Saturday, March 13, 2010

A source from Pakistan

A good friend has sent me a copy of a report from a source on the ground in Pakistan.  This is a helpful view of what is going on among the peoples of Pakistan.

Zubair Torwali pleads the case for a misunderstood people

Victims of their neighbours. Voiceless people?

What has happened in the region and what is happening now is the result of the conflicting agendas of the major powers involved in the game. In this mess the neighbours of the Pashtun region between the Oxus and the Indus are as responsible as the big powers.

The fact that Pashtuns living on both sides of the Durand Line are bearing the brunt of terrorism and the War on Terror is an obvious truth. As scapegoats for the last three decades, sometimes in the name of a 'Jihad' against the communist regime of the former USSR, sometimes in the name of strategic depth against contending neighbours, and now in the name of the so-called war on terror, the voices of the Pashtuns have not been adequately heard.

In this game the major players never bother about the actual people of the region. What has happened in the region, and what is happening now, is the result of the conflicting of agendas between the major players involved. In this mess, the neighbors of the Pashtun region - between the Oxus and the Indus - are as responsible as the big powers. Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Russia and the USA all have their own plans for the region at the cost of the destruction and genocide of the Pashtuns. Specifically, these states have designs which are irreconcilable with each other. Pakistan has always wanted a dependent regime in Kabul, one which would have no connection with India. Iran and Saudi Arabia have colliding agendas in the region, mainly based on sectarian grounds. Similarly China and the USA have their designs as well. But the most regretful and astonishing aspect of this game is that these players have never regarded the Pashtun people of the region as human beings. On the contrary, they have tried to make these people mere scapegoats. The realization of this crucial game is now greatly felt by the Pashtun intelligentsia on either side of the Durand Line.

For the last two months this writer has been engaged in an online discussion with many of the Pashtun intelligentsia. The discussion covers topics from politics to the phenomenon of global jihad. In this article some of the main concerns are given.   First, the Pashtun see the famous policy of 'strategic depth' as a deep grave for the Pashtun people. They are not reluctant about expressing their conviction that the Punjabi-dominated establishment of Pakistan has made the Pashtun people scapegoats for the 'survival' of Pakistan. They contend that what is happening in the region after the withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan in the late eighties has its roots in this "strategic depth policy"; and in this Pakistan has been helped by the Wahabi state of Saudi Arabia. To further this policy, they first produced the Mujahideen who were used against the Soviet Union. When this failed to achieve anything, the Taliban were installed in Afghanistan, who brought the peace of the graveyard into Afghanistan through the use of brute force against those who did not support the medieval version of Islam they wished to impose. Initially, the United States was happy with what was going on in Afghanistan, After 9/11, things took a serious turn. After the USA's direct intervention in Afghanistan, the strategic depth policy dragged the war to the eastern side of the Durand Line and into the settled areas of the Pashtun population.

Second, the Pashtun intelligentsia sounds off on its grievances against the mainstream media, particularly in Pakistan. In spite of the brutality that the Taliban has inflicted upon women, children, the general public and the security forces, elements in the media still remain who support the militants and their version of jihad.

Besides that the media provide more space to pro-strategic depth and anti-Pashtun elements. People who spout the waging of jihad on neighbouring states are given extra space on the electronic media, whereas those who talk sense, keeping ground realities in view, are labeled as being treacherous or unpatriotic. Further, the media has continued to harp on issues for which it seems they are paid by some hidden forces. For example the media hype against the corruption of a single individual who happens to be the president of Pakistan. Thus the media ignores the core issues of security and Pashtun genocide.

No section of the media raise voices of protest against the banning of coverage during the South Waziristan operation. The talk-shows, which mainly mould the opinions of viewers, do not give due space to the Pashtun scholars and leaders. Instead they often invite 'analysts' who do not even know the geography of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Thus the Pashtun intelligentsia has started to think this selective and exclusive approach in the mainstream media is a threat to the national integrity of Pakistan, thus ringing memories of the exclusion of Bengalis before the partition of Pakistan.

Thirdly, the drone attacks on the Al-Qaeda and Taliban hideouts of the in the Pakistani territory of FATA are seen by the Pashtuns not as an infringement of sovereignty but as a precise weapon which has to this date killed some of the top leaders of Al-Qaeda and Taliban. This hype in the name of sovereignty is an effort by the pro-Taliban segments of the media who want to protect them as strategic assets.

Fourth, the Pashtun intelligentsia is very sensitive about their identity issue. They think the North West Frontier Province should be given a specific name. They would like the province to be named Pukhtunkhwa, but a number of them also see Afghaniya as an applicable alternative.

These concerns and grievances are not baseless, since the Pashtun are the direct victims of terrorism and counter-terrorism. The Pakistani designers of foreign policy, the media and civil society need to listen to the Pashtun, as should the international community as well.

The writer is a freelance analyst and social activist based in Swat, Pakistan, and coordinates the Center for Education and Development there. Email: