Taliban are Pakistan Army proxies, not Pashtun nationalists – by Farhat Taj

Taliban are Pak Army proxies, not Pashtun nationalists – I

Taliban, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, are an attempt to wipe out entho-nationalism among the Pashtun and temper with the Pashtun cultural identity

Insight By Farhat Taj

One of the media and academia’s axiomatic constructions about Pashtun is that Taliban are Pashtun nationalists. This construction is based on distorted one-sided information and selective references to the Pashtun history that too are misrepresented to concur with the notion that Taliban are Pashtun nationalists. Drawing upon the current Pashtun ground realities and history, I will argue that Taliban, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, are mere proxies of the Pakistani state to wipe out forces of entho-nationalism among the Pashtun as well as temper with Pashtun cultural identity on both sides of the Durand line in the state pursuit of the foreign and domestic policy objectives set and controlled by the military establishment of Pakistan.

Let me say on the outset that the Pashtun experience of having been assaulted with state proxies in garb of religion is not new. In the past the Mughal and the British states have done the same in order to force the Pashtun to behave in line with the states’ strategic interests. There are basically three big pan Pashtun nationalist movements in the Pashtun history. All the three movements were perceived as clashing with the contemporary states’ interests. Thus all the three were assaulted with states’ proxies and propaganda skillfully camouflaged with religion.

The first movement was initiated by mystic, Bayazeed Ansari, from Kaniguram, South Waziristan. He was called ‘Pir-Rooshan’ (the saint of light) by his followers. He lived during the reign of the Mughal Indian Emperor Jalaludin Akbar (1542-1605). The Mughal emperor imposed a ban on him and his followers. Above all the supposedly secular Mughal ruler, Akbar, tasked mullahs to launch a politically-motivated religious campaign against the teachings of Pir-Rooshan. Prominent among the those mullahs are Akhund Darveza (a mullah of Tajik origin) and another Pir Ali Tirmizi (of Uzbek origin). These two state sponsored mullahs declared him Peer-Tareek (the saint of darkness) and assaulted his movement with a sustained malicious propaganda apparently rooted in Islam.

The second Pashtun nationalist movement was launched and led by Khushal Khan Khattak, well-known Pashtun poet, political leader and warrior. The nationalist movement led by him was fully supported by two other influential Pashtun tribal leaders, Darya Khan in Khyber agency and Aimal Khan in Mohmand agency. Arguably, Khushal Khan can be regarded as the founder of modern Pashtun nationalism. For the ethno-nationalist inspiration of future generations of Pashtun, Khushal Khan, also known as lord of pen, has left volumes of his Pashto poetry that is full of Pashtun nationalistic motivation, aim and expression. In one of his well-known couplets, he says this: ‘Drast Pashtun la Kandahara tar Attoca sara yo da nang pa kar pat ao ashkar, pa yowa zhaba wail sara Pashto kro walay nashoo la yo bal khabardar’ ( All Pashtun from Qandahar to Attock speak Pashto language (and) are (socio-culturally) one and the same, but are (politically) oblivion to one another). Khushal Khan’s movement was suppressed by the most bigoted Mughal ruler of India, Aurangzeb Alamgir (1618-1707). One of the Khushal Khan’s couplets in which he condemns the Mugahl ruler’s atrocities is this in. ‘Che pa noom Pakhtanay ghuseegi pray khawkheegi, Aurangzeb dasay badshah de da Islam’ (He (Aurangzeb) derives pleasure from massacre of Pashtun, such is Aurangzeb’s kingdom of Islam).

The third great Pashtun nationalist movement was launched by Khan Ghafar Khan, popularly known as Bacha Khan. A prominent difference between Khushal Khan and Bacha Khan is that the former ran his movement with sword in form of armed struggle against the Mugahl army led by a fanatic Muslim ruler and the latter’s movement was non-violent. Essentially, Bacha Khan’s movement was for mass-scale social reformations in the Pashtun society in order to cleanse it from socio-cultural practices that hindered wide spread human development in the society, such as revenge or the inhibition towards modern education.

The British-Indian and the successor Pakistan states used religious proxies to oppress Bacha Khan’s movement. Wali Khan’s book, Facts are Facts, contains interesting research about the role of mullahs against the Pashtun nationalist movement under the British Raj. Both the British-Indian and the Pakistani states never allowed Bacha Khan to enter the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) although despite all the states’ opposition, his movement did inspire countless people across FATA, including many parents who sent their children to the schools established by Bacha Khan in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa areas on the border with FATA.

