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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pakhtun Culture and Talibanization: the Romanticism and the Clash of Values (Part II)

By Farhat Taj


Professor Bakhshi Opendra is a philosopher of Indian origin based in a UK university. Once I asked him why the British colonizers had romanticized the Pakhtun, especially when the British had look down upon almost all natives in other areas they colonized. His answer was: ‘simple. The Brit was tall and well built. The Pakhtun was tall and well built. The Brit was good fighter. The Pakhtun was good fighter. The two clashed. The Brit got beaten up. Instead of admitting his mistake that it was the he (the Brit) who intruded into the Pakhtun’s territory and not the otherwise, the Brit began romanticizing the Pakhtun. The Pakhtun is so brave; such a natural fighter is he etc!

Colonization of major portion of the earth must have made the British arrogant. It must have been too much for their arrogant pride to admit to their mistake of attacking the Pakhtun territory and therefore they rationalized their defeat by attributing super human qualities to the Pakhtun. This is understandable.

But why do the Pakistani intelligentsia, journalistic circles certain political leaders, even ordinary people, like students, teachers, other professionals and housewives romanticize the Pakhtun by attributing to them too much religiosity? When the Pakhtun voted for PPP and ANP in Feb. 2008 elections, I thought this is it! The Pakhtun have chosen the parties that are closest to whatever level of democracy and secularism Pakistan has ever been able to achieve. So thought the ANP leader Asfandyar Wali, who in a post elections interview declared that the Pakhtun have sent have a powerful message to the world that they reject religious extremism. Unfortunately, even this affected no change in the attitude of the wider Pakistani society and the Pakhtun continued to be identified as Taliban or pro Taliban and their culture compatible with Talibanization.

Now this is not to suggest that Pakhtuns are not religious at all. Most Pakhtuns have deep respect for their religion, Islam. But at the same time they have worldly pursuits in life that are very important for them. Whether they would give up their worldly pursuits for the sake of religion as interpreted by their fellow Pakhtun-the Taliban- at the gunpoint is a big question mark. To explain it better I will give an example. Many Pakhtun businessmen are notorious for taking heavy interests on the loans they make to people. Once I asked an Alhaj (a person who had visited the holy Muslim site in Saudi Arabia many times) Pakhtun who also happened to be quite regular in saying five times prayer that why he takes so much interest on the loans when the Quarn forbids it. His answer was: ‘That (Quran) is my religions and this (taking interest) is my business. I do not mix them up. But I keep both. I need both’.

In the fist part of this article I tried to show how Talibanization is incompatible with the Pakhtun culture. Now I will try to depict how Talibanization is violently clashing with Pakhtun values. For example, sectarian diversity is one of such values. Most Pakhtun are Sunny Muslim. A significant minority is Shiite. Expect minor and sporadic troubles (which many believe were more tribal than theological) the Sunny and Shiite Pakhtun have been living in peace.

There have always been mix Sunny-Shiite Pakhtun communities and even families, with father Shiite, mother Sunny or otherwise. Sunny Pakhtun have been participating in Ashura celebrations, not in the actual rituals (some did this as well) but extending a helping hand in the arrangements for the celebrations, like keeping sabil of water, sweet drinks etc. Call it superstitious, but many Sunny Pakhtun believe (I personally know several) that if you have a longstanding unfulfilled wish, you go to the Ashura procession; make the wish to God there and the wish will be realized. There have always been Sunny Pakhtun going to the Ashura processions for fulfillment of their wishes. The Taliban is eliminating this diversity. For Taliban a Shiite is kafir and a Sunny who interacts with Shiite is also Kafir. Both must be killed.

On Peshawar-Parachinar road, Shiite passengers were dismounted by the Taliban in the areas under their control from the public transport and brutally beheaded just because they happened to be Shiite. The Taliban checked out ID cards of passengers. Anyone having Ali, Hassan, Hussain in their name were assumed to be Shiite. They also did body search and those with marks of Zanjirzani (a ritual when Shiite Muslim beat on their backs with a bunch of chains until the flush wounds and bleeds during the Ashura celebration) were recognized to be Shiite and dismounted to be beheaded. This brutality forced the Shiite from Parachinar to travel via Afghanistan to come to Peshawar and the rest of Pakistan.

