Pakhtuns calling: Is anybody listening?

The Frontier Post
Jan Assakzai
Discrimination against nearly 40 million Pakhtuns in Pakistan has reached new levels finding parallels with Bengalis of erstwhile East Pakistan. Yes it is in Pakistan which has a constitution that purports to respect the rights of other provinces, ethnic and religious minorities. In practice, Pakhtuns are practising worse kind of discrimination can be seen below: 1: The war on terror has turned Pakhtun areas of Pakhtunkhwa and of Southern Pakhtunkhwa (Read Balochistan's Pakhtun areas) into a battleground for extremist and terrorist activities culminating in closure of thousands of schools and killing of innocent political, tribal and social leaders, besides women and children 2: The policies of war on terror and of "strategic depth" pursued by Pakistan military establishment are victimising Pakhtuns while having no say whatsoever in shaping them - leaving the community brutalised and traumatised over the last nearly three decades. 2: B. The Talibanisation policy of the state has depicted Pakhtuns as Taliban world over. Any Pakhtun in Lahore, Karachi or in other parts of Pakistan is being suspected as terrorist or Talib. Even Karachi dominated electronic media - on the day of Lahore's multiple blasts couple of weeks back - aired a police officer as saying "we arrested a 'Pathan' in connection with Lahore blasts" instead of saying a suspect has been detained. Even a Pakhtun officer of Pakistan army told this scribe that he wanted to book an army guest house in Sindh when a fellow officer asked him if he did not belong to FATA implying that officer may be subjected to further scrutiny. One can see the level of suspicion directed at Pakhtuns. 3: Such is intolerance to the identity of Pakhtuns that predominantly Punjab based PML-N has tooth and nail opposed changing the name of NWFP to Pakhtunkhwa. Isn't it racist if you do not call me what I prefer you to call me by. 3:B Nearly 40 million Pakhtuns have been living in their lands on a contiguous territory but divided in different political and administrative units under the name of NWFP, FATA and Balochistan turning them into Pakistan's "Kurds" on their own land. Why words like NWFP, FATA and Balochistan not used for others? Is the state of Pakistan the new form of British Raj when it comes to Pakhtuns? 4: Pakhtu language is orphan in the state of Pakistan. It is mainly due to brave Pakhtun mothers that Pakhtu language is alive and still thriving. But without state support Pakhtu language will become endangered specie very soon. Do Pakhtuns need another state to stop discrimination against their identity, language, culture and values? 5: The plight of FATA is the culmination of colonial policies that Pakistan inherited from British Empire and pursued till today. FCR's black law is still an infringement of the rights - not to mention the economic deprivation of the area. Do Pakhtuns need another state to cater for their constitutional rights there? 6: There is no single road, train or any other means of communication linking Pakhtun areas in Pakistan. For example, in FATA in order to go to another agency you have to drive through Peshawar. From Southern Pakhtunkhwa-in Balochistan one has to go through Sindh and Punjab in order to go to Peshawar while using train as a mode of transportation. The train journey takes nearly two days. On the other hand if there had been a train service linking Quetta, Zhob and Dera Ismail Khan, timing could have been cut by two-thirds. Is not the job of the state to ensure modern means of transportation for their travel. As far the economic deprivation, the less said the better. Despite being energy producing power, Pakhtuns have negligible access to its proceeds. Power cuts in rural areas reach to 12-20 hours a day hurting their agriculture badly. Agriculture produce ie, tobacco from Pakhtunkhwa, for example, and apples from southern Pakhtunkhwa can hardly be seen in the Middle Eastern markets, Europe and North America while mangoes and oranges - agriculture produce from non-Pakhtun areas - end up on the streets of Dubai, London and New York, courtesy of state patronage. Same is the case with other products. Are Pakhtuns not Pakistanis or they not entitled to state support for their agriculture produce to market in Middle East, Europe and North America? 8: The so-called economic package for Balochistan has left out almost half of the Balochistan population. Is it because Pakhtuns in Balochistan are not gun totting as their Baloch counterparts are? Such is the level of frustration among Pakhtuns there that this scribe was shocked to observe many Pakhtun youth arguing for adopting Balaach Marri solution - resorting to violence - in reaction to widespread economic deprivation and unemployment. Is the state of Pakistan listening? 9: Millions of Pakhtuns in Karachi are facing the threat of losing livelihood due to the fact the state of Pakistan is one sidedly supporting ethnic Muhajir community in their politically, economically and socially discriminatory policies towards Pakhtuns. Are Pakhtuns of Karachi half Pakistanis? In conclusion the status quo viz a viz Pakhtuns cannot perpetuate for long as such a large community cannot be held back from its due share in the country's political, economic and social life. If Pakistan has to come out of its present mess, it needs a new social contract with Pakhtuns in particular. Only a democratic Pakistan at ease with its minorities and at peace with its neighbours is the ultimate solution. Will somebody at the helms listen before it is too late?

