REASONS FOR THE PASHTUN REBELLION
The attack on Lal Masjid by the Pakistani military and police forces has fomented a rebellion in the Pashtun belt of the province and in tribal areas. Since 2001, the military is engaged in the pacification of the Pashtun of Pakistan’s tribal area in support of the international coalition against terrorism. Many, who died in the Lal Masjid, were students belonging to poor Pashtun families from NWFP and tribal areas.
Publicly funded education in NWFP and tribal areas is limited and even if available is not accepted, due to poor quality or cultural concerns. For instance girls from Dir, a very conservative region of the NWFP, were sent by parents to Al-Hafsa in Islamabad more than two hundred miles away, and adjacent to Lal Masjid, but not to the nearby girls village school. This choice tells many stories.
The current fighting is taking place only in the Pashtun belt of Afghanistan and Pakistan; many believe that a sort of genocide of the Pashtun is under way, since most of the dead are Pashtun. Naturally, there is a ground swell of support amongst the rural population for the Talibans, as they are perceived to be fighting to protect their culture and customs, including religion. It is a formidable Pashtun resistence principle, which has been used before also.
It is extremely worrying to read that U.S military is thinking of joint operations in the region; this must be avoided at all costs. If it did come to pass, two things are certain it will bog down ground forces in a situation just as bad, if not worse than in Iraq; secondly, it could spell the re-drawing of the map in this region.
Political Islam with the support of Arab strategists from Al-Qaeda and other regional players like the Taliban, have successfully converted the religious paradigm of Jihad for their own benefit; they did not have to work too hard since the Pashtun land was already prepared for seeding. The infrastructure of the anti Soviet Jihad in Afghanistan dating back to 1979, already existed; including Madressahs, fighters, weapons and tactics.
By 1992, there were more personal weapons per head available in Afghanistan, than in India and Pakistan combined; the Soviet Union pumped $ 48 billion worth of weapons, while the U.S supplied $ 12 billion worth of them. With a population then of about 18 million then, this summed up to a few million dollars of weaponry per head. (1)
Members of Pakistan’s intelligence services, who while managing the Jihad in Afghanistan were themselves converted to the same philosophy and amply supported the Jihad in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas.
In the last week scores have died or were injured in NWFP and tribal areas and mostly belonging to the military and the police. They were targeted by Jihadi suicide and armed groups. There is a complete collapse of authority and there are unconfirmed reports of dereliction of duty by uniformed officers and men. Many police men have gone AWOL.
Sadly, Pakistan has neither a strategy nor a plan how to stop this rebellion from spreading; one would have thought that with all the millions being poured into security services and anti-terrorism, by now there should have been a robust strategy or pacification plans other than the use of force; unfortunately there are none.
In such a situation as this the flames of religious hate will soon engulf the military led government of President Musharraf; every passing day sees him losing ground; knowledgeable people feel that he has become irrelevant and in any case is now too controversial to continue as a leader. His future is bleak.
His handling of the matter of Chief Justice and the subsequent national controversy caused by this unreflective act has cost him and the military dearly. The weak Prime Minister is being set up to be guillotined. However, it is incorrect for the government counsel to say that the President is bound to act under the advice of the Prime Minister; under the 17th Constitutional amendment, Art 260 has been changed to read:
Consultation shall, save in respect of appointment of Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts means discussion and deliberation which shall not be binding on the President.
The murder of numerous Pashtun in Karachi on the 12th of May has alienated them; they feel that the national and the international dispensation are directed against them; they are to be the cannon fodder for the self serving agendas of many players.
This tragic perception which is widespread is a real tragedy for the Pashtun, Pakistan and the United States. Things could have been so different had state policies been based on love and benevolence rather than the rigidness of President Musharraf’s challenged dispensation.
The danger for countries friendly to Pakistan is that their residents are fair target for Pashtun vendetta against Musharraf and the army. This is very dangerous and unfortunate. Early cooption of political forces rather than their isolation is the way forward. The political base must be broadened. Cosmetic surgery will not do. We must protect our guests; we sadly had three Chinese murdered in Peshawar the other day. A busload of Chinese working at Hub near Karachi, escaped certain death at the hands of a suicide bomber yesterday.