Linked with Bacha Khan’s movement was the mass scale social reform and state building agendas of Amanullah Khan, the great Pashtun King of Afghanistan (1919-1929). The king made arrangements for compulsory education for all Afghans and gave right to vote to women. Pashto was declared the official language of Afghanistan. He began to build a strong Afghan armed force, including the air force with help of the Russians, and initiated a process of industrialization. He tasked the Russians to build a road linking Tashkand with Kabul and Khyber agency in FATA. The king regularly used to read Pakhtun, a Pashto language magazine launched by Bacha Khan, and used to advise other people in Afghanistan to do so. The Pashtun, although divided by the British drawn artificial Durand Line, had turned their faces towards progress, development and ethno-national unity.

All this was too much for the British rulers of India to bear because it was happening in the area that the British had assumed their buffer zones vis-a-vis Russia. Their first buffer zone, Afghanistan, and their second buffer zone, FATA, along with the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (formally NWFP) seemed going out of the British control coupled with a possible tilt towards the Russians. The British had to act to eliminate the reforms undertaken on both sides of the Durand Line. The British knew they could not do it militarily. It could have brought the British face to face with the Russians that the British never wanted. Secondly, the harsh experiences of the three Afghan wars had taught them that military intervention in Afghanistan is pointless. Thus they unleashed mullahs on Bacha Khan and King Amanullah Khan to rob their reform agendas of religious legitimacy. In case of the king the British lowered themselves to such an extent they made fake photos of his wife, Queen Soraya, showing her half naked. The photos were distributed in Afghanistan with the malicious propaganda that the king is not a Muslim in his personal and political life and hence cannot be king of the Pashtun, who are Muslim. Deadly chaos was created in Afghanistan in which Bacha Saqa took power who did with Afghanistan what the ISI backed Taliban did during their reign (1996-2001). Girls’ schools were closed down, Afghan Shias were massacred, the state building agenda was rolled backed and Kabul was ravaged. Similarly, mullahs were also unleashed by the British to discredit Bacha Khan’s movement as well.

King Amanullah Khan’s agenda for social reforms, imposed from above, was very vulnerable to conspiracies by anti-Pashtun forces, who exploited the vulnerability to the full. Contrary to this, Bacha Khan’s movement for social reforms was firmly rooted in people’s confidence that he and his followers had successfully won through direct interaction people in villages and towns. Thus his movement could be never rolled backed despite severe and prolonged oppression by the British-Indian and Pakistani states. Nevertheless, the implantation of the social reforms that both Bacha Khan wanted was thwarted by the successive states’ oppressions. Imagine where the Pashtun as nation would have been today if the reform agendas undertaken on both side of the Durand Line had been carried forward.


Taliban are Pak Army proxies, not Pashtun nationalists – II

The Taliban brutally suppressed everything that represented Afghan or Pashtun national identity. Is it appropriate then to call them Pashtun nationalists?

Opinion By Farhat Taj

Pakistan has been actively pursuing a foreign policy rooted in religious discourse vis-a-vis Afghanistan. This is also because Kabul was pursuing a foreign policy rooted in secular Pashtun ethno-nationalism, including its claims over the Pashtun territory of Pakistan. Secondly, Pakistani army, deeply concerned about its military imbalance vis-a-vis India, does not want a pro-India government in Afghanistan. Thus the nurturing of the Afghan religious figures, displeased by the secular pursuit of the successive governments of Afghanistan, came up as an ideal opportunity in the strategic calculus of the military establishment of Pakistan. Afghan religious figures, including Gulbadin Hikmatyar and Ahmad Shah Masood, were invited to Pakistan where they were trained by Pakistan military’s Special Services Group.

This happened well before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. All those trained religious figures were used as proxies in the war against Soviets in Afghanistan. Several kinds of Afghan groups, such as secular Pashtun nationalists, traditional tribal leaders and religious figures, were ready to resist the Soviet occupation of their country. Pakistan ignored the nationalists and traditional tribal leaders and exclusively supported the Afghan religious forces. The West, which had backed the Afghan resistance against the Soviets, provided military, financial, political and diplomatic assistance to the resistance, but had no physical control over the so-called Afghan Mujahideen. It was only the ISI that exerted the control, including training and flow of funds and weapons to the proxy fighters. It was the time when Pakistani generals, led by dictator Gen Zia, assaulted the Afghan (including Pashtun) identity and Afghan state with their policy of Strategic Depth, an assault that continues to this date in the form of the Taliban.

The Strategic Depth is proactive policy to install an indoctrinated Pashtun-dominated Pakistan-controlled government in Afghanistan that disowns Pashtun/Afghan identity and bans any Indian influence in Kabul. The policy also means strengthening Pakistan’s ties with the Arab world by cutting the country’s cultural roots in Persian and Indian civilizations. This especially includes a systematic tempering with the Pashtun identity to erase the cultural memory of the present and future generations of the Pashtun and replace it with an Arabized identity.

