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Dharna Dude and Pakhtun Resistance

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Dharna Dude – From Islamabad: Loves X-box, facials, and PTI.

Pathan – From Peshawar: Father died in a bomb blast, brother abducted by the Taliban.

Dharna Dude: Hey Mr. Pathan man! What kind of a Pathan are you? Don’t you know that Waziristan is under attack? Why didn’t you come for the dharna?

Pathan: Well, I can’t understand one thing, why don’t you guys do one against the Taliban? I mean, against all the suicide bombings and stuff?

Dharna Dude: Oh my God! What is wrong with you man? Taliban is a reaction! They are doing all of this because of the big devil dude. Tell me were there any suicide bombings before the Americans came into Afghanistan? Taliban is Pakhtun resistance, PAKHTUN RESISTANCE! NASWAR POWER! wake up khocha! They are fighting for you!

Pathan: err, Taliban kill Pakhtun children and lash Pakhtun girls in public, what exactly are you on about? If the Taliban is “Pakhtun” Resistance than why do they mostly kill Pakhtuns? Can you even count the number of times Peshawar got attacked during the last few years?

Dharna Dude: Haha, well don’t mind my friend, but my daddy says that the real Pathan are the tribal ones, from the mountains. KP etc are not real Pathans you know. FATA are the real Pathans, wait what was that name? oh yes, the Faqir of Iffy

Pathan: You mean the Faqir of Ipi?

Dharna Dude: Yes, him, that dude wasn’t from Peshawar was he?

Pathan: Okay, so when you said Pakhtun Resistance, you actually meant “Tribal Pakhtun Resistance”, because we from KP also call ourselves Pakhtuns.

Dharna Dude: Yeah, whatever man, Taliban are the Tribal Pakhtun Resistance, and they will teach the Americans a lesson, they taught the British a lesson and the Russ…

Pathan: Have you ever heard of the Turis?

Dharna Dude: The what?

Pathan: The Turis, they are a tribe from FATA; Kurram Agency to be exact.

Dharna Dude: Okay, what about them?

Pathan: They are shias…

Dharna Dude: Shia, Sunni, whatever man! We are Muslims you know, all of us, and we have to be united you know, all the Christians are so united, but we Muslims…

Pathan: Hundreds of Turis have died while fighting against the Taliban.

Dharna Dude: Well whatever man, I am just saying that America has attacked Afghanistan and…

Pathan: Which means, that all tribal Pakhtuns from FATA are not part of this “Tribal Pakhtun Resistance”

Dharna Dude: Yeah so?

Pathan: So you said it was Tribal Pakhtun Resistance, the Turis are tribal Pakhtuns and they are anti Taliban.

Dharna Dude: Well whatever man…

Pathan: So its not a Tribal Pakhtun Resistance. Perhaps one could call it a “Sunni Tribal Pakhtun Resistance”?

Dharna Dude: Okay dude, whatever rocks your boat man, they are going to kick America out of Afghanistan and…

Pathan: Ever heard of Ansar ul Islam?

Dharna Dude: The what?

Pathan: It’s a militia of Barelvi Sunni Tribal Pakhtuns, based in Khyber Agency.

Dharna Dude: Like what the hell is a Barelvi?

Pathan: A type of Sunni, who goes to shrines… as in Daata Darbar?

Dharna Dude: Oh I know Daata Darbar, isn’t that where Pappu Saeen lives? He rocks man!… Once he…

Pathan: They are against the Taliban’s version of Islam.

Dharna Dude: Who? Pappu Saeen?

Pathan: Yes, Pappu Saeen, his grand mother, and the Ansaar ul Islam.

Dharna Dude: Dude, why do you hate the Taliban so much man? They are only reacting dude… and they are going to kick America out of Afghanistan… and they…

Pathan: Just saying, that the Taliban can’t even be labeled as Sunni Tribal Pakhtun Resistance, because it’s not all Sunni either. So we can further restrict it to “Wahabi/Deobandi Tribal Pakhtun Resistance.”

Dharna Dude: Haha! Its resistance my friend, I am just saying we need to kick some gora ass man!

Pathan: Ever heard of the Punjabi Taliban?

Dharna Dude: Dude, c mon, lets get over this whole Punjabi Pathan thing man, we are Pakistanis my dear Khocha! And anyway I needed to talk to you about something else…

Pathan: The Punjabi Taliban are also part of this resistance

Dharna Dude: Well good for them man, like America is causing global warming and stuff and they need to leave Afghanistan…. But listen I applied….

