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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tribe aims to smash Pakistan

Tribe aims to smash Pakistan,00.html

Article from: The Australian
THE man who aims to one day reshape Pakistan and lead his fellow Pashtun tribesmen into a Greater Afghanistan came tantalisingly close to forsaking his troubled nation for Australia.

Pediatric surgeon Said Alam Mehsud in 1993 received an offer he felt was too good to refuse from a Melbourne hospital. He was all poised to pack up his life and move but for the violent objections of his family.

"It is something I still regret," he tells The Weekend Australian in his bare office in a dilapidated building in Peshawar's former artists' colony.

It is entirely possible that Pakistan may one day too come to regret his decision. The fiery doctor now leads the Pashtun Awareness Movement, a nationalist group whose ultimate goal is to extinguish the Durand Line dividing Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He advocates the creation of a Pashtunistan that stretches from Afghanistan, through Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas and North West Frontier Province to the Margalla Hills above Islamabad and south through Baluchistan.

The Peshawar-based group, which Mehsud says takes in all levels of Pashtun society, relaunched after a five-year hiatus on to Pakistan's political scene two months ago. It staged a risky public rally through the streets of the North West Frontier Province capital to protest the imposition of terrorism on the Pashtun people and the exploitation of their natural resources by Pakistan's "Punjabi hegemony".

The concepts are far from new. Pashtun nationalism has been an enduring theme throughout Pakistan's troubled 62-year history. But the timing of the latest push is crucial.

A weak central government, a military struggling with wars on several fronts and a terrorised and demoralised, 35 million-strong Pashtun population add up to a potentially nation-splitting conflagration.

The push for a Pashtun nation is rooted in regional history. It was the Pashtun who founded Afghanistan and ruled over a large area of what is now Pakistan until their defeat by the British in 1847. The British then imposed the Durand Line but could only maintain peace with the Pashtun by granting them autonomous status in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

That status was respected by successive Pakistan governments until 2002 when former US president George W.Bush pressured Pakistan into sending its army into FATA in pursuit of al-Qa'ida militants suspected of launching the September 11 attacks.

Since then the FATA region has become a global powerbase for al-Qa'ida and the Taliban.

But analysts say it was Pakistan's fear of Pashtunistan, and Afghanistan's role in the nationalist movement, that led it to support jihadists fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, and eventually the creation of the Taliban.

Mehsud insists the Taliban, despite being drawn almost entirely from Pashtun ranks, is the arch-enemy of his people and says defeating terrorism is his movement's primary aim, above any push for secession or autonomy.

He blames the Islamic extremism of the Taliban, and the Pakistan Inter Service Intelligence Agency he says is their master, for the destruction of Pashtun culture as it once existed: its language, romance poetry and songs .

"We're a hostage nation begging for our lives and our security. If we are able to convey to the world the actual feelings of this (Pashtun) nation we can defeat terrorism."

Rustom Mohmand, a former NWFP chief secretary turned analyst, agrees the Pashtun are at an historical low point -- squeezed by militants, the state and by its US and NATO allies.

"It's the Pashtun that are getting hurt, whose lands and villages are being destroyed, who have been persecuted, jailed and tortured," he says.

But, he adds, the "lofty" concept of Pashtunistan is no longer supported by the masses. "The Pashtun want a life of dignity, job opportunities, peace and access to justice."

Others, however, do not agree.

In a recent analysis of ethnic tensions in Pakistan, Selig Harrison, a regional expert with the Centre for International Policy, called for the US administration to help the Pashtun realise their wish for a united, autonomous province. He argued the current US policy of missile strikes in FATA only strengthened the militants' hand and recruitment effort by "arousing a Pashtun sense of victimisation".

"The US should support Pashtun demands to merge the NWFP and FATA, followed by the consolidation of those areas and Pashtun enclaves in Baluchistan and the Punjab into a single unified 'Pashtunkhwa' province that enjoys the autonomy envisaged in the inoperative 1973 Pakistan constitution," Harrison wrote in May.

Mehsud cites Harrison in defence of his own position.

He denies he is extremist and says rather that a set of extreme circumstances -- including the terrorism and fear now gripping Pashtun people and forcing mass displacement from their tribal lands -- has led to the new nationalist push.

"We will not split Pakistan if they agree with us on our autonomy," he says ominously. "If they don't, we may die but they can't keep this country for ever."

1 comment:

Pilland said...

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Best wishes from Italy!