Afghan national identity since the last 1,000 years following the rule of Mahmood of Ghazna (971 -1030) has been strong Afghan Muslim identity, just like the Persian Muslim identity or the Turkish Muslim identity. Both Persians and Turks have thoroughly indigenized Islam. The two nations have firmly evolved peculiar Muslim identities that can be distinctly distinguished from Muslim identities elsewhere in the world, especially the Arab Muslim identity. Over the centuries, the Pashtun did the same with Islam by aligning it with Pashtun traditions and culture.

The military ideologues of the Strategic Depth tempered with the strong Pashtun identity by exaggerating and expanding its Muslim part. They carefully groomed and encouraged the religious extremists and crushed the secular Afghan nationalists who were opposed to Soviet occupation. Above all, they brain washed thousands and thousands of young Afghan refuges in a systematic way in religious schools especially established for the purpose in the refugees camps in Pakistan.

They did not do so out of their love of Islam. If that had been the aim, they would have focused on the universal principles of Islam, such as justice, fair play and public welfare – the principles that can be applied to any society in the world. It was these universal principles of Islam that Bacha Khan Movement was striving to promote in the Pashtun society. Instead, the ideologues of the Strategic Depth indoctrinated young Afghan Pashtun with a narrow, intolerant and violent version of Islam that glorifies a particular archaic version of the Arab tribal culture. The aim was to homogenize the future of Afghanistan by cutting the cultural roots of its people with their history and traditions. In other words the aim was to destroy Afghaniat (Afghanhood), including Pashtun nationalism. One of the Strategic Depth ideologues, Gen (r) Hamid Gul, has said on many occasions that ‘Afghanistan is a blank paper and it would look like whatever we write on it’.

I would like to link this point to something not directly related to our discussion on Taliban and Pashtun nationalism, but still relevant. Some friends from Sindh and Baluchistan are reporting that a network of Sunni extremist madrassas (religious schools) is being set up in the two provinces to damage the secular ethno-nationalist Sindhi and Baloch political forces through religious discourse that is also tempering with the ethnic identities. If so, Sindhi and Baloch nationalists should take it very seriously. Their ethnic identities are enriching parts of human heritage, and they must do whatever they can to stop the anti-civilization indoctrination of their youth in the name of Islam.

Coming back to the issue of Taliban and Pashtun nationalism, Pakistani military ideologues began to implement the agenda of Strategic Depth by importing the Afghan Mujahideen parties they had nurtured on the Pakistani soil to Afghanistan following the withdrawal of the Soviet forces. These outfits were too artificial to deliver. They fragmented very quickly in the rising tide of civil war in Afghanistan. This time round, the military establishment began to support the Taliban.

Rejecting the various stories about the origins of Taliban, the Pashtun nationalists in Pakistan and Afghanistan believe that they were created in 1994 by the Afghan Cell of the ISI led by Major General Aziz Khan. Although retired general Nasirullah Babar boasted of his share in the creation of the Taliban, Gen Aziz remained the ‘focal person’ for Taliban in the security establishment of Pakistan almost up till 9/11.

Nationalists all over the world are recognized by their actions, conduct and attitudes that concur with their national identity. Let’s look at the actions, conduct and attitude of the Taliban. What were their first major steps when they entered Kabul in 1996? They banned the Afghan national flag, Afghan national anthem and Nowroz (Afghan New Year) – a five thousand year old festival. Radio Kabul became ‘Voice of Sharia’. Jirga, the most important social institution of Pashtun tribes, was declared anti-Sharia and also banned. The statue of Buddha in Bamian, a symbol of Afghan culture that had remained intact and respected among countless past generations of Afghans, was demolished. Everything that represented Afghan (or Pashtun) national identity was brutally suppressed. Is this the way nationalists treat their national identity? Far from being Pashtun nationalists, the Taliban religiously imposed the Strategic Depth agenda during their rule from 1996 to 2001, destroying Afghan identity and state and making the country a de facto fifth province of Pakistan.

To be continued

Friday Times

Taliban are Pak Army proxies, not Pashtun nationalists – III

In the aftermath of 9/11, Pakistan was forced to fight the Taliban. Pakistani generals accommodated the immediate US concerns about Al Qaeda but also continued a low profile relationship with the Afghan Taliban to preserve them for strategic depth in Afghanistan after the US had left the country. They managed to play the double role by creating a ‘managed chaos’ in FATA that made the region too insure for independent observation from the outside and too frightening for the local tribal people to share information with the outside world. It was systematically propagated in Pakistani media that ‘fiercely autonomous’ tribes in the ‘weakly governed’ FATA have given refuge in line with the code of Pashtunwali to the fleeing militants from Afghanistan in defiance of the Pakistani state. All this is utter nonsense.