Pathan: So what that means, is that this resistance, is not exclusively “Tribal Pakhtun”, it has Punjabis, and also, Uzbeks, Chechens etc as well.

Dharna Dude: yeah so?

Pathan: So it’s basically a Wahabi/Deobandi Resistance, not Wahabi/Deobandi Tribal Pakhtun or Sunni Tribal Pakhtun or Tribal Pakhtun, or simply Pakhtun Resistance.

Dharna Dude: Dude! Haha! You got a lot of time on your hand man, I gotta go home and play the new Call of Duty… its like pure awesomeness… but listen I needed your help…

Pathan: so, I hope we agree that it’s a Wahabi/Deobandi Resistance, and NOT a Pakhtun Resistance.

Dharna Dude: okay okay, now listen to me, I sent you my application essay for that Fulbright thingy, do check it out man, gotta get this thing nailed this time… then its Ca-lee-fornia baby!

Pathan: err…. You do know that the Fulbright scholarship is funded by the USAID?

Dharna Dude: Yeah man, lets kick the yankee out of Afghanistan! Pakhtun Resistance rocks dude!

Appeared in Express Tribune blogs under the title Pathan explains a thing or two to Dharna Dude, on the 1st of October, 2011.


Written by Imran Khan

October 1, 2011 at 11:32 am

Elitist Misconceptions

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With a mix of horror and disbelief I watched the footage from Matanai where a school van was ambushed by militants. Even for senses numbed by scores of bombings every year, this came as a shock because the victims were children (aged between 8 to 14 years), and were deliberately targeted. One would think that even the most shameless of villains would not be low enough to own these killings, but within hours the Tehreek I Taliban Pakistan (TTP) proudly claimed full responsibility. Bravo!

The footage of the aftermath showed faces smitten with fear, a little girl, hardly six or seven lay in a state of shock; her blank expression and her blood soaked shirt spoke volumes about the horrors that she went through. Some of the survivors did speak to the media and the noticeable thing about their interviews was that they were either in Pashtu or in heavily accented Urdu.

It is important to highlight the accents and thus ethnicity of these children because the same are often ignored by those who perceive Taliban violence as a Pashtun backlash. Take the Chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek I Insaaf (PTI) for instance; in one of his sermons on YouTube titled “Imran Khan Explains War of Terror and Pakistani Taliban”, he declares the Taliban to be a “Pashtun Resistance”. But, how exactly does a Pashtun Resistance claim mostly Pashtun victims is something that Mr. Khan didn’t elaborate upon.

To prove this argument, references are often made to episodes of Pashtun resistance from the past. But the difference between Taliban leadership and historical figures such as Faqir of Ipi becomes very obvious if one considers their respective target selection. Mullah Powindah, Pir Roshan and Faqir of Ipi were not known for targeting Pashtuns, as all of them had a strong nationalistic bias; i.e. a Pashtun bias. The Taliban however, do not have any of that as proven by the fact that their victims are predominantly Pashtun. It should be obvious that when an insurgency fights in the name of an ethnicity then it does NOT target that ethnicity; the ETA is not known for killing Basques and neither was the Tamil Tigers known for killing Tamils. For this reason, it is downright disrespectful to term Taliban violence as a “Pashtun backlash”, because the Pashtuns themselves are its biggest victims.

While one feels disappointed with the former cricketer, one is absolutely horrified when the same logic is echoed by a group of Pakistan’s “Foreign Policy Elites” (FPE). A recent report by the Jinnah Institute (JI) and the US Institute for Peace (USIP), titled “Pakistan, the United States and the end game in Afghanistan” builds its case on the very same assumption. While the FPE rightly point out that a settlement in Afghanistan should not result in “negative spillovers” or cause “resentment” among Pakistani Pashtuns, their recommendation for ensuring that is quite perplexing, as they want inclusion of the Haqqani Network and the Quetta Shura in any post US setups in Afghanistan.

If such an arrangement is considered necessary for appeasing Pakistani Pashtuns, then the FPE need to move beyond books of history & genealogy, and instead concentrate on recent news reports, electoral results, and opinion surveys. The Pashtuns of Pakistan have been categoric in rejecting the Taliban; in 2008’s general election, the Province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) voted overwhelmingly for anti Taliban parties i.e. the ANP and the PPP. The PEW research survey for 2010 predicts that only 7% of KP approve of the Taliban, while the same is 15% for Pakistan and 22% for Punjab. Furthermore, TTP’s targeting of elected leaders in KP as well as that of the tribal elders of FATA, clearly indicates that the Taliban feel threatened by those who represent Pashtun consensus. This anti Taliban sentiment should be expected, given the chaos and destruction that the TTP has brought upon Pashtun lands.

