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Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, PTI and 2018

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In the aftermath of the by-elections of NA-4 in Peshawar, many have predicted PTI’s victory to be an indication of a possible second term for PTI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). However, in my opinion this assessment doesn’t hold to scrutiny when seen in the norms surrounding by-elections in Pakistan, as well as the regional voting patterns within KP.

In the follow up to General Elections (GE) 2013, a total of 19 National Assembly (NA) by-elections were held across all the four provinces on seats which, like NA-4, were won by provincial incumbents in 2013. The results show that provincial incumbents won 16 of these 19 seat. It is likely that incumbency becomes a disadvantage only after it is over, not before that. The predictive power of by-election wins could be seen in ANP’s win of NA-9 Mardan in the 2012 by-elections, i.e. just one year before ANP’s electoral rout out.

Now to the electoral results in KP, which like most things KP are often subjected to some very orientalist interpretations; where the province is portrayed as a united entity that always punishes bad governance. This fits perfectly with the vengeful and righteous “Khan saab” stereotype of Pakhtuns that seems to be popular in Pakistan.

However, the regional voting patterns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa paint a more nuanced picture. KP is usually divided into four regions, each with its own voting behavior. The anti-incumbency voting backlash exists but is limited to Peshawar valley (districts of Peshawar, Nowshera, Charsadda, Swabi and Mardan), a region that accounts for 36 of the 99 seats in KP’s provincial assembly. In the northern districts (Malakand, Swat, Chitral, Bunair, Shangla, Dir upper and Lower) only Swat votes in a manner that is similar to Peshawar valley, the rest of the districts usually give an overall fractured mandate. The Hazara division has always been a stronghold of the dominant brand of Muslim League, and the Southern Districts (Kohat, Karak, Hangu, D.I. Khan, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, and Tank) lean more towards JUI-F. Both Hazara and the Southern districts also account for a majority of KP’s independent candidates; after the 2013 elections, of the 14 independents, 11 were from these two regions.

These regional voting patterns have created a situation where it is highly unlikely for one party to hold a majority in KP; as is the case in Sindh and Punjab. Therefore, since 1988, provincial governments in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (former NWFP) have almost always been formed by parties winning the center, as federal ministries and committees give them a powerful leverage when parlaying for alliances.

Since 1988, both PPP (1988, 1993) and IJI/PML-N (1990, 1997) formed governments in NWFP during their federal terms, a similar arrangement took place in the 2008 ANP-PPP government. It is likely that had Islamabad seen a PM return for a second consecutive term during this time, Peshawar might have seen a CM return as well.

However, there have been three exceptions to this pattern; first was the short lived government of PML-N’s Pir Sabir Shah in 1993, when PPP had won the federal government. Mr. Shah was brought down within five months and replaced by PPP’s Aftab Sherpao.

The second exception were the controversial elections of 2002 when the MMA broke through traditional voting patterns and secured 48 out of 99 seats in the KP assembly, thus able to form the government on its own.

The third exception was in 2013 when PTI formed the Government in KP. However, this wasn’t because of an overwhelming mandate; KP’s seat distribution could have been manipulated to bring a PML-N backed CM, for which JUI-F had tried very hard. But many believe that PML-N wanted to take the wind out of the “tabdeeli” promises of PTI, and therefore allowed PTI to govern KP.

Goes without saying that if the electoral results of 2013 are exactly repeated in 2018, PML-N is not likely to allow PTI a second term. Therefore, the two most probable scenarios for PTI to win a second term in KP are; 1- PTI wins the center and at-least 15-20% of the seats in KP, 2- PTI pulls an MMA and gains a majority in KP.

Pulling an MMA would be difficult because PTI’s support base lies mostly in the incumbency punishing districts of Peshawar valley and Swat; 27 out of PTI’s 35 seats are from this region. To get an idea of the reliability of these seats, consider the fact that 13 of these 27 constituencies that opted for PTI in 2013, also opted for ANP in 2008 and MMA in 2002.

In terms of development spending, Pervez Khattak’s government has largely prioritized its Peshawar valley support base at the expense of other regions. But history suggests that such positive biases towards Peshawar valley have not yielded results come re-election time. Both Aftab  Sherpao and Haider Hoti, were known for their preference for Peshawar valley and more specifically their home districts. But that didn’t mean much for their parties on their re-election days. PPP’s Peshawar valley results in 1990 and 1997 were not that different from that of ANP in 2013.