Not even a single tribe in FATA gave refugee to any militants. People who cooperated with the militants were individuals within tribes. These individuals have longstanding links with the military establishments and their tribes have no control over them. For example, Maulana Noor Muhammad from South Waziristan was openly urging the tribes in his Friday sermons to support the militants following their escape in the area.

South Waziristan was the first FATA agency where the ‘managed chaos’ was imposed to construct a fake popular support for the militants. While most people watched the activities of the militants as unconcerned bystanders, it were the local Waziri Pashtun nationalists and other sensible local tribal people who foresaw the danger in such activities and began to educate people about them. At this point mysterious targeted killing of such anti-Taliban people began in 2003. The first anti-Taliban tribesman who was target killed in 2003 was Farooq Wazir, the local leader of the Pashtun nationalist Pashtunkhwa Mili Awami Party, PMAP, who had publicly declared in response to Maulana Noor Muhammad’s sermons that no militants will be allowed to enter the city centre of Wana, capital of South Waziristan.

Between 2003 to 2007, over 200 political activists, including tribal leaders in South Waziristan were target killed under mysterious circumstances never investigated by the government of Pakistan. The common denominator among them is that they all were anti-Taliban. Their families hold the ISI responsible for their killing. Many of the eliminated anti-Taliban people were local activist of Pashtun nationalist political parties, PMAP and ANP. Mahmud Achakzai, leader of PMAP, repeatedly visited Waziristan to attend the funeral ceremonies of his assassinated party workers.

When the ‘managed chaos’ had to be shifted to the Mehsud area of South Waziristan, the intelligence authorities could not even find a suitable local Mehsud to ‘crown’ as Taliban commander. Thus a non-local Mehsud, Baitullah Mehsud, was chosen for the purpose on the recommendation of Maulana Mirajudin, an establishment linked Mehsud cleric. Although originally from South Waziristan, Baituallah’s family had settled in Bannu for a long time. At the time of his arrival in South Waziristan as a Taliban commander, Baitullah could not even speak Pashto in the typical Mehsud dialect. He used to speak Banuchi – the Bannu Pashto dialect. Later during his stay in Waziristan as a terror leader he learned the Mehsud dialect.

Taliban apologists, such as PTI leader Imran Khan, have been claiming that Taliban militancy in Waziristan is inspired by Faqir of Ipi, the Waziri tribesman who led Waziristan’s armed resistance to the British. This is a misleading claim. The Faqir’s struggle was basically nationalist despite his religious orientation. This is the reason that descendents of the Faqir’s family have disassociated themselves from the Taliban militancy, implying that Taliban have no ideological connections with the Faqir. Moreover, descendents of the close associates of the Faqir, all of them Pashtun nationalists linked with PMAP and ANP, have been target killed for their public anti-Taliban stance. One of them, Mirza Alam had been approached by the military authorities in Wana to give them one of his sons or nephews for leadership of the Waziri Taliban. He refused and later was killed along with six members of his family.

In North Waziristan, unlike South Waziristan, there was almost no local resistance to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. This does not imply any popular tribal support for the militants. The brutal massacre of the anti-Taliban people in South Waziristan was being closely watched in the neighbouring North Waziristan. By the time the militants reached North Waziristan, people there had clear idea that resistance to Taliban/Al Qaeda was pointless since the state is behind them. That was further confirmed when they saw that Jalaludin Haqqani hosted all the militants. Thus the militants landed and continue to live there in peace amid the terrified local tribals whose free will is under siege.

A Pashtun from Afghanistan, Jalaludin Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani Network, is one of the veterans of ISI’s proxies, who were recruited in 1974 and later trained by colonel Imam in Peshawar for Afghan ‘jihad’. He was settled in Danday Darpa Khel, a village in the suburbs of Mir Ali, the second important town of North Waziristan. His extended family owns almost half of the real estate in Mir Ali. A signal phone call from his house or madrassa is enough to ensure postings and transfers in all government offices in North Waziristan. Also, the Haqqani family has houses in Rawalpindi and Peshawar.

The Haqqani network based in North Waziristan, a frequent target of the US drone strikes, is the most formidable Taliban group attacking the US and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. It is the Haqqani Taliban leaders that the military establishment of Pakistan wants to accommodate in the future government of Afghanistan as has been suggested by the establishment linked think tank, Jinnah Institute, in its report ‘Pakistan, US and the Endgame in Afghanistan’ (page 13). The same report warns of Pashtun backlash in FATA if the Taliban are not accommodated in power in Afghanistan. But there is no public support for Afghan Taliban in FATA that could translate in such a backlash. Although the ISI did try to create that support, it failed.