The Taliban especially beheaded the Shiite among the captured of soldiers of Pakistan army and put their graphic videos on U Tube. The Taliban so traumatized the Shiite Pakhtun that they sent SOS calls to Shiite across the border in Afghanistan. The help came from Afghanistan but as a result innocent Sunny in the Shiite majority areas were murdered in cold blood or banished from their homes. Agreed that Shiite-Sunny conflict in the Pakhtun areas began due to past international and national events(Iranian Revolution, Afghan War, Zia’s Islamization etc). But now the tension is at its highest. Sunny Pakhtun Taliban have confronted their Shiite fellow Pakhtun with an impossible choice: they must perish or convert to the Taliban’s style Sunny Islam.

The Taliban are attacking the family values of the Pakhtun. A woman’s clothing and mobility in the public sphere are the absolute right and privilege of the family. Unrelated men interfering with those two issues are seen as violating the family honor, which can easily lead to honor-related crimes. Now, unrelated Taliban men openly order women to wear burqa or face consequences. If they did not abide by the order, Taliban publicly beat them- a scene unthinkable in the Pakhtun society. Such incidents have been reported from the Taliban control Swat and other area. In cities across NWFP the Taliban have threatened women to not to go shopping and stay in doors. They have publicly killed women, some for working with NGO’s, some they accused of prostitutions and some of adultery. So, it’s not the family but unrelated Taliban men controlling the women.

The British may have romanticized the Pakhtun for their bravery and honor. But now the Taliban are openly violating the norms of family honor of the Pakhtun and not much honor related crimes are happening! The Reason: the ordinary Pakhtun are no match to the heavily armed, indoctrinated and battle hardened militant Taliban Pakhtun. In the Taliban worldview a woman can only be a prostitute or bigger in the public. When the Taliban took over Afghanistan, they banned women from jobs , including war widows who were the only breed winners of their families. Resultantly the women had no option but to beg or prostitute themselves.

Another Pakhtun value that the Taliban have been so violently insulting is the reverence for Jirga- the council of tribal elders. Evolved in centuries of the Pakhtun history, the institution of Jirga has always been respected by Pakhtun in all circumstances. Even the blood thirsty warring parties would temporarily cease hostility during Jirga and under the instructions of Jirga. The Taliban have attacked with suicide bombings at least two grand Jirgas, one in Darra Adam Khel and the other in Orakzai agency, killing that entire tribal leadership of the areas. The Taliban have even been attacking funeral ceremonies, an extremely disgustful act in any culture.

The apologists of the Taliban have been saying on media that attacks on Jirga and funeral ceremonies have been the handiwork of spy agencies of the enemy countries-India and Israel. Well, India and Israel may or may not be providing money or weapons to the Taliban. But before accusing them we got to see that the Pakhtun Taliban are tearing apart the social order of their own society through violence. They are determined and this is the problem. Any real or perceived help from India or Israel, in my view, is of secondary importance. Even if there is no Indian or Israeli help (real or perceived) the determined Taliban may get it from elsewhere.

The apologists of Taliban also argue on media: ‘did the Taliban do this before the military operations in FATA?’Yes they did. Remember, even before 9/11 Muallana Sufi Mohammad of Tehrik Nifaz Sharia Mohammadi in Malaknad openly asked her followers to capture and take in Nikah then and there any female NGO worker that they spotted in the Malakand agency. The NGO’s workers of the area were terrified. In another incident of before 9/11 female activists of the pro-Taliban Jumaat islami attacked in a girls’ college in NWFP the participants of a Mina bazaar and forced the administration to close down the event because some of the girls were wearing kurta pajama that the Jumaat activists said was ‘Un Isamic Hindu culture’.

The reason such bizarre incidents happen more frequently now is that earlier the Taliban’s savagery was focused on Afghanistan. Now they have turned their eyes to Pakistan. Their acts of terrorism in Afghanistan were wrong, just as they are wrong in Pakistan. It was wrong of the establishment of Pakistan to back the Taliban in Afghanistan while fully knowing how savage they were.

People in the wider Pakistani society must understand that the Pakhtun are under attacks by the ferocious religious extremist Pakhtun supported by the global forces of the violent Jihad. They deserve help and support of the rest of the Pakistani society, not just for moral reasons, but for their own interests. Non-Pakhtun Pakistanis must remember if the Pakhtun society collapsed under the weight of Talibnization, the rest of Pakistan will follow shortly and probably more swiftly.
(To be continued)

Farhat Taj is a PhD Reasearcher at the University of Oslo.

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