Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Tappey: The art of Pashtun folk poetry

this article has been edited from its original format. please include any corrections in the comments

by Rahmat Shah

Tappey ( Landay) is a form of folk poetry and consist of couplets, the first one consist of nine syllables and the second thirteen.
This format of poetry is described by some to consist of one and one half verses. The author is generally unknown. Some of them have names of authors or national figures and heroes attached.

Tappey are started with a fond opening word of ya qurbaan, meaning respect to the listener or the subject. Tappey are sung with loud melodious voice and could be accompanied by Mengay, Tabla, tembal, Baja and setaar. Tappey are generally sung over weddings, celebrations or just to tide over the long winter nights.

In weddings ceremonies it might have the form of two-person duet presented by male and female singer or two male singers. Tappa covers all forms of pashtun life ranging from love, passion, anger, hate, wars, history, heroes and villains.

Tappa : Cities and geography

The rugged pakhtun terrain from the borders of Chitral to Chaman and Ammu to the Abasin is the source of inspiration in the form of Tappa. It is therapy for the soul of the inhabitants of these mountains and valleys.

The Tappey will often include references to the cities of Pekhawer, Kabul, Kandahar, Nangrahar, Chaman, Mardan, Swat, Bajaur, Nowkhar, Krapa and Tirra as well as the landmark mountains like Khyber, Tatarra, Malakand, Tirra and Elam. Other themes are Islam religious in spiritual, through mentioning spiritual leaders of the past like Pir baba and Kaka saib. As well as the fragrant flowers like Kashmale, rose and Chambele to mention a few.

Tappa and the beloved 

The tappey speaker is descriptive on what he wants from his love. He compares the beauty of his love without devotion to a flower without fragrance.The beloved has to have wafa (loyalty) or heart felt devotion, she is mentioned with great reverence and respect, her lips are red, face ruby white and eyes, clear, shining, full of passion and beautiful like the flower of nargis (narcissus).

Her hair is long and consists of jet-black locks often compared to day and night. Some tappey describes the face of the beloved as roohani as Islam and the hair as pagan and kafiristan.

The lover never has a chance to marry the girl of his dreams. It is satisfying to dream and imagine seeing her fetching the water in the water pitcher Mangey from the water bank Guuder or well.

One historian noted this commonality between Pashtun and Jews by reading the frequent mention of water bank and wells in our folk poetry. He noted the same in the Israelites, like Moses, Jacob and many others who fell in love with their wives by wells and fountains.

Tappa and emotions

There are other themes, there is the Sohbat, the unending love talk of lovers and the state of bless, longed for in many verses. The beltoon the other fellow who has the same love interest is a hateful soul. He is waham and waswasa and the extreme fear of being accepted by the family and the beloved. The fond neglect or Makeiz exhibited by the beloved does not allay the fear either or remedy the situation.

Tappa: When love is like a bird

The beloved is not trustworthy she may fall for the talk of the beiltoon who is like Latoo, a bird that changes his tone frequently to attract his own kind in the forest. Tapoose tour kargha the crow is an ugly bird at times it brings bad news, by repeatedly crowing in front of the house. The qa qa of the crow inspires aw and fear of loss.

The Tappey covers the constant struggle of the pashtun with nature, the harsh weather, and drought. With all those wars, struggle for existence and survival I wonder how Adam Khan and Durkhaney pulled a love affair, so successful to be remembered for generations.

Some Tappey 

Guloona Dir Di Khudai Di DirKki,
Da Sabar Gul Ba Khpal Ashna La Warkawoma

The garden is full of flowers but I have to present the flower of patience to my friend.

Khude Me Bacha Qurr’an Me Pir De
Rasul-lah Ba Shafae’t Za Ma Kaweena.

God is my King,
The prophet will plead for my blessing.

Da Pir Baaba Lare Di Sakhte
Da Gulo Lakhte Jenay Sta Da Para Zam’a

The journey to the Mazaar of the saint, Pir Baaba is harsh and difficult
But I have to do it for the girl who is as beautiful as a flowering branch.

Zaan De Zarho Jamo Ke Jorhe Ka
Laka Pa Wran Kele Ke Bagh Da Gulo Weena.

She dressed herself in tattered clothes and
Looks like a garden of flowers showing through the ruins of a village.

Ka Da Zelmo Na Pura Na Shwa
Fakhr-e Afghana Jenekey Ba De Gateena.

If the young lads of the land failed to achieve the goals of Bacha Khan the pride of the Afghan nation; then it will be the lasses  for the achievement of his dreams and mission.

Meena Zari De Na Qabli Gi
Janaan Pa Ghetto Khelqu Zaan Hesaba We Na.

The gestures of the lovers are rejected, because of the great difference of class; the love interest has no time for the poor lovelorn.

Akher Ba Wran She Pekhawara
Da Nangrahar Juna Khere Derta Kaweena..

The lasses of Nangrahar are praying for the demise of Peshawar city; as they miss their lads attracted by the glitter of the City.

Ma Da Shamshaad Lekhta Ganrhale
Da Mere Zoya Da Azgho De Dakka Krhama.

I was dreaming of you as a beautiful cypress tree,
Instead you turned out to be a thorny bush.

Che Da Ayaz Pa Mekh Sheida Sho
Mahmood Bacha Da Ghulamano Ghulam Shuna.

Mahmood Ghaznvi uplifted the one time slave Ayaz to such a high position,
that the king sought his advice in the matters of the state as if the slave was the ruler and the ruler was the slave..

