Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Reviving Pashtunistan Movement

By Samuel Baid

Despite all the hospitality the Afghans have enjoyed in Pakistan during their difficult days, the irritants between the people of two countries have not decreased. On the contrary, they have multiplied especially after the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul from their safe havens in Pakistan in August 2021. It is possible the Taliban, during their stay in Pakistan for 20 years (2001 – 2021), learnt to distrust Pakistanis more than ever.

What has ailed Pak-Afghan relations, right from the day the former was born in the sultry heat of August 1947, was the trust deficit. It gave Afghanistan no consolation that an Islamic State was created on its border.  Jinnah’s two-nation theory means nothing to them. Afghanistan tried to dissuade the United Nations from recognising it.  

What divides the two neighbours is not so much the Durand Line as the gulf between their characters. Generally Afghans are considered upright and perceptive while Pakistan has made itself known world-wide as duplicitous.    

There are Pakistanis who call Afghans “namak haram” (an Urdu abusive phrase sometimes used for disloyal servants or dependents). Pakistanis want Afghans to be gratefulness to their country for looking after them since December 1979 when the Soviet troops entered Afghanistan.

The Afghans usually don’t taunt Pakistanis but they as well as the whole world, know that Pakistan had made a lucrative business of hosting Afghan refugees. Newspaper reports in 1979-80 spoke of Pakistani agents luring Afghans to Pakistan to escape the alleged Soviet-imposed communism. Pakistan inflated the number of refugees to get American dollars per head. Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan used to plead with these refugees to go back home. Gen Ziaul Haq was alarmed. He created conditions that Ghaffar had to go to Afghanistan for asylum. 

Afghans cannot forget that Zia’s favourite Jamaat-i-Islami went to Muslim countries to collect money for Afghan refugees but the Afghans say the money was misappropriated. A Pakistani journalist on a visit to New Delhi in May 1978 said from Saudi Arab alone the Jamaat got 80 million dollars.  The Taliban watched Pakistan how it made fool of the US by taking dollars for 20 years for “fighting” them but used them to destabilize Afghan government through terror.

From 1979 to 2021, Afghans have learnt enough why the world calls Pakistan duplicitous. On the other hand, Pakistan’s sense of superiority vis-a-vis the Afghans will not allow it to treat Afghans as equals.  Thus, normal relations cannot happen between the two.

This conflict of character is the root of mutual distrust. Border Skirmishes, border tension, Durand Line, upsurge of Pushtun nationalism, which poses threat to Pakistan’s geographical integrity, assertiveness of Pakistani Taliban with terror against its democratic system and against its security forces are all manifestations of the failure of Pakistan and Afghanistan to forge genuinely cordial relations. Pakistan will have to make itself trustworthy in the eyes of the Afghans. Pakistanis are also unhappy with Kabul’s concern for Pushtuns who were left behind in what is now Pakistan after building the Durand Line to separate Afghanistan from undivided India.

Sardar Daud, a cousin of Afghan King Zahir Shah ousted him in 1973 and became President of the country. As President, he supported a movement to re-unite Pushtuns of both sides of the Durand Line. Known as Pakhtunistan movement, it was headed by leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and had a strong appeal in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan. In May 1979, then Prime Minister of Afghanistan Hafizullah Amin told newsmen in Kabul that Baluch and Pushtuns “were our blood and we will help them get back land taken away from them”. After the Pakhtunistan movement fizzled out with the death of Ghaffar Khan, Pakhtuns lied low.  But two events in the past eight years have been bringing them back to life with vengeance. 

First, the air and land military action in tribal areas against Pushtuns, beginning August 2014 on the pretext of eliminating terrorists; an impression was given that this action was launched on US insistence. But according to Pakistani papers, the Army had moved out terrorists to safe places and killed hundreds of innocent civilians (‘Pushtun terrorists’). Those who survived ran to the settled areas of NWFP for shelter leaving behind their culture and traditions.

Second, the return of the Taliban has inspired them with new hope. If Pakistan is not careful it may face another Pashtunistan movement again-may be not non-violent this time. 

Note:The contents of the article are of sole responsibility of the author. Afghan Diaspora Network will not be responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in the article.

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