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Islam and Politics ( 26 Aug 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pakistan does not mean Punjab only

Do not hate me for who I am!

By Shahid Ilyas

June 30, 2010

We are taking too long to understand that Pakistan does not mean Punjab only. It consists of several nationalities, which have very distinct and old languages, cultures and histories. All of them have as much a share in the state of Pakistan as any other

Going by the rhetoric that one comes across from a host of media, including e-mails, the internet, TV shows, blogs and personal conversations, it is very disturbing to see the level of hatred which the youth in Punjab (is it only the youth?) — exceptions notwithstanding — harbour against personalities like President Zardari, President Karzai, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Mahmud Khan Achakzai. On the other hand, a soft corner in their attitudes is discernible for Qazi Hussein Ahmad, Nawaz Sharif, Zaid Hamid, Hamid Gul and Pervez Musharraf — people who subscribe to, some explicitly, others implicitly, the narrative which states that the international forces in Afghanistan are ‘occupying’ forces (do we have any business with who occupies what?), the Taliban are fighting to ‘free’ their country from a foreign occupation while India is an irreconcilable enemy, and so on and so forth. Can a country like Pakistan see stability with the configuration of love and hate on the above patterns?

To begin with, let’s ask what can be the possible reasons for the widespread hostility towards the person of President Zardari? Is it the NRO? But Zardari is not the only person to benefit from it or to allegedly be corrupt. The problem seems much deeper. It has partly to do with the anti-Zardari propaganda on pro-establishment news media. But it has also to do with where he comes from and what he stands for. The continuous and decades-long domination of political power in Pakistan by an overwhelmingly Punjab-based establishment makes it so difficult for them to accept the presence of a non-Punjabi and non-obliging personage in the presidency of the Islamic republic. It is simply too much for them to see the president talk about such ‘irritating’ issues as the rights for the Baloch and Pashtuns, and civilian supremacy over the armed forces. Indeed they have enjoyed so much power and for so long, that they started to take the same for granted.

We are taking too long to understand that Pakistan does not mean Punjab only. It consists of several nationalities, which have very distinct and old languages, cultures and histories. All of them have as much a share in the state of Pakistan as any other. All of them have to be given a chance to reach to the highest slots including the presidency and the prime minister house. Their languages and cultures are as important as any other, and the same has to be granted as much importance — on official level — as the languages of Punjab and Muhajirs. Asif Ali Zardari’s presence in the presidency is not the result of a favour from anyone. He is the president of the Islamic republic because he is duly elected and he represents a group of people, which has equal ownership of the country.

Coming to the Afghan President, President Karzai. His name incurs anger and disgust in Pakistan. Why? He is known to be a true Afghan patriot who talks about a free and prosperous Afghanistan. He talks about stopping foreign interference in his country. The assumption that he is a bad guy is so widespread in Pakistan that one can praise him at the risk of being physically beaten or at least insulted verbally. Whoever has generated this environment of disgust and hatred, it is neither good for Pakistan nor for the region. We need to change our narrative about the new Afghanistan that is emerging post-9/11 and that hosts international forces according to the UN Security Council resolutions. More importantly, an overwhelming majority, nay, Afghans by consensus and across the board — the Taliban excluded, but how many are they? — want those forces to stay in Afghanistan and help them to reconstruct their infrastructure and institutions, and free them of the scourge of terrorism. The new Afghanistan, for the first time in its history, has a democratic constitution, which was passed by a massively representative assembly. It has an elected parliament, an elected president and a standing — and growing by the day — army. It is very natural for President Karzai — as the elected head of state and government — to look after his country’s interests and expose those who seek to harm his country. Also, the Afghans have every right to decide who is their friend and who is an adversary, based on their experiences. We have no right to impose enemies and friends on Afghanistan.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, known as Badshah Khan — King Khan — by Pakhtuns on both sides of the Durand Line, has done great services for his people. He dedicated his entire free life — except when he was in imprisoned — to the educational, political and social uplift of the Pakhtuns. He stood firm against British colonialism in India and rendered great services to the Indian freedom movement. Among the Pakhtuns, he occupies a place not only of a politician and statesman but that of a saint. He stood for a free country for the Pakhtuns, but once Pakistan was made and the Pakhtuns came to be part of it, he sincerely accepted the reality and converted his efforts to getting rights for his people. His next generations — Khan Abdul Wali Khan and then Asfandyar Wali — took forward his struggle and have selflessly fought for the rights of their people.

Mahmud Khan Achakzai talks about the political and economic rights of the Pakhtuns. He talks against the illogical division of his people into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and FATA. He seeks recognition for his people and wants their exploitation stopped. He speaks for a due status for his language and culture.

One finds no reason for anger against President Zardari, President Karzai, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Mahmud Khan Achakzai for they are doing what they must; otherwise they will be condemned by their peoples as cowards and dishonest.

Many of the problems of Pakistan emanate from our failure to accept our ground realities. These realities include: Afghanistan is a sovereign state and we have neither the right nor the power to interfere in its affairs. Zardari is the president of the republic and he — as a Sindi — has as much right to be in power as anyone else. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was and still remains one of the most revered leaders of the Pakhtuns and his word regarding the rights of Pakhtuns holds true even today. And finally, Mahmud Khan Achakzai represents a substantial chunk of the Pakhtun population and the same needs to be paid heed to without hostility.

Let us find ways to reconcile with what we are, rather than what we wish to be. We are a country inhabited by many nationalities with distinct languages, cultures and histories. We are a country that has Afghanistan as its neighbour. Ostrich like behaviour can destroy our polity — if it has not already. Facing realities as they are, and behaving accordingly, can probably extract us from our ‘descent into chaos’.

The writer is a freelance columnist hailing from Waziristan. He can be reached at

Source: Daily Times, Pakistan