This is at a contrast to how southern districts responded to Akram Durrani’s prioritization of the South. In 2008, When MMA was being wiped out from the rest of the province, it won 6 out of 18 contested seats in the South. And in 2013 when PTI was sweeping Peshawar valley, JUI-F increased its share in the South from 6 to 9 seats. Similarly, PML-N’s favorable bias towards Hazara during their terms might explain why the region has been a consistent stronghold for PML-N.

PTI’s challenge is to not only maintain its incumbency-punishing support base, but to also break into the strongholds of both PML-N and JUI-F. Pervez Khattak’s prioritization of Peshawar valley is likely to make it difficult for his party to do the latter, but one can only wonder if it would be of any help with the former either.

This piece was published in the The News on 22nd November 2017



Written by Imran Khan

November 22, 2017 at 7:50 am

Posted in Uncategorized

PTI and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

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The Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa surprised many when he declared that “Pathans are PTI, and PTI is Pathan.” One could expect the leadership of ANP and PkMAP to say something to that effect because they are engaged in Pashtun identity politics. However it was strange to hear such a statement from a federalist party like PTI.

A factual response came from Chaudhry Nisar who simply quoted Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s distribution of votes in the 2013 general elections; PTI received 19% of the vote, a close second was PML-N at 16%, followed by JUI-F at 15%, ANP at 10% and JI at 7%. Thus making the point that PTI is not the only political force in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

It would also be incorrect to equate PTI’s popularity in KP to that of PML-N’s in Punjab or the PPP’s in Sindh. In terms of votes, PTI received 19% of the vote in KP and an almost equivalent proportion i.e. 18% in Punjab. However, in Punjab PTI was up against PML-N which secured 41% of the vote unlike in Pakhtunkhwa where the opposition vote was split up among several parties, as detailed above.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is unique in the sense that it does not have any one party with an overwhelming majority. Consider the 2008 elections, ANP received 17% of the vote and was able to form government. By 2013, its incumbency had cost it 7% of the vote and it was replaced by PTI. But, Pakhtunkhwa is not unique in exacting incumbency costs, Sindh too punished PPP, and perhaps more severely as PPP’s share of votes fell by 9%. But that meant a drop from 42% to 33%, still enabling PPP to retain the government in Sindh.

It is also a bit of an exaggeration to claim that PTI is overwhelmingly “Pathan”. In the General elections of 2013 PTI received approximately 5 million (50 lakh) votes in Punjab, in comparison it got only 1 million (10 lakh) in KP. But despite having 5 times the support in Punjab, it is very peculiar that PTI relies overwhelmingly on KP when displaying its street power, even when the planned display of power is in the Potohar region of Punjab (read Islamabad). The built up to the 2nd November protest was marked with anticipation for arrival of support from KP. Ironically, even the leaders from Punjab were looking towards Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. What could explain this obvious over representation of Pashtuns in PTI jalsas and dharnas?

One possible reason could be PTI’s championing of Pashtun causes. But that’s not the case, neither “rigging allegations in Punjab” nor “Panama leaks” have any particular significance to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In fact on issues specific to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Imran Khan has shied away from supporting his KP leadership especially where there are potential political costs in Punjab.

For instance on the issue of Kalabagh dam, Imran Khan has taken positions from supporting it out-rightly to a support based on provincial consensus. In contrast, Pervez Khattak has recently declared Kalabagh a “dead horse” and a plan to destroy Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Similarly the Western route of CPEC is a key issue for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Pashtun belt, but only a week after Pervez Khattak announced that he will not allow the CPEC through KP, Imran Khan assured the Chinese ambassador that his November 2nd protest was not about CPEC, a protest for which he was relying almost entirely on his support base in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Could it be that PTI’s KP leadership is more capable than its Punjab leadership? Well, is Pervez Khattak a better orator than Shah Mehmood Qureshi? Does Shahram Tarakai have deeper pockets than Jehangir Tareen? Is Shah Farman more popular than Asad Umar? The answer to all these questions is probably in negative, and in my opinion the main factor that distinguishes PTI’s KP leadership from the Punjab leaders is the KP government.