Want to Buy Some Opium?

Surgar Weekly
The focus of the U.S. Military in Afghanistan has apparently shifted towards Kandahar. General McChrystal recently declared that the operation has already begun. But what about Marjah? Only recently it was the primary theater for U.S. forces, and, as written here, the real struggle began after kinetic operations ended. So now, at the most important juncture, why are resources and attention being pulled elsewhere? There are numerous outstanding issues in Marjah, and neglecting them now will undermine any progress made in the past.
One of the most vexing issues in Marjah is the opium crop, which is due to be harvested soon. In a drastic change of policy, U.S. and ISAF forces will not be eradicating the crop. The reason is simple -- Afghans who planted the crop are relying on the profits from the harvest to make ends meet and feed their families. Destroying the crop would only serve to impoverish the farmers and further erode the legitimacy of the Karzai government. General McChrystal is right to eschew eradication, but that alone doesn't solve the opium problem.
It's important to understand that farmers do not become wealthy by growing opium. They do it because it is a hardy crop and in times of insecurity is a reliable producer of enough cash to survive. The illicit wealth goes to a myriad of middlemen, from local drug runners and Taliban enforcers to international smugglers and distributors. These middlemen often coerce farmers into growing poppy. In areas where the Afghan government's writ is circumscribed, local Taliban sometimes require local farmers to plant opium, and threaten punishment if they do not deliver a satisfactory output after the harvest.
When viewed through this prism of desperation and coercion, it becomes clear that benign neglect from coalition forces is not sufficient to address the problem.
The Taliban and drug smugglers will still make their profits, and farmers will still be forced to grow more opium next year. A more active and comprehensive solution is needed to ensure that opium is not planted next year, and this solution does exist -- the U.S. should buy the current opium crop from farmers. Additionally, the coalition should distribute seeds for other crops and make clear that all subsequent opium yields will be destroyed without compensation. In other words, help the farmers survive by paying for their crop now, but warn them that this will never happen again and help them shift to other products.
Obviously this is a solution with warts, but it has not been fully examined. Ron Nordland wrote it off with a nod to an unattributed source, who "feared that it would only encourage more opium cultivation -- and might be illegal under United States law, turning American troops into de facto drug financiers." Dion Nissenbaum for McClatchy similarly dismissed the option as "politically unpalatable" without any further discussion.Purchasing the crop need not be considered illegal. Treating it as a military expenditure to create stability in Afghanistan is justifiable, particularly considering it would save American lives and cost less than another force escalation. Nor would buying the crop turn American troops into "de fact drug financiers." The poppy would be promptly destroyed, not trafficked, and the majority of the funds would go to struggling Afghan farmers, not the Taliban middlemen. Another workaround is for American troops to pay Afghan farmers to destroy their own crops, circumventing the legal issue and ensuring that the farmers are justly compensated.There are, however, two outstanding issues that make purchasing the crop a risky gambit: security and governance. Doing so is predicated on the notion that Marjah will remain under coalition/Afghan government control in the foreseeable future. Drug smugglers and Taliban forces accustomed to easy profits will be angered if they are cut out of the proceeds this year, and will most likely seek reprisals against Afghan farmers.
Security must be guaranteed in order to protect the farmers. Furthermore, illicit traffickers will presumably pressure farmers to plant more opium next year, and threaten to destroy any other crop or bring violence if they do not receive the allotted quota of poppy. To prevent farmers from falling victim to capricious traffickers and Taliban, security is once again of the utmost priority. Furthermore, many in the Afghan government, including the President's own brother, have been implicated in the drug trade. For this solution to work, security must be maintained and accompanied by honest governance. This means the Afghan government must protect farmers from Taliban violence, stop participating in the drug trade, and encourage the growth of a diversity of legal crops.
It's a tall order for a struggling government, and I have made no secret of my pessimistic attitude towards the Karzai regime. But something must be done to break the cycle of dependence between the farmers and the Taliban, and turning a blind eye is simply not enough.

What Punjab CM should learn from Taliban?

