – if not minorities, then heavily ‘influenced’ by, for example, Russia.

Might not be a good idea.

The basic premise of ur plan seems to be that peace can be enforced thru seperation of these various factions with international territorial boundaries.

However, What if the Afghans themselves don’t want to be annexed to their neighbours? What justification does the world community have in breaking up a once sovereign state? It can be argued that whatever stake the neighbouring countries have in Afghanistan is secondary to the sovereignity of Afghanistan.

What if these various Afghan factions would rather prefer setting up their own independent nation states then being annexed to these neighbouring countries? Setting up independent nation states satisfies the basic premise of territorial seperation. Would this also be an acceptable solution?

Most of these neighbouring countries are in economic doldrums. Would they really want to annex these territories?
I find it very unlikely that they’d willing take on this task. Primarly because along with the obvious advantages of acquiring new territory, there’s a huge price to pay in terms of rebuilding these territories. Also, the Afghan influence on state affairs may not entirely be welcome in these countries.

Another vote against Balkanisation.

I can’t recall an instance where the policy of partition has not lead directly to civil war (or in this case the continuation/escalation). Can anyone else?

Spare us the patronisation. If the “Great Powers” had meddled as incessantly in the affairs of the “old lawless west” as they have in Afghanistan, the result might not be much different.

Don’t forget that if you start carving up afganistan, China will also want her piece of the pie.

You also need to look at history and ask yourself why hasn’t this naturally occurred during the past thousand years? Afganistan has successfully resisted being carved up in the past, so why would you think such a policy would be successful now?

All this - like all other international conflicts - hangs on money. In this case oil money. The whole importance of regional instability/stability hangs on money and oil.

Ignore tribalism. Ignore what would be best. Ignore what people may or may not want.

Whatever will happen, in the end, will serve the best interests of America, and possibly to a lesser degree Russia, in exploiting the oil potential of central Asia for their own benefit.

>> Ignore tribalism. Ignore what would be best. Ignore what people may or may not want

While you are at it, ignore the facts, ignore that this is an extremly complex issue, ignore everything relevant. Why bother with so many things when a short phrase like this has the answer to everything that happens in the world. Yeah, I am sure American oil interests control everything and are allmighty. Once we have established this we can see how the facts fit into the picture. <<sigh>>

Regarding the OP, besides what the Afghans themselves would say, you would have to take into account what other countries in the region would say. Do you think India would be happy to see Pakistan enlarged like that? What would China say? (Or can we just ignore all that and ask big oil co. what their solution will be?)

When you move from the West to live and work in the Middle East, and talk to people here for the first time without the filtering effect of Western media (that I never knew existed before I came here) and when you access daily a non-Western-biased media (admittedly with its own bias, but there is still some amazing, honest journalism here), and you really start to learn the tip of the iceberg of what has really been going on here, re Israel, re the Gulf War, re Pakistan, re Saudi, and now re Afghanistan, you begin to lose hope.

I have lost hope that the primary decision makers of all governments - be they Western, Eastern or Middle Eastern, be they Christian, Muslim or Secular - make decisions for any reasons other than from their state or country’s own financial or political benefit.


There are some genuine, humane, world leaders out there. But are yours and mine among them?

Here’s another one. There were some more recent ones I wanted to post for you, but at the moment I can’t find them.


Actually, the OP suggestion would result in one less seat at the UN. We aren’t creating new countries, just divying up territory. Something like between Britain and America regarding the disposition of territories in the western part of North America. That has resulted in one of the most peaceful borders in the world !

Please refer to my analogy regarding Britain and America and western territories of North America.

I can see no reason that would make China expand through a bottleneck of such high altitude. Peace on the frontier would be China’s best object in this discussion.

With regard to history, the concept of nation states in the region was introduced by the British and the Russians and a relatively recent phenomenon. Modern economics and world security demands some sort of centralized control on people.
To accept a status quo of a hundred years or so in the face of thousands of years of ethnic history does not make the concept of Afghanistan sacrosanct. And of course the people have to agree in some majority sense. I have not seen the evidence that they wouldn’t.

Also, there is in the proposal an additional issue: as TruthFinder pointed out, the various tribal groups may want to partition w/o being annexed to the neighbors… but what if they want to annex FROM the neighbors? What if the Pashtuns in Pakistan decide that they will rise to demand that they be unified with an independent Pashtunstan?

But have u seen any evidence that they would agree? I haven’t seen any evidence that either the Taliban or the Northern Alliance want anything less than a sovereign Afghanistan.

