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?

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