The KP government enables Pervez Khattak’s team to use political patronage to drum up man power for protests. During the recent LG polls in KP, a video of KP’s health minister Shahram Tarakai was making the rounds, in it Mr. Tarakai was demanding electoral support in return for infrastructure development done through public funds. This ability to use carrot and stick tactics for crowd mobilization is likely to be a crucial strength for PTI, which might have been instrumental in ensuring KP’s over representation in PTI events outside of KP whether it was the first dharna, jalsas in Punjab, and more recently in the second dharna/yom-e-tashakur. Since 2013, the leadership of PTI in KP seems to have out done their counterparts in Punjab in providing PTI’s street power, and not just in KP but in Punjab as well.

The live visuals from the confrontation between Punjab police and PTI’s Pashtun supporters generated two different sets of generalizations; PTI supporters resorted to romanticization of Pashtun loyalty and bravery while PTI opponents resorted to caricaturization of Pashtun naiveté.

However the reality might be much less generalizable, a procession of 5 to 6 thousand people can hardly be taken as representative of Pashtuns, and neither is its mobilization that big a task for a provincial government. Given the electoral history of KP as well as Imran Khan’s focus on Punjab it is likely that PTI might lose this crucial advantage after 2018. It will be interesting to see how that will affect PTI’s nuisance value, a characteristic that has defined its politics since 2013.

Published under the title “Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the PTI” in The News on the 4th of November 2016.

Written by Imran Khan

November 9, 2016 at 7:56 pm

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Jaag Punjabi Jaag

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Recently a school notice has been making the rounds on social media. In it, the headmaster of a posh school in Sahiwal has warned children against using foul language at school. While there is nothing wrong with that, it’s the definition of foul language that has caused a stir; the notice defines it as “taunts, abuses, Punjabi and the (sic) hate speech”. In response to the backlash the school has issued a disclaimer and apology of sorts, and it seems likely that this was a mistake.

However, it would be wrong to assume that calling Punjabi a “foul language” is that big an issue in Pakistan. Tune into late-night comedy shows such as ‘Khabardar’ and the same is being done under the guise of comedy. You are likely to hear the very popular hosts of such shows scolding their colleagues for speaking Punjabi or Punjabi accented Urdu. The irony is that these shows make money by doing comical skits in Punjabi. Yet, despite that, their scripts disparage Punjabi as an uncouth (read ‘paindu’) language.

It is obvious from the popularity of the show that it’s largely Punjabi audience agrees with Punjabi being a language that is mostly appropriate for insults and jokes. But is that really true?

Punjab has a rich culture which has spread outside the confines of Punjab. Take bhangra for instance, its music and dance steps have become a staple for weddings from Muzaffarabad to Mumbai and Peshawar to Calcutta. Similarly, Punjabi literature and poetry can stand its own against the literature and poetry of any other language. This is the language chosen by the likes of Sultan Bahu, Bulleh Shah, Waris Shah, Munir Niazi and many other literary giants, surely their contribution can’t be termed uncouth and lewd.

But despite having all that, Punjabi as a language is suffering in a country where Punjabis account for almost half the population. This neglect is evident from the number of newspaper and periodicals published in local languages in Pakistan. Latest statistics from Pakistan Bureau of Statistics show that for 2011 both Pashto and Sindhi had 17 newspapers and periodicals each but Punjabi only had seven. Consider the populations of speakers for each of these languages and in proportionate terms the share of Punjabi comes across as even smaller.

I strongly agree with the position that this is a consequence of our national obsession with defining Urdu as our only national language. It has somehow become a proof of patriotism to prefer Urdu to regional languages. I am no linguist but I think that this has greatly affected languages that are linguistically closer to Urdu, because for the speakers of these languages switching to Urdu is relatively easy. Punjabi isn’t the only one; Hindko too has suffered in a similar manner, where it is common to see educated Hindko-speaking parents preferring Urdu over Hindko when it comes to raising children, as speaking Hindko is often seen as a sign of a lack of education as well as a lack of sophistication.

Aside from losing out on the literary front, Pakistan has also failed to cash in on the benefits of Punjabi and other local languages in primary education. Research shows that children at primary level learn much better when taught in their native languages. These benefits aren’t obvious when one considers children from the middle or upper class households in Pakistan.

