Why are Pashtuns moving away from Pakistan?

pashtuns in pakistan
Representative Photo

During the era of united India, Pashtuns vehemently opposed the consolidation of India and the colonial rule imposed by the British Empire. Under the leadership of Bacha Khan along the borderlands and notable figures like Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai in Balochistan, Pashtun communities expressed their resistance. Historically, Pashtun leadership aligned more with the All-India Congress rather than the All-India Muslim League. In the final pre-partition elections in India, the Muslim League suffered significant setbacks in the border regions, resulting in the establishment of a Congress government led by Dr. Khan Sahib, Bacha Khan’s brother. The Muslim League’s substantial defeat along the border foreshadowed a potential alienation of Pashtuns from Pakistan. The border Pashtuns remained largely unmoved by Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s influence. In 1947, the British included the border regions into the newly formed country of Pakistan primarily due to the Durand Line agreement.

Following the formation of Pakistan, the anti-Muslim League leadership, including figures like Bacha Khan, faced increased scrutiny. Simultaneously, the spread of sectarian extremism in Pashtun regions began, influenced by external forces, notably the United States. To systematically deter Pashtuns from secular education, a network of Wahhabi madrassas was established along the border with the assistance of Saudi Arabia.

The National Awami Party, representing Pashtuns, faced a ban, leading to the incarceration of prominent leaders from Bacha Khan to Wali Khan. Ajmal Khattak, upon release, sought refuge in Kabul, where the Pashtunistan House was established in Kabul. The party’s evolution from the National Awami Party to the Awami National Party aimed at advocating for Pashtunistan/Greater Afghanistan, encompassing Pashtun territories beyond Attock. In Kabul, Ajmal Khattak raised the flag of Azad Pashtunistan. Bacha Khan, revered as the paramount Pashtun leader, was laid to rest in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, by his wishes rather than in Pakistan.

During Bhutto’s regime, the Pashtun populace faced severe oppression, orchestrated by Bhutto’s government, the military, and the Punjabi establishment. Concurrently, there was a push to radicalize Pashtun youth in the name of religion, with support from Saudi Arabia and tacit approval from the United States, encouraging them toward jihad.

With backing from the United States and Saudi Arabia, Pashtuns were mobilized as jihadists and deployed to Kabul. Through framing the ongoing Russian-American conflict in Kabul as a struggle between Islam and Kufr (disbelief), Pashtun youths were radicalized and recruited into jihadist movements, becoming susceptible to exploitation.

Furthermore, to diminish the influence of the Awami National Party, officially sanctioned support was extended to parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamaat Ulema-e-Islam in the border regions.

During the 1980s, the once tranquil lands associated with Bacha Khan, known as the father of peace, were transformed into battlegrounds for jihad. Pashtuns were mobilized as jihadists with the aid of US Dollars and Saudi Riyals to support America’s efforts against Russia in Kabul. This resulted in the loss of thousands of young Pashtun lives, leaving behind numerous widows and orphans. Following the withdrawal of Russia from Kabul, Pashtun youth became embroiled in conflicts among various Mujahideen factions. The madrasah of Maulana Samiul Haq emerged as a pivotal center for Afghan Jihadis, contributing to the rise of figures like Mullah Umar. Even during Mullah Umar’s rule in Afghanistan, border Pashtuns rallied as his soldiers. The border facilitated the entry of ISIS into Kabul with the assistance of Tehreek-e-Taliban. Throughout this period, the Pashtun areas regressed into a state resembling the Stone Age.

Following the events of 9/11, a new directive from the United States prompted General Musharraf to begin transferring sectarian extremists, originally nurtured with the support of the Pakistani government, to American custody. Concurrently, an operation targeting former jihadists was initiated in exchange for American dollars. Under the pretext of operations against its own Taliban factions, Pakistan conducted military actions resulting in the deaths of thousands of Pashtuns in humanitarian settlements, spanning from tribal areas to Swat. Consequently, millions of individuals began fleeing these regions due to the intensified operations in Swat and the tribal areas.

A few years back, a handful of Pashtun youths started a new movement known as the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) following a tragic incident. Suddenly emerging as a prominent leader among the Pashtuns was an unknown figure named Manzoor Pashteen. He rallied his nation, revealing that the Pakistan Army initially armed their youth in exchange for US dollars, only to later turn against them and perpetrate massacres.

PTM adopted a poignant slogan against the military, stating: “Yeh jo dehshatgardi hay, is kay peechay wardi hay” (Behind this terrorism lies the uniform).

This slogan resonated across Pakistan, gaining widespread recognition. In response to Manzoor Pashteen and PTM’s call, millions of people rallied in support, from tribal areas to cities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), as well as Lahore, Quetta, and Karachi. Pashteen’s team spearheaded a robust campaign against sectarian terrorism and military aggression. In the 2018 elections, Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar secured seats in the National Assembly of Pakistan with PTM’s backing. Both representatives boldly confronted the military’s actions upon entering the Islamabad Assembly, shedding light on their grievances.

As a result of their activism, Ali Wazir, despite his parliamentary position, faced repeated arrests and prolonged incarcerations. Similarly, Mohsin Dawar encountered numerous arrests and tragically fell under attacks. The PTM movement garnered support from educated Pashtuns, with individuals like Gulalai steadfastly standing in solidarity with the cause.

PTM supporters are widespread across every city in Pakistan, with significant backing also seen in the United States and Canada. While the Awami National Party attributed Pashtun grievances to Punjabis, PTM accurately identifies the Pakistani state and its military as perpetrators of Pashtun oppression. The PTM’s message resonates deeply within Pashtun communities, with their peaceful struggle drawing parallels to the ethos of Bacha Khan thus far.

The PTM movement has catalysed a significant shift among Pashtuns, leading them to distance themselves from Islamabad. With compelling arguments supporting this distancing, Pashtuns are increasingly drawn toward the idea of securing their nation’s future beyond Pakistan’s borders. While the PTM ostensibly champions the protection of Pashtun interests within Pakistan, it has brought to light the realization that survival within the country’s confines may be untenable for Pashtuns. This growing sentiment indicates a trajectory akin to that of the Baloch people, who have long sought freedom from Pakistan.

It’s important to note that historically, Pashtuns have not been staunch supporters of Pakistan. This evolving stance reflects a deeper reassessment of their relationship with the state and aspirations for self-determination.

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