US should support Pashtun demands to merge NWFP, FATA: Expert

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Washington, May 12 (ANI): The United States should support Pashtun demands to merge Pakistan's NWFP and FATA, and follow it up by a consolidation of those areas and Pashtun enclaves in Baluchistan and the Punjab into a single unified "Pashtunkhwa" province that enjoys the autonomy envisaged in the inoperative 1973 Pakistan constitution, feels a US expert on South Asian affairs.

In an article for the Washington Post, Selig Harrison, the author of the report "Pakistan: The State of the Union," based on a six-month study of ethnic tensions in Pakistan, says: "To American eyes, the struggle raging in Pakistan with the Taliban is about religious fanaticism. But in Pakistan it is about an explosive fusion of Islamist zeal and simmering ethnic tensions that have been exacerbated by U.S. pressures for military action against the Taliban and its al-Qaida allies."

Therefore, he says there is a need to understand the ethnic dimension of the conflict if Washington wants to evolve a successful strategy for separating the Taliban from al-Qaida and stabilizing multiethnic Pakistan politically.

He also is critical of sending a Punjabi-dominant Pakistani army to an area that is entirely Pashtun.

"Sending Punjabi soldiers into Pashtun territory to fight jihadists pushes the country ever closer to an ethnically defined civil war, strengthening Pashtun sentiment for an independent "Pashtunistan" that would embrace 41 million people in big chunks of Pakistan and Afghanistan," he warns.

"While army leaders fear the long-term dangers of a Taliban link-up with Islamist forces in the heartland of Pakistan, they are more worried about what they see as the looming danger of Pashtun separatism," he adds.

So how should the Obama administration proceed?

Militarily, Harrison says the United States should lower its profile by ending air strikes and politically, U.S. policy should be revised to demonstrate that America supports the Pashtun desire for a stronger position in relation to the Punjabi-dominated government in Islamabad.

The Pashtuns in FATA treasure their long-standing autonomy and do not like to be ruled by Islamabad. Conventional wisdom suggests that either Islamist or Pashtun identity will eventually triumph, but it is equally plausible that the result could be an "Islamic Pashtunistan." (ANI)

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