Pakhtunkhwa Times

"No Sign until the Burst of Fire: Understanding the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier"

Posted in 1 by ppfcanada on January 28, 2009

“No Sign until the Burst of Fire: Understanding the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier”

Journal Article, International Security, volume 32, issue 4, pages 41-77

Spring 2008

Authors: Thomas H. Johnson, M. Chris Mason

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Quarterly Journal: International Security

SUMMARY

The Pakistan-Afghanistan border area has become the most dangerous frontier on earth, and the most challenging for the United States’ national security interests. Critically, the portion of the border region that is home to extremist groups such the Taliban and al-Qaida coincides almost exactly with the area overwhelmingly dominated by the Pashtun tribes. The implications of this salient fact—that most of Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s violent religious extremism, and with it much of the United States’ counterterrorism challenge, are contained within a single ethnolinguistic group—have unfortunately not been fully grasped by a governmental policy community that has long downplayed cultural dynamics. The threat to long-term U.S. security interests in this area is neither an economic problem, nor a religious problem, nor a generic “tribal” problem. It is a unique cultural problem. In both southern Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan, rather than seeking to “extend the reach of the central government,” which simply foments insurgency among a proto-insurgent people, the United States and the international community should be doing everything in their means to empower the tribal elders and restore balance to a tribal/cultural system that has been disintegrating since the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

Introduction:

By 1932, British troops had been waging war of varying intensity with a group of intractable tribes along and beyond the northwestern frontier of India for nearly a century. That year, in summarizing a typical skirmish, one British veteran noted laconically, “Probably no sign till the burst of fire, and then the swift rush with knives, the stripping of the dead, and the unhurried mutilation of the infidels.” It was a savage, cruel, and peculiar kind of mountain warfare, frequently driven by religious zealotry on the tribal side, and it was singularly unforgiving of tactical error, momentary inattention, or cultural ignorance. It still is. The Pakistan-Afghanistan border region has experienced turbulence for centuries. Today a portion of it constitutes a significant threat to U.S. national security interests. The unique underlying factors that create this threat are little understood by most policymakers in Washington.

This region, which is almost certainly home to both Osama bin Laden and his lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has once again become a locus for a regenerating al-Qaida network. The July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on terrorist threats to the United States — an intelligence product known to analysts as the mildest common denominator everyone can agree on — corroborates this assessment. The NIE states that al-Qaida, with uninterrupted funding from radical Saudi Arabian Wahabist sources, not only has rebuilt its command structure in the border region, but has continued to recruit and train operatives to infiltrate the United States and other Western countries.

The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is 1,640 miles long, much of it spanning terrain so remote and so mountainous that it is virtually inaccessible. For Pakistan, instability extends beyond both endpoints. To the east, the border with China along “the roof of the world” runs 325 miles and separates Pakistan from China’s discontented Uighur Muslim minority in Sinkiang Province, a land once known as the independent Khanate of Kashgaria. Far to the west, Pakistan shares a 565-mile border with Iran, home on both sides to restless Baluchis and drug smugglers. Stretched on a map of the United States, the Pakistan-Afghanistan border would run from New York City to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Even in ancient times, the vast area that lies along this border served as both barrier and gateway and was a refuge for insurgents, smugglers, and bandits.

A portion of this border area continues to be home to a host of militant groups bent on exporting jihad. Foremost among them is the Taliban. Since retreating from Afghanistan following the U.S. invasion in October 2001, thousands of Taliban fighters and virtually the entire intact Taliban senior leadership shura (religious council) have found sanctuary in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) at the center of the border, as well as in parts of the Pakistani province of Baluchistan to the west and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) to the east and south. These areas coincide almost exactly with the area of Pakistan overwhelmingly dominated by the Pashtun ethnic group. The Taliban and the other Islamic extremist insurgent elements operating on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border are almost exclusively Pashtuns, with a sprinkling of radicals from nonborder ethnicities. The implications of this salient fact — that most of Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s violent religious extremism, and with it much of the United States’ counterterrorism challenge, are centered within a single ethnolinguistic group — have not been fully grasped by a governmental policy community that has long downplayed cultural dynamics.