For example, the ISI tried to create a stature for the Haqqanis as respected tribal leaders in FATA. They were directed to make peace among the Shia and Sunni tribes in Kurram. The objective was to argue to the world that Haqqanis are respected tribal leaders who have managed to make peace among the Shia and Sunni tribals, something that even the government of Pakistan had not been able to achieve. Thus any action against the Haqqani Network, that the US is asking for, would enrage the ‘fiercely autonomous’ people of FATA.

The Shia and Sunni tribal leaders questioned the wak (authority) of the Haqqanis to negotiate Kurram disputes. The Haqqanis responded that they were directed by the ISI. They demanded full authority from the tribal leaders for a peace deal. The Shias flatly refused. The Sunnis gave them the authority that practically means no authority: they asked the Haqqanis to use their influence with the ISI to implement the Murree agreement negotiated between the Kurram Shias and Sunnis by the government of Pakistan in 2008 but never enforced.

In the past, Kurram has been accepting mediation from Waziristan. Khandan Mehsud, a respectable tribal elder from Waziristan target killed in the post 9/11 Waziristan due to his opposition to the Taliban, has been leading the negotiations. Why did tribes of Kurram welcome Khandan Mehsud but not the Haqqanis? This is because the Mehsud had the stature of a popular tribal leader in FATA that the Haqqanis simply do not have. The fact that Mehsud belonged to the Sunni sect never damaged the Shias’ trust in him. In this context he was a Pashtun nationalist who sincerely worked for well being of the Pashtun regardless their religious affiliations. Contrary to this, the Shias see the Haqanis as their murderers and the Sunnis fear, not respect, them. This is not how popular nationalist leaders are looked upon by their people.

To be continued


Taliban are Pak Army proxies, not Pashtun nationalists – IV

TThose who insist that Taliban are Pashtun nationalists claim that Pashtun tribes have historically preferred to be led by religious figures (mullahs) rather than their traditional tribal leaders in the event of a foreign invasion. They specifically refer to the Pashtun tribal resistance in FATA led by religious leaders against the colonial British-Indian government, and conclude that the present-day Taliban terrorism rooted in religious discourse is an indigenous and popular Pashtun resistance to a foreign invasion. The Taliban, we are told, are Pashtun nationalists that the world must deal with as true sons of the Pashtun soil, rather than outright terrorists who no human society could accommodate.

The way the Taliban are being associated with the Pashtun history and the current popular Pashtun will implies that there are no non-Pashtun Taliban in Pakistan Afghanistan, and that the Taliban outfits exclusively draw its leaders and foot soldiers from the Pashtun ethnic group.

If the tribes had been so universally anti-British, why would the British-Indian state entrust them with guarding one of its vital buffer zones, FATA, from Russian intervention?
Such authors also seem to imply that from the Pashtun perspective, a foreign invader always means a non-Muslim invader. Thus the entire narrative presents a homogeneous picture of the wider Pashtun society (a large complicated patchwork of tribes, sub-tribes, clans and sub-clans) that is devoid of internal dissent, contestation and ambiguity that can be expected in any human society in the world. On one hand they claim that the Pashtun are fiercely independent, and on the other hand they assume absolute unanimity of opinion among the ‘fiercely independent’ people in terms of their response to foreign states. This entire narrative is highly misleading.

The fact is that the Pashtun tribes have never made any distinction between a foreign Muslim and foreign non-Muslim invader and have resisted both with equal vigour. Khushal Khan Khattak, Darya Khan and Aimal Khan, all historic symbols of Pashtun nationalism, had put forward a long armed resistance to the occupation of the Pashtun land by the Muslim Mughal army led by the most ‘poise’ Mughal ruler of India, Aurangzeb Alamgir. Neither Khushal Khan nor Darya Khan and Aimal Khan were mullahs.

In the 19th century, foreign fanatic Indian Muslims led by Syed Ahmad Barelvi, also an Indian Islamist, came to ‘Islamize’ the Pashtun tribes against their wishes and their socio-cultural norms. The Yousafzai tribal leaders had a grand jirga that concluded that there was no way to get rid of the ‘Indian Mujahideen’ and their ‘Islam’ but to massacre them all. In pursuit of the jirga’s decision, the Yousafzai tribesmen attacked the mujahideen killing several of them. The rest fled to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa town of Balakot where a waiting Sikh army killed each one of them, including their leader. The Yousafzai tribal leaders were not mullahs.

