Pastun elders.  Photo: Flickr Commons
Pastun elders. Photo: Flickr Commons

Pashtuns are suffering in the South Asia region. In Afghanistan, they are kept out of power and face the wrath of Nato-led forces. In Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), they are troubled by drone attacks and the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), an outdated and cruel system of collective punishment. The newly formed Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) is also proving to be yet another case of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.

Historically, the word “Pashtun” has been used interchangeably with “Afghan.” The people who initially inhabited the region southeast of the Amu Darya river in Afghanistan, to the west of the Indus River in Pakistan, are Pashtun. They primarily speak the Pashto language and follow the Pashtunwali code of conduct. They are primarily found in Afghanistan and Pakistan and form the world’s largest tribal society.

Worldwide, the Pashtun tribe comprises at least 50 million people, with some estimates much larger. Most live in Pakistan, with around 28 million in Afghanistan and smaller numbers in Iran. There are 1.8 million registered and unregistered Afghan refugees in Pakistan, a majority of whom are Pashtuns.

Of the Pakistani Pashtuns, more than 26 million live in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), 9 million in FATA, and around 7 million in Karachi alone. There are 9 million in Punjab, 3 million in Sindh and 6.5 million in Baluchistan. These figures do not include the Niazi tribe of Mianwali, who are also Pathans but fewer speak the Pashto language. Pashtuns are very well integrated into Pakistani society and enjoy positions of power in government, civil and military bureaucracies. They also enjoy vast connectivity due to intermarriages with other ethnic groups.

The Pashtuns for the first time want to integrate fully into the Pakistani state and its legal system. However, the current government has been dragging its feet on this new development and not meeting the demands of the Pashtuns.

The Pashtuns for the first time want to integrate fully into the Pakistani state and its legal system. However, the current government has been dragging its feet on this new development and not meeting the demands of the Pashtuns

Anti-Pakistan forces are using a few politicians, political activists and social workers to slow down the integration of FATA into mainstream Pakistan. The PTM, which began as a noble student initiative launched in 2013 for the purpose of clearing landmines in Waziristan, has been hijacked.

The movement rightfully protested the extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud by police in Karachi. A long march followed by a sit-in in Islamabad was organized by the movement and was supported by many patriotic citizens of Pakistan.

However, later, key PTM personnel started making radical speeches against the Pakistan army and its security agencies in Baluchistan, accusing them of forgetting the human rights of Pashtuns.

Anti-Pakistan speeches by PTM workers are also provoking wide publicity put out by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), a US-funded organization. A website called Gandhara and Mashaal Radio have also cultivated suspicion between the Pakistani military and Pashtuns.

Saira Bano Orakzai, a proud Pashtun and research fellow at Harvard University, said in a recent article that the time is ripe for the people of the tribal areas to make a clear choice: to struggle to restore rights and peace or to struggle against this country’s institutions and ideology, only to get entangled in a perpetual conflict, thus derailing an already fragile reform process for FATA’s future.

The government of Pakistan should immediately merge FATA with KPK and implement FATA reforms. The killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud must be immediately resolved because some forces are exploiting the situation. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority must monitor and check the hostile propaganda against the unity and interests of Pashtun people in national and international media.

It is high time Pashtuns identify their enemies and friends.

Atta Rasool Malik hails from the semi-tribal areas of Pakistan. He holds an MPhil degree in International Relations from the National Defence University in Islamabad. Apart from horseback riding, his interests include reading and writing about the security of South Asia and the Middle East.

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