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.