Afridi tribes from Darra Adam Khel cooperated with the British during the 3rd Anglo-Afghan war in 1919
The towering symbol of Pashtun nationalism Samad Khan Achakzai was not a mullah. The secular and democratic Pashtun nationalist movement led by him was linked with the Indian National Congress party’s struggle against the British. The universal symbol of Pashtun nationalism, Bacha Khan, was not a mullah. He resisted the British colonial invasion of the Pashtun land in league with Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent movement against the British in India. Even the mullahs or religious leaders in FATA who put forward armed resistance to the British were basically Pashtun nationalists with religious orientations. Almost all of them had cordial relations with Samad Khan Achakzai and Bacha Khan’s secular ethno-nationalist movements against the British. One of the religious leaders, Haji Turangzai, was so close to Bacha Khan that some contemporary British officers even thought that he was father-in-law of Bacha Khan, which is untrue. None of the religious leaders in FATA was known to have attacked the activities undertaken by Bacha Khan’s Khudai Khidmatgar movement. They had never attacked the schools in villages and towns established by Bacha Khan. None of them was known to have attacked or even verbally opposed the traditional Pashtun decision-making body, the tribal jirga. Actually, all of them frequently consulted tribal jirgas on matters related to their resistance to the British as well as other matters. They had never attacked women, children, tribal leaders, religious scholars, mosques, weddings and funerals in their armed resistance to the British colonization. They had never banned music and dance, two prominent aspects of the Pashtun culture. In short, their attitude, actions and conduct had been totally different from those of the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan today.

Those who promote such false notions about the Pashtun history also give the impression that the Pashtun struggle against foreign invasions has been devoid of any pragmatism, and that all Pashtun tribes have always been united against all invaders. The fact is that the tribes’ responses to the foreign invaders have been pragmatic, including interactive cooperation with the invaders.

Minus a few eventful encounters between the British and the Afridi tribes in Darra Adam Khel – such as the Afridi snatching of the British rifles and the killing of a British officer and kidnapping of another British officer’s daughter by a group of Afridi tribesmen – the tribes in Darra Adam Khel remained cooperative towards the British. Following an agreement with the tribes, the British built Kohat-pass road through the Afridi territory, a vital British link to Afghanistan. Contrary to several other tribes, the Darra Afridi tribes cooperated with the British during the 3rd Anglo-Afghan war in 1919, the third British colonial invasion of Afghanistan. Pashtun Shia tribes in Kurram even went a step further. Due to their differences with the then government of Afghanistan, they invited the British to take control of their area. The British accepted the invitation by taking over the administration of Kurram Agency in 1890. Several tribes across FATA entered in agreements with the British-Indian governments to receive allowance from the government in lieu of their cooperation with the British authorities.

Moreover, countless Pashtun tribesmen across various tribes joined the British imperial army. During the second war many of the tribal soldiers were sent by the British on war fronts in Asia and Africa. Many of them died fighting for the British. Similarly, the tribesmen also joined the Khasadar forces, the tribal police force raised by the British for assistance of the civil administration in FATA. Also, the British established two paramilitary forces, Frontier Corps and Frontier Constabulary. Both the FCs exclusively draw their ranks and files from the Pashtun tribes on the eastern side of the Durand Line. If the tribes had been so universally anti-British, as portrayed in the war on terror literature, why would the British-Indian state entrust the FCs, composed of Pashtun soldiers, to guard one of its vital buffer zones, FATA, from Russian intervention as well as ‘anti-state’ activities of some of the tribal people. Commenting on the relatively low numerical strength of Orakzai tribesmen in the British military, a colonial author, White King, says this in his contemporary book The Orakzai Country and Clans: “The paucity of Orakzais in the native ranks (of the military) is not due to any distaste for service, but to the fact that few regiments enlist them (Orakzai tribesmen), either because it is against the rules to do so or because their soldierly qualities are not properly appreciated… I am led to believe that there is no difficulty in recruiting Orakzais (tribesmen in the military), and more could easily be enlisted, if required (by the British-Indian government” (pp 126-127).

In short, the narrative in the media and the academia that depicts the Taliban as a manifestation of the continuation of the Pashtun history of resistance to foreign invasions contradict the history.

To be continued


Taliban are Pak Army proxies, not Pashtun nationalists – V

LLet us put faces on the Pashtun nationalists and Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan to clearly pin down who is who. Pashtun nationalists both in Pakistan and Afghanistan are those who have suffered atrocities and gross human rights violations at the hands of the Taliban who they strongly believe are proxies of the Pakistani military establishment.

In Pakistani context, they first and foremost include two political parties – ANP and PMAP. Both parties, especially the ANP, have lost hundreds of workers and middle level leaders in targeted killings by the Taliban. The two parties have to function under constant death threats. Pashtun nationalists also include more than 1,000 popular and well respected tribal leaders, many of them linked with the ANP and PMAP, all over FATA who were assassinated due to their stiff resistance, including armed struggle, against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas.

