The Afghan-Pakistan Borderlands and the Promises and Pitfalls of Decolonization

Sunday, January 5, 2020: 1:50 PM
Lincoln Room (New York Hilton)
Elisabeth Leake, University of Leeds
When thinking of the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, South Asia’s peripheries are rarely in the spotlight. Yet for regions like the North-West Frontier Province, which bordered Afghanistan and became part of Pakistan, partition was a pivotal moment. The end of colonial rule and the British decision to divide a former colony into two independent states created opportunities, real and imagined, for former colonial subjects to demand additional partitions. This paper explores the significance of partition for northwest Pakistan’s ethnic Pashtun population, as well as for subsequent political relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pashtun anti-colonial leaders in the NWFP sought an additional partition of the subcontinent – one that would result in the independent state of ‘Pashtunistan’ between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghan political leaders likewise sought to take advantage of partition negotiations to undo colonial-era borders and reabsorb ethnic Pashtuns, and the lands they inhabited, back into the Afghan state. While neither of these two events occurred, their proponents saw South Asia’s partition as an opportunity for further changes to the region’s political geography. This paper demonstrates the importance of partition as a moment in South Asian history, a political opportunity for numerous actors, and an imagined alternative to decolonization as it came to pass.