It is safe to assume that a child from that demographic would have educated parents who are fluent in Urdu if not English as well. The child would also have the benefit of pre-school preparations whether through educational toys or TV shows. When such children start school, they carry the benefits of their privileged birth and are well prepared for learning in Urdu or English.

In contrast, a child from the more underprivileged sections of our society usually is born to parents whose language fluency is limited to their local languages. Such children are likely to not have had much exposure to either Urdu or English during their pre-school years. The main asset that such children bring to school is an understanding of their local language. Under our current education system we rob such underprivileged children of their one advantage, and instead make them learn a new language and also expect them to learn science and math in that same new language. And the level of difficulty is even higher for children whose native languages, in linguistic terms, are farther from Urdu, for instance Pashto, Brahvi, Sheena etc.

In post 18th Amendment Pakistan, provinces have the freedom to make changes regarding education within their domain. The ANP government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa introduced native languages as a medium of instruction at primary level in almost all the local languages in the province. However, the recently elected PTI government decided to roll back those changes and instead introduced English as a medium of instruction in order to implement the standards of Aitchison College. It was lost on the policymakers that to implement the standards of Aitchison, you just don’t need a curriculum but also teachers who are as qualified as those at Aitchison – along with a privileged upbringing for the children, which is the hallmark of the children studying at Aitchison.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa CM Pervez Khattak once said “when I hear about education in Pashto there is an explosion in my head”. It is obvious that denigrating local languages comes with little political consequences because such acts have become somewhat of a proof of patriotism. This has to change.

The lesson that we should have learnt from the fall out of the Bangla bhasha debate is that for our unity we need to celebrate our diversity rather than negate it. And for that to happen it is essential that the provincial identity and language of our majority ethnicity be recognised and respected. Only then would the championing of smaller ethnic identities not be seen as a threat to our national identity but rather a source of its strength.

Published in The News on 18th October 2016 under the title “‘Foul’ Punjabi”

Written by Imran Khan

October 18, 2016 at 5:33 am

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Redefining Shame.

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If there is one good thing that came out of the horrors of Kasur, it is that it has encouraged victims in other parts of the country to speak up; the family of a victim in Multan was the first to follow. Sadly, ours is one of those societies in which claiming victimhood for sexual assault unleashes a new set of social costs, the fear of which silences many.

The fact that Kasur families were paying to hide the victimhood of their children, shows that there is a great need for sensitisation of our masses regarding victims of child abuse. This lack of sensitisation probably emanates from the fact that we shy away from discussing paedophilia on more serious forums.

However, it would be wrong to believe that paedophilia is not discussed in Pakistan. When topics are deemed taboo for official forums, they usually become a source of humour on more unofficial ones. While that is understandable in the case of toilet humour, it is tragic to consider that we have the same approach towards child abuse.

It would be very unlikely for anyone reading this to have not received an SMSed joke about a Khan Sahib lusting after a young boy. While the jokes are insensitive and offensive, the more ridiculous part, however, is that for many this understanding is not limited to jokes. A Channel 4 documentary that came out some time back showed the plight of sexually victimised street children in Peshawar. Rather than generating debate on the need to protect these children, the documentary got criticised for its title ‘Pakistan’s hidden shame’, which according to many should have been ‘Peshawar’s Hidden Shame’.

However, as Sahil’s ‘Cruel Numbers’ reports for 2012, 2013, and 2014 show, the provincial incidence of reported sexual assaults on children has been the highest in Punjab. It would be ridiculous to now label all Punjabis as potential paedophiles, because the provincial statistics mirror the population size for each province. Punjab shows the highest incidence because it has the biggest population. This data makes one thing clear – that paedophilia is a problem for all of Pakistan, and not just one province.

In the aftermath of Kasur, weaknesses in policing and judiciary are being quoted as the main reasons behind our failure to stop these incidents. There is no doubt that better policing and quicker punishment for culprits would set effective examples, but these two institutions mostly get involved after the child has gone through the ordeal. Can we say that, with our norms of parenting, we prepare our children well enough on how to react to sexual predators?

The fact is that in most households, sex related topics are avoided and usually the best advice offered to children is to warn them against strangers. However, of the cases reported during 2002 to 2006, 76% of assaults were carried out by individuals who already knew the children. A Sahil report observes that children aged 11 to 15 years are the most vulnerable, because at puberty they are curious about physical and sexual changes in their body. But due to the taboo surrounding these discussions they are likely to seek more willing adults for answers, and those adults might not necessarily mean no harm to the children.

