The Pashtun odyssey is our national odyssey

The truth is no matter what we assume as Punjabis, Urdu speakers or Sindhis, no one in this country has sacrificed as much as the Pashtun.

#PashtunLongMarch

The fact that thousands of Pashtuns have to demand that a police officer who is accused of the extra-judicial murder of dozens of Pakistani citizens be punished for his actions exposes how weak the justice system in this country is. Pakistan’s Pashtun people haven’t come out in force to voice their concerns in over a decade. This march, which has culminated in a protest outside the Islamabad Press Club, includes tribal elders and youth from all over the country.

However, coverage of this protest by the media has been scant. In comparison to previous sit-in’s in Islamabad, this one is being ignored. The question is, why?

The demands of the protesting Pashtuns are that the killers of Naqeebullah Mehsud should be punished, landmines removed from FATA, individuals from the Pashtun community forcibly taken away by state agencies be produced in court, and the policy of applying a curfew in FATA after every untoward incident be ended.

Why is it that a state which wants its citizens to be proud of its nuclear power status, the prowess of its military and its successes in the fight against terrorism can’t find the killers of dozens of civilians — mostly from the Mehsud tribe? A tribe that has been targeted in incidents of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings for years.

The military can brag all it likes about resettling hundreds of thousands of IDPs from Waziristan who were displaced during operations against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), but the fact remains that anti-terror operations in FATA have their dark side as well. During my recent visits to FATA in November and December last year, dozens of sources gave me details of Pashtuns being taken away from North and South Waziristan. The local populace was also abused both verbally and physically. Children were killed by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) almost every week. Local tribal journalists have complained about reports about these issues and the trauma they caused being repressed.

Not only have these reports been repressed by state actors, mainstream media has also ignored the issues faced by the people of FATA. This could be because since the creation of Pakistan, the issues faced by Pashtuns have not been acknowledged. Not only have we been discriminatory towards Pashtuns, we have also ignored their sacrifices and love for this country. I distinctly recall that during my childhood, we often shared jokes about the Pashtuns which mocked their intelligence. Much like “dumb blonde” jokes insult women’s intelligence.

The truth is no matter what we assume as Punjabis, Urdu speakers or Sindhis, no one in this country has sacrificed as much as the Pashtun. Nor has any other community put their necks on the line for this country as many times as Pashtuns. If anyone deserves attention and appreciation for their contributions, it is the Pashtuns.

The Pashtuns are one of the first ethnicities to make their mark on the territory which is now known as Pakistan. They have been on the frontlines of many of this region’s most significant conflicts. First during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, and later in the conflicts that have plagued this land since 9/11. Not only have they been on the frontlines politically and militarily, but also as civilians. They have faced the brunt of US drone campaigns, the Pakistan military’s operations in 2009 and 2014. Their ongoing protest is aimed at bringing attention to all the injustices they have faced because of these clashes.

The Pashtuns have been forced to broadcast their grievances in such a manner because we in this country have accepted an almost hierarchal organisation of ethnicities which gives certain groups a better quality of life than others. We think it is natural for a country to give some citizens stability and safety, while others are completely marginalised.

Meanwhile, our media has become increasingly ideological in how it prioritises the news to how it portrays it. But what is ideological news? One that seems true, when it is in fact made up. For example, the news outlets which falsely accuse the march to be anti-state, because of the slogans a group of attendees shouted accusing security officials of being responsible for the abuse they faced. Well, one must ask, isn’t it the military itself which brags about fighting terrorism and bringing stability to the tribal regions? Is it wrong for those who are innocent but have suffered in these operations to call out the authorities for the hand they have played in their suffering? The impact of this ideological media has been so strong that there are segments of the population which can’t even differentiate between the tribal areas of FATA and the KP province. It is high time that these segments get over their intellectual lethargy and stop relying on the mainstream media when it comes to forming opinions about the Pashtun people.

Once this happens, the different communities of this country can finally begin to love and respect one another as humans and fellow citizens. We cannot simply assume that nothing can be done about the suffering of the Pashtun people any longer. Until that happens, we cannot truly call ourselves a nation. (First published in DailyTimes)

Kiran Nazish: The writer is Co-Founder Coalition For Women in Journalism and tweets @kirannazish | @CfWiJ

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