This article explores the reasons why religious and political extremism in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region ends neatly at the borders of the Pashtun lands. It begins with a brief overview of the geography and typography of the border, followed by a condensed study of the key ethnographic and cultural factors. An understanding of the tribal and social framework of the border, particularly its alternative forms of governance, is critical to the subsequent discussion of the current instability and radicalization. In addition to religion, tribal mores that predate Islam shape insurgent behavior and should inform all aspects of engagement on both sides of the border. The article concludes with an examination of the history and the unintended consequences of border politics, and offers policy recommendations to begin to reverse the ongoing slide into Talibanization.

* IS3204_pp041-077_Johnson_Mason.pdf (1.5 MB PDF)
http://www.pdfdownload.org/pdf2html/pdf2html.php?url=http%3A%2F%2Fbelfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu%2Ffiles%2FIS3204_pp041-077_Johnson_Mason.pdf&images=yes

http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/18241/no_sign_until_the_burst_of_fire.html?breadcrumb=%2Fpublication%2F18240%2Frise_of_afghanistans_insurgency

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  1. Anonymous said, on February 4, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    Saving Swat
    Charles Ferndale
    Karachi
    Wednesday February 04, 2009 (0712 PST)

    Dear Charles Ferndale,

    People of Baluchistan, FATA and NWFP has always seen the most oppressive and cruel face of the state of Pakistan.
    Any sane person will come to the conclusion you made about the situation in Swat but there is logic to this madness by the Pakistani state/army.
    The logic is and has been for the entire history of Pakistan, is to keep Baluchistan, FATA and NWFP as deprived, as backward as possible to ensure that the people of these regions can NEVER assert their "rights", to education, their land, their languages and their basic human right to live because ONCE these people are able to assert these rights, than it will be the END of Punjab being the big fat pig province of Pakistan.
    Pakistan , you see is and never has been Pakistan, it is in fact Punjabistan and Punjabis wants to make sure that "Punjab remains the big fat pig province of Pakistan" via their Punjabi army, hence why, the "Pakistani" army have created catastrophic conditions in terms of "human rights" in these areas.
    It is such actions by the Pakistan army that may explain, why the people of Baluchistan, FATA, NWFP may hate the so called "Taliban" but they loath the Pakistan Army/State.
    The Punjabi/Pakistani army is in fact carrying out "ethnic cleansing" of Pakhtuns & Baluchis under the cover of the "war on terror".
    It is a win, win, situation for the Punjabis as the Punjabi/Pakistani government collects western aid from this "war on terror game" to be spent on "Punjab – the big fat pig province of Pakistan" and make the poor, innocent Baluchi & Pakhtun population "bleed".
    Long live the people of Baluchistan, FATA & NWFP and may God protect them from all their enemies inside/outside of Pakistan.

    Yours sincerely

  2. Anonymous said, on February 4, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    Speakers question security forces’ role in restive areas

    Wednesday, February 04, 2009
    Ghulam Dastageer

    PESHAWAR: The participants of a peace moot here Tuesday pointed an accusing finger at the role of security forces in containing militancy in Fata and settled districts of NWFP. The speakers said militants were nothing more than robots being controlled by “invisible hands” wreaking havoc on the Pakhtun nation.

    ActionAid arranged the seminar in collaboration with the Citizen Rights and Sustainable Development (CRSD) at the Peshawar Press Club. One of the speakers, Ziauddin Yusufzai, who belongs to Swat, said: “We have reservations over the credibility of the military action in Swat in the past and same is the case of the present military operation.”

    Providing credence to his assertion, he argued that illegal FM radio channels, the most effective tool to spread harassment, are still intact; nay, the high command of the militants remained unhurt in “so-called” massive operations in the Swat valley.

    “Effective operations are those launched on the theories of from known to unknown and top to bottom. But known militants remain unscathed while non-combatant civilians (unknown) are targeted in these military drives, which make them extremely sceptical. Same is the case with the theory of ‘top to bottom’ as militant leaders remain unharmed in these operations.”