Not only do most of our children lack awareness on how to face paedophiles, they also face castigation if they become victims. One famous TV anchor recently compared the victims of Kasur to the martyred children of APS. He was of the opinion that the children of APS were better off compared to the children of Kasur, since the former are in heaven, while the latter and their families won’t be able to “show their faces” for the rest of their lives.

It is this kind of ignorance that permeates our society. Why exactly should these children not be able to show their faces? Should victims of robberies not show their faces because they should be ashamed that they were robbed? Should murdered individuals be buried secretly as there is shame associated with their murder? Why single out the victims of sexual abuse as those who should face social consequences post victimisation? Is it the victims who should be ashamed or the society that marks them with shame?

An abused child in Raheem Yar Khan recently tried reporting the abuse to the police. But instead of support, he was met with taunts at the Police station. Such was the frustration felt by this child that he committed suicide by jumping in front of a train.

Paedophiles and rapists are not unique to Pakistan. Just like murderers and thieves, they are part of every society. But what distinguishes societies is the way in which they treat victims of paedophilia and rape. In our society, rapists and paedophiles are faced with potential victims who would be too ashamed to point a finger at them. It is this shame that is the paedophile’s biggest advantage.

Our children need to be assured that their acceptance is not dependent upon a lack of victimhood. And the only way to do this is for us to start educating them about their vulnerability as well as the support that they can rely on. Furthermore, we need to take the ‘humour’ out of paedophilia and deal with it with the seriousness it deserves. As a society we need to realise that it was our definition of shame that silenced the abused children of Kasur.

Published in The News on the 23rd of August 2015 under the title “The Silence in Kasur – Redefining shame”

Written by Imran Khan

August 23, 2015 at 8:18 am

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Patriotic Provincialism

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As the PML-N celebrates Pakistan’s reaffirmed ‘iron friendship’ with China, it is also warning about the potential rusting of this friendship thanks to some nagging entities of the provincial variety.

Ahsan Iqbal’s advice to the ANP is to not politicise the issue of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as it is important for the future of Pakistan, and, as an added benefit, is also giving insomnia to Pakistan’s enemies. Thus to be recognised as a patriotic well-wisher of Pakistan, one has to say it out loud that the benefits from the CPEC are to be shared by all of Pakistan – for a better future, that is.

Fair point, the future is important, but then should it be that convenient to forget the past and its regional distribution of miseries? The world is often reminded that Pakistan is the ‘frontline state’ in the war against terror, but similar reminders about the ‘frontline region’ within Pakistan are rarely mentioned.

Be it bombings, beheadings, kidnappings, amputations or whatever variable that can measure the cost of the war on terror, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata have paid far more than the rest of the country combined. And I pray that Punjab or for that matter any other place never ever pay the price that has been paid by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata.

But good wishes for the future do not change the past. And a past that has been stained with the blood of thousands should not be that easy to forget. The costs paid by KP and Fata were a result of Pakistan’s jihad experiments, which have now been owned by retired generals Musharaf and Durrani. It is understandable that the PML-N government is helpless in bringing the planners of these policies to justice, but it would be completely shameful if it also ignores the plight of the victims of these policies.

To quote Khwaja Asif ‘O koi sharm karo, koi haya karo’. The state of Pakistan owes a lot to the people of KP and Fata for what it has unleashed upon them in the name of ‘strategic interests’, and ensuring the revival of their economy is the very least that Islamabad can do as penance.

To give Ahsan Iqbal credit, he does assure everyone that a route through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will be operational. But then, should verbal assurances backed by a line on a map be enough proof for that? Why is it that out of the 21 projects earmarked for the CPEC in PSDP of 2014-15, not even one is in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa?

Similarly, in the recent deals with China, the only funds destined for the CPEC in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are for the dry port at Havelian. But that dry port is also essential for the eastern route, and besides that nothing else is being earmarked for the western route that goes through KP. Is the western route in such good shape that no investment in infrastructure is needed for it? Furthermore, China’s state television CCTV is also reporting only one route which passes through Punjab, and makes no mention of the PML-N’s promised route for the people of KP and Fata.

