It is a fact that most Taliban are Pakhtuns, but to many that fact alone is reason enough to declare them as representatives of Pakhtuns at large. Many theories that have been doing the rounds portray the Taliban as an ethnic rather than an ideological phenomenon. During the heyday of the Swat Taliban, there was a widespread belief that the people of Swat are so fed up with Pakistan’s judicial system that they are flocking to the Taliban. Many Marxists also chipped in with what they saw as a rise of the “Pakhtun proletariat”. The explanation that is currently en vogue ties the existence of Pakistani Taliban to the American presence in Afghanistan. It is predicted that the departure of the US from Afghanistan will result in an almost magical disappearance of the Pakistani Taliban.
Whether intentionally or unintentionally the proponents of these theories seek legitimacy for the Taliban movement; by assuming a popular Pakhtun support for the Taliban, they make a case for a non-militant response to Taliban militancy. The impact of these relentless efforts, carried out by media pundits as well as politicians, can be seen in the perceptions of the Pakistani people; despite 87 suicide attacks and 49 beheadings in 2009 (PIPS), the approval of the Taliban in Pakistan has risen from 10% in 2009 to 15% this year (PEW Research).
But these theories fail to take into account other relevant facts: a majority of the Taliban might be Pakhtun, but so is a majority of their victims. Around 69% of the fatalities related to suicide bombing in 2009 were from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. Similarly, the focus of Taliban’s kidnapping activities has been limited to Pakhtun areas. Add to this the humiliating restrictions and economic costs faced by the Taliban controlled tribal areas, and one can easily conclude that the Pakhtuns themselves are the biggest victims of Talibanization, and for that reason assuming their majority support for the Taliban is downright ridiculous.
As the biggest affectees of this complete failure of the Government in providing security, people in many areas across Pakhtunkhwa and FATA have resorted to respond by raising their own Lashkars (militias). These Lashkars are raised on a tribal level and have majority approval through Jirgas.
This indigenous Pakhtun resistance, in effect, negates all those explanations that exalt the Taliban to anything more than a minority fringe movement among Pakhtuns. These Lashkars show that most Pakhtuns would rather pick up a gun and fight the Taliban, than enjoy the fruits of a “speedy justice” that comes in the form of beheadings, lashings and amputations. These volunteers are overwhelmingly from the “proletariat”, and are openly refusing the stronger financial incentives of joining the Taliban. Furthermore, despite the bonds of Pakhtunwali, the guns of these Pakistani Pakhtuns are not out to fight Americans in Afghanistan, but instead, this democratically ordained Pakhtun Resistance is focused entirely on the Taliban.
There is no doubt that the Taliban feel threatened by these Lashkars, and their leaders are on top of Taliban’s hit list. Consider the case of the Lashkars of Adezai and Matanai, who have endured around forty attacks from the Taliban in the last two years. The recent attacks in Darra Adam Khel and Badah Bair, that claimed more than 60 lives, were also focused on the leadership of anti-Taliban Lashkars. But despite the consequences, the resolve of these rag tag militias remains unshaken. With their limited resources these modern day Davids are taking on a Goliath that is spread across two countries, and receives millions of dollars every year through extortions, drug peddling and foreign funding. While for the rest of us Pakistanis, avoiding the Taliban threat means shopping trips to less crowded places, for these sons of the soil, the threat of Taliban means no schooling for their children, and no mosques for their prayers, IEDs and targeted suicide bombings. Yet, despite these costs, they have chosen to stand their ground, and become the vanguard of Pakistan’s resistance to Talibanization.
So how does Pakistan, a country that bleeds for Palestinians, Chechens and Kashmiris, treat those who are fighting in its name? According to Dilawar Khan – The leader of the Adenzai Lashkar, a lashkar that is accredited with thwarting the march of Taliban towards Peshawar, the Government is showing extreme indifference towards him and his people. Besides complaining about a lack of logistical support, he makes a very valid point that while the victims of suicide bombings are compensated, the families of the martyrs from his lashkar still await official recognition from the Government.
But not only are these militias devoid of logistical support, they are also not getting any moral support. Less than two hours into the second bombing on Friday, most of our media channels decided to switch to “regular programming”. The who’s who of our anchors on November 5th as well as 6th decided to concentrate on “more important” topics such as; Inflation, Faisalabad’s textile industry, Corruption, Dr. Imran Farooq, Judiciary, mid-term elections, the Karachi plane crash and believe it or not an hour long ode to the PAF.
This apathy is more pronounced if seen in comparison, God forbid, if more than 60 people had died in the more “developed” parts of Pakistan, our media would be covering the event non stop, awareness loops would have been played over and over again and anchors would have shelved everything else to concentrate on the issue. None of the same for this lot, who are sacrificing much more than the rest of us and doing so for an end that will benefit us all for generations to come. But our overall ignorance of their sacrifice stops us from doing the least i.e. acknowledging their efforts.
The existence of these Lashkars highlights the point that Pakhtuns have not succumbed to the Taliban yet. The collapse of these indigenous defenses however will be a big victory for the Taliban. It goes without saying, that such a scenario would not be the end of the aspirations of the Taliban, as regardless of how the Taliban movement is painted, it considers itself above ethnic differences.
Appeared in Pakistan Today on the 9th of November 2010