    Another resident of Swat, Sher Muhammad Khan Advocate, came down hard on politico-religious parties for what he said playing the role of a silent spectator in the whole episode. “At least, they should have censured the Taliban who are earning a very bad name for Islam by their activities which have nothing to do with our religion,” he said.

    He warned that the establishment should take this issue seriously because they would not be able to get it confined to Swat for a long time and ultimately its flames would engulf the whole country. Said Alam Mahsud, a provincial leader of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP), contended that the military and the militants were two sides of the same coin.

    “Both share certain commonalities, which bring them nearer to each other. For instance both believe in settling issues through the barrel of the gun; both don’t believe in Constitution and they have same stance on democracy,” he said.

    He said that most of the anti-state activities by militants were carried out during the curfew time and it was beyond comprehension that a large number of security personnel could not put a leash on a handful of militants. He showered praise on Afzal Khan Lala for his unflinching resolve not to leave the Swati people in a lurch, saying neither Mahmood Achakzai (his party chief) nor Asfandyar Wali Khan played any remarkable role in this regard. “We’ll have to follow in the footprints of Afzal Khan Lala to restore peace in the militancy-plagued valley.”

    Unexpectedly, MPA from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, Mufti Kifayatullah came out with a very clear statement against the intelligence agencies of the country. “Rulers in Pakistan are powerless whether they were of pre-February 18 or of the current set-up. Power evolves somewhere else,” he said.

    Nevertheless, his remarks drew instant demand from the participants to clearly mention the “invisible hands” and he said: “Our intelligence agencies are behind this bloody game in the tribal belt and Swat.”

    The MPA also condemned war tactics of militants including suicide attacks and beheadings and said that by doing so they were not serving Islam rather maligning it. But almost in the same breath, he added, the current ‘war on terror’ was not the war of Pakistan but being fought to appease the United States.

    NWFP Minister for Elementary Education Sardar Hussain Babak criticised the role of politico-religious parties in the recent mayhem. He said they raised voice for Israeli aggression in Palestine but remained tight-lipped on militants’ brutalities in Swat and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

    Discussing the performance of the security forces, he said that he would not defend the forces for failure in Swat. He held the previous MMA government responsible for recent anarchy in Swat and said that the MMA government had given a free hand to Maulana Fazlullah to strengthen himself militarily in his headquarters in Mam Dherai. ActionAid Policy Officer Tariq Zaman, Abubakr, CRSD Director Dr Sarfaraz, Idrees Kamal and a sixth grade schoolgirl from Swat, Paghonda, also spoke on the occasion.

  3. Anonymous said, on February 6, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    The News International – Karachi,Pakistan
    How to reverse the militancy crisis

    Friday, February 06, 2009
    by Charles Ferndale

    A frequent cause of the human animal’s capacity for self-deception is arrogance coupled with wishful thinking. When Robert Gates, the American secretary of defence, said recently something to the effect that America could not afford the money or time to create some sort of Valhalla in the NWFP, if that was what was required to defeat the militancy there, he was deluded by arrogance. Does he think it can be done on the cheap, according to America’s timetable?

    Valhalla, in Norse mythology, is a great hall to which half of those who die in battle go and where they then live in peace. I doubt that Gates had read up on his Norse mythology. What he intended to say was that America could not afford to create an ideal land in the NWFP just to put an end to the militancy there. But what Mr Gates failed to realise is that, in the troubled areas of Pakistan, paradise is having something to eat, is not freezing to death, is not having one’s family killed and injured, is not having one’s home destroyed; in short, is not being terrorised. And Mr Gates seems to have overlooked the fact that this tragedy is a direct consequence of American foreign policy since 1977. Since the Americans made the dreadful mess, they should pay to have it cleaned up.

    Mr Gates should make up his mind whether or not the present American administration wants seriously to help defeat the militants. Successive US administrations have claimed that defeating the militants is vital for the security of the rest of the world, so presumably they should be deeply committed to that end. Pakistan can certainly not afford to do what is necessary alone. If the Americans really do want victory over the militants, then they must do whatever it takes.

    Here is what I think is the minimum that must be done in order to defeat the militants:

    — The Americans should guarantee Pakistan against any first attack from India, so that the Pakistani Army can concentrate fully on the troubles on its western border.