How does it feel caught in the eye of the storm? For nearly seven years, the people of the NWFP and the adjacent tribal regions and the security forces braved bombings and terrorist attacks, laying down their lives and offering unprecedented sacrifices. That was, when terrorists had turned the NWFP and the tribal regions into killing fields, while those living further a field to the east in the Punjab and Sindh were lived a relatively unscathed life.

The lull in terrorist attacks during the February, 2008 elections and the months afterwards because of the government’s peace-overtures towards the militants, were followed by a dramatic uptick in deadly bombings that exacerbated human toll with every passing day.

Those have been one of the most difficult times in the history of the NWFP, when every new day brought in more blood and gore. Still, nobody seemed moved in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Such was the frustration that people began to seriously ask if the NWFP had been abandoned to its fate.

The irony was that while Pakistani militants spilled the blood and slit the throats of their own countrymen, our drawing room intellectuals, right wingers and armchair anchors split their hair if the war being fought in the tribal regions was Pakistan’s own.

That was rubbing salt into the wounds of those in the NWFP suffering the pain of a thousand cuts not just at hand of the militants’ brigades but also the apathy and indifference of their brethren in the rest of Pakistan.

That changed in 2009, when the military establishment finally woke up from its deep slumber to the existential challenge to the state by the aggressive and more ambitious militants menacingly setting their eye on areas across the Indus.

Swat was the turnaround followed by South Waziristan. Newton’s third law of motion says that every action generates an opposite and equal reaction. Holed up in North Waziristan and relatively smaller pockets in Orakzai, Tirah and Mohmand, the militants are now fighting their own survival war. So, it would have been naïve, if not downright stupid, on our part not to expect retaliation; and they will hit where it hurts the more: Punjab.

This, because in the militants’ own calculation; and unfortunately, it was a perception many in the NWFP had come to hold too, due to the seeming indifference to their plight in Punjab and elsewhere, that to change the course of military action, take the battle to the heartland of the military power — the Punjab.

Nor that the militants would think twice before striking anywhere in the NWFP, if an opportunity presents itself. Attacks continue across the length and breadth of the NWFP, though the scale and recurrence of these attacks have, mercifully, shown a remarkable downward trend.

So, should the chief minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, be surprised over the outrage caused by his appeal to the Taliban to spare his province because both opposed foreign dictation? Does he still wonder, no matter what spin his advisers try to weave around his rather timid statement, why the Taliban are now choosing to hit the citadel of his power; Lahore? And was he taken aback when the military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani summoned him to Rawalpindi to give him a piece of his mind?

It took the military nearly two years, of course with the much needed crucial and critical support of the political leadership, to turn the tide against the militants by shaping up public opinion, to own this war as Pakistan’s own.

So, was Mr Sharif implying that the war that was being fought in the volatile tribal regions of South Waziristan, Bajaur, Khyber, Orakzai and other places is not Pakistan’s own and was being carried out on foreign dictations?

Did he realise what toll would his statement take of the morale of the forces fighting in some of the world’s toughest regions? Did he know how much effort it took to motivate the forces to take on an enemy that claimed to be fighting a holy war in the name of Islam?

Did he know the possible implications his statement could have, for reaching out to the militants to seek reprieve for a province that is a major contributor of manpower to the armed forces?

These are pretty serious questions and that is precisely why the controversy his statement generated refuses to die down. Statesmanship is not just about rendering Faiz Ahmad Faiz, it requires foresight as well. It was therefore, all the more ironical that this could have come from a man, which the establishment once wanted to hoist on Pakistan.

Wonder why, those who have had no love lost for the present dispensation, have now come to like them more than they liked the Sharifs for being the new saviors of the country.

But what is probably more worrying in this whole sordid affair is the ethnic dimension that terrorist incidents have assumed.

That Punjab has been in perpetual self denial about the existence of Punjabi Taliban and what is cooking in its own backyard in southern Punjab will have its own implications for Pakistan’s most populous province and by extension on the whole of the country.

But what has begun to happen does not bode well for national unity — the witch-hunt bordering on ethnic profiling after terrorist attacks in the Punjab and Sindh, when Pashtuns invariably become a suspect and is picked-up for questioning. Sadly, the electronic media cannot exonerate itself from playing up this ethnic dimension.

It is unfortunate that the militants are probably more united than our own political leadership across the broad political spectrum. Instead of seeking a common cause with the militants, the chief minister of Punjab should at least have learnt one thing from the Taliban — their unity. The Taliban may be known by their origin but when it comes to fighting an enemy, they are one, be that in Afghanistan or in Pakistan.