I Opyne

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

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