THE ongoing socio-political changes defining the transition in most parts of Pakhtun raise many questions. Is Talibanization just a pakhtoun phenomenon? Why were the mujahedin renamed the Taliban? Did Faith or Ethnonationalism Promote Extremism? Does the latter emanate from the void of the internal structure or from external policies? Why was the Northwest a battleground for proxies? Why have customs and “jihad” been combined for ulterior motives? Why were there different laws in old Fata, Pata, border regions and KP? What were the consequences of the indirect government in Fata? Why was a colonial recipe favored there?
If the FCR and riwaj-based criminal justice system (CJS) had been viable in Fata, things would not have gotten so much worse. For decades, the tribal belt had no modern CJS. Are the past four turbulent decades in the Pakhtun regions due to a leadership vacuum? Although the maliks and the mullahs tried to fill the void, the activists challenged both. After September 11, hundreds of maliks were killed; underlining the rejection of the CJS and the administrative apparatus.
Periodically, Paktun society has witnessed reform movements. But many factors prevented it from modernizing, with the Pakhtuns wanting both traditionalism and modernism. Khilafat’s pan-Islamic slogan attracted many Pakhtuns to the Hijrat movement; many volunteered to emigrate to Afghanistan. Local Hindus bought their land and livestock at disposable prices. The architects of this company had not taken into account the Afghan realities; the emotional movement ended in misery for the most part. After September 11, history repeated itself when fighters led by Sufi Mohammad crossed the border. Hundreds have died.
Mullahs, landowners, peasants and workers make up the social fabric of Paktun. The first two maintained the status quo as the common people fought for political change, not realizing that this was not possible without sustainable social development. Killing maliks, amplifying the feeling of injustice through religious validation and arming working-class youth was part of the activists’ strategy. The khans of Swats, the maliks of Fata and the activists of a nationalist party have paid the price.
The situation of the Pakhtuns today raises many questions.
With its socialist tendencies, the Mazdoor Kissan Party, founded in 1968, supported the peasant movement born out of a class struggle between the khans and the peasants, indicating that when it is not faced with external threats, the energies are directed towards the social divide. In contemporary Paktun society, social media, democracy, rights movements and education have challenged the status quo.
The lack of leadership gave opportunities to people like Mangal Bagh who worked in a car wash; Fazlullah who was a chairlift operator; and Hakeemullah, a poultry seller. Although most of the militant commanders did not graduate from Madressahs, they were linked to them through the Western media. The glorification of martyrdom / jihad has exacerbated extremism.
Historically, the Pakhtuns are a nomadic race. Even today, they retain this nomadism in parts of Afghanistan, KP and Balochistan. Mobility and adventurism allowed them to rule the subcontinent and fight the superpowers. Anticolonialism and love of religion made them oscillate between nationalism and religiosity. Previously described as aggressors, in recent times their wars have been defensive.
The justice system in Swat State was seen as instant, cheap and efficient. Swat’s merger with Pakistan in 1969 brought about changes in the legal system. In 1994, the Supreme Court declared Pata’s regulations unconstitutional, further exposing the ineffectiveness of the system. The pursuit of swift justice and the efforts of Sufi Mohammad’s TNSM resulted in the Nifaz-i-Nizam-i Sharia Settlement, 1994, Nifaz-i-Nizam-i-Sharia, 1995, the Nizam-i-Adl Settlement and the takeover of government functions in Swat. Such arrangements did not work because no preparatory work had been done.
Although the government signed peace accords with the TNSM, it only bought activists’ time. These agreements were also a form of appeasement. The search for information has made the majority dependent on alternative means of communication. The external broadcasts of international networks apparently met their needs, but it was difficult to distinguish between information and propaganda.
The Pakhtuns of Fata, KP and Balochistan saw different sets of legal and administrative apparatuses. The 25th Amendment buried the FCR and aimed to consolidate the criminal justice and administrative system in the amalgamated districts. Given Swat’s experience, the CJS in the newly merged districts needs to be made fully operational. The success of Fata reforms depends on the effectiveness of the CJS and the delivery of public services.
Without significant agricultural and industrial support, education and trade are development options. Neither is possible without peace. But the active role of the Pakhtuns in politics, bureaucracy and the military bodes well for national integration. Will the exit of the United States bring misery to Pakhtun or will it herald a prosperous era for them? The answer is uncertain.
The writer is the author of Pakistan: Between Extremism and Peace.
Posted in Dawn, July 14, 2021