The volcano of Pashtun unrest

The ten days long sit-in by Pashtun youth in Islamabad in the beginning of February has been followed by powerful protests in Swat and Bajour Agency. In Swat people were protesting against security checkpoints where people have to wait in long queues and they are allegedly humiliated. People of Swat were particularly infuriated after a child died while waiting at a security checkpoint. This is an issue which was also raised by the Pashtun Long March and sit-in in Islamabad. Strong public protest in Bajour was caused by the arrival of the dead body of a young student Ahmad Khan from Karachi. Ahmad Khan died in the custody of security forces. It was a sort of repetition of the fake encounter staged by police for killing Naqeeb Masood which had triggered the Pashtun protest. Rao Anwar, the police officer involved in the murder of Naqeeb Masood is still at large. The killing of Ahmad Khan has clearly demonstrated that those at the helm of security affairs in Karachi haven’t learnt any lesson from the tragic death of Naqeeb Masood. Even in Swat, instead of listening to the demand of the people for ending humiliation and delay at security checkpoints, the police have registered cases against some of the leaders of the protest under anti-terrorism law. This has obviously caused concern in the civil society which is reflected in the powerful resolution passed by Peshawar High Court Bar Association.

The pro-Taliban Afghan policy, shaped and implemented by the security establishment of Pakistan, is the root cause of Pashtun unrest in Pakistan. According to the official statements of the Government of Pakistan more than fifty thousand civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks the last fifteen years. But they don’t provide regional breakup of the aforementioned deaths. Pashtuns believe that more than 90 percent of the dead belong to their area. For exporting Talibanisation to Afghanistan the factories for its production are being run in the Pashtun belt. The latest additional grant of Rupees 270 million to Haqqania seminary by PTI’s provincial government indicates the continuation of pro-Taliban policy which has not only brought death and destruction to the area but has also negatively affected economy, culture and life in general. No systematic study has been conducted about the massive dislocated of Pashtuns due to the four decades long military conflict. It is far bigger and larger than the dislocation caused by Mughal invasions on the Afghans in the end of 15th and early 16th century.

Pashtun living in FATA have borne the main brunt of the armed conflict caused by the bankrupt Afghan policy of Punjabi dominated Pakistani establishment. Interestingly General Qamar Javed Bajwa called this policy “myopic” in his speech in the recent Munich Security Conference. But there is still no sign of change in it. FATA has literally become a bleeding wound as it has been used as a launching pad for Taliban’s war in Afghanistan. Flattening of the once large bazaars of Mir Ali and Miram Shah during operation Zaib-e-Azb has been a big blow for the residents of the area. There are more such examples in other political agencies. All the thirteen US drone attacks during the last one year hit their targets in FATA. Government has gone back on its promises for implementing reforms in the area because it still needs to keep the area closed to media and civil society.

Diversion of Afghan transit trade to Chah Bahar and fencing of the border has been a big blow to Pashtun economy in general and to the economy of the people living in border area in particular. Colonial type of governance in FATA and adverse impact of war on their economy are the major factors behind shaping the volcano of Pashtun unrest. Under pressure from the security establishment the mainstream political parties failed to raise their voice on these issues. Ultimately Pashtun youth, particularly the ones socialised under the wretched conditions of displacement decided to come to the forefront for raising their own concerns. The spontaneous response they have received so far is amazing. The slogans raised in their sit-in and the poetry recited there has spread like a wild fire. The Army has accepted some of their demands which is a positive development. One hopes authorities will handle the situation carefully. But this unrest is basically caused by war in Afghanistan which is causing death and destruction in Pashtun lands. Pakistani state can win hearts and minds only by revisiting its Afghan policy.


The writer is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs.

Afrasiab Khattak is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs

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