OFFICIALS of the state, especially when representing the country at international forums, need to choose their words carefully, and not make sweeping generalisations that are clearly offensive. It appears that Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN Munir Akram spoke without much forethought when he recently made regrettable remarks about the Pakhtun community during a session of the multilateral body in New York. While speaking on the situation in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, the veteran diplomat said that the restrictions placed by the hard-line group come “from a peculiar cultural perspective of the Pakhtun culture which requires women to be kept at home” while adding that this “reality … has not changed for hundreds of years”. A senior official with Mr Akram’s experience should have known better than to make such inappropriate remarks, even though he later backtracked and said he meant no disrespect to the Pakhtun culture.
Firstly, describing the Taliban — Afghan or Pakistani — as representatives of Pakhtun culture is incorrect. The Pakhtun community has a rich history, while the Taliban are largely the by-products of modern geopolitics mixed with extremist ideology. Moreover, in this part of the world, people belonging to all ethnolinguistic groups have been attracted to fundamentalist ideology, which was nurtured and weaponised during the Cold War, and extremism is certainly not limited to members of the Pakhtun community. If anything, many Afghan, including Pakhtun, women want to pursue education, which the obscurantists ruling Afghanistan are cruelly denying them. A senior diplomat such as Mr Akram should know that militancy and obscurantism were promoted in both Afghanistan and Pakistan during the Afghan jihad, and are not in any way linked to Pakhtun culture. In fact, if there is indeed a strong current of conservatism in parts of KP, our state has contributed to this situation as before the merger of the former tribal districts, the state did little to bring modern education and infrastructure to erstwhile Fata.
Published in Dawn, February 4th, 2023