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Sunday, December 24, 2006

All Pakhtuns Taliban? NO

All Pakhtuns Taliban? NO
Helmand Khan
At this point in time, the west is trying to understand the causes beyond the renewed strength of Taliban's led insurgency in Afghanistan, fighting the war on terror in the remote mountains of Southern Afghanistan and closely watching developments in the tribal areas of Pakistan which has recently been dubbed as virtual mini Taliban state by an international think tank, ICG (International Crisis Group). One obvious finger is being pointed towards one community called Pakhtuns and is suggested that Taliban are pakhtuns and pakhtuns are Taliban. However, is it fair to associate the whole community- spreading the large swath of Pakistan and Afghanistan, with extremist Taliban. The obvious answer is a big No. It is not the first time that pakhtuns are on the sponlight. When erstwhile Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan, the whole free world rushed to this remote corner of the world, pursuing a a gurella war thorough its proxies in Afghanistan against soviert forces. The war sucked in thousands of pakhtuns not only form Afghanistan but also form Pakistan's tribal areas, NWFP and Baluchistan. With the hind sight it is logical to concede that pakhtuns were fighting the war of Soviet Union and the free world led by the United States of America. Hence they were caught in a cross fire. Pakistan being a regional player, benefited the most from the Afghan war. It's policy towards pakhtuns was very much calculated: Pakistani's establishment which was and is running the countries foreign policy, set up hundreds of Madrasas in the pakhtun dominated areas of NWFP, Tribal areas and Baluchistan. Religious political parties were established, and funded by Islamabad and their backers in the Middle East. Thus it become the defecto official policy of Islamabad to promote extremism and fundamentalism among the pakhtuns. Through out the Afghan war, Pakistan suppressed pakhtun democratic and secular forces as it was easy for the army to manipulate religious political outfits to its ends. Nationalist leaders were imprisoned, and no voice of civil society among the pakhtuns was let to question the state policy of radicalising pakhtuns. Unfortunately, the west also tuned a blind eye towards Pakistan's deliberate policy of fostering extremism in the nearly 40 millions pakhtuns (figures quoted by renowned journalist and regional expert, Ahmed Rashid). This policy also indirectly served the interest of the west to have more foot soldiers available for "Afgan Jihad". T-he steady supply of pakhtun foot soldiers to Afghan war, created a quite impression in western capitals: that Afghans-read pakhtuns-owing to extre-me religious fervour, were ready to die in the name of Isl-am or Jihad. There was no di-rect communication between the pakhtun democratic and se-cular political parties and the west. As the cold war was over and subsequent events proved, the west simply walked away form Afghanistan, leaving Pakistan in charge of the region. Among other objectives, with the rise of Taliban in Afghanistan, Islamabad pretended that Taliban's coming into power was in the interest of pakhtuns in Afghanistan thus becoming champion of pakhtun rights in Afghanistan as well. The arrival of Taliban in Afghanistan, provided a great opportunity to Pakistan assure the world that Taliban are the natural choice of pakhtuns: that pakhtuns are Taliban and Taliban are pakhtuns, so the whole world should support Taliban so that pakhtuns' grievances are addressed in Afghanistanm and by doing so end the internal fighting in the country. As there were no credible secular democratic parties among pakhtuns of Afghanistan, Taliban were touted as the only pakhtun force on the scene hence to be reckoned with. The demonising of Pakhtun community continues even today. The logic behind the recent deal in the tribal areas of Pakistan was this: local pro Taliban elements were gaining support among pakhtuns of tribal areas so in order to wane the support of pakhtuns, Tal-iban should be part of any deal. However, in fact it was a recipe for further talibanisation of the area. Islamabad has never allowed mainstream pakhtun political parties to do political activities in tribal areas. But religious alliance of Mutahida Mijlas Amal (MMA) has MPs elected to Parliament from this area. It proves that Islamabad continues with its cold war policy of deliberately radicalising pakhtuns at the expense of moderate pakhtun political parties, on hand, and sending a message to the whole world that all pakhtuns are Al Qaeda sympathisers and Taliban supporters. However, evidence suggests otherwise: The fact is that electoral successes by the religious right in pakhtun areas have always been engineered by Islamabad. Even today, moderate and secular pakhtun political parties are suspected as anti Pakistan just because they have opposed the policies of Islamabad on democracy, human rights, interfering in neighbouring courtiers and radicalising pakhtuns and greater autonomy for minorities. Besides, the above parties, thousands of middle class pakhtuns are in Europe and the United States who have strongly opposed Taliban and Al Qaeda's presence in the region. A new pakhtuns middle class is emerging in Pakistan who believes in education, development, and above all moderation. Pakhtun women are increasingly becoming educated and trying to participate in all walks of life. Now they have started to join non traditiona fields like NGOs, air force and media. They would never approve Taliban's restrictions on fellow women. The west needs a long term strategy to deal with extremism in Pakhtun areas of Pakistan. 1. It should not support Pakistan's so called peace deals with pro Taliban militants in Tribal areas and help rid the area of parallel Taliban administration . 2. It needs to put pressure on Pakistan army to abandon its policy of radicalising Pakhtuns by stopping the promotion of religious parties in the Pakhtun belt, introducing Madrasa reforms, bringing in the area a far with the rest of the country, and uplifting the socio-economic conditions of the pakhtuns. 3. Western capitals should link all their aid to Pakistan ,with political reforms in Tribal areas and genuine support for secular, democratic forces among pakhtuns. 4. General Pervaz Mushraf's talk of "enlightened moderation" is a mere rhetoric that needs concrete actions so should be taken with a pinch of salt.

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