Bes Ka Pa Degha Zay’e Pregda
Soke Che Kheista Ashna Lari Ghamjan Ba Weena

Let us close and leave these Tappey alone,
Those who have a beautiful lover, have to put up with some sadness…

- original article by Rahmat Shah

Friday, 26 October 2012

The Pashtun disconnect

A version of this article was published by THE NEWS 23rd October 2012 and can be viewed here here

Barely a week ago a young girl was brutally attacked by extremists, but this young girls name was not Malala Yousafzai, instead this nameless victim was a 11 year old had acid thrown on her face in Kandahar district of Afghanistan. While this event went unnoticed elsewhere outrage poured out in Pakistan and across the world as news about the horrific attack on Malala spread.

In a month where a teenaged young girl was brutally attacked in Swat, a bus of students was attacked en route to Parachinar and a bomb blast in Darra Adam Khel killed dozens, the Pashtun disconnect has become even more obvious. While there was outrage at these attacks amongst Pakistani’s both Pashtun and non-Pashtun, as well in Afghanistan there was no uniformity in the outrage. In fact what was a common thread was how disconnected the outrage was and how difficult it was for Pashtuns to rally against it. This disconnect is further reflected by other examples, violence in Karachi, the siege of Parachinar, large scale displacement of people from the Federally Administered Tribal areas that does not trigger as much a response from Pashtun society as other Pan Islamic or state nationalist causes do.

To understand this disconnect one has to first look at two major outside factors, Afghanistan and Pakistan’s relationship and the events of September 11th 2001. What happens in Afghanistan is intertwined with happenings in Pakistan and vice versa. So while Afghanistan refused to recognise Pakistan’s independence in 1947, the Pakistani government in 1997 was the first state to recognise the Taliban dominated Afghan government. It was also around the same time sixteen years ago, that the former Afghan President Najibullah was murdered and horrifically tortured by a Taliban mob. It was an event that attracted little attention amongst Pashtuns in Pakistan but it was a sign of things to come. The events of 9/11 were another turning point, with the exceptions of Aimal Kasi and Faisal Shahzad the proportion of Pashtuns involved in terrorism attacks has been tiny but the consequences have been huge.

So why is there such a Pashtun disconnect? Geography, history and even law are some of the key reasons. Despite being Pakistan’s second biggest ethnicity they are divided into those residing within KP (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where they are a clear majority), in FATA, Balochistan, small pockets in Punjab and a large number in Karachi. The divide between the Pashtuns of Balochistan and KP has been maintained since Yahya Khan disbanded the one unit and merged the Chief Commissioner's Province of Baluchistan with the Kalat state to form a new province. Legally each area is influenced by a different code of law, with KP being governed by the same laws as mainstream of Pakistan, Malakand agency was governed by the old provincially administered tribal areas which was then replaced with a variation of Islamic law. Similarly the recently reformed Frontier Crimes regulation govern FATA and essentially put the people of the region in a legal grey area open to abuse.

In political terms there is no real representative of Pashtun society in the way the PPP does in Sindh or the PML-N does in Punjab. This is despite an electoral system which eschews in favour of Pashtuns in Balochistan and particularly in the senate where because of the same inter provincial split they can form a plurality. In fact if historical trends tell us anything it is that the Pashtun voter in K-P tends to vote predominantly for national party’s, while the Pashtun voter in Balochistan splits between the nationalist vote and the JUI-F. FATA remains largely driven by other influences being that the citizens did not have the right to vote till 1997 and did not have the right to contest openly under political party’s till 2010. To put that in context till 1997 no FATA MNA had ever sat in the opposition benches until Latif Afridi was elected. The last remaining factor is Karachi which despite its sizable Pashtun population the vote was divided until the new middle class came of age. This divide reflects in many other ways, there has never been a Pashtun prime minister, nor a Pashtun speaker of the national assembly. Where Pashtuns have been better represented is within the military establishment and bureaucracy. In terms of the Army recruitment and representation remains reflective of the percentage of the population, in the mid 90’s one served as COAS, and in the last decade several generals have been a stone’s throw from becoming the Chief of the Army staff. Within the bureaucracy however things have changed, from the days of influential bureaucrats like Roedad Khan to Ghulam Ishaq Khan becoming President; on last count, only three out of 49 Federal secretaries were from KP, none from FATA and no Pashtun secretaries from Balochistan.

The modern Pashtun voter shares many similarities with the Punjabi voter, for both the turning point was Zia-ul Haq’s 1985 election, which reinforced the business class interests and established a system of patronage. This ‘class of 1985’ as one writer noted, intertwined its business interests with politics. In the Punjab, this manifested in the election of politicians like Chaudhry Nisar who have remained undefeated since 1985 and the increasing conservatism of the society. By contrast in KP this class was uprooted in the 2002 MMA election sweep. The only notable exception electorally in the Pashtun belt is Aftab Sherpao, with the exception of 1985 election which he did not contest, has been winning since 1977 consistently.

In electoral terms, again the Pashtun voter tends to be fragmented, so in KP, no single party has ever formed an outright majority. In Balochistan, neither the Pashtun nationalists nor the JUI-F have been able to claim the Chief Minister’s seat or the Governors position. In the 1970 election the old National Awami Party’s biggest electoral success was not in the late Wali Khan’s home province but in fact in Balochistan where the Baloch turned out heavily in favour of the party.

Even the ANP’s success in 2008 election was limited, winning 13 out of over 40 pashtun dominated seats nationally was limited to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and in particular their traditional support in the Peshawar valley and Malakand agency. The PPP’s support amongst the Pashtun voters has been consