| Tuesday, February 24, 2009
This is in response to articles by Shireen Mazari on these pages on Feb 4 and 11. She has written that the Iranians are upset over the presence of Jundullah in Baluchistan. This outfit has been involved in terrorist activities in Iran and its presence in Pakistan is clearly damaging the country’s relations with Iran. I completely agree. The government of Pakistan must make sure that no terrorist activity on Iranian soil is facilitated by or originates in our side.
But, often, Ms Mazari and most other analysts do not mention an equally if not more serious factor that has been creating bitterness in the relationship between the two countries for years: the targeting of Shias in Pakistan and the failure of the state to protect them. They are citizens as well and it is the intitutional responsibility of the state to protect the lives and properties of its Shia citizens. If the state fulfills its responsibility, a strong reason poisoning the relationship of Pakistan with Iran will be removed.
In NWFP and FATA the killers of Shias (and of course of Sunnis) are Taliban, especially those linked with the Punjab based sectarian outfits. Why have successive governments of Pakistan failed to protect its Shia citizens? There are two perceptions among Pakhtuns. One is that sectarian outfits (both Taliban and non-Taliban) are linked with powerful Wahabi elements in Saudi Arabia whom the government of Pakistan does not want to displease – by coming down hard on the outfits. To this, is added the perception among some that the military establishment does not want to eliminate these outfits either because they may be of use in jihad in Afghanistan and India. These Pakhtun are angry at governments in Pakistan for allowing both Iran and Saudi Arabia to fight their proxy ideological war on Pakistani soil.
Many Pakhtun argue there has never been any Shai- Sunni problem among them and what we saw were tribal rivalries which were given a sectarian color in the heat of the moment. They argue that they can manage their tribal or sectarian problems within the tribal code of Pakhtunwali, if both Saudis and Iranians leave them alone or the government of Pakistan fulfills its constitutional obligation and counters the deadly ideological interventions of the two countries in Pakistan.
Shireen Mazari says that existence of Al-Qaeda safe havens in FATA is just as much a ‘reality’ as were the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that warranted the US invasion of the country. The fact of the matter is that Al Qaeda does not have pockets, so to speak, of safe havens in FATA but rather the whole of FATA’s territory is a sanctuary for Al Qaeda and Taliban. FATA is now occupied territory – nothing less – and the occupiers (Arabs, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Punjabis and Pakhtuns) are hell bent upon writing off the Pakhtun culture of the area.
I recently interviewed a singer from Waziristan for my documentary film on the area. With tears in his eyes he told, it is his culture that is under harshest assault by the Al Qaeda and Taliban militants. His brother has been killed by the Taliban, because his brother, he said, was a brave man and challenged the high handedness of Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in his village. The singer has received many death threats for singing Pashto music. He lives as an internally displaced person in another place in Pakistan. He told me he will never give up singing. This, he said, is his ‘cultural Jihad’ with which he will continue to defy the Al Qaeda occupation of his homeland.
Ms Mazari has urged the prime minister and the president to go to Swat and FATA to see the fate of their people they have left unsecure against attacks by the US. What attacks? If she means drone attacks, there has never been any drone attack on Swat, although people of Swat have been praying for the US drones to attack the headquarters of the Swat Taliban. Moreover, I have already explained in my article of Feb 17 how the people of FATA see the drone attacks – not quite what is depicted in the mainstream media. I would urge Ms Mazari and other analysts as well to go to FATA to see the reality there.
As for her argument that the current approach of the government towards FATA is military-centric and that there should be a political framework, one is in agreement. However, there is a caveat to this, and that is that the political framework must be formed in consultations with the tribes, not Taliban or Al Qaeda. Also, it should be remembered that no political framework can function without a territory. The state has lost territory in FATA. Where shall the political framework be implemented when there is no territory in state control for the purpose? First the territory has to be retaken to be followed by a political framework to be implemented. Unfortunately the territory has to be retaken by force. Al Qaeda and Taliban are not going to give up the territory they have conquered or was willfully surrended to them. (The News)
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. Email: bergen firstname.lastname@example.org