If our FPE think that the alliance between the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan can be taken care of through some strategic parlaying, then they are sadly mistaken. Whether it’s supporting the Uighars in China, or the refusal to handover Osama, the Afghani Taliban have proven that when it comes to the Global Jihadi fraternity, strategic concerns are not that important to them. Thus, it should be obvious that if the Taliban get strengthened in Afghanistan, then the strengthening of the Pakistani ones is inevitable.

Lest one forgets, this September had quite a few reminders of what that strengthening could entail. Besides the attack on the 13th in Matanai that killed 5, on the 16th a suicide bombing in Dir claimed 27 lives, on the 19th another 8 were killed in Karachi, and on the same day 6 died in an attack on CD shops in Peshawar, and if that was not enough, then on the 20th they lined up 26 Shias in Mastung and gunned them down; and then ambushed two more who were on their way to the scene of the massacre. A sum total of 74 Pakistanis killed in 7 days for the “crimes” of working for the Government, listening to music and being Shia.

The underlying motivation for this violence is ideological, and this ideology is not likely to change whether the United States leaves Afghanistan tomorrow or doesn’t in the next ten years. It is also an ideology that declares a majority of us Pakistanis i.e. the Barelvis and the Shias to be Wajib Ul Qatal (dead men walking), and legitimizes the destructions of schools, shrines, Imam Bargahs and mosques. With the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network espousing the same ideology, their strengthening in Afghanistan should raise alarm bells for anyone concerned about Pakistan’s security interests.

If the potential “resentment” of Pakistani Pashtuns weighed heavily on the minds of our FPE, then the safety of the same Pakistanis should have had an even bigger impact, an impact that is certainly not evident in the conclusions to this report. For this reason, the Foreign Policy Elites need to reconsider their definition of Pakistan’s national interest. It is recommended however that before doing so, this group puts itself in the shoes of the parents of Matanai, it is very likely that the word “pragmatism” might have a different meaning then.

A slightly edited version appeared in The News on the 30th of September, 2011.

Written by Imran Khan

September 30, 2011 at 4:51 am

Selective Indignation

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The novel “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” gave birth to the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde”. The novel features a character named Dr. Henry Jekyll, who has two distinct personalities; one good and the other evil. The phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” usually refers to having extreme swings in moral character according to changing situations. The recent behavior of Pakistan’s Barelvi clergy exemplifies similar swings in moral character that are reminiscent of the mood swings of Dr. Henry Jekyll.

The Barelvi version of Islam is often branded by its rivals as heretical; going to shrines and excessive glorification of the Prophet is criticized by others such as Deobandis to be against the tenets of Islam. The differences are so pronounced that the Taliban specifically attack Barelvi mosques, shrines as well as clergy. The assassination of Mufti Sarfaraz Ahmad Naeemi for speaking out against suicide bombing, and the bombing of Daata Darbar and the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi among many other shrines, are all examples of these atrocities.  In all of these attacks two points are notable. First is the desecration of these holy places that results in the desecration of the Holy Quran and the name of the Prophet. The second is the ownership of these attacks, which are claimed unabashedly by the Taliban, thus also owning the blasphemy committed during these attacks.

The reaction of Pakistan’s Barelvi clergy to these horrendous outrages has been a most civilized one. Back in 2009, Sunni Ittehad Council launched the “Save Pakistan Movement”, which aimed to raise awareness on Talibanization through peaceful means. There were no calls for storming the nearest Deobandi madrassa or the offices of pro Taliban political parties. There was no mustering of suicide bombers or initiation of terrorist training camps. It was a civilized outrage that was expressed under the submission that only the State has a monopoly on violence. It was this response and the attitude that came with it that made us Pakistanis announce our separation from the fanatic ideology espoused by the Taliban.

But then came Mumtaz Qadri and his decision to murder Governor Salman Taseer. The shock of the death of Mr. Taseer was magnified manifold with the shock of the Barelvi response to this attack. Gone was the Dr. Henry Jekyll who faced the Taliban, and out came Edward Hyde; there were celebration for the death of the Governor, the killer was praised as a Hero, and to top everything off the bereaving daughter of Salman Taseer was told to learn a lesson from the fate of her father. One would wish with all his heart that this outrage was shown by a fringe minority, but with the attestation of Tanzeem Ahl-e-Sunnat and Sunni Tehreek, there is no denying that this response is owned by the Barelvi clergy at large.

