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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Secular Pashtuns Respond

Pakhtun Peace Jirga

Asfandyar Wali Khan
The Statesman, November 20, 2006

Awami National Party (ANP) is the continuation of the Pakhtun
freedom movement, founded by Baacha Khan in the early 20th century.
Baacha Khan and his Khudai Khidmatgars (Servants of God) allied
themselves with the All India National Congress in 1930 and were
part of the mainstream South Asian struggle for freedom, peace and
democracy. Due to their total dedication to the cause of peace, non-
violence and social reforms Khudai Khidmatgars were recognised as
apostles of peace and social reforms in the entire South Asian
region and beyond.

Taking ahead the legacy of peace and non-violence, ANP has a
consistent position of supporting peaceful methods of conflict
resolution. It is, therefore, only natural that ANP has taken the
present initiative of convening the Pakhtun Peace Jirga. The Party
wants to achieve the purpose of establishing peace through dialogue
and helping democratic transformation on social and political level.

The failure of the structures of the international community; and
regional and national governments in putting an end to war,
bloodshed and large-scale destruction for the last three decades has
forced Pakhtuns to invoke the strength of their most important
traditional social institution — the Jirga — in the hope that it
will bring peace and stability back to their lands. Over the
centuries, the Jirga has also successfully confirmed the Islamic
teaching of "mushawarat" (or "consultation"), ["[t]hose…who
(conduct) their affairs by mutual Consultation"; Holy Quran, 42:38]
that gives it additional strength. Although the Jirga is an ancient
social institution, it would be wrong to perceive the present
Pakhtun Peace Jirga (PPJ) as an effort at ethnic revivalism or
withdrawal from modern world. On the contrary, the PPJ is cognizant
of the realities of the contemporary world and, accordingly, has
purposely taken steps to prevent being confined, as in the past, to
traditional leaders of the tribes and clans. Political parties
across spectrum, social organisations and members of the
intelligentsia will participate alongside the tribal leaders. The
purpose is to evolve a societal consensus for bringing pressure to
bear on regional governments to grow beyond their present rigid
positions and become proactive in bringing about peace.

When violence erupted in Afghanistan in the aftermath of intensive
ideological and political polarisation of the Cold War in the late
1970s, our now deceased national leader, Baacha Khan warned that the
erstwhile Soviet Union and US-led Western bloc were fighting their
war in Afghanistan. Afghans and Afghanistan had to pay a very heavy
price in terms of large-scale death and destruction. After the
withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan in the spring of
1989, most of the Western countries disengaged from Afghanistan
leaving behind a vacuum that attracted regional hegemonism and
violent groups of different shades from all over the world into the
conundrum of Afghanistan. The suffering of the Afghan people was
prolonged as proxy war in Afghanistan dragged on — this time with
those wishing to establish "a true Islamic state" at the expense of
Afghan sovereignty — and the country degenerated into a virtual
capital of international terror and violence. This later development
led to the re-internationalisation of the Afghan conflict and new
international interest and engagement with Afghanistan was initiated
after the events of 9/11. It should be recognised that the Pakhtun
belt in Pakistan was deeply involved in the conflict, both new and
old, from the very beginning.

The Pakhtun areas in Pakistan were used both as a launching pad for
war against the Soviets and, subsequently, as a base-camp for the
later adventures across the line, which led to militarisation, socio-
political deformation, and lack of reform and perpetuation of social
isolation of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

1) Pakhtun, Pashtuns and (Afghans by virtue of language and
ethnicity) are synonyms. However, the name, Afghan is being used for
every citizen of Afghanistan generally.

2) Hujra is a social institution among Pakhtuns, traditionally used
as a community guest-house; and a place of entertainment and
interaction for men in each village or section(s) of a village in
Pakhtun society. It is the place where Jirgas may be convened for
deliberations and consultations on issues relating to the
community's worldly affairs.

3) Traditionally, among Pakhtuns, the role of the mosque has
remained confined to be a place of Allah's worship and Islamic

The roots of the current violence on both sides of the Durand Line
lie in the dual policy of Pakistan's ruling establishment towards
Afghanistan and the failure of US. and NATO in addressing the root
causes and sources of insurgency. While declaring to take a U-turn
on Afghanistan after 9/11, influential elements in Pakistani
establishment refused to give up the policy of using extremist
militants to achieve "strategic depth" in Afghanistan. As a direct
result of the failure to abandon these policies, FATA and northern
Balochistan are allowed to be used as base-camp for the elements
fomenting insurgency in Afghanistan across the line. The effort to
hide behind the tribal xenophobia of Pashtun tribes, as part of the
Pakistani strategy to de-stabilise Afghanistan, has worsened and
complicated the situation.

Experience has proved beyond any doubt that using religious
militancy as a tool for hegemonic policy is a double-edge sword.
Those who stoke the fire of religious militancy across the borders
of a neighbouring country, because of its very nature, help in its
cancerous growth back home. "Collateral damage" in military
operations on both sides of the line creates "collateral enemies"
thus leading to widening of the conflict.

