by Charles Lemos, Tue Feb 17, 2009 at 11:15:42 AM EST
Call it the central front of the global "war on terror", the fulcrum of the "arc of crisis", Pashtunistan or simply, in the most recent neologism, "AfPak", no one doubts that this is the biggest foreign policy headache for Obama's new team.
"The situation there grows more perilous every day," Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the American joint chiefs of staff, told journalists earlier this month. Holbrooke reaches for the ultimate comparison: "It's tougher than Iraq."
Forget Barack Obama, suddenly it is Richard Holbrooke who might be the most important person in the world for on his shoulders rests the onus of finding a solution to the problem that is Afghanistan, Pakistan and in particular a subset of each called Pashtunistan. It is, I hope, self-evident to the US foreign policy establishment that in Afghanistan and Pakistan we have a failed state and a failing state. Part of the problem is that both states are artificial states. Afghanistan was the rump that neither the British nor Russians could fully dominate. Pakistan was created as a home for Muslims in the British Raj, it was the anti-India.
In 1893, Sir Mortimer Durand negotiated with Abdur Rahman Khan - the Amir of Kabul, the frontier between British India and Afghanistan. This frontier is known as the Durand Line, named after him and the line remains the international boundary between Afghanistan and modern-day Pakistan but it runs through the heartland of Pashtunistan, the homeland of the Pashtuns.
The Durand Line exists on maps and in the minds of Western policy makers. But in the harsh terrain that is the Hindu Kush range, it does not exist. Neither the British in their day nor the Pakistanis or the Afghans have ever been in control of this frontier. It is, however, controlled by the Pashtuns and has been for centuries.