Tuesday, February 08, 2011



Sushant Sareen

    For a country that never tires championing the cause of Afghan Pashtuns and eulogising the valour and traditions of Pakistani Pashtuns, the warped strategic vision of the national security state structure of Pakistan has inflicted the greatest damage to the identity, society, culture, traditions and most of all, posterity, of the Pashtuns. On the pretext of fighting for their interests, the Punjabi dominated Pakistani establishment has systematically reduced a once proud Pashtun community into pawns on the strategic chess-board.

Since 1947, either by design or by default, the policy framework adopted by the Pakistani establishment has only recognised either ultra-conservative Muslim nationalists or radical Islamists as the 'sole spokesmen' of the Pashtuns. Take for instance the Taliban: it is not the Pashtun ethnicity of the Taliban that makes Pakistan support them; it is the Islamist ideology of the Taliban - an ideology that rejects ethnic identity – that has so endeared the Taliban to the Pakistani establishment. In other words, Pakistan is backing the Taliban not so much because they represent Pashtun nationalism but because they reject Pashtun nationalism, which since Partition has been a bugbear of the Punjabi dominated Pakistani establishment. In the Pakistani scheme of things, anything that emphasizes Pashtun identity, culture, language, traditions must be suppressed or metamorphosed to serve the Punjab determined interests of Pakistan.

    It is in large part for this reason why the Pakistanis kept the Pashtun Tribal belt as a sort of anthropological zoo where the social, cultural, educational and political development of the people remained medieval even as adjoining areas – the so-called 'settled areas' – showed some semblance of modernity. To an extent, this Pakistani policy of making FATA into a 'reservation' gained legitimacy from the needless romanticization of Pashtun tribalism by the British who portrayed the Pashtuns as free-spirited, noble savages who lived by their own code of ethics and tolerated no attempt to curb their autonomy, much less their independence. The natural consequence of letting FATA become the 'wild west' of Pakistan was that it remained under-developed, under-educated and under-represented. Among the worst sufferers were women who were treated no better than chattels.

With no economic activity worth the name, FATA transformed into a haven for criminals from all over Pakistan who sought refuge in this area and conducted their nefarious trade – smuggling, gun-running, narcotics, kidnapping, car theft etc – with complete impunity. Administratively, FATA was a dark zone lorded over by a rapacious and unaccountable local bureaucracy that trampled human rights of the people under the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation. By not allowing political parties to operate in FATA, the Pakistani establishment sought to depoliticize the region. The vacuum thus created was filled by the nexus between the mafia and the mullah, which suited the Pakistani establishment perfectly as it allowed the exploitation of the Pashtun tribesmen as cannon fodder for the various misadventures of the Pakistani state, starting with the 'tribal invasion' of Jammu and Kashmir in 1947 and culminating with the rise of the Taliban in the 1990's.

The policies of the Pakistani establishment, or what a Pakistani columnist calls 'deep state', were equally pernicious in the so-called 'settled areas' – the province of NWFP which has now been renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. From the hounding of the liberal, secular Khudai Khidmatgars to the electoral manipulation that led to the formation of the MMA government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the Pakistani establishment has done everything to push the Pashtun's into the dark ages and sully their image around the world. Even when the ANP and PPP were allowed to form the government, it was more because it suited the interest of the establishment. But circumstances were created to ensure that the ANP-PPP government was unable to function properly because of the insurgency in the province, which led to effective control over the province passing back into the hands of the 'deep state'. In effect, the military operations in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have disenfranchised the Pashtuns.

The effect of the 'deep state's' policies, tactics and strategy on the Afghan Pashtuns has been nothing short of cataclysmic and is epitomised by Pakistan's support for the barbaric Taliban. Pakistan could have changed course after the liberation of Afghanistan from the yoke of the Taliban following 9/11 attacks in the US. But the Pakistani strategists were not ready to let go of their Islamist proxies who they considered as guarantors of their quest for 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan. After allowing the Taliban to recover and regroup for a couple of years after 9/11, Pakistan unleashed them on Afghanistan from around 2004. Needless to say, the brunt of the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan was felt in the Pashtun dominated areas in the south and east of the country. By directing the Taliban attacks on aid and development workers, the Pakistanis were in effect ensuring that the Pashtun belt lagged behind other parts of Afghanistan where reconstruction activity was taking place at a feverish pace.

The deprivation of the Pashtuns was a deliberate policy aimed at enhancing the sense of grievance and alienation among the Pashtuns and introducing a vicious cycle in which terror strikes on development activity led to a halt in reconstruction work, which in turn impaired development of the Pashtun areas and resulted in growing anger among the people who felt they were being marginalised by the non-Pashtun dominated dispensation in Kabul. This anger was exploited by the Taliban to win over support from local communities which led to a further deterioration in the security situation. The Taliban also ensured that all efforts at providing governance in the Pashtun areas came a cropper. The direct impact of the relentless targeting of government officials was to render the administration dysfunctional and the resultant vacuum was filled by the Taliban who set up their own parallel administration for dispensing what they called justice and settling disputes between members of local communities.

The destruction of the schools and denial of education to girls was an essential part of the war on the Pashtun people. The only purpose of attacking the schools was to deny the future generations of Pashtuns even a modicum of secular education that would equip them to walk in step with rest of the world. As far as the Taliban are concerned, the Pashtun children did not need anything more than a grounding in religion through a madrassa education. The fact that madrassa educated Pashtuns could neither compete nor coexist with other ethnic groups is perhaps part of the calculus of denying the Pashtuns a proper education.

At the political level also, the Taliban have ensured the marginalisation of the Pashtuns by coercing them to not participate in the elections. With many Pashtuns not casting their votes in the recently concluded parliamentary polls, candidates belonging to non-Pashtun ethnic groups managed to win even in Pashtun dominated areas. For instance, in Ghazni, the Hazaras managed to win most of the parliamentary seats because of the low voter turnout among the Pashtuns. In the Afghan National Army and Police, all efforts to correct the ethnic imbalance by increasing the Pashtun representation has been stymied by the Taliban and their Pakistani backers who have threatened the Pashtuns with reprisals against their families and communities if they joined the ANA and ANP.

The havoc wrought on the Pashtuns by the Pakistani sponsored and supported Taliban and the systematic infusion of radical Islamist ideology in the Pashtun areas has made every Pashtun a suspect in the eyes of not only other ethnic groups in Afghanistan but also in rest of the world. The Pashtun areas are today seen as a zone of global instability and an epicentre of global terrorism. Ironically, in their compulsive obsession to control the Pashtun politics and prevent any assertion of Pashtun nationalism, Pakistan may have created a situation where regardless of whether the Taliban come to power in Afghanistan or there is the emergence of a Pashtun dominated entity in that country, the ramifications for Pakistan will be extremely serious. The impact of both a radical Islamist Taliban dispensation in Afghanistan or a virtual partition of Afghanistan with a 'Pashtunistan' straddling the border with Pakistan could well lead to the unravelling of the Pakistani state as we know it. The only way to avoid such a development is for Pakistan to end its double game with the Pashtuns and the Americans and allow the emergence of a liberal, progressive and secular Pashtun leadership in Afghanistan, a leadership which is at peace with other ethnic groups inside Afghanistan and is friendly with other countries in the region.


    <1450 Words>                         3rd February, 2011



Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is actually excellent.

Clear bias, but narrated extremely lucidly, and helped by a large measure of truth.

9:05 PM  

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