The steadily increasing outward migration from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata is a clear indicator that the economy of this region is failing its people. If patriotism means safeguarding the best interest of Pakistan, then the need is to prioritise the economic revival of this region, rather than lash out at those who are highlighting this need. There is no competition between Punjab and KP when it comes to the level of road infrastructure as well as security. Therefore it is very likely that even if both the routes are open, the eastern route might be the obvious choice.

An Islamabad with no provincial biases would have prioritised the plight and desperation of the Pakistanis of KP and Fata over everything else. It would have seized this opportunity to sell the western route to the Chinese as the only route, and also ensured that all objections to that route are taken care of. But it has completely failed in doing so and there is no evidence of the PML-N even trying for that.

This issue of the CPEC has been taken up by a number of political parties now, but at the core of this resistance is a group of Pashtun nationalists. This is mostly the same group that recently raised the issue of mistreatment of the IDPs. Before that they were speaking out against the ‘good’ Taliban, and a long time back the antecedents of this group were warning about the use of jihadis as a tool of foreign policy.

Most, if not all, of their demands have been received with either indifference or suspicion at the national level. And resultantly, since much of their protests have been in vain, this latest one on the CPEC is likely to suffer the same fate. To many, the irrelevance of these ‘provincial’ voices is necessary for strengthening this federation. But this view ignores the fact that these Pakistani Pakhtun nationalists make their claim for rights as Pakistani citizens. They do not reject the state of Pakistan, and make their demands through constitutional means.

The increasing irrelevance of Pakistani Pakhtun nationalists in the national discourse is coupled with their growing irrelevance in their own constituencies as well. It is becoming difficult for parties such as ANP and PkMAP to sell the idea that Pakhtuns can get their rights by using constitutional means within this federation.

Considering that the underlying problems still persist, it is quite possible that the vacuum left by these parties could be filled with Pakhtun nationalism of the separatist kind. We are currently witnessing the consequences of the irrelevance of Pakistani Baloch nationalists. Let’s not repeat the same mistakes with the Pakhtuns as well.

Published in The News on the 4th of May 2015.

Written by Imran Khan

May 4, 2015 at 7:17 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Peshawar, Zarb-e-Azb and FATA

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Spare a thought for Afshan Ahmed, a 24 year old teacher who stood up to the killers at Army Public School (APS) to defend her students. They responded by dousing her in petrol and setting her alight. But even as this brave woman was being burnt alive she still urged her students to run for their lives.

Also spare a thought for the six killers who carried out this massacre; Umar, Zubair, Yousaf, Ahmadullah, Saifullah and Abu Zar. Of these, three seem to be of the same age as many of their victims and the other three were not much older. Spare a thought for the horrors that these kids must have gone through, to be able to have so much hate in them that they could set someone on fire and watch her get burnt alive. Spare a thought for their mothers as well, whose ordeal must have begun long before the 16th of December.

It would be unfair not to count the six killers among the 145 dead victims at APS, as they all represent a recurring strategic cost that we have been paying to safeguard our “strategic interests”. Whatever this strategic interest may be, but so far it has consumed the lives of tens of thousands of Pakistanis to remain intact. Whether it was the strategic depth of the 80s or the more recent good-Taliban-bad-Taliban binary, these policy positions have provided the enabling environment which has brought us to this juncture, where even going to school has become an act of bravery.

However, there is hope, especially in the way our nation has come together in the wake of the APS massacre. But just hanging terrorists is not enough. It should be obvious that suicide bombers can’t be deterred by death. These bombers are “manufactured” with the fear of death taken out of them, the only way to stop them is to stop manufacturing them in the first place. As long as their “good” manufacturing factories factor into our strategic priorities we will have more and more of these strategic-assets-gone-wild. Lest one forgets, Naik Muhammad, Baitullah, and Hakeemullah have all been taken out in the most brutal of fashions, yet it did not stop Fazlullah from ordering this recent massacre.

The solution to it all has to be operation Zarb-i-Azb. This operation is different from its predecessors as it explicitly aims to eliminate the “bad” as well as “good” terrorists. It also has the advantage of being owned by the “Not our War” group of political parties; PML-N, PTI and JI might have won the elections by tying Taliban terrorism to U.S. drone strikes, but ever since coming into power these parties have completely capitulated on their earlier stance. This fact obviates the need for rooting out “Taliban apologists”, as Zarb-i-Azb has the necessary political consensus behind it. The need now is to ensure that it delivers on its goals. So far, it has been lacking in a few crucial areas.

