Role for Pashtun intelligentsia

Role for Pashtun intelligentsia
By Khadim Hussain, Dawn, November 26, 2008

DIVERSE and usually contradictory approaches have been adopted by different actors, both national and international, in their response to the radicalisation, isolation and Talibanisation that is taking place in the Pashtun belt.

There are some who believe that Pashtun culture is inherently militant, violent and aggressive and that Talibanisation and radicalisation in the region is the expression of Pashtun nationalist sentiment.

This approach assumes that all Pashtuns have a Taliban mindset ideologically and that the Taliban are a violent bunch of Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists who need to be carpet-bombed without any consideration for the lives of the millions affected by this kind of attack.

There are others, such as individuals and political parties like Qazi Hussain Ahmad of the Jamaat-i-Islami, Maulana Fazlur Rahman of the JUI, Imran Khan of the Tehrik-i-Insaaf and Mian Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N, who are of the opinion that radicalisation and Talibanisation are essentially foreign phenomena that need to be analysed in the context of US intervention in the region.

This approach assumes that as long as what is perceived as the US occupation of the region continues, radicalisation and Talibanisation will persist and vitiate the socio-political and economic fabric of the Pashtun belt.

There are yet others, mainly in the corridors of power in Islamabad, who presume that the Taliban of Pakistan and the Taliban of Afghanistan are completely distinct ideological, strategic and functional entities that must be dealt with separately. The Taliban of Pakistan are to be manipulated to fight the military’s war in Kashmir and the Taliban of Afghanistan are to be covertly and strategically supported to minimise the perceived Indian influence in the region.

There are people who understand the causes of radicalisation in terms of chronic poverty, penetration of the modern Wahhabi jihadist ideology through madressahs, crumbling institutions of governance, lack of access to formal and informal justice systems, hegemonic intervention of the international powers, destabilisation of elected governments, and marginalisation and ‘otherisation’ of a whole community, i.e. the Pashtuns.

They also point to the lack of infrastructural development, the strategic-depth policy of the Pakistan army and lack of economic opportunities in the region as factors promoting radicalisation. This approach emphasises the need for development of responsive governance and justice systems, investment in the region and helping Pakistan and Afghanistan to repair their broken security, law and order and socio-political institutions.

The complex dynamics of the present violence in the Pashtun belt in particular and the rest of Pakistan and Afghanistan in general has confused Pakistani and western intellectuals. In the absence of fieldwork data and authentic evidence due perhaps to the inaccessibility of the region, analysts usually find themselves at a loss in identifying diverse factors that contribute to terrorism and religious militancy in the Pashtun belt.

Consequently they usually adopt a one-dimensional approach to address the complexity of the picture by analysing half-baked and incomplete data. It is this lack of clarity that usually leads analysts in Pakistan and elsewhere to term the present insurgency in the Pashtun belt of Pakistan and Afghanistan as a class war, a war of liberation, an expression of nationalistic sentiments, culture and identity of the Pashtuns, and a war against US imperialism.

As a result, the core issues are usually ignored. They are: (i) this is an economically, politically and socially unstable region which is fast turning into a never-ending war zone; (ii) the interplay of different forces in the region has led to continuous tension; (iii) the conflict is resulting in the mass killing of the non-combatants caught in the crossfire between the state and non-state forces in the area; (iv) the disintegration and deterioration of the social structures of the Pashtun belt is taking place; (v) there is an increased trend towards violence and terrorism around the globe that sends threat waves to the adjacent regions; (vi) an unnecessary engagement of resources is taking place which could have been otherwise a source of progress and prosperity for people in the Pashtun belt as well as those from other societies of the world; and (vii) no competing force in the region is able to decimate competing forces, and so there is a need to find and identify the overlapping and common interests of these forces in the region.

The Pashtun intelligentsia has yet to rise to the occasion and start scrutinising the threat to the survival of their nation and community on the basis of a people-centered analytical framework to find a way out of the present turbulence in their region. The Pashtun intelligentsia in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the diaspora may play a pivotal role in bringing peace and prosperity to the region and save their brethren in Pakistan and Afghanistan from total annihilation.

The Pashtun intelligentsia in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the diaspora may include university teachers, researchers and analysts in the regional and area study centres, media outlets and political parties. They may focus on three major and core issues to begin with.

First, there is need to develop indigenous and people-centred analytical frameworks to understand the complexity of the present turmoil in the region. Second, they should identify overlapping and shared interests of various competing forces in the region. Third, they may start networking with area study centres and regional study centres besides security, defence and rights organisations around the globe. There is a dire need that the Pashtun intelligentsia starts establishing think tanks and networks with the think tanks working on the region outside Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Pashtun intelligentsia may facilitate progressive nationalist political parties both in Pakistan and Afghanistan to adopt policies which are based on solid research and analysis of the present situation. The political parties in turn may facilitate the intelligentsia to establish forums for dialogue at all levels, both vertically and horizontally. The dialogue forums may include local, national and international stakeholders in the region on the one hand and various ideological factions on the other.

In addition to it the Pashtun intelligentsia should make an effort to reactivate the already available forums like the grand Pak-Afghan jirga, the Saarc platform, the ECO platform and other initiatives by UN agencies like Unesco and the UNDP. In the present gloomy environment in the region, activism by the intelligentsia is one of the beacons of hope for peace and prosperity in the region.

The writer is coordinator for Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy.

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