Non-violent Pashtuns in the grip of violent conflict

The non-violent struggle, led by the legendary Pashtun freedom fighter Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan well known as Bacha Khan, against the British colonial rule is a great lesson in the history of political movements.

AjmalshamsAfter a careful look into the tragic events and misfortunes of the past three decades in Afghanistan beginning with the Communist Coup of April 1978 followed by Soviet military intervention in December 1979, one is readily convinced that Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand Line have been the prime victims. It is true that Afghans in general have suffered tremendously by a perpetual bloody conflict that has shattered their lives in varying degrees. However, the Pashtuns in both Afghanistan and Pakhtunkhwa have been most severely impacted by the ongoing strife. As a consequence of the armed resistance against the Soviet occupation forces, almost two million Afghans, mainly Pashtuns, lost their lives. The spy agencies of the Communist regime in Kabul continued to perpetrate terrorist activities in Pakhtunkhwa which killed hundreds of Pashtuns both local and refugees from Afghanistan.  Similarly, after the collapse of Dr. Najib’s regime, when the Mujahedeen came to power, the major battle grounds of the civil war were the Pashtun areas. Now, after decades, the legacy of this virtual massacre of Pashtuns still rages in the form of ongoing insurgency on both sides of the Durand Line.

It is an open secret now that the ongoing insurgency in the lands of the Pashtuns is mainly driven by regional and global rivalries for gaining political influence and economic superiority.

The Taliban emerged in the early Nineties in the country’s south and gradually grabbed power in 1996. Their absolute majority being Pashtun triggered international propaganda against the entire Pashtun ethnicity. Pashtuns were portrayed as being against civilized culture that only believed in extremism. Whatever actions the Taliban committed were associated with the Pashtuns. Regrettably, the Pashtun character assassination has sustained to this day in one form or another.  It is to be noted that the Taliban rarely committed actions that favored one ethnic group over the other and never identified themselves with being Pashtuns. Members of the Taliban from Badakhshan Province, the ethnic Tajik, were actively involved in the movement with some holding high ranking positions. Thus the perception of identifying Pashtuns with the Taliban or vice versa has no logical grounds.

The non-violent struggle, led by the legendary Pashtun freedom fighter Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan well known as Bacha Khan, against the British colonial rule is a great lesson in the history of political movements. He has been called the non-violent soldier of Islam. It was nearly eighty years ago when he had called upon the Pashtuns under the British rule to stand up for their rights and struggle through peaceful political means without resorting to violence. This was in line with his most cherished Philosophy of Non-Violence. Thousands of Pashtuns associated themselves with his non-violent method of uprising under his charismatic leadership. Bacha Khan and his companions spent years in prisons and suffered enormous hardships in pursuit of their enduring peaceful struggle for freedom. If it were true that Pashtuns only believed in violent methods of political struggle, they would never have united under Bacha Khan’s banner of peaceful uprising. Pashtuns’ adherence to Bacha Khan’s peaceful political movement is self-evident proof of Pashtuns’ faith in tolerance and peaceful co-existence.

Khushal Khan khattak has been called a man of sword and a man of letter

Pashtuns have entrenched principles of resolving their conflicts among themselves and with others through dialogues and their traditional peace Jirgas. However, when there is legitimate need for the use of force, they are readily willing to rise up in arms.  The pages of history, on one hand, illustrate Pashtuns’ valiant struggle, bravery and courage and on the other hand portray them also as inheritors of nearly five thousand years of a legacy of civilization that thrived between the great rivers of Amu and Indus. Among many of Pashtun’s heroes, a reflection on the life of Khushal Khan Khattak sheds enough light on the character of a typical Pashtun leader. Khushal Khan has been called a man of sword and a man of letter. For years, he fought Mughuls defending the rights of Pashtuns but was also second to none in terms of his literary achievements. His works have been inspiring writers and poets for the last four centuries.

The re-emergence of the Taliban after being thrown out of power in late 2001 by the US led international military coalition can be attributed to several internal and external contributing factors. It might be nothing but unfair media bias to say that the Taliban led insurgency has been initiated by the Pashtuns. The reality is that this violent conflict has been imposed on the Pashtuns whose victims are none but Pashtuns themselves. It is also a pity that the Taliban Insurgency is sometimes termed as Pashtun Insurgency. Unfair as it is, there is absolutely no logic in the notion either. Such characterization does, however, portray a negative image of the Pashtuns worldwide leading several into believing that Pashtuns are radical extremists who cannot come to terms with attributes of modern society.

It is an open secret now that the ongoing insurgency in the lands of the Pashtuns is mainly driven by regional and global rivalries for gaining political influence and economic superiority. Surprisingly, Afghanistan, due to its geo-strategic location, remains the battleground for such rivalries but neither their owner nor beneficiary. Part of the blame also lies with a fragmented Pashtun leadership that has little or no vision for the future.

It is a crucial moment for the Pashtun political leadership as well as religious and social intelligentsia to redefine and present the true image of Pashtuns as a tolerant nation having a long cherished desire to live in peaceful co-existence with others so long as their relationship is based on mutual respect and trust. However, one must also be mindful of the fact that as long Pashtuns are not given their legitimate political and cultural rights and equal access to economic opportunities, not only will the entire regions remain in the grip of conflict and tension but the world at large will continue to feel the adverse impacts.

Writer: Ajmal Shams

The writer is President of the Afghanistan Social Democratic Party well-known as Afghan Millat National Progressive Party. He also served as policy advisor to Dr. Ashraf Ghani when he chaired the security transition commission before running for president. He tweets @ajmshams

THE PASHTUN TIMES

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