The Pakhtun, the Taliban and ignorant outsiders
Thursday, January 15, 2009
The Pakhtun are caught up in one of the most difficult times of their history. The Taliban are aggressively attacking their lives, livelihoods, culture and history. Pakistan army, the defender of the frontiers of Pakistan, including the Pakhtun areas, is failing to protect them against the atrocities of the Taliban. Some influential outsiders continue to depict in media that the Pakhtun and Taliban are one and the same people. The outsiders have almost no or at best a superficial knowledge of the history and culture of the Pakhtun. Most of them never even care to come to the Pakhtun areas to see the realities of the people with their own eyes and still they believe themselves to be authorities on the Pakhtun. They seem to take pride in their ignorance about the Pakhtun. They do not even care to check the bases of their arguments in media discussions against the culture, history and current realities of the Pakhtun.
One such outsider is Dr AQ Khan who expresses views on Pakhtun that have nothing to do with their current realities, culture and history. An example of this is his article ‘Grassroot Causes’ in your newspaper dated 24 December 2008.
Dr AQ Khan portrays the Pakhtun and the Taliban as one and the same people. Actually the Pakhtun and the Taliban are not the same people. The Pakhtun belong to the areas that are presently known as NWFP, FATA, parts of Baluchistan and southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan. They are culturally, historically and geographically a homogeneous group of people. The Taliban are culturally, historically and geographically a diverse mix of different ethnic groups-the Pakhtun, Punjabis, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Arabs, Africans and even Europeans, both ethnic and Muslim immigrants. They have established bases in the Pakhtun areas because they (and their predecessors, the Mujaheedin) have been facilitated by the intelligence agencies of Pakistan to do so. The Taliban generate their revenue by relentlessly kidnapping affluent Pakhtun for ransom. They have imposed a savage social order, completely different from the Pakhtun social order, in the areas that Pakistan army have surrendered to them, i.e. several parts of the tribal areas and some parts of NWFP, including the beautiful valley of Swat. Many Pakhtun also believe that various groups of the Taliban are funded by the intelligence agency of Pakistan, i.e. the ISI and foreign agencies, like the Indian RAW, the American CIA, etc.
Dr AQ Khan advocates a dialogue with the Taliban to bring peace in the Pakhtun areas of Pakistan. A dialogue can only be successful if it stands on mutually respected ground between the two parties. In this case the common ground can be the law of Pakistan, the Code of Pakhtunwali and Islam. The Taliban respect neither of the three.
The Taliban have no respect for the law of Pakistan. There is abundant proof of it in their attacks on the security forces, destruction of infrastructure including bridges, hospitals and education institutions etc. Some of my friends who have had face to face discussions with foot soldiers of the Taliban informed that the Taliban do not accept the authority of the law of Pakistan. The Taliban have no respect for the code of Pakhtunwali. The most revered institution under the code is jirga. Even the mighty empires that the Pakhtun resisted- the Muslim Mughal Empire and the non Muslim British Empire did not violate the respect of jirga- I do not know of any attacks on jirga that were carried out by the Mughals and the British. The Taliban have repeatedly bombed jirgas all across NWFP and FATA. The code of Pakhtunwali dictates that there shall be no attacks on women and children. The Taliban have repeatedly violated the dictate by brutally killing women and children. The Taliban have violated the respected norms of Islam. Islam never justifies any disrespect of dead bodies. The Taliban takes pride in their humiliation of dead bodies. Islam orders every Muslim man and woman to get education. The Taliban forbid education for both girls and boys. In Islam there is no compulsion in religion. The Taliban imposed their version of the religion through terror and violence. How can there be a dialogue in such conditions with the Taliban. It is perhaps due to the lack of mutually respected grounds that almost all agreements between the Taliban and the Pakistan army fell apart.
Does Dr Khan know that Taliban are preventing the Pakhtun, in the areas that have been surrendered by Pakistan army, from integration into the state system? There are many examples of this. The latest example happened in North Waziristan where the Taliban recently stopped women from making Computerized National Identity Cards, CNIDC, with NADRA. The women had wished to enroll themselves in Benazir Income Support Program. As a precondition for the enrollment, they have to have CNIDC.
People of FATA had always seen the most oppressive and cruel face of the state of Pakistan. It happens rarely that they see the benevolent face of the state. They always happily welcome this face of the state. The Benazir Income Support Program is one of the rare opportunities to see the benevolent faces of the state. Many women in Waziristan welcome it. The enlargement of the Benazir Income Support Program to North Waziristan also shows that the state has some wish to integrate the tribal people into the its system. The local Taliban in Waziristan are preventing this integration. Those Taliban have signed a peace agreement with Pakistan army almost two years ago.
People in Waziristan and the Pakhtun in general want the Pakistan army to make the contents of their agreement with Taliban open to public. They want to know whether the agreement contain the condition that the Taliban will be free to prevent poor people of Waziristan from getting lawful benefits from state sponsored programs like the Benazir Income Support Program. If the agreement does not contain any such conditions, would Pakistan army care to tell the people of Pakistan why are the Taliban preventing the poor women of Waziristan from integration into the state system? Is there any one in Pakistan-in the government, media and the military establishment- to explain why are the Taliban stopping women from making national ID cards and what is being done to halt highhandedness of the Taliban? Would Dr. AQ Khan, a supporter of the Taliban, care to ask the Taliban, on behalf of the poor Pakhtun women, why have the women been deprived from making national ID cards and getting some financial benefits from the state?
Dr AQ Khan wrote: ‘If we allow them (America) to enter our country/tribal areas, they will bribe/buy some traitors with green cards and greenbacks’.
The Americans do not need to offer green cards, green dollars or other kinds of bribes to the Pakhtun. Both Taliban and Pakistan army have created catastrophic conditions in terms of human rights. This may soon force the Pakhtun to be open to help from any where in order to survive. Thus tens of people of Swat told me they pray after every namaz for the US drones to fall on the headquarters of the Swat Taliban. ‘Because Pakistan army has failed to eliminate the Swat Taliban, we would be happy if the American send their drones to do the job’, many Swatis told me. Contrary to the wide spread believe in the wider Pakistani society, many people of Waziristan are satisfied with the US drone attacks on the militants in Waziristan. Both the Swatis and the people of Waziristan have one regret though: the American are doing the ‘duty’ (target killing of the militants) of Pakistan army. They said they would love to see Pakistan army eliminate the militants in precisely targeted operations. Pakistan army, they said, has so far proved to be unwilling or unable to decisively deal with the Taliban. The Taliban have created ‘hell like conditions’ in the words of a man, in the areas surrendered by Pakistan army to them. The terrorized Pakhtun of the areas have increasingly begun to look in their prayers towards anyone, the Americans or the devils, as one woman put it for help.
Dr AQ Khan has a right to support anyone he likes, even the Taliban, the murderers of the Pakhtun. However, as a Pakhtun I believe he has no right to float pro-Taliban suggestions that depict complete disrespect to the sensitivities of the Pakhtun, terrorized and traumatized, in the words of many tribesman and women, by the aggressive Taliban and passive Pakistan army.
The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org