    — The militants’ sources of finance should be discovered and stopped. No insurgency can survive without a continuous supply of money. If, as many Pakistanis believe, a major source of funds is the Indian intelligence agency, RAW, then America must make India an offer they cannot refuse.

    — The resupply of arms must be stopped by whatever means it takes.

    — Anyone who has studied guerrilla warfare will know that the single most powerful weapon that can be used against insurgents is inside knowledge, so the militants must be infiltrated. They are too smart and too closed a society to be infiltrated from outside, so their own people should be induced by whatever means it takes—one of which is money—to inform on their colleagues.

    — Whatever information is gained from infiltration of the insurgents must not be allowed to leak back to the insurgents, which, given the supposed sympathy for militancy within the ISI, cannot be guaranteed except by setting up sealed cells within the intelligence services.

    — A study of successful counter-insurgencies shows that conventional armies do not do well against insurgents. What is needed is undercover special forces who are as hard to detect as are the insurgents. The Pakistani Army has little experience in this type of warfare, so they should find those who do and get them to train the Pakhtuns as a counter-insurgency guerrilla force. The trainers could be sympathetic Mujahideen who fought the Russians, Vietnamese who defeated the Americans, the mountain warfare sections of the British Marines and the British SAS, the Canadians, and so on.

    — Chairman Mao, the great Chinese insurgent, said that guerrilla fighters are fish that swim in the sea of the people. Take away the cover of the people among whom they hide and they become fish out of water. The only effective way to do this is to take back and secure, permanently against re-incursion, every village and town in which the insurgents seek cover, food, medical care and resupply. America’s record in Vietnam for successfully doing this was bad; maybe the Pakistanis, especially well trained Pakhtuns, can do a better job because they are of the people.

    — With villages and towns permanently secured, the damage done by the army and militants can be undone, and people can return to nearly normal life in the sure knowledge that they will not be killed by the army or militants later. Putting guards on schools so as to lure back girl students is a hopeless idea unless the area is permanently secured. The smaller the area the easier this strategy should be. So start in the small villages and broadcast successes. The people of the towns and villages should also be armed and trained by Pakhtuns already armed and trained in counter-insurgency. Having broadcast the successful freeing of a village from militants, these guerrilla counter-insurgents should lie in wait for militants returning to take revenge on the newly freed village.

    — To guard against arrogant and indifferent abuses of power by the army, as many Pakhtun commanders as possible should lead the conventional army in the NWFP operations. Special operations should be largely made up of Pakhtuns from the areas in which they fight.

    — Stop killing non-combatants in the areas affected by insurgency. The present curfew policy—shooting curfew-breakers on sight—is an obscenity. Anyone who is not an insurgent and is willing to risk life by breaking the curfew is clearly in urgent need of help, which they should be given. The Punjabi dominated army should be reminded that it is their job to protect, not to kill, non-combatants. This is something the Americans have never understood, for the simple reason that all the wars they have fought in the last 63 years have been in other people’s countries, where they have shown indifference to the deaths and injuries they have inflicted upon the indigenous people. The Pakistani army often behaves as if the NWFP were a foreign country.

    — Deprive the insurgents of their means of communication, both in military and in propaganda terms. Why the army has not jammed the militants’ FM radio, or bombed it out of existence, is beyond me. Radio triangulation is not rocket science.

    — Launch effective and honest information services (radio and television) to counter the propaganda put out by the insurgents, and to inform people isolated by war of what is going on around them (set up a Tribal Broadcasting Network). Set up communication systems so that people within range can call in rapid assistance teams (medical, military, food, information). The people whom the militants terrorise must have good reason not to feel abandoned by the government and the militants must know that their attacks on those people will cost them their lives. The supply of personnel to the militants will dry up if non-combatants feel safe and are not enraged by suffering they perceive to have been caused by the central government.

    — Within the secured areas, undertake intensive, effective, projects that will employ the people and make them self-sufficient. Almost universal literacy could be accomplished within a year at most (in Nicaragua, the Sandanistas changed 85 percent illiteracy to 5 percent in six months, though their population and area was larger). Set up clinics, schools, agricultural advice centres, technical colleges, markets and especially agencies whose job it is to listen to people’s grievances and to seek honest solutions to their problems.