All Pashtun people who carry on with their routine lives despite constant Taliban threats are Pashtun nationalists
The entire Salarzai tribe in Bajaur is Pashtun nationalist, because it has successfully resisted, without any state support, the Taliban infiltration in its area. The tribe has tremendously suffered in terms of human and military losses in their armed anti-Taliban resistance – a resistance that they say is constantly burdened by the direct state backing for the Taliban.

The entire mixed Sunni-Shia Ali Khel tribe in Orakzai is Pashtun nationalist. They evicted the Taliban from their area by force and in response the tribe was punished by a suicide attack that eliminated its entire leadership – over 100 tribal leaders who were leading the anti-Taliban lashkar of the tribe. This tribe also accuses the state of backing the Taliban.

The Shia tribes in Kurram are Pashtun nationalists. They have refused to allow safe passages to the Haqqani network, the establishment’s favorite Taliban, for attacks inside Afghanistan. Everyone knows how much the Shias have been punished for this defiance of the establishment. There are countless examples that demonstrate how stiffly the local people in FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa resisted the Taliban and how much the state betrayed them by extending support to the Taliban.

Generally, the term ‘Pashtun nationalist’ can also be loosely applied to include all people who disagree with Taliban’s action, conduct, attitude and policy, although they may not have directly suffered any Taliban atrocities for their anti-Taliban views. In other words, these are the people who concur with the anti-Taliban stance adopted by the ANP and PMAP even though many of them may not be directly linked with the parties. By this yardstick, all the people of Malakand who are not shedding tears after the end of Taliban rule in their area are Pashtun nationalists.

Countless people of FATA who have preferred to suffer in internal displacement rather than joining the Taliban despite the good salaries are Pashtun nationalists. Also, all tribal Sikhs who directly or indirectly suffered Taliban atrocities are Pashtun nationalists. The Shia tribes in Orakzai who gave refuge to some of the internally displaced tribal Sikhs from Khyber and Orakzai are Pashtun nationalists.

Pashtun writers, intellectuals and socio-political activists, such as the people linked with the Amn Tehrik, are Pashtun nationalists. Amn Tehrik passed the Peshawar Declaration in a grand tribal jirga that identifies the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan as the proxies of the Pakistani generals and underscores that the Pashtun on both sides of the Durand Line are victims of the notion of strategic depth as well as Al Qaeda’s pan-Islamism. The Amn Tehrik is the first civil society group in Pakistan that held a public demonstration against the establishment’s backed Dafa-e-Pakistan Council. All students and teachers in FATA and Khyber-Pakhtun who have defied the Taliban threats to schools by continuing educational activities one way or the other are Pashtun nationalists. All musicians who have not given up their love of music despite the Taliban threats or have been killed by the Taliban for singing are Pashtun nationalists. Last but not the least, Pashtun nationalists are the countless local human rights activists who continued their activities despite serious Taliban threats to their lives. Many of them were target killed by the Taliban. One such activist is Zarteef Khan Afridi of Khyber Agency, who was killed some months ago.

In Afghanistan, Pashtun nationalists are people linked with the Afghan Millat Party, a Pashtun nationalist party that is more or less like the ANP in Pakistan. Afghan Pashtun nationalists are also the people who subscribe to the ideologies of the former Khalaq and Parcham political parties of Afghanistan. Generally, Pashtun tribal leaders in Afghanistan can be also regarded as Pashtun nationalists. It should be noted that many, if not all, of the tribal leaders could also be seen as the pro-Afghan establishment. This implies that they are likely to back the government of Afghanistan regardless of who is leading the government. This does not automatically imply that they would support any future Taliban power setup in Kabul. One must not forget that one of the first Taliban assaults have always come against the tribal leaders. In addition to that, just like the popular tribal leaders in Pakistan, many leading Afghan Pashtun tribal leaders have also been target killed by the Taliban due to their public anti-Taliban stance. Such leaders include Zahid Zadran and Malik Mudar Khan in Khost, Abdul Rasheed and Meran Gul in Paktia, Zareef Khan, Shaista Khan and Juma Khan in Paktika, and Haji Qalander Khan and Ali Ahmad Khan in Qandahar.

The Pashtun people in post 9/11 Afghanistan have organized themselves in many small or large civil society organizations. Almost all of these are anti-Taliban, as can be seen in their public statements and activities. Pashtun MPs in the Afghan parliament have been making anti-Taliban as well as anti-ISI speeches in the parliament. Generally, just like the Pashtun in Pakistan, all Afghan Pashtun who carry on with their routine lives despite constant Taliban threats are Pashtun nationalists.

