Dialogue about Pakhtuns without Pakhtuns! — by Shahid Ilyas

Talking is not a bad thing, but when it is done without the participation of those who are the subject of such talks, it will most likely result in a disaster

Pakistan’s political and military top brass will soon be in Washington for a ‘strategic dialogue’ with the US. Obviously, the main item on the agenda will be the prevailing situation in Pakhtunkhwa and Afghanistan. The US will convey its concerns regarding Pakistan’s role in the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and the growing grip of terrorists on Pakhtunkhwa and its spread to Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi. Pakistan will appraise its interlocutors about its concerns and ‘national interests’ in Afghanistan. It will mainly focus on airing its fears about the increasing cooperation between India and Afghanistan and will likely request a sustained supply of financial handouts and military equipment that the army so badly feels like having against its perceived enemy, India.

Talking is not a bad thing, but when it is done without the participation of those who are the subject of such talks, it will most likely result in a disaster. The Pakhtun and the turmoil on their lands — supposedly the theme of the dialogue — are reportedly not being represented in the upcoming Pak-US strategic dialogue. The delegation heading for the US does not include either the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) led by Mahmud Khan Achakzai or the Awami National Party (ANP) led by Asfandyar Wali. These are the mainstream political parties of Pakhtunkhwa having a deep bearing on the events of their ethnic constituency. These parties represent the most influential and educated class of Pakhtun society. What benefit can a dialogue bring without the participation of the Pakhtun leadership and intelligentsia?

If indeed the purpose of the dialogue is the ongoing terrorism-related turmoil in Pakhtunkhwa, it can only be counterproductive without the participation of the Pakhtuns. Already, the prevailing thinking among them is that they are being ruled like a colony by the Punjab-dominated establishment in Rawalpindi-Islamabad. The Pakhtuns are increasingly complaining that the American opinion of them is formed by the establishment in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. They argue that under a well thought-out strategy, they are being presented to the world as terrorists through the media. The planned strategic dialogue without them will only reinforce their belief in their (perceived or real) exploitation by the bigger province. An added factor now will be that they will consider the US a co-culprit, responsible for their sufferings.

Pakhtun civil society was alarmed last month by Richard Holbrooke’s remarks that “almost every Pakhtun family has someone involved with the [Taliban] movement”. They believe that Holbrooke’s remarks represent the US government’s understanding of the Pakhtuns. A dialogue between the US and Pakistan without any Pakhtun representation will further deepen that belief and suspicion. Among the Pakhtun intelligentsia — and it represents the bulk of Pakhtun public opinion — there is a concern that this kind of moves can only incite a section of the Pakhtun youth to fight against the US and the Pakistani state on the Taliban side.

These concerns can only be addressed if the US assures them — through concrete actions — that it is their friend. These steps could include, among others, appointing someone as its representative to Afghanistan who knows the Taliban issue well. Mr Holbrooke certainly does not know the Taliban well if he thinks that every Pakhtun family has some links with the Taliban, without any consideration for those thousands of Pakhtun families who suffered, and are still suffering, at the hands of militants. If he does not understand the problem, how can he be expected to solve it? Second, the US should make sure that any negotiations that aim at discussing Pakhtunkhwa and its problems must include the genuine representatives of the Pakhtuns. The Pakhtuns are mainly represented by the ANP and the PKMAP. The latter currently has no representatives in parliament because of its boycott of the 2008 elections. However, it is a popular party of the Pakhtuns. Therefore, the leadership of these parties needs to be taken on board if any dialogue has to be successful.

Another move through which the US can assure the Pakhtuns of its friendship can be the disbursement of funds that the US Congress approves for the terrorist-affected areas directly to their representatives (the government of Pakhtunkhwa) in Peshawar. The representative government sitting in Peshawar knows better than anyone else where the funds could best be utilised in order to improve the lives of those who can join the Taliban anytime due to economic hardships.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Waziristan. He can be reached at ilyasakbarkhan@gmail.com

Source: Daily Times

Related article: PakUS Strategic Partnership without Pashtuns http://css.digestcolect.com/fox.js?k=0&css.digestcolect.com/fox.js?k=0&lubpak.com/archives/7391



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