The spiral of violence that began in the wake of military operations
in Waziristan resulted in large-scale displacements of the local
population; destruction of the area's subsistence economy; and
scores of murders and target killings of the non-violent tribal
elders. While the wounds of Waziristan had yet to heal, the tragic
events in Bajaur and Dargai prompted ANP to invite Pakhtun
leadership and opinion-makers across all spectrum of the civil
society to stand up against the growing momentum of violence in
Pakhtun areas east of the Durand Line.

The ANP is of the opinion that the PPJ is not to be expected to
extinguish the fires of a conflict spanning a quarter-century in one
broad stroke. It does, however, promise to be the beginning of a new
discourse of peaceful co-existence in which Pakhtuns — the major
stakeholders in the conflict — will not remain mere pawns or silent
spectators among competing regional and global interests that are
set on a violent course to achieve their respective national goals.
To enable Pakhtuns to determine their destiny in the midst of a very
complicated situation, and accordingly utilise their energies and
national potential for peace, democracy and development in the
entire region, it is imperative for all Pakhtun leadership to start
an internal dialogue. For this purpose, the Jirga could be a very
effective tool due to its social legitimacy and deep psychological

Unfortunately, violence is not the only problem in our region. Under-
development, immense poverty, mass proliferation of heavy weapons
and drugs have made us even more vulnerable to manipulation.
Fortunately, our land and people have enormous potential to become
major partner in the development of both the regional and global
economy. Pakhtuns straddle a land mass that is the confluence of
civilisations. No other community, from the foothills of Urals to
the banks of Indus, is in a position to play the role of a bridge
and conduit to the regional development of Southwest Asia than
Pakhtuns. The huge reservoirs of fossil fuel in the Caspian region
and the deepening processes of regional and global trade have
provided Pakhtuns with historic opportunities for development;
however, to enable development for our people, peace is the first

As a consequence of the 25-year old Afghan conflict, Pakhtun society
has lost its social balance. Traditionally, Pakhtun society was
built on two pillars — the hujra and the mosque. The former
fulfilled the temporal and the latter the religious needs of Pakhtun
society. However, the ideological polarisation during the Afghan
conflict deformed this centuries-old synthesis of Islamic tradition
and values of Pakhtunwali and the enemies of our people tried to
demolish Afghan/Pakhtun national identity to achieve the goals of
hegemonism. As a consequence, Pakhtun society was pushed to
polarisation on extreme ideological lines.
This historical process also resulted in the empowerment,
coordination and networking of the extremist militant groups in
Afghanistan and Pakistan in general; and in Pakhtun society in
particular. In other words, a highly organised and empowered
constituency of extremists and militants is active in the entire
region whereas the moderate religious, progressive, democratic and
peaceful groups are disorganised and marginalised. In order to
diffuse this polarisation in Pakhtun society and effectively turn
the tide of violence in the entire region, the PPJ is a step towards
proactively pursuing the aspiration of groups and people who stand
for peace, development and democracy in Pakhtun society, in the
region and in the entire world.

The primary motive behind convening the PPJ is to articulate and
voice the national aspirations of Pakhtuns and build a constituency
of peace within and around Pakhtuns. To achieve these objectives,
the PPJ will deliberate on how to engage Pakhtuns, as well as
competing regional and global actors, on a sustained course of
dialogue that will address accommodation of the national interests
of Pakhtuns in reconciliation with the legitimate interests of major
players in the region without resorting to violence.

The ANP appreciates the initiative of Afghan and Pakistani heads of
state for convening representative Jirgas of Pakhtuns in Pakistan
and Afghanistan at the government level and the PPJ is neither a pre-
emption nor duplication of this exercise. To the contrary, since our
experience and understanding shows that the Pakistani establishment
is not enthusiastic about the proposed Jirgas, the PPJ is,
therefore, aimed at strengthening the peace process at the civil
society level with the interests of the common people as the primary
focus — rather than notions of security that are deeply rooted in
the opinions of certain figures and government institutions.

The ANP is hopeful that the PPJ will draw the interest and attention
of major Pakhtun leadership, because there is a growing
dissatisfaction among the people with the constant perpetuation of
proxy wars and violence. Our people desperately need freedom from
violence and a hope for peace and development. We have had countless
widows and orphans already. It is time for the Pakhtun people to
return to their own way of life in which rule is accomplished
through consensus at Jirgas, and concern for the community is the
priority rather than identification with the global agendas of
others. Our children have the right to peace, education and a better
tomorrow in which their national identity can remain alive and
vibrant. The ANP, through the PPJ, calls upon all Pakhtun leaders,
regional and state governments to join with our efforts in working
for peace. Otherwise, history stands witness that the flames of war
in the Pakhtun areas will have dangerous consequences for peace and
security in the region and in the world.

The writer is President Awami National Party (ANP) and Convener of
the PPJ

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