Two things must be noted here. One, no Pashtun nationalists from Afghanistan or Pakistan are fighting the US, NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan or Pakistan army and also the nationalists are not involved in any attacks on civilians in both countries. Two, the Pashtun nationalists do not see the presence of the US and NATO forces as a foreign occupation of Afghanistan. Instead they see Pakistan and Iran as foreign aggressors and invaders. They believe that both countries, especially Pakistan, have devastated Afghanistan, its people, culture and the Afghan state. Thus the Afghan soil, in their view, needs to be protected from Pakistan and Iran at all costs, including a military cooperation with non-Muslim powers, such US, NATO or Indian forces. This view is thoroughly in line with the Pashtun history. In the past, the Pashtun had confronted foreign Muslim aggressions. In response they entered into interactive cooperation with foreign non-Muslim powers to deal with the Muslim invaders.

To be continued


Taliban are Pak Army proxies, not Pashtun nationalists – VI

There are three groups of Pashtuns fighting the US/NATO and Afghan security forces in Afghanistan – the Peshawar Shura led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the North Waziristan based Haqqani Network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, and the Quetta Shura led by Mullah Omar. All three of them are closely linked with the military establishment of Pakistan.

A section of Hekmatyar’s party has already given up violence and is part of the current Afghan government and parliament. Many of the remaining prominent party leaders are frustrated with Hekmatyar’s rigid stance and have privately said they are willing to give up violence for a peaceful political process.

Hekmatyar’s son in law Ghairat Baheer has recently met Afghan President Hamid Karzai to speed up the process of peaceful political settlement in Afghanistan. The group is therefore likely to have a role in Afghanistan’s future political set-up. But that cannot be said about the other two groups.

The Haqqani Network is led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, but its operations are controlled by his son Sirajuddin Haqqani. The group has attacked US, NATO and Afghan forces, and is also accused of attacking Afghan civilians and development workers sent by India to help rebuild the Afghan infrastructure. The US accuses Pakistan of supporting the Haqqani Network and using it as a tool in Afghanistan.

Peshawar Corps Commander Lt Gen Khalid Rabbani said last month that Pakistan Army had conducted more than 1,000 military operations in FATA in 2009 and 2010. Pakistan’s Air Force chief had reportedly said in Dubai that more than 10,600 bombs have been dropped on FATA since 2008. But no leading Taliban commanders have been captured or killed in FATA during this period. Those in FATA who are critical of the military establishment say Taliban are not captured or killed, but handed over to leaders of the Haqqani Network.

And while most of the media attention is on Waziristan, a lot of jihadi activities are taking place in the Pashtun belt in Baluchistan. NATO commanders have repeatedly described the area as major command centre for expanding cross-border attacks on the US/NATO and Afghans forces. The Quetta Shura have also been accused of targeted killings of Pashtun tribal leaders and clerics who advocated against Taliban militancy in Pashtun villages in Afghanistan.

Mao Tse-tung once said that guerrilla freedom fighters must live among their people as fish swim in the sea. History shows that almost all genuine guerrilla fighters have come back to fight the foreign aggression amid their people with their help after necessary training abroad. If the Afghan Taliban are so confident of the Pashtun public support in Afghanistan, why don’t they go back to Afghanistan and fight the US/NATO forces with the public support? Why do they sneak in, strike and run back?

In fact Afghans, both Pashtun and non-Pashtun, accuse Pakistan and more specifically the Punjabis of nurturing the insurgents in Afghanistan. Many of the Pashtun in FATA also accuse Pakistan Army of backing the Taliban or not supporting local anti-Taliban forces. Just because the Pakistani media is not showing Pashtun anger does not mean it does not exist on the ground.

The Pashtun nationalists and generally all other anti-Taliban Pashtun from all socio-economic statuses and statures in Afghanistan and Pakistan are well known people in their communities. Their names, faces, addresses, and tribal or family affiliations are there for the whole world to see. They stand firmly on their native soil in the face of Taliban atrocities. Contrary to this, most of the Taliban commanders and foot soldiers do not even show their masked faces in public. The Pashtun people do not even know who is behind those masks – Punjabis, Arabs, Uzbeks, culturally uprooted Muslim immigrant terrorists from the Western countries, or Pashtun outlaws?

Most of the Pakistani Taliban also do not operate in the areas they claim to belong to or represent. The popularity of Mullah Omar, the Haqqanis, Gul Bahader, Mullah Nazir and Mullah Faqir is a myth perpetuated by incompetent researchers. The same analysts had said Mullah Fazlullah was popular in Swat. But the locals welcomed his ouster. Now that he is gone, nobody is protesting. And if Pakistan stops backing other Afghan and Pakistani Taliban commanders, no Pashtuns will protest.




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