    — Address all the grievances of the local people with impartial courts and jirgas comprised of only trustworthy indigenous people and deprive the bullying intruders of all power and, if necessary, of their ill-gotten property too.

    In my view, these are the necessary, if not sufficient, conditions for a successful reversal in the NWFP of the present militant terror. Of course, if they were implemented, it would mean that the NWFP would become an area in which social justice would truly exist, for the first time in Pakistan. That would not be Valhalla, it would be a miracle.

    The writer has degrees from the Royal College of Art, Oxford University, and the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London. He divides his time between the UK and Pakistan. Email: charlesferndale@yahoo.co.uk

  4. Anonymous said, on February 6, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    The News International – Karachi,Pakistan
    How to reverse the militancy crisis

    Friday, February 06, 2009
    by Charles Ferndale

    A frequent cause of the human animal’s capacity for self-deception is arrogance coupled with wishful thinking. When Robert Gates, the American secretary of defence, said recently something to the effect that America could not afford the money or time to create some sort of Valhalla in the NWFP, if that was what was required to defeat the militancy there, he was deluded by arrogance. Does he think it can be done on the cheap, according to America’s timetable?

    Valhalla, in Norse mythology, is a great hall to which half of those who die in battle go and where they then live in peace. I doubt that Gates had read up on his Norse mythology. What he intended to say was that America could not afford to create an ideal land in the NWFP just to put an end to the militancy there. But what Mr Gates failed to realise is that, in the troubled areas of Pakistan, paradise is having something to eat, is not freezing to death, is not having one’s family killed and injured, is not having one’s home destroyed; in short, is not being terrorised. And Mr Gates seems to have overlooked the fact that this tragedy is a direct consequence of American foreign policy since 1977. Since the Americans made the dreadful mess, they should pay to have it cleaned up.

    Mr Gates should make up his mind whether or not the present American administration wants seriously to help defeat the militants. Successive US administrations have claimed that defeating the militants is vital for the security of the rest of the world, so presumably they should be deeply committed to that end. Pakistan can certainly not afford to do what is necessary alone. If the Americans really do want victory over the militants, then they must do whatever it takes.

    Here is what I think is the minimum that must be done in order to defeat the militants:

    — The Americans should guarantee Pakistan against any first attack from India, so that the Pakistani Army can concentrate fully on the troubles on its western border.

    — The militants’ sources of finance should be discovered and stopped. No insurgency can survive without a continuous supply of money. If, as many Pakistanis believe, a major source of funds is the Indian intelligence agency, RAW, then America must make India an offer they cannot refuse.

    — The resupply of arms must be stopped by whatever means it takes.

    — Anyone who has studied guerrilla warfare will know that the single most powerful weapon that can be used against insurgents is inside knowledge, so the militants must be infiltrated. They are too smart and too closed a society to be infiltrated from outside, so their own people should be induced by whatever means it takes—one of which is money—to inform on their colleagues.

    — Whatever information is gained from infiltration of the insurgents must not be allowed to leak back to the insurgents, which, given the supposed sympathy for militancy within the ISI, cannot be guaranteed except by setting up sealed cells within the intelligence services.

    — A study of successful counter-insurgencies shows that conventional armies do not do well against insurgents. What is needed is undercover special forces who are as hard to detect as are the insurgents. The Pakistani Army has little experience in this type of warfare, so they should find those who do and get them to train the Pakhtuns as a counter-insurgency guerrilla force. The trainers could be sympathetic Mujahideen who fought the Russians, Vietnamese who defeated the Americans, the mountain warfare sections of the British Marines and the British SAS, the Canadians, and so on.

    — Chairman Mao, the great Chinese insurgent, said that guerrilla fighters are fish that swim in the sea of the people. Take away the cover of the people among whom they hide and they become fish out of water. The only effective way to do this is to take back and secure, permanently against re-incursion, every village and town in which the insurgents seek cover, food, medical care and resupply. America’s record in Vietnam for successfully doing this was bad; maybe the Pakistanis, especially well trained Pakhtuns, can do a better job because they are of the people.

