Pakhtun transition

Published July 14, 2021
The writer is author of Pakistan: In Between Extremism and Peace.
The writer is author of Pakistan: In Between Extremism and Peace.

THE ongoing sociopolitical changes defining transition in most Pakhtun areas raise many questions. Is Talibanisation only a Pakhtun phenomenon? Why were the mujahideen rebranded as Taliban? Did faith or ethnonationalism foster extremism? Did the latter emanate from the hollowness of the internal structure or external policies? Why was the northwest a battlefield for proxies? Why were customs and ‘jihad’ combined for ulterior motives? Why have there been different laws in erstwhile Fata, Pata, the Frontier Regions and KP? What were the consequences of indirect rule in Fata? Why was a colonial recipe favoured there?

Had the FCR and riwaj-based criminal justice system (CJS) been viable in Fata, matters wouldn’t have worsened so much. For decades, the tribal belt had no modern CJS. Did the last four turbulent decades in Pakhtun areas stem from a leadership vacuum? Though the maliks and mullahs tried to fill the gap, militants challenged both. Post-9/11, hundreds of maliks were killed; underscoring the rejection of CJS and administrative apparatus.

Periodically, Pakhtun society has witnessed reform movements. But many factors kept it from modernising, with Pakhtuns wanting both traditionalism and modernism. Khilafat’s pan-Islam slogan drew many Pakhtuns to the Hijrat Movement; many volunteered to migrate to Afghanistan. Local Hindus bought their land and cattle at throwaway prices. The architects of this enterprise hadn’t considered Afghan realities; the emotionally driven movement ended in misery for most. After 9/11, history repeated itself as Sufi Mohammad-led fighters crossed the border. Hundreds died.

Mullahs, landlords, peasants and workers make up the Pakhtun social fabric. The first two maintained the status quo while the common folk struggled for political change, not realising this wasn’t possible without sustainable social development. Killing of maliks, amplifying the sense of injustice via religious validation and arming working-class youth was part of the militants’ strategy. The khans of Swats, the maliks of Fata, and a nationalist party’s activists took the brunt.

The situation of Pakhtuns today raises many questions.

With its socialist leanings the Mazdoor Kissan Party, founded in 1968, supported the peasant movement born of a class struggle between the khans and peasants, indicating that when not facing external threats, energies are directed at the social divide. In contemporary Pakhtun society, social media, democracy, rights movements and education have challenged the status quo.

The leadership void gave opportunities to the likes of Mangal Bagh who worked at a car wash station; Fazlullah who was a chairlift operator; and Hakeemullah, a poultry seller. Though most militant commanders were not graduates of madressahs, they were linked to them by Western media. Glorification of martyrdom/jihad exacerbated extremism.

Historically, Pakhtuns are a nomadic race. Even today they retain that nomadism in parts of Afghanistan, KP and Balochistan. Mobility and adventurism enabled them to rule the subcontinent and fight superpowers. Anti-colonialism and love for religion saw them shuttling between nationalism and religiosity. Previously portrayed as aggressors, of late their wars have been defensive.

Swat state’s judicial system was viewed as instant, cheap and effective. The merger of Swat with Pakistan in 1969 led to changes in the legal system. In 1994, the apex court said Pata regulations were unconstitutional, further exposing the system’s ineffectiveness. The quest for speedy justice and the efforts of Sufi Mohammad’s TNSM resulted in the Nifaz-i-Nizam-i Sharia Regulation, 1994, Nifaz-i-Nizam-i-Sharia, 1995, the Nizam-i-Adl Regul­at­ion and the takeover of government functions in Swat. Such enactments didn’t work as no groundwork had been laid.

Though the government signed peace deals with TNSM, it only bought the militants time. These accords were also a form of appeasement. The quest for information made the majority dependent on alternative means of communication. External broadcasts by international networks apparently fulfilled their needs but it was difficult to distinguish between information and propaganda.

Pakhtuns in Fata, KP and Balochistan have seen different sets of legal and administrative apparatuses. The 25th Amendment buried the FCR and aimed to consolidate the criminal justice and administrative system in the merged districts. Keeping in view Swat’s experience, the CJS in the newly mer­ged districts is to be made fully operational. Success of the Fata reforms depends on the effectiveness of CJS and public service delivery.

With no sizable agricultural and industrial backup, education and trade are options for development. Neither is possible without peace. But the Pakhtuns’ active role in politics, the bureaucracy and military is a healthy omen for national integration. Will the US exit lead to Pakhtun misery or herald a prosperous era for them? The answer is uncertain.

The writer is author of Pakistan: In Between Extremism and Peace.

Twitter: @alibabakhel

Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2021

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