Rich Arabs in the Middle East are ‘earning’ a place in paradise in the life hereafter through never ending generous donations to the Taliban and the madrassas producing foot soldiers and a jihadi mindset on the Pakhtun land. They do not even care to consider that their ‘pursuit’ of a place in paradise is causing so much death and destruction
This column is about the lack of action of the Pakhtun diaspora on its most important role in the cultural, economic, social and political survival of their ethnic brothers and sisters in their native land. I am referring to generous donations that the Pakhtun diasporic communities in North America, Europe and the Middle East can and should contribute to counter the Taliban and Talibanisation in the Pakhtunkhwa province and FATA. This is the most vital role that the diaspora must play in the war on terror on the Pakhtun land, but so far it has badly failed to deliver in this regard.
I travelled across the Pakhtunkhwa province and in FATA to meet the leaders and members of anti-Taliban peace committees and lashkars (volunteer armies) formed by the peace committee to protect their villages against the Taliban onslaught. All the peace committees and lashkar members complained of acute shortage of financial resources in their anti-Taliban resistance. In most cases, the peace committees and lashkars are helping themselves, i.e. the local people are putting whatever meagre financial resources they might have to finance their resistance. There is simply no one to financially support their resistance, including, of course, the government of Pakistan.
Haji Malik, the assassinated leader of the anti-Taliban lashkar in Adezai in rural Peshawar, told me (when I met him before his targeted killing) that he had spent his lifelong savings, Rs 200,000, on an anti-Taliban lashkar. He informed me that he made that money in his property dealing business. He said that he now kept requesting his friends, relatives and fellow villagers to keep supporting the lashkar with whatever they could. Haji Malik first gave his lifelong savings and then his life in the anti-Taliban resistance. This is the situation of almost all anti-Taliban peace committees and lashkars all over Pakhtunkhwa province and FATA. Several lashkar leaders informed me that many members of their lashkars have lost lives in armed clashes with the Taliban and there is just no one to take care of their families. For the government of Pakistan, they complained, these widows and orphans just do not exist. Nobody else from outside their villages comes forward to help either. I also met several family members of the martyred lashkar people. Many, if not most of them, need immediate and sustainable financial help for expenditure related to subsistence, utility bills, children’s education and healthcare of ailing relatives, especially children and the elderly.
Media, state institutions and school curricula in Pakistan have constructed a discourse of violence, religiosity and cultural rigidity around the Pakhtun culture for the state’s jihadi pursuit in line with foreign policy objectives. The construction now misleads people all over the world about the Pakhtun culture and people. The Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy (AIRRA) is the first Pakhtun think tank that has taken upon itself the responsibility to challenge the fabricated notions about the Pakhtun culture. The diasporic communities have recognised the work of AIRRA through e-mails of appreciation, but AIRRA’s work is greatly hampered by financial constraints. It is under-staffed and lacks even basic resources. A small core group of researchers and activists run this think tank on a voluntary basis. This means the time they should be giving to their families or career promotion is given to AIRRA.
More than once the authorities cut off the electricity supply to AIRRA due to non-payment of the utility bills. AIRRA’s core group members keep this think tank going through small but regular financial contributions. These members also have families to maintain. Above all, they are not rich people and like ordinary Pakistanis struggle with the ever rising inflation in Pakistan. These members will continue to support AIRRA as much as they can, but I wish to remind the Pakhtun diasporic communities that this is not how institutions are established, especially an institution that challenges the stereotypes and fabrications accepted as reality by people around the world. Thus there must be sustainable financial support to keep such institutions working towards a greater cause.
The Bacha Khan Education Foundation (BKEF) is another such venture that has embarked upon educating the next generation of the Pakhtuns on progressive lines, besides carrying out projects in culture revival and youth development. Though the diaspora was quite prompt in responding to its needs, the BKEF still needs substantial financial resources to expand its operations vertically and horizontally.
On the other hand, the forces of darkness that are hell bent on the destruction of the Pakhtun culture have overflowing financial resources. Rich Arabs in the Middle East are ‘earning’ a place in paradise in the life hereafter through never ending generous donations to the Taliban and the madrassas producing foot soldiers and a jihadi mindset on the Pakhtun land. They do not even care to consider that their ‘pursuit’ of a place in paradise is causing so much death and destruction. Intelligence agencies are also financing the activities of the religious forces. In this situation, where should AIRRA, BKEF and the anti-Taliban lashkars go for financial help? Should they expect Allah to send them money from the skies? Only the diasporic communities are in a position to help. Unfortunately, the diasporic communities have failed to show considerable performance in this regard.
The Pakhtun diasporic communities are engaged in discussions over what is happening in the war on terror. They offer suggestions and solutions on how the Pakhtun should deal with the situation. I do not wish to question their right to freedom of expression, but I would like to remind them that the most important help they could offer is through financial contributions to the lashkars, BKEF and AIRRA. They do not need advice and suggestions; they are on the ground facing the dangerous situation every moment of their lives. They know better than the diasporic communities how to deal with the situation.
There are individual Pakhtuns abroad who do send donations, but this is just not enough. The financial help must not be a one-off. AIRRA, BKEF and the anti-Taliban lashkars need constant, consistent and sustainable supply of financial resources. The Pakhtun diasporic communities are in a good position to provide this. I would request every affluent Pakhtun abroad to donate at least $ 10 per month to support the anti-Taliban lashkars, the widows and orphans of the lashkars’ shuhada (martyrs), AIRRA and BKEF. This small amount would not make any difference to the affluent Pakhtuns abroad, but it will definitely make a big difference in the performance of the receivers and bring some normalcy in the lives of the lashkars’ widows and orphans.
This war against Talibanisation and the Taliban is an all-out war. It has to be fought on three most important fronts: one, on the mountains, in the deserts, forests, fields and streets — the lashkars are doing it; two, on an ideological front, both AIRRA and BKEF are doing that; and three, on the financial front. This front is defenceless up until now and massively affecting the efforts of the other two fronts. The affluent diaspora must take care of that front. It is their responsibility and they must not run away from it.
The anti-Taliban lashkars, BKEF and AIRRA will continue their resistance against the Taliban and Talibanisation even if the sustainable financial contributions never come from the diaspora. But if they lose, if the forces of darkness ever succeed in eliminating the Pakhtun culture with the 7th century Arab tribal culture, future historians will also hold the inaction of the diaspora responsible for the cultural catastrophe. Many lashkar people and the core members of AIRRA hold even today the diaspora responsible for making their struggle difficult through their lack of financial support.
I would also request the non-Pakhtun fellow Pakistanis to support the anti-Taliban struggle of the Pakhtun with generous donations in their own self-interest, if not for moral reasons. The non-Pakhtun cultures will be next in line for elimination if the international forces of jihad manage to annihilate the Pakhtun culture.
The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org