By Farhat Taj
Aurangzeb may be a hero in the sight of many a Muslim across South Asia, but in the Pakhtun tribal history he goes down as a villain as he is epitomised in Khushhal Khan Khattak’s poetry
Mr Mubarak Haider’s arguments and assumptions about the Pakhtun tribes in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region do not concur with the region’s history as well as the current reality since 9/11. There is a lot that one can mention in this regard but I will elaborate a few points and some examples from the region.
The tribal clashes with the Mughal empire were not rooted in any civilisational narcissism of the Pakhtun tribes, but a response to the oppressive divide and rule of the tribes policy of the empire for strategic considerations as well as a reflection of certain disputes among the tribes. Some of the fieriest clashes were led by Khushhal Khan Khattak, Aimal Khan Afridi and Darya Khan Afridi against the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. None of the three tribesmen were religious, but secular in outlook. Khushhal Khan Khattak is also a renowned Pashto poet and a universal symbol of secular Pakhtun nationalism. A closer look at the historic characters of Khushhal Khan, Aimal Khan and Darya Khan on the one hand and Emperor Aurangzeb on the other would clearly make Aurangzeb, rather than the three tribesmen, a civilisational narcissist, who rejected the moderate religious approaches of his predecessor Mughal emperors and placed the empire on the path the of religious extremism. Aurangzeb may be a hero in the sight of many a Muslim across South Asia, but in the Pakhtun tribal history he goes down as a villain as he is epitomised in Khushhal Khan Khattak’s poetry.
More importantly, the tribalism that we see today in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has, in many ways, much more to do with the political dynamics of the region than the social evolution of society. For being on the fringes of empires, the area has been dealt distinctly by all the powers at different times. The only driving consideration in every policy shaped for the area has always been strategic. Isolation of the people from the rest of the world is the most common denominator of all such policies. No decision ever seems to have been made with the aim of the social uplift of the people and the land. Nor had the local population been allowed to take steps on their own for their development. Defined frameworks from the outside always dictated the course of social transformation in the area, which has remained in inertia.
The British empire’s ‘forward policy’ towards FATA vacillated between control and caution, depending upon and in response to the moves of the Russian empire far beyond the River Amu rather than any civilisational narcissism of the ‘uncivilised tribes’. There have been tribes in FATA that kept requesting the British authorities to include their areas in the state territory. But the British left the tribes to fend for themselves and interacted with them only when doing so was in the interest of the empire. The British established the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) system in pursuit of this approach. How could the British have established their FCR system in FATA without cooperation from within the tribes?
The post-colonial Pakistani state, based on religious ideology, also a form of civilisational narcissism, not just continued but mastered the art of ‘managing the tribes’ in response to its fear of secular-ethnic Pakhtun nationalism. A declassified CIA document recording Professor G Tucci’s comment way back in 1962 describes how the Pakistani state perceived this issue. He states, “The government of Pakistan was faced with an unenviable problem. One of the main objects of the government is to effect national integration, which means they must break down petty local loyalties. Insofar as this policy is applied to the frontier area, it required detribalisation, yet when the tribes begin to lose hold over their members, a fertile field for anti-Pakistan forces in the form of Pashtunistan agitation is created.”
Tribal structures of the Pakhtun in the settled areas of Pakistan have broken down. Their tribal identities have given way to a unified Pakhtun identity. The standing tribal structures as well as the dominant tribal identities, Wazir, Mehsud, Orakzai, Salarzai, etc, overshadow the notion of a unified Pakhtun nationalism in FATA. The Pakistani state has wilfully preserved and promoted the tribal structure and affiliations as a stumbling block to prevent the people of FATA from integration with Pakhtuns of the settled area on the basis of shared Pakhtun nationalism.
It is this “yet when the tribes begin to lose hold over their members” which, although it is the mainstay of Mr Haider’s argument, fails to look into the direct reasons behind its grip and survival. Taking refuge in the academic romanticism since the British area about the tribes, the author avoids looking any further. Every society in its history has passed through the tribal formation phase. The fact that the Pakhtun tribal people can comfortably integrate themselves with a modern economy and even live in the urban centres with ease explains their civilisational instincts, not narcissism, and urge for a modern life. There is almost a universal consensus in FATA that the FCR system that keeps them tied down to tribalism must go.
Tribes in FATA are no different from the Pakhtun tribes in Kala Dhaka, formally part of the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas, but recently integrated into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as its 25th district as well as renamed as Tor Ghar. Both PPP and ANP deserve credit for the legal integration of this tribal area with the rest of Pakistan. It is most pertinent to note that the Kala Dhaka tribes offered no resistance to the legal integration of their area with the rest of Pakistan. All the government had to do was consult the tribal leaders and offer incentives to the tribal people, who happily accepted the government’s plan.
The tribes in FATA have also no appetite for tribalism and can have a smooth and quick transition to modernity, if the powerful uniformed urbanites of Pakistan would stop their preservation of the tribal museum in FATA in response to their perceived strategic threats from the neighbouring states, India and Afghanistan. President Zardari introduced some meagre legal reform in the FCR in 2009. The military establishment, not the tribes, are blocking the implementation of the president’s orders, thus effectively blocking the way for large-scale legal reforms in FATA.
Mr Haider’s most flimsy argument is that the tribes want not only to preserve their tribal order but impose it on other ethnicities in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The tribal order is based on tribes or clans that often compete and even clash with one another. This order is essentially the antithesis of nationhood as well as against the global Muslim order that Muslim civilisational narcissists, like al Qaeda, aim to establish. Moreover, it must also be noted that the most important pillars of the tribal order, the tribal leaders, who should be extending the tribal social order to the rest of Pakistan as per Mr Haider’s argument, have been target killed since 9/11. The remaining tribal leaders have been sidelined due to fear of targeted killing. In the absence of the tribal leaders, who in FATA can extend the tribal social order to the rest of Pakistan or Afghanistan? The ISI, the dominant Punjabi Taliban and al Qaeda Arabs or their Pakhtun foot soldiers or the common tribesmen and women who live in constant fear for survival every single moment?
The writer is a PhD Research Fellow with the University of Oslo and currently writing a book, Taliban and Anti-Taliban
Source: The Daily Times, Lahore