To begin with, Zarb-i-Azb needs to be seen as not only an effort to stop terror attacks in “Pakistan-proper”, but also one to liberate the people of FATA from the Taliban. The last thing that we want is to alienate the people of FATA in the process, but by using F-16s to bomb civilian areas we might be doing exactly that. The US could afford to be hated in both Iraq and Afghanistan as they had to leave those countries, we on the other hand don’t have that luxury as this is our country and these are our people.

FATA IDPs need to feel that they are taking refuge within their own country. Security hysteria about Taliban infiltration needs to be qualified with a realization that we had left these people at the mercy of the Taliban for more than a decade. They are not coming out in droves because they want to live in camps in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, it is because our “strategic” policies have blown in our faces and here too this poor lot is bearing the brunt of the fallout. Implicit as well as explicit official bans on the movement of FATA IDPs need to be removed as they violate the basic rights of these Pakistanis. Denying them these rights might have far reaching consequences for the unity of this federation. The last thing that we want is to legitimize another resistance while we are eliminating the Taliban.

Given our history we have to prove that we have given up on the good Taliban. It is heartening to hear the Prime Minister as well as the Chief of Army staff reassure that no distinction will be made between good and bad Taliban, but their claims needs to be validated through independent media reports. Right now FATA is an information black-hole from which no independent confirmations can be made on targets, effectiveness and also collateral damage. The conspiracy theories and controversies surrounding Zarb-i-Azb can be put to rest if ISPR ceases to be the sole source of information about the operation.

Finally, we need to realize that by the time a suicide attacker reaches his targets it is already too late. Therefore, intelligence failures as well as a lack of coordination between security agencies need to be addressed more effectively. With more than 50,000 lost due to terrorism, one should have seen at least one resignation (forced or otherwise) from some of the officials of our numerous intelligence agencies, but that has not happened. Rather than holding landlords and naan-bais accountable for intelligence failures, Chaudhry Nisar should focus on those who have the official mandate for providing intelligence.

Initiating Zarb-i-Azb shouldn’t be an end in itself, the onus is now upon the supporters of Zarb-i-Azb to see that it succeeds. While the sacrifice of our security personnel must be honored and celebrated, there is a need for accountability and transparency around this initiative as well. We owe it to the memory of Afshan and thousands of other martyrs to finally put an end to this madness, political expediency shouldn’t get in the way of that.

Published in The News on the 25th of December 2014

Written by Imran Khan

December 25, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Stereotyping FATA

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Javed Ahmad Ghamidi is one of those people who gets respect from both his supporters as well as opponents, and deservedly so. These days, when Islam is being associated with beheadings and bomb blasts, it is because of scholars like Dr. Javed Ghamidi that one cannot do a negative generalization about Islamic teachings.

However, while saving Islam from negative generalizations, Dr. Ghamidi himself has resorted to generalizations about tribal Pashtuns, that are as racist and as unreasonable as some of those done about Muslims.

In his show, “Ghamidi kay Saath“, aired on Sama TV on 21st of February, Dr. Ghamidi was asked why the Taliban behead their opponents.

In his response, Mr. Ghamidi points out two main reasons,

1- Wrong interpretation of Islamic injunctions

2- Tribal norms and upbringing

While absolving Islamic injunctions for being wrongly interpreted, Ghamidi sahib puts the rest of the blame upon tribal norms and culture. Not even considering the possibility that by beheading prisoners, the Taliban might not only be violating Islamic norms of conduct but also tribal ones.

To elaborate his point, Mr. Ghamidi tells the non-tribal host of the program that while the two of them might not even consider slaughtering a chicken, thanks to a non-tribal “parwarish aur tarbiat” (upbringing), in tribal society however, even a six year old qabaili (tribal) child would have no qualms about slaughtering a grown up man.

As per Dr. Ghamidi, gore and violence comes naturally to Pashtun tribals as these are “mamooli batain” (normal things) for this lot. And it didn’t stop at that, as a caller declared all tribal Pashtuns to be mercenaries who have been historically up for grabs for the highest bidder. Dr. Ghamidi’s response to this racist and ignorant assertion was at best confusing.

