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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Objectifying the Pakhtun
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Farhat Taj

Some people on the editorial pages of The News have have fantasies in which they objectify the Pakhtun. It is as if the Pakhtuns do not human needs, constraints and concerns but are objects programmed to behave in line with the fantasies of these people. Two of the people are Admiral (retired) Fasih Bukhari (Dec 15) and Zeenia Satti's article "Dangerous vacuum" (Dec 16).

in "Let's get our act together in South Asia," Mr Bukhari writes that in Afghanistan the coalition forces' "Operation Lion Heart" against Pathan supporters of the Afghan Taliban in NWFP "is an obvious reference to the third Christian Crusade of Richard II of England against Sultan Salahuddin Ayubi: obviously calculated to arouse anger in the highly religious tribesmen."

It is a fantasy that "Operation Lion Heart" will arouse Pakhtun tribesmen's anger. The connotation has nothing to do with the current realities of the Pakhtuns and their history, because the Crusades are not an episode in Pakhtun history. With a literacy rate of 17 percent among men and 3 percent among women in the tribal areas, most tribesmen and -women have little knowledge of the history of far away lands. However, the tribal people do have knowledge of Pakhtun history. For example, many tribal people would know something about the Pakhtun history of resistance to the Muslim Mughal Empire and the British Empire. I asked 411 tribesmen and -women in different places in the tribal areas to tell me how much they know about Richard II. Not a single man or woman knew who he was--including some individuals educated up to the level of MA. Only five people had heard about the Crusades (Salibi Jangey). Three of them had no idea about the geographic and ethnic identity of the peoples who participated in the Crusades. They just said that the Crusades were wars between Muslims and Christian somewhere in the world.

So how can the Americans provoke the "highly religious tribesmen" by naming their operation "Lion Heart"? Rather, the Americans were provoking, if indeed they were, the Arab militants holed up in the tribal areas.

Secondly, not all tribesmen are "highly religious." Pakhtun tribal society is like any other human society. Some individuals are highly religious but others are moderately so. Mostly, Pakhtun men and women live according to their Rewaj (Custom) not religion; religion is an important part of the Rewaj, but not the entire Rewaj.

Ms Satti writes that the Pakistani Taliban "have already benefited from the CIA's drone attacks. After each attack, the incumbents, entrusted with guarding the territorial sovereignty of Pakistan, are seen sitting on their plush sofas, doing effete 'muzammat'--while the Taliban are seen destroying NATO vehicles and firing at the drones. This has endeared them to NWFP residents, despite the Taliban's having caused the attacks, in the first place."

This statement is a wild fantasy when seen through the realities of the people of the NWFP. They are sick and tired of the Taliban. The Taliban have killed innocent people--men, women, children--they have destroyed the educational institutions in the area, devastated businesses and shattered the peace there. The Taliban even exhume and humiliate the dead bodies. The Army, an institution always respected by the people of the NWFP, is losing its prestige in the eyes of the people of the area for being seen as unable or unwilling to crush the Taliban. Despite all this, Ms Satti believes that the Taliban have become the darling of the NWFP people. Which NWFP is the writer talking about? The real NWFP, the federating unit of Pakistan, or some imaginary NWFP in the fantasies of the writer? What is the writer's source of information?

I sent the writer an email on Dec 17 and asked the following questions:

1. For whom does the Taliban's behaviour have an emotive appeal?

2) Could you explain a bit what you mean by "while the Taliban are seen destroying NATO vehicles and firing at the drones. This has endeared them to NWFP residents"?

3) When was the last time you were in the NWFP?

4) Are you from the NWFP or FATA?

The writer never replied to the email. One of my friends also sent her an email asking more or less the same questions. The writer never replied to this friend either. Perhaps the writer did not receive our emails, or perhaps she deliberately chose to ignore them. If we had received a response, we would have had a better idea of the logic behind her statement. Several people of the NWFP with whom I discussed her article expressed strong disagreement. One described it as "bizarre, naive and irresponsible."

I would request both Mr Bukhari and Zeenia Satti to check the bases of their assumptions about the Pakhtun areas against the concrete realities of the area, its people and their history before writing about them.

The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo. Email:

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