Are the Pakhtuns under siege?

Rustam Shah Mohmand

In the nineteenth century they fought the British imperialists in a long-drawn-out war of attrition. In the twentieth century they were pitted against the might of another empire, the Soviet Union. In the 21st century, in yet another unequal contest, they are confronted by and fighting against the US empire.

To make matters worse, the Pakistani Pakhtoons are also under attack by the security forces of their own country.

The Pakhtoons, perhaps never before in their history, were going through an ordeal as awesome in its magnitude as in its cruelty.

In neighbouring Afghanistan, Pakhtoon villages are being systematically demolished, their men, women and children are dying every day like cattle or, worse still, like flies. It is a Pakhtoon genocide. Their economy is in ruins, their homes broken, their families shattered, their future uncertain and their present as bleak as it can get.

In the tribal areas they are being bombed and struck every second day with missiles, as if they are all enemies.

In Karachi, the biggest Pakhtoon city, they are periodically picked up and brutally killed, with no questions asked. Politics is more sacrosanct than the lives of ordinary mortals in the Land of the Pure.

The launching of the latest operation by the government smacks of the same hypocricy, double standards and lack of foresight that has characterised our policy formulation in the last 60 years.

From the word go, it appeared that the government was in no mood to implement the act it chose to extend, most reluctantly and after inexplicable delay.

The interregnum between the signing of the agreement and the approval of the president to sign Nizam-e-Adl into law was utilised for creating a hype, for painting a dreadful scenario of the implications of implementing the act. A deliberate mindset of phobia was created. It was not, for instance, explained to the people and to the world that the government is only re-enacting a law that was adopted by the governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

When there was no countrywide criticism of the act, then why was a storm being created now?

And when the law was extended finally there was a lukewarm attitude towards putting in place an infrastructure to implement the act. That was partly deliberate and partly reflected the incompetence of the authorities.

Just as the act was extended In 1994 and in 1999 and not allowed to take practical shape, it was presumed that the act would remain a document on paper and it would be business as usual.

This approach failed then, and it didn’t quite work out this time.

It was not realised that merely calling a judge a qazi does not make him competent for administration of a totally different legal system.

The uncertainty produced serious doubts in the minds of the Nizam-e-Shariat and Taliban leaders.

But Maulana Sufi Mohammad stood steadfast in his support both to the government and to the newly enacted Law.

His cooperation with the government did not, unfortunately, translate into the cessation of hostilities. The government could have persisted with having him on board. It is a failure of skilful negotiations or a deliberate effort to deny the people the fruits of the new act.

The movement of some “Taliban” numbering about 25 riding in two vehicles from Swat to Buner was perhaps the turning point in the whole tragic episode.

Whether this movement was orchestrated or whether the Taliban in their naivety took their own senseless decision would remain to be seen.

But the fear of the Taliban taking control was so vociferously projected in the wake of two vehicles being driven into Buner by a few disorganised youths that it seemed like a deliberate move to create justification for a strong government intervention.

Strangely, the implications of such a stupendous operations were overlooked. And then there was inexplicable and heavy reliance on air action–use of aircraft and gunships to bomb, rocket and shell villages which were being flattened.

Quite understandably bombs and heavy artillery as well as gunships would not differentiate between militants and innocent civilians.

In its wake it caused tremendous human displacement which the UN called, for a time span of 15 days, the largest human dislocation in the world in the last 20 years.

Hundreds of innocent civilians having been killed and hundreds of thousands having been forced to leave their homes. What a price to pay for peace!

That the whole operation was timed to coincide with the president’s visit so the US adds another sinister dimensions to the government policy.

Do we establish the “writ” of the government by causing the displacement of 1.5 million peaceful citizens?

And are these the only areas where the writ was challenged? Has the government writ not disappeared in the mega-city of the country since the time Musharraf took control? And was he not complicit in surrendering the mega-city to an ethnic political outfit?

Have scores of people not been killed on ethnic grounds in that city without anyone getting penalised?

Would the government apply the same yardstick that they applied in the case of poor Swatis?

The fact that Pakhtoons are being systematically killed and their properties destroyed from Farah, Helmand and Kunar to the tribal areas and Malakand Division has raised many disturbing questions in the minds of the people.

True, Gen Kiyani has proved to be an inspiring leader with impeccable credentials. But when the dust has settled people would bear anger and acrimony against the handful of Taliban militants, as well as the government, for launching an operation which has obliterated the Pakhtoon mainland. This is not going to help in creating any conducive environment which could inspire love for the country and respect for its institutions.

Which other nation would get involved in a genocidal war for obtaining “assistance”? Indeed the whole pattern of the events would seem to fit in the overarching strategic goals of some distant imperial power. And if that is the case, watch out! Waziristan is next in line.

Pakhtoons on both sides of the divide are paying a colossal price for not being “on board” and not being conformists; and this while they don’t have any leadership worth the name. Genuine leaders would stay with their people and share with them their agonies and sufferings rather than choosing to stay away in such critical times in the history of Pakhtoons.

The writer is a former ambassador

1 thought on “Are the Pakhtuns under siege?”

Leave a Reply