Why has this happened? The struggle for Pakistan was based on the need to combine the Bengali, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtun and Baluchi into a Muslim nation; after all, uniformity of culture, including religion and language are two important ingredients for state formation.
Therefore, the issues of state of an ethnic country must focus on a just dispensation in the distribution of its assets. Federal politics are always based on resource distribution amongst the federating states.
However, the West Pakistan Punjab dominated political elite excluded the transfer of the rightful share of political power and money to East Pakistan, leading to its exit from the federation. We were blind like today and never saw the writing on the wall. Even a normally rational person like President Ayub Khan wore blinkers when he fumed at the Bengalis for their rejection of Urdu as the national language. (2)
Submergence of the cultural and political rights of East Pakistan finally led to the first break up of Pakistan in 1971, when Bangladesh emerged as a separate nation but not before our security services had shamed themselves by the genocide of Bengalis. It was only at Bhutto’s insistence that Mujib’s request for permitting at least one trial for atrocities committed in East Pakistan was refused. Bhutto was returned this favour when he was hanged by the military. (3)
NWFP and tribal areas are home to about 30 million of some of the bravest and most committed people wedded not to territory or wealth alone but to an honor system, which has remained intact for centuries in this tumultuous part of the world. They also constitute about 19% of Pakistan’s military.
Pakistani leaders want a pliant Afghan government in order to prevent Pashtun irredentism and to stop any controversy on the Durand Line which every government in Afghanistan has contested. Pakistan depended on the concept of the Umma to defeat rational Pashtun demands for their rightful share in their own resources.
According to scholars of Islam all people who adhere to Islam belong to no one nation but are a global community; national boundaries according to them divide Muslims. This rhetoric has been used by Pakistan’s rulers to deny the emergence of ethnicity and ethnic based demands particularly related to the minority provinces.
If Pakistan is composed of four major ethnic groups, what is wrong in recognizing that and working for the development of a national compact based on it? The constitution provides a forum for discussion of such burning issues in the Council of Common Interest provided for under Art 153; this institution provides for the resolution of the most controversial issues which may face the state.
Had a democratic system been in operation the current insurgency would have been handled by the federation collectively, rather than as a security issue. The results would have been more productive too.
In managing the demands of provinces, the state relied on the military and a Pan-Islamist Jihadist infrastructure to deal with provincial rights. This has been a disaster as is now clearly becoming evident.
After 1991, NWFP’s legal rights were denied and the Pashtun has been marginalized by the federal government. For instance NWFP received more funds from the federation as its constitutional share from net profits of hydel generation in 1991 than in 2007!
A World Bank report on NWFP found wide spread poverty, a provincial GDP, which was only 60 % of the national GDP and achievement in the education and health sectors below the national average. It had the highest infant mortality rate in Pakistan of 56 deaths per 1000 live births. Only 58% of the total households receive clean drinking water. (4)
Even the NWFP’s judicially determined share from net profit amounting to Rs. 26 billion has not been given to it as was decided under an arbitration award of 2006, made by Justice Ajmal Mian (Rtd) of the Supreme Court. (5)
On the other hand, the President made a grant of Rs. 16 billion to Sindh in 2006, so that electricity arrears of Karachi could be paid to the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation! This is great injustice to the NWFP and its people. The result is that development expenditure in schools and health goes down and livelihoods become more difficult for its people. No wonder that there were a large proportion of NWFP origin students admitted in Lal Masjid and Al Hafsa and who died in the Lal Masjid attack.
NWFP is a deficit province, unlike the Punjab whose water resources were harnessed through irrigation infrastructure by the British and generated a large agricultural economy. Britain had a strategic interest in Punjab. Like Gaul in the later Roman Republic, Punjab was the factory for producing soldiers for Britain’s imperial design. The killing fields of Europe and Middle East is littered with Punjabi bones in their hundreds and thousands. If Britain had to suffer these casualties herself it would be depopulated by now. (6)
On the other hand NWFP has a limited irrigated base. New land was not developed for irrigation. Like the Scot and Irish in Britain the Pashtun was allowed to remain poor and under developed.
