Over the last two months, a small faction of Congressmen has laid the foundation for an alternative Afghanistan-Pakistan policy. They do not favour strengthening relations with the Pakistan government nor do they accept normalising relations with the Taliban, if it leads to Pashtun dominance in Afghanistan. Instead, they propose backing remnants of the Northern Alliance seeking to establish semi-autonomous provinces in Afghanistan and Baloch nationalists hoping to create an independent state of Balochistan.
In one broad stroke, their proposed “Berlin Mandate” would redraw the political borders of the region contrary to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of two of the administration’s most important partners in the War on Terrorism, as well as Iran. While their initiative might not have broad domestic or international support, their policy proposal is maturing and garnering increased attention as a result of a number of high-profile events. Whether you agree or disagree with their new AfPak approach, it is critical to understand its rapid evolution over the last few months and recognise that their efforts to promote self-determination in the region will not end with the Balochistan sovereignty bill.
Berlin Strategy Session In early January, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher led an unofficial strategic exchange with Afghanistan’s newly formed National Front. Held in Berlin, the meeting reportedly discussed “alternatives to Hamid Karazi’s consideration of including the Taliban in Afghanistan’s coalition government.” Representatives Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Steve King (R-IA), as well as Afghanistan’s former intelligence chief, were in attendance.
The attendees explored constitutional reforms that would make Afghanistan a federal system. By vesting political and economic power in the provinces, they argued that pro-American minority ethnic groups could be safeguarded.
Following the meeting, Rohrabacher expressed fear that the re-emergence of the Taliban as a major political force in Afghanistan risks “(betraying) those Americans who shed their blood in the last decade” and selling out “the brave Afghans in the North Alliance who cast their lot with (the United States) after 9/11 in order to defeat the Taliban dictatorship.”
Rohrabacher’s comments likely belie his faction’s inherent fear that centralised power threatens to enable the Pashtuns, who comprise approximately 42% of the population, to dominate and take advantage of the US troop withdrawal to extract revenge on the minority groups who overthrew the Taliban government in the months following September 11th. They may also reflect the concern that the re-emergence of the Taliban would provide Pakistan with the strategic depth necessary to counter American and Indian influence in the region.
As expected, the Berlin proposal was condemned by Karzai and others who saw it as an assault on Afghanistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. However, the attendees were impenitent, even willing to accept that proposal’s implementation could lead to the partition of “Afghanistan between the minority-dominated north and the mostly Pashtun south.”
Gohmert’s SOTU Comments Only a few weeks later, Congressman Gohmert’s rebuttal following the US State of the Union (SOTU) intensified the debate. In video remarks following Obama’s address, Gohmert argued: “We need to rearm the people who are the natural enemy of our enemy, the Taliban. That’s the Northern Alliance.”
By pushing for the arming of internal groups, Gohmert further challenged Afghanistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. But, he did not stop there. In the same breadth, he also called for the independence of Balochistan from Pakistan: “Let’s talk about creating a Balochistan in the southern part of Pakistan. They’ll stop the IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and all the weaponry coming into Afghanistan, and we got a shot to win over there.”
In connecting support for the Northern Alliance and Baloch nationalists, Gohmert linked Afghanistan and Pakistan (AfPak) policy under what could be called the “Berlin Mandate.” In this revised proposal, he effectively laid the foundation for a new US policy approach for the region: Moving forward, the US should support carving out an entire Pakistani province into an independent state and a handful of Afghan provinces into semi-autonomous territories to advance long-term American strategic interests in the region.