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The tale of two Pakistans

The struggle for Pashtun civil rights emerged from mass protests in 2018 against police killings and state repression. The Pashtuns are the largest single ethnic minority of Pakistan at over 16 per cent of the population. MANZOOR PASHTEEN reports

THE first overthrow of a civilian government in Pakistan took place as early as August 22 1947, with the country just a few days old.

The dismissal of Dr Khan Sahib’s popularly elected North West Frontier Province government — today’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — paved the way for military dictatorships that followed.

This early political failure shows why a sense of historical perspective is needed to make a different Pakistan today.

On September 30 1955 four provinces (Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh) merged with several tribal areas and smaller states to form West Pakistan, while East Bengal was renamed East Pakistan.

Pakistan’s “One Unit Policy” from 1955 to 1970, sought to create West Pakistan as a counterweight to East Pakistan’s Bengali majority in today’s Bangladesh.

The capital of West Pakistan moved from Karachi in Sindh to Lahore in the heart of Punjab.

Punjabi dominance of the new state meant erasing the identity of other cultures and nationalities.

When General Yahya Khan ended the One Unit Policy on July 1 1970, Pakistan’s political outlook remained grim with martial law and weak civilian government overshadowed by military interventions, which continue up to the present day under Imran Khan’s premiership.

In a speech to the UN general assembly on September 22 2019 and in media interviews, Prime Minister Khan has formally admitted that since the 1980s Pakistan trained mojahedin, al-Qaida and Taliban for jihad [holy war] in Afghanistan.

According to Khan, the CIA funded this training until the coming to power in Afghanistan of the Taliban. Khan admitted that joining the “war on terror” after 9/11 has cost 70,000 Pakistani lives and £115 billion.

Pakistanis are grateful to Khan for these confessions, but he neglected to mention the victims’ nationality.

Almost all the 70,000 dead were Pashtuns from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces. Likewise, Khan neglected to mention that almost the entire £115 billion came from the same sources.

Since its birth Pakistan has been mired in socio-political and economic crises; periodic martial law, wars with India, loss of 55 per cent of the country’s population following Bangladeshi independence in 1971, and an estimated 90,000 Pakistani soldiers captured by India as prisoners of war.

Rising poverty, unemployment and the unresolved national question should have led to investment and industrialisation, to develop our country’s different nations.

Instead, Pakistan’s rulers ignored the working class and promoted Islam to enforce ideological unity, although religion is merely one facet of nationhood.

The loss of 55 per cent of her population threatened legal and political legitimacy, but represented an opportunity to forge a new social contract.

Unfortunately, no efforts were made, nor lessons learned.

Ruling-class arrogance, indifference and ignorance of consequences characterises Pakistan’s mainly Punjabi civil and military establishment, which habitually resorts to strong-arm tactics.

Military dictatorship and internal military operations to quell civil unrest, from Balochistan in the 1970s to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa today, have made Pakistan a quasi-military state.

Punjabi dominance also created a deep state, invisible to most Pakistanis but controlled through US military aid, intelligence agencies and the paramilitary Pakistan Rangers and police forces.

In reality, Pakistanis are ruled with an iron fist through largely invisible power structures based in Punjab. This results in very different standards of justice and attitudes of the state and its organs towards Pakistan’s nations and classes.

In October 1947, when 20,000 Pashtun tribesmen invaded Kashmir alongside Pakistan’s armed forces conquering a third of Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan — with over 6,000 killed and 4,000 wounded — they were honoured as Pakistan’s bravest patriots.

When US-sponsored mojahedin confronted Soviet troops in Afghanistan from December 1979 to February 1989, the land of the Pashtuns was used by Pakistan as a launch-pad for that war.

The tribal belt was again crowned with the title of most hospitable with the bravest defenders of Islam and Pakistan.

However after 9/11, when Pashtun tribes refused to co-operate with the Pakistani state and its pro-US agenda, the army deployed aerial bombardment and heavy weapons in the tribal areas, destroying homes and marketplaces and murdering innocent men, women and children.

Many disappearances took place and tribal peoples’ history and social, cultural and economic life were uprooted in Waziristan, Malakand and Swat Valley.

Pakistan’s state-controlled media defends and glorifies military operations against civilians and bans public debate on questions of nationhood and language.

However, when the issue of Kashmir arises, the state opportunistically praises Pashtun bravery, since using Pashtuns for war and violence is accepted state policy.

Since 2005 over 70,000 Pashtun Pakistanis have lost their lives, many of them elderly, women and children. Not a single case was publicly condemned by the state or media.

Compare this horrific statistic to the blanket coverage of several notorious killings in 2019 in Punjab. Salah ud Din, a young man with mental health problems was murdered in police custody.

Zainab Ansari, a young girl was abducted, raped and murdered. Mohammad and Nabila Khalil and their 13-year-old daughter, Areeba, were executed by police who were allegedly targeting a terrorist.

These cases were treated with exemplary importance and state-controlled media demanded justice for the victims. Such a media response only applies in Punjab, not to thousands of cases of police killings of Pashtuns, the nation to which I belong.

Instead of economic development and compensation for war-affected areas, the onslaught against Pashtuns intensified. The abduction and extra-judicial murder of Naqibulla Masood on January 13 2018 in Karachi by a police superintendent, Rao Anwar, was a flashpoint that united Pashtuns in a historic protest.