Generalizations such as these should come across as shocking in any civilized society, but I guess Pakistani society by and large has not evolved to a point where individuals are judged according to their actions rather than their domicile certificates. Pick up any cellphone in Pakistan and it is likely to have an SMSed joke about Pashtun stupidity that has resulted in some outlandish behavior, be it sexual or violent. Leveraging this readily believable understanding about Pashtuns, many scholars, anchors, as well as politicians have gotten away with blatantly racist statements, as they rarely get called out for it.

But then generalization based on ethnicity have never stood up to rational scrutiny, whether they are done against Punjabis, Urdu-Speakers, Arabs or any other ethnicity. Like it or not, but there is no inferiority or superiority gene in anyone’s DNA, the second world war should have taught us that. People from a similar cultural background can have completely different outlooks towards life; urban Punjab for instance claims the Honorable Chief Justice Javed Iqbal, and also the serial killer Javed Iqbal.

Dr. Ghamidi’s assertion lacks any evidence to support his claim about this inherently violent behavior among Pashtun tribals, as he merely quotes theories about tribals in general and anecdotes about Pashtun tribals in particular that are dated back to the Mujahideen of the 80s.

However, it should be known that the history of FATA goes beyond the 1980s. One should consider why tribal FATA boasts bigger Sikh communities than non-tribal Western Punjab? What exactly were six-year-old Afridis and Orakazais up to in 1947, when Sikhs were getting lynched in their homes in Sheikhupura, Lyallpur and Gujranwala?

If 6-year-old children are okay with beheading grown up men in the name of Islam, then for sure the same could be done in the name of settling tribal feuds as well. I was wondering if Dr. Ghamidi or anyone else for that matter could come up with instances where Pashtun tribes had made mounds out of the heads of their rivals? There for sure must be some evidence out there to have convinced Dr. Ghamidi to be so certain in associating violence with tribal upbringing? If running feuds is enough of a reason, then how different are the inter-generational feuds in Waziristan from those in Gujranwala?

Interestingly, there are tribal lashkars fighting against the Taliban, but am yet to hear of a beheading that was carried out by anti Taliban tribals. If it was the normal thing to do among tribals, and the fact that Taliban are beheading members of these very lashkars, then how come these anti Taliban tribals are not resorting to beheadings as well?

On the other hand, was Ilyas Kashmiri also a product of qabaili upbringing that he was able to bring back severed heads of Indian soldiers? Can Punjabi Taliban also claim domiciles of FATA? If not then what exactly explains their unquenchable thirst for Shia blood?

It is a valid question to ask why the Taliban are overwhelmingly Pashtun, but then it is also wrong to ignore the “strategic” reasons behind it. FATA has served as a parking lot for Pakistan’s “strategic assets”: an area assigned to the production of cannon fodder to fight our proxy wars.

Billions of dollars have been funneled into FATA to not only turn civilians into soldiers but also to numb down the tribal spirit in order to make way for the “ummah”. As a result, Taliban Mehsuds have teamed up with Taliban Uzbeks to kill and oppress non-Taliban Mehsuds; an act which is sacrilegious under tribal norms, but is according to Taliban shariah. Taliban rule in FATA comes at the expense of the tribal way of life, and in no way compliments it.

Taliban norms of fighting are comparable to those of Jihadis stretching from Somalia to Syria and all the way to Chechnya, as they are all linked through a common interpretation of Islam. These norms are as shocking to the feuding families of Waziristan as they would be to the feuding families of Gujranwala.

As for the legendary “warrior” abilities of the “violent” tribal Pashtuns, one only has to visit any IDP camp to see how “comfortable” these people are with wars. In their thousands, grown up Pashtun men have fled for safety and are cuing up for food and water just like war weary men would in any other part of the world. That warrior spirit and that fabled thirst for revenge, which is so clearly visible from the comforts of drawing rooms and TV studios, is certainly missing in these camps.

The majority of Taliban might be tribal Pashtuns, but a majority of tribal Pashtuns are NOT Taliban. Anyone and everyone, who resorts to these racist generalizations about Pashtun tribals need to prove it with evidence.

Published in The News on 25th February 2014

Written by Imran Khan

February 25, 2014 at 6:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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