In 1977 history again dealt a deuce to the Pashtun in the form of Zia-ul-Haq, another usurper who destroyed democracy in Pakistan and inflicted two atrocious wounds on the country but more so on the Pashtun; he over-rode the ethnic aspect of Pashtun sub-nationalism and covered it with Jihadism, which was the weapon used to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan..
Secondly, he introduced sectarianism into Pakistani political discourse. Lazy strategists borrowed this Ziaist disaster and turned it into the high sounding but ridiculous concept of strategic depth. According to the military, in case of retreat against a powerful Indian onslaught against Pakistan, the military would regroup in Islamic Afghanistan before fighting another day! This was the watershed when our military strategy began to be dictated by belief rather than on existential reality.
Many Pashtun youth were trained in the art of killing Afghans and Russians in the name of a peculiar brand of Islam manufactured in the doctrine churning seminaries of Pakistani. One of Gen. Zia’s favorite pupils, Gul Badin Hekmatyar an Afghan Jihadi known for destroying Kabul when he bombarded it savagely in 1992, said yesterday, By fighting one can neither build a government nor a country. One wishes he could reach this understanding before he caused so much human pain and misery. (7)
Armed Madressahs were established with official Pakistani funds and international Islamic charity funneled by Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Libya and others. Pathan and Afghan students were taught at an early age to hate and kill. According to one assessment, more than 80,000 people were trained by 1980, by Pakistani and U.S. forces for fighting in Afghanistan. Fighting is a euphemism for murder! It is estimated that out of the 80,000 persons trained about 7000 were given master training skills. How many clones would they have replicated in NWFP and tribal areas since then? (8)
Pakistan, in a sense is facing the same scourge of death and destruction today that it unleashed in Afghanistan and through sectarianism within Pakistan. The lament of so many widows and orphans has finally been heard in heavens and we are now being punished for our transgressions!
Where do we go from here? In order to get out of the present quagmire it is unnecessary to involve the U.S, which could turn this area into another Iraq. It will lead to massive protest to force Pakistan to disassociate from the alliance with U.S; something that Al-Qaeda or Taliban would dearly wish for. The U.S as Pakistan’s friend must not be involved. The solution is to hold full and fair elections under the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Any other formula will be challenged. If there is any rigging it will not be acceptable.
Full and undiluted democracy should also be introduced in tribal areas after converting it into Pakistan’s fifth province. War against insurgents has never been won by bullets alone but only in combination with empowerment and democracy. The people of tribal areas and Pakistan want empowerment; they don’t want development which is the good that the state wants to provide and will be available to them once they are empowered.
In order to get the armed forces out of the controversy, they should handover power to a political figure; Pakistan is already on a precipice. Another dose of militarism will kill it. New faces will do wonders.
After the above reforms are in place, Pakistan should launch a full fledged campaign against all private religion based para-militaries, whoever they may be. There should be zero tolerance for armed groups and weaponry. Our foreign policy must be re-engineered so that we live in peace with our neighbors; the Jihadist infrastructure must be demolished.
In the meantime we buy space and involve the people in assisting in a short term counter-insurgency operation. Till today, the people have not been involved; this is also the reason why the U.S. is criticized because it is seen as a propagator of such an isolated anti-terrorist policy. We need skills, education and livelihoods not F 16s! By the way has a single one been used in the current upheaval? I bet it wasn’t.
I conclude by repeating from my last newsletter, The danger is from within and not without. Lastly, I advise that we should befriend the Pashtun and the Baluch, they are good people; they are a part of the Pakistani community. Salvation for Pakistan lies in being in peace with them.
- Coll, Steve. Ghost Wars,Penguin Books, 2004, London, P. 238
- Baxter, Craig (Ed). Diaries of Field Marshal Ayub Khan 1966-1972 Oxford Univ Press, Karachi, 2007.
- Burki, HK. Tales of a Sorry Dominion, Alhamra, Isl, 2004
- World Bank. Pakistan: NWFP Economic Report, 2005
- Govt of NWFP. Arbitration on Net Hydel Profit Between NWFP & WAPDA, Finance Department, 9th Oct 2006
- Ali, Imran. The Punjab Under Imperialism, 1885-1947, Oxford, Delhi, 1988
- Report. Hekmatyar declares truce Statesman, Peshawar, 20th July 07, P. 1
- (ibid) 1.