So is this response to a mere suggestion for changes in the blasphemy law consistent with the response to the desecration of shrines and mosques? The late Salman Taseer was bending over his back in trying to reiterate that he did not mean any disrespect to the Holy Prophet. On the contrary, the Taliban had no qualms in taking responsibility for the desecration of mosques as well as shrines.  So why is it that in the case of the Taliban, our Barelvi clergy was very eager to press the Government and the Military to do their job, and rightly so. But in the case of the Liberals, as represented by Salman Taseer, the same Barelvi clergy had no qualms about appreciating a complete violation of the law and are threatening to do more of the same in the future.

The difference could easily be explained by the consequences of side stepping the Government in each of these cases; in the case of the Taliban, physical reaction to their attacks could result in targeted suicide attacks, where as in the case of Salman Taseer, the reaction would come in terms of op-eds in English dailies. It seems that our Barelvi clergy decided to play tough on the softer option; if uncontrolled outrage was an essential consequence of blasphemies then the Taliban would also have been at the receiving end of such Barelvi outrages, which is clearly not the case.

The death of Salman Taseer was because of a mindset, a mindset that seems to be prevalent among Pakistanis. This mindset needs to be challenged through reason, for which both sides need to be provided an equal opportunity for expression of their views. For the conservatives in this country, there is no fear of a physical reprisal from the minority liberals, but on the other hand the liberals are threatened every day through the use of the pulpit as well as through political platforms.

These open threats exist because of the inability of the Government to exert its authority. If the liberal voices are stopped through forced bullying, then it would be a major loss to the discourse around this issue, a discourse that is essential in defining the future of the Pakistani identity.

Appeared in Pakistan Today on the 18th of January 2011

Written by Imran Khan

January 18, 2011 at 4:44 am

A “Righteous” Confusion

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What differentiates the smiling face of Mumtaz Qadri from that of an apprehended criminal is a lack of guilt. Mr. Qadri is beaming with pride because according to his religious beliefs he has not done anything wrong.  But this raises a question; how does the belief in a religion, whose name literally means “Peace” result in senseless and guiltless killings such as that of Governor Taseer? There are various explanations making the rounds; some blame this twisted sense of morality on the current American war against the Taliban, while others blame it on the previous American support of the Mujahideen.

But the profile of Mr. Qadri and his followers doesn’t exactly match that of the past beneficiaries and the recent affectees of US interventions in Afghanistan. To begin with, Mr. Qadri is a Barelvi, the sect of Islam that is portrayed by us Pakistanis as anti Taliban. We distance ourselves from the barbarity of suicide bombings and beheadings by quoting the fact that a majority of Pakistanis are Barelvis and thus not Taliban. Furthermore, Mr. Qadri also does not represent a fringe element among the Barelvis, as more than 500 Ulema of the Jamaate Ahle Sunnat Pakistan (JASP) celebrated his crime and warned of similar consequences for others daring to disagree with them. facebook pages dedicated to Mr. Qadri are teeming with fans that have no qualms about shaving their beards, listening to music or openly declaring their dating preferences. This killing and its subsequent celebrations can not be blamed on fringe elements, this bigotry is as Pakistani as it can get.

Pakistan’s religious right has embraced this act unabashedly and the justifications offered are quite bewildering; take for instance the statement of the Amir of Jamaat I Islami, Syed Munawar Hassan, who blames Salman Taseer for his own death. His explanation and that of many others is that, the emotions surrounding the issue of blasphemy are so intense, that it makes it very difficult for Muslims to control their anger, it is because of their “hurt feelings” that they are forced to take such actions.

But by using the same logic, Mufti Sarfaraz Ahmed Naeemi should also be held responsible for the suicide attack on him, because by speaking out against suicide bombings, Mufti Naeemi “hurt” the feelings of its proponents who consider suicide bombing as the ultimate sacrifice for their faith. The 40 dead in Daata Darbar, and the 8 dead at the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi, should also be held responsible for their own deaths, because what they thought of as Islam, was actually an “insult” to the Islam professed by their “enraged” murderers. Also, if “hurt feelings” are a measure of the justification of an act, then the faceless suicide bombers of the Taliban seem to be much more hurt and thus more justified than Mr. Qadri, who despite being supposedly blinded by rage, found the time to pre-negotiate a safe exit.

As the self proclaimed guardians of Pakistan’s Islamic ethos, our religious right has always emphasized the importance of Islam as a complete code of life; a set of ideals, that ensures the abidance to Islamic laws. The murder of Salman Taseer is a gross violation of the very same ethos that our religious right claims to champion.