    — With villages and towns permanently secured, the damage done by the army and militants can be undone, and people can return to nearly normal life in the sure knowledge that they will not be killed by the army or militants later. Putting guards on schools so as to lure back girl students is a hopeless idea unless the area is permanently secured. The smaller the area the easier this strategy should be. So start in the small villages and broadcast successes. The people of the towns and villages should also be armed and trained by Pakhtuns already armed and trained in counter-insurgency. Having broadcast the successful freeing of a village from militants, these guerrilla counter-insurgents should lie in wait for militants returning to take revenge on the newly freed village.

    — To guard against arrogant and indifferent abuses of power by the army, as many Pakhtun commanders as possible should lead the conventional army in the NWFP operations. Special operations should be largely made up of Pakhtuns from the areas in which they fight.

    — Stop killing non-combatants in the areas affected by insurgency. The present curfew policy—shooting curfew-breakers on sight—is an obscenity. Anyone who is not an insurgent and is willing to risk life by breaking the curfew is clearly in urgent need of help, which they should be given. The Punjabi dominated army should be reminded that it is their job to protect, not to kill, non-combatants. This is something the Americans have never understood, for the simple reason that all the wars they have fought in the last 63 years have been in other people’s countries, where they have shown indifference to the deaths and injuries they have inflicted upon the indigenous people. The Pakistani army often behaves as if the NWFP were a foreign country.

    — Deprive the insurgents of their means of communication, both in military and in propaganda terms. Why the army has not jammed the militants’ FM radio, or bombed it out of existence, is beyond me. Radio triangulation is not rocket science.

    — Launch effective and honest information services (radio and television) to counter the propaganda put out by the insurgents, and to inform people isolated by war of what is going on around them (set up a Tribal Broadcasting Network). Set up communication systems so that people within range can call in rapid assistance teams (medical, military, food, information). The people whom the militants terrorise must have good reason not to feel abandoned by the government and the militants must know that their attacks on those people will cost them their lives. The supply of personnel to the militants will dry up if non-combatants feel safe and are not enraged by suffering they perceive to have been caused by the central government.

    — Within the secured areas, undertake intensive, effective, projects that will employ the people and make them self-sufficient. Almost universal literacy could be accomplished within a year at most (in Nicaragua, the Sandanistas changed 85 percent illiteracy to 5 percent in six months, though their population and area was larger). Set up clinics, schools, agricultural advice centres, technical colleges, markets and especially agencies whose job it is to listen to people’s grievances and to seek honest solutions to their problems.

    — Address all the grievances of the local people with impartial courts and jirgas comprised of only trustworthy indigenous people and deprive the bullying intruders of all power and, if necessary, of their ill-gotten property too.

    In my view, these are the necessary, if not sufficient, conditions for a successful reversal in the NWFP of the present militant terror. Of course, if they were implemented, it would mean that the NWFP would become an area in which social justice would truly exist, for the first time in Pakistan. That would not be Valhalla, it would be a miracle.

    The writer has degrees from the Royal College of Art, Oxford University, and the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London. He divides his time between the UK and Pakistan. Email: charlesferndale@yahoo.co.uk

  5. Anonymous said, on February 7, 2009 at 6:09 am

    Frontier Post, Pakistan

    Saturday,February 07, 2009

    Why not Pakhtunkhwa

    Mahabat Khan Bangash Peshawar bangash_mahabat@yahoo.com

    Dear Mr. Mahabat Khan Bangash,

    I refer to your letter and with respect will point out that although the ANP does NOT have my vote,

    to be fair to them, they have always sought a name change for NWFP, have stated this in their election manifesto and the people of the NWFP voted them into power.

    Therefore, they do have the consent of the people of the NWFP.

    Now that they are in power, they must deliver what the Provincial Assembly agreed upon.

    With regards to the safety of life and honour of the Pakhtuns, which is the dire need of the hour,

    they are doing what they can and I don’t see the connection of this to the name change,

    perhaps you will take a minute to educate me on this.

    Also, the security apparatus is in the hands of the army which is in the hands of the Punjabis.

    Can all the problems ever be solved for the name change to wait for?


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