Even so, Rao Anwar went free. We were told the police superintendent is “like a son” to Pakistan’s former president Zardari.

But how is it possible for the state to send Zardari to jail and yet permit Rao Anwar to remain free?

Last year Nasir Hussain from Kurram district also died from torture in police custody. Not a single report appeared in the state-controlled media.

When Anwar-ul Haq, a resident of Swabi, was killed in a staged police shootout in August 2018, Pakistan’s state media also remained silent.

In Loralae district, Balochistan, Professor Arman Loni, a supporter of our Pashtun Tahafuz [Protection] Movement (PTM), was beaten to death by police during a protest rally against state terrorism.

For two months, police not only refused to register the death, but also arrested those demanding Arman Loni’s case be officially registered.

In Peshawar, during a political rally Haroon Bilor, the provincial spokesperson of the Awami National Party (ANP), and 22 other activists were murdered in a terrorist bomb attack — no suspect was arrested nor was the act of terrorism investigated.

In November 2018, senior Pashtun police officer Tahir Dawar was kidnapped in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital.

His mutilated corpse was found days later in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s official media and the state both treated this extraordinary event as relatively unimportant.

The Prime Minister promised justice, but as of today, no investigation has been set up.

A few months ago, the president of ANP in Peshawar district was murdered in broad daylight, without a word of condemnation from Pakistani state officials or media.

Even more tragically on May 26 2019 in North Waziristan military forces fired on a PTM protest gathering and 15 PTM supporters were killed and at least 31 others injured in the massacre.

Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, both elected National Assembly members, were arrested, detained in prison and mistreated while their trial hearing was delayed.

Most tragic of all was the Taliban massacre of 149 people (including 132 schoolchildren) at the Army Public School in Peshawar on 16 December 2014.

Incredibly, the Taliban’s mastermind, Ehsanullah Ehsan, who was arrested two years ago, is still held in army custody without public trial.

Pashtuns are treated as mere statistics in police killings, or terrorist bombings in Pakistan.

This ethnic cleansing of Pashtuns is a well-planned but never-admitted state policy.

In North and South Waziristan, local houses were bulldozed in military operations against the Taliban, leaving women and children without shelter and vulnerable in deserted villages.

More than 8,000 young Pashtuns have been picked up by security agencies. Many are still held in custody. Local markets have been destroyed, and schools and colleges closed for several years.

These actions by Pakistan’s army are forcing Pashtuns out of their villages making them Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) and facing food and other insecurities.

In 2009 army operations in Malakand forced 3,000,000 people to become IDPs.

Punjabi army personnel were deployed in a deliberate policy intended to sow fear and persuade Pashtuns to accept Punjabis as their masters, although thousands of Pashtuns are enlisted in Pakistan’s army .

For Pakistan’s state security agencies, the Pashtun Protection Movement has committed a crime simply by sharing these facts with the people.

Despite PTM’s demands for landmine clearance to protect civilians, particularly children, the state refuses to acknowledge this as a human rights issue.

PTM demands that the thousands of Pashtuns arrested by intelligence agencies be brought to court or released.

PTM has demanded fact-finding and conflict resolution commissions, but the state arrested and imprisoned elected National Assembly members Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar and refused to free them, while other National Assembly members from central Punjab and Sindh provinces were released from prison in 2019 to attend a parliamentary session.

In Khyber Pukhtunkhwa almost all industrial zones have stopped work. Factory buildings lie deserted, leaving skilled workers without the means to live with dignity. Government employees’ salaries remain unpaid. PTM is demanding compensation for those who suffer financially and materially.

The reality of two Pakistans is abundantly clear. The dangerous aspect of this state policy of control and subjugation of Pashtun land is that a Taliban operating under state control is reorganising from Waziristan up to Bunir. Targeted bomb blasts and kidnappings have started again.

Repression against PTM and Pashtun nationalist parties, while allowing terrorists to reorganise, is the consequence of two Pakistans. Our Pakistan is full of misery, war, terror and violence. PTM rose up against this discriminatory policy and we will continue until this discrimination ends. Our demands are simple. We want peace in our land.

PTM is committed to the principle that Pashtuns do not accept undemocratic, unconstitutional rule, nor do we accept the Taliban as representatives of the Pashtuns, or rulers of our land.

PTM demands that the international community shows solidarity with the Pashtuns. The UN thus far has ignored the tragedy of the Pashtuns over the last 15 years.

Equally, progressive parties of the left have not responded to our plight.

International media organisations in the West cover events in the Middle East, but never our tragedy when Pakistan bombs its own people.

It is time the international community (including the UN) demands that Pakistan rehabilitates the Pashtun people and compensates them for the damage inflicted by the state.

Pashtuns will never forget the tragedies of terrorism and atrocities committed during Pakistan’s internal military operations. Our struggle continues for the elimination of the two Pakistans, so that we can all can live in peace and prosperity as citizens of one Pakistan.

PTM plans further public protests to expose this invisible suffering. Pakistanis are rising up. As Pashtun philosopher, poet and politician Ghani Khan wrote: “Pashtuns are a rain-sown wheat: they all came up on the same day; they are all the same. But the chief reason why I love a Pashtun is that he will wash his face, oil his beard, perfume his locks and put on his best pair of clothes when he goes out to fight and die.”

Manzoor Pashteen is a leading figure of PTM (Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, or Pashtun Protection Movement). 

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