The irony is thick in these “righteous” celebrations, because by celebrating the death of Salman Taseer, these defenders of the Blasphemy Law are in fact celebrating the irrelevance of that very same law.

Appeared in the Express Tribune on the 12th of January 2011

Written by Imran Khan

January 12, 2011 at 6:56 pm

In Defense of Shrines

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Source: AFP

The recent string of attacks on Sufi Shrines signifies the growing intolerance in our society. A normal response to these incidents is an expression of disbelief; how could someone kill Muslims in the name of Islam? But the fact of the matter is that with these attacks, the “Muslim” attackers are announcing the excommunication of their “grave worshipping” victims. Given the history of Sufism in the Sub Continent, it is indeed sad to see these expressions of hate against a movement that is rightly accredited with the spread of Islam in this part of the World.

But apart from the physical attacks there is a parallel ideological attack that Sufism has to contend with. Armed with a more puritanical interpretation of Islam, various groups aim to discredit Sufism by highlighting its theological “flaws”. Furthermore, given the India-centric expression of Pakistani nationalism, merely pointing out similarities between Hinduism and Sufism is enough for many to reject the later.

While the jury is still out on the one true interpretation of Islam, and will be out for a long time to come, what should be considered about shrines is their impact on society in general. It is often the case that the economic and social impact of Sufism is overlooked very easily by citing its non conformity to Orthodox Islam.

The recently announced Global Hunger Index for 2010 ranks Pakistan as 52nd out of 84 countries, among other things the rankings take into account the incidence of malnutrition among children. While the report has many recommendations, the fact is that all the on-paper solutions for feeding the hungry run into resource constraints. Last year’s fiscal deficit, i.e. difference between Government revenues and expenditures was at Rs. 929 Billion which is a huge amount for a country such as Pakistan. The problem according to the Government lies in the fact that most Pakistanis don’t pay taxes, and there is truth to that claim; at tax returns being just 10% of the GDP, Pakistan has one of the lowest tax paying rates in the World. If you ask the tax evaders then their reply is that the Government has failed so miserably in service delivery that paying taxes is just not worth it.

The ultimate sufferers of this chicken and egg argument are the poorest of the poor, who pay not only in terms of inflation but also through a lack of essential Government support; such as soup kitchens to give out free food. Consider the soaring unemployment rate and for many the choices are to either go to sleep on an empty stomach, beg in the streets, or commit a crime.

In all of this hopelessness, the langars (soup kitchens) of a shrine provides a quick relief for those lucky few who are in its proximity. In doing so, the shrine becomes a channel between the rich and the poor and performs the delivery of this essential service which is ideally the responsibility of our cash strapped Government. Those who criticize shrines on theological grounds have nothing similar to offer as replacement, but one can be assured of one thing, which is that their criticism usually comes on a full stomach.

Shrines support businesses around them by generating demand; flowers, handicrafts, food, etc are all profitable ventures keeping in view the demands of the visitors. But these small business clusters have an enormous economic potential which remains untapped. Global Religious Tourism accounts for around $18 billion annually and with a population of around 1.5 billion, Muslims form a very attractive market for Islamic tourism. These so called “bidats” (innovation) i.e.  music and dance and festivals that have centuries of history, have the potential to attract both Muslim as well as Non-Muslim visitors from across the world and in the process create much needed jobs.

The history of the Sub continent shows that these shrines have played an important role in the relationship between Muslims and Hindus. The shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, at Ajmer Sharif in India, is still visited by both Hindu as well as Muslim pilgrims and serves as a shared site of reverence between two very different and often conflicting faiths. The differences between Shias and Sunnis in Pakistan are no less, according to statistics from South Asia Intelligence Review; sectarian violence in Pakistan has claimed 3423 lives since 1989. There is no doubt that bridges need to be built between the two sides, and for that matter shrines provide the ideal common ground. The annual urs of Daata Sahib, Lal shahbaaz and other famous saints transcends the sectarian divide and gives both Shias and Sunnis something common to celebrate. This mutual ground needs to be built upon rather than discredited, because in our country the cost of theological nitpicking is in terms of human lives.

It is very common to hear many scoff the supposed miracles associated with these shrines. But by feeding the hungry and bridging sectarian divides, these saints from the past are performing miracles that are much needed in these troubled times.

Appeared in Pakistan Today on the 23rd of November 2010

Written by Imran Khan

November 23, 2010 at 8:29 am

Posted in Sufism

Tagged with ,

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