Six Fault lines of Afghanistan

Afghanistan, to a great extent, is the Lebanon of central Asia. Just study the power-sharing formula of Lebanon and you will have some idea of future Afghanistan

Located at the southern edge of Central Asia, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is a landlocked country bordered by Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and in the far north east, China. Occupying 652,000 square kilometres (252,000 sq mi), it is a mostly mountainous country with a population of 32 million.

Six thousand years ago, this region was part of Indus Valley Civilisation. Then it came under the Iranian king Cyrus and remained a satrapy of the Persian empire for more than 500 years. Then came Alexander the Macedonian who dealt a crushing blow to the Afghans.

His successors then ruled Afghanistan for 500 years till it became a province of Indian ruler Chandar Gupt Mauria. Arab Muslims came all the way from Baghdad in the 10th century, conquered it, and converted everyone to Islam. Afterward, it remained either part of the Iranian kingdom or the Turkish empire. The Mongol leader Genghis Khan conquered Afghanistan and left his legacy in the form of the word “Khan” which they very proudly use as part of their name.

Despite being sparsely populated, agriculturally insignificant, industrially underdeveloped, and not blessed with known extra-ordinary mineral wealth up till now, Afghanistan has been playing larger than life role in world politics throughout history. Witnessing invasions, rebellions, civil wars and sparking global wars, some of its fault lines which have been responsible for its woes are as follows


If Middle East as a region has a unique geopolitical significance, Afghanistan as a country has been enjoying this distinction. Because of its geopolitical importance, located in the middle of four centers of powers-Middle East, Central Asia (former USSR), China, and South Asia respectively, it provides the vital corridor for movement of goods and armies. If for USSR, it was its soft belly, Afghanistan is the back yard of Pakistan and gateway to India. China prizes it as one of the most important corridors for reaching the Middle East and Central Asia while Iran touts it for the same reason as Pakistan-its back yard which could cause trouble if not kept in check.

Afghanistan’s significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographical position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. This potential includes the construction of the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline gas pipeline-one of the reasons quoted for the launching of War on Terrorism.


In the past, its strategic location as a corridor for the movement of goods was its main geo-economic resource. Its mineral wealth was unknown, and the known ones were inaccessible due to a lack of infrastructure. However, technological developments have revealed their vast economic resource. According to conservative estimates, Afghanistan has around 1500 mineral fields, containing various mineral resources ranging from coal, copper, gold, and gemstones of various kinds to iron ore, lead, natural gas, and petroleum.

According to a joint study by the Pentagon and the United States Geological Survey, Afghanistan has an estimated 1 trillion USD of untapped minerals, although other sources estimate it at 3 trillion USD. In December 2013, President Karzai claimed that mineral deposits are worth $30 trillion, a quantity that would exceed total global mining revenues (in 2016) by a factor of approximately 60.


Its third Fault line which is a source of conflict, crises, and even wars, are the boundary conflicts it has with its neighbouring countries, particularly Pakistan. After the dissolution of the British Indian Empire in 1947, Pakistan, as one of the successor states, inherited the 1893 agreement and the subsequent 1919 Treaty of Rawalpindi as its boundary with Afghanistan. After some initial reluctance, Afghanistan accepted it as an international border between the two countries but renegade in 1948 when a skirmish took place between the two countries. There has never been a formal agreement or ratification between Islamabad and Kabul. Pakistan believes, and international convention supports the position that it should not require one; courts in several countries around the world and the Vienna Convention have universally upheld that binding bilateral agreements are “passed down” to successor states. However, Afghanistan does not recognise this boundary line and claims a major chunk of present-day Pakistan as its own territory


Although Afghanistan has been ethnically diverse for millennia (14 recognised ethnic groups, each honoured in the national anthem and protected by the constitution), it is the synergistic effect of overlapping of these ethnic divisions with other divisions within Afghan society—rural versus urban and rich vs poor, which has turned the dream of turning Afghanistan into a modern, prosperous and peaceful country into a nightmare.  National consensus even on fundamental issues has been problematic, exacerbated by the rampant corruption and stalled nation-building and state-building process of the country.

No doubt, Islam as the dominant religion has given Afghanistan’s population a common denominator, its sectarian divide has accentuated their internecine rivalries. While most Afghans are Sunni Muslims, its Hazara people, living in the region bordering Iran, are Shias. Having remained a satrapy of the old Persian Empire for several centuries, half of all Afghans now speak Dari, the local form of Persian. The Rural /urban divide has also galvanised these ethnic divisions. Many Afghan Tajiks and Hazaras live in towns while rural areas are mostly populated by the poor Pashtuns and the Baluchis.

The last straw on camel’s back is the foreign intervention, covert and overt, which has spawned the differences. For the former USSR, Afghanistan was an underbelly where a pro-Soviet Union regime state and society was one of its security imperatives. To destabilize USSR for achieving its Cold War geopolitical objectives, the USA promoted religiosity, assisted by Saudi Arabia, Gulf states, and Pakistan in its soft belly. Fearing too much of Saudi influence, Iranians started backing their sectarian affiliates. Resultantly whole of Afghanistan is now a powder keg rife with ethnic and sectarian divides, sadly co-terminus with tribal identities. Unfortunately, these ethnic and sectarian divisions are represented in all of its state institutions adversely affecting across the board service delivery.


One of the tragedies of Afghanistan is that it escaped the modern wave of colonialism which swept most of the world from the 16th to 20th century. No doubt, western imperialism was a curse, but it did have some positive spin-offs in the form of infrastructural development and economic integration of the colonies with the developed world of the day. Its second tragedy was it was a playground of the rivalry between Russia and the British Indian Empire and afterward between the USSR and the USA during the Cold War, it was never properly occupied by any one of them.

Consequently, despite all the foreign aid, it has received from international donors, Afghanistan has remained underdeveloped. It is reflected in all its socio-economic indicators. According to the latest Human Development Report, Afghanistan is the 5th least developed country in the world. With life expectancy hovering around mid-forties and an adult literacy rate of less than 30, more than 60 % of the population of Afghanistan living below the poverty line. Poverty and inequality, two major manifestations of underdevelopment, are reducing the buying power of the people, thereby adversely affecting the business prospects. Lack of job opportunities is further alienating the youth pushing them to join the militant organisations.

Weak State

Last but not the least Fault line of Afghanistan is its ineffective state-building and the state itself. One of the reasons for this capacity deficit of the state to provide basic social services to most of its citizens at affordable costs is the zeal of its successive ruling elites govern this diverse country and impose social order from Kabul. Because of Afghanistan being one of the most centralized governments in the world, none of its rulers, with few exceptional years, have succeeded in maintaining institutionalised law and order, a pre-requisite for providing other essential social services. Consequently, all its institutions-armed forces, judiciary, law enforcement, etc are dysfunctional, suffering from extreme inefficiency and massive corruption. It has created crises of confidence among the people about their state which is being exploited by the non-state actors. They thrive and get support from the population by maintaining a semblance of stability and providing quick justice through primitive means in their respective areas of control.

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