By Lalit Mohan
May 5, 2016
The notion of inviolability of national boundaries – perceived widely as essential for world peace and stability – cloaks too many sins of imperialist hauteur. “International borders are never completely just. But the degree of injustice they inflict upon those whom frontiers force together or separate makes an enormous difference – often the difference between freedom and oppression, tolerance and atrocity, the rule of law and terrorism, or even peace and war,” said Ralph Peters.
The international community frowns on the very idea of redrawing national borders, but three issues have of late stirred the pot a little. One was the opportunity given to Scotland, through a referendum, to secede from the United Kingdom, another was Russia’s intervention in and virtual annexation of Crimea, and the third is the demand, reiterated by activist Naela Qadri Baloch in an interview in the Times of India (April 2, 2016), for an independent Balochistan.
In the essay titled Blood Borders published in 2006 in the US Armed Forces Journal, Peters’ call for a realignment of borders in the entire region between the Bosporus and the Indus along ethnic and cultural fault lines, created a major stir. He contended that over the years political frontiers were drawn arbitrarily by outside powers to suit their own strategic interests, without regard to the local sentiments. A correction would be equitable and would facilitate long term peace.
Peters’ foremost concern is for the Kurds. He proposes an independent Kurdistan. Next, he talks about forming an Arab Shia state out of the southern Iraq and western Iran; a Vatican like Islamic state out of the Mecca and Medina regions of Saudi Arabia; giving Iran the Shia part of Afghanistan (Herat region); forming a Free Baluchistan as an independent nation and adding some of eastern Iran to it for ethnic cohesiveness; and extending the boundaries of Afghanistan by including the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa area of Pakistan in it.
Both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are, in his view, ‘unnatural states.’ What will be left of Pakistan in Peters’ vision will be almost a third of what it is today – just Sind and West Punjab. In fact, if Sind decides to be on its own then Pakistan will be reduced to its core Sunni-Punjabi identity, and possibly also live at peace with itself and its neighbours.
Nearly 80 years ago concern about unnatural borders across the world was voiced by H G Wells, too, in his magnum opus The Outline of History. It is an indication of his prescience that he said so even before Imperialism became a dirty word.
Wells writes about how generally the more powerful nations treated the weaker ones as commodities to be randomly traded, unmindful of the wishes of the people living there. From the time of Napoleon, he says, “the outlines on the map of Europe waved about like garments on a clothes-line on a windy day.”
And the stresses that arose from the unscientific map-making by diplomats were dangerous to the peace of mankind. “It is extraordinarily inconvenient to administer together the affairs of people speaking different languages, especially if those differences are exacerbated by religious disputes.”
Wells’ vision is clear. “Areas of government are not matters for the bargaining and interplay of tsars and kings and foreign offices. There is a natural and necessary political map of the world which transcends these things. There is a best possible way of dividing any part of the world into administrative areas, having regard to the speech and race of its inhabitants. The natural political map of the world insists upon itself.”
After the first World War, the formation of the Soviet behemoth, and after the second the creation of one Yugoslavia, or partition of Germany, are again instances of unjust boundary-making that unraveled the moment natural forces were allowed even a little leeway to assert themselves.
The creation of a Jewish homeland on Palestinian soil though some cozy arrangement between the western powers and the Kingdom of Jordan was yet another instance of colonial impudence, made worse by Israel’s stubborn refusal to vacate territories captured in 1967.
In 1893, the Afghan and British governments agreed to demarcate the north western border of British India. The signatories to the document, known as the Durand Line Agreement, were Amir Abdur Rahman Khan, ruler of Afghanistan, and Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, the foreign secretary of the British Indian government. The Durand Line Agreement of 1893 demarcates boundaries between three sovereign countries, namely Afghanistan, and Balochistan and British India.
This should have been a trilateral agreement between all three countries. However, the British drew it bilaterally between themselves and Afghanistan, and intentionally excluded Balochistan, which has never accepted the pact (even Afghanistan says that the Durand Line was a temporary arrangement). How it was forcibly annexed to Pakistan, how the freedom movement there was brutally crushed and leaders like Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti murdered by the Pakistani state is another sordid story. And its logical denouement may yet lead to further abridgement of the state of Pakistan.