Here’s an ethno-linguistic map of Afghanistan. Have fun drawing up those new boundaries!

Excellent, I was looking for just such a map.

In terms of contiguity between ethnic region and corresponding nation for the major ethnic groups, the map is quite reassuring. The China question can be seen to be irrelevant as well due to the uninhabited region at the border.

Just as I had imagined however the Hazaras will require a corridor to join Iran.

That’s reassuring? Wow. What exactly are you planning to do with all those Tajiks around Herat, or south of that, west of Kandahar? What about all the pockets of Pashtuns–and other groups–in Uzbek country? It does look like most of the Turkmens live in a nice conveniently contiguous belt along the border with Turkmenistan, although there are a few little pockets scattered about in the north. The Tajiks are going to present a major problem, though–who gets Mazar-e-Sharif, as well as Herat?–a “corridor” for the Hazaras is going to have to go through territory inhabited by non-Hazaras–what’s going to happen to them?–and I don’t even know who the Almaks and the Nuristanis are. And the borders of Pashtunistan or Greater Pakistan or whatever are going to be, well, interesting, that’s for sure. The Central Asian Republics already look like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, but there’s no way you’re going to pull this off without large-scale “ethnic cleansing”, and we all saw how well that’s worked out in the Balkans.

Er, regarding the “peaceful” divvying up of western North America between America and Britain…

Does the phrase “Fifty-four forty or fight!” ring a bell?


To summarize: Everybody wanted a piece of the Pacific Northwest fur trade, in the last part of the 18th century. Russians, British, Americans, even the Spanish were hanging around. I’ll run some names past you: Vancouver, John Jacob Astor, MacKenzie. Lewis and Clark. Thomas Jefferson–the only reason he sent Lewis and Clark out there was to stake a better claim for America.

Then in the 1840s the Oregon Trail overland from the eastern U.S. opened up, American settlers started pouring into the Pacific Northwest, and suddenly it was a crisis. Both Britain and America claimed it. The Americans were saying, “Fifty-four forty or fight!” and they weren’t saying it in a peaceful or constructive way. It actually looked like there might be another war, for a couple of years there.

But there wasn’t. Diplomacy prevailed in 1846, with a treaty. However, the problem kept simmering–in 1859 there were gunboats. Finally it was arbitrated by Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany in 1872, which is why the U.S. owns the San Juan Islands and Canada doesn’t.

Now, granted, this was all pretty peaceful, compared to Afghanistan, but for a number of years there, between, say, 1840 and 1846, things were definitely tense in the Pacific Northwest. It could have been much uglier, except for the fact that there weren’t generation upon generation of tribal feuds to factor into the diplomatic equation. Both parties were basically from the same tribe, hence the dispute was fairly calmly resolved.

There’s a small problem in analogizing between western North America and Afghanistan: Afghanistan boasts a population in the millions. Oregon Country might have numbered a couple of hundred thousand, of whom the only ones anyone bothered to consult were white settlers amounting to maybe 40,000. (Because I’m unable to find reliable data, I’m using estimates that I suspect are actually quite inflated.)

Moreover, much of that unconsulted, indigenous majority had yet to develope economies dependedant on holding land (whether for agriculture, mineral extraction or other purposes). What mattered wasn’t so much the location of a settlement, but the ability to follow fish and game populations.

I don’t think that describes Afghanistan.

And as for oil being the root of all policy - the very articles istara cites undermine the argument. We learn from them that Afghanistan’s sole importance to oil is as an obstacle over which it might be transported, and that’s hardly the basis either for future prosperity or contemporary warfare. (Besides, topographical difficulties alone would seem to recommend other routes from the Caspian to a port.) A more general point, that policy follows money, is certainly a truism - but the question isn’t how Afghanistan might be integrated into a petroleum economy, but what economy Afghanistan might have at all?

Your talking about my corner of the world now, and Canada does own some of the San Juan archepelago. See http://www.blue-pacific-charters.com/gulfislands.html
We call them the Gulf Islands.

I suppose the peoples of Afghanistan have much more in common than the rest of the world as well. However, British North America was predominantly French/Scots and the northern tribes well as English, while America comprised Dutch/German/Irish/Scot/Spanish/African and the southern tribes as well as English. Definitely not the same ethnicly.
Fortunately the arbitration held, because the ruling parties had the maturity to accept the decision. that is why I would have more faith in the neighbouring countries
to uphold a negotiated disposition of power regionally rather than trust a whole bunch of tribal leaders of different ethnic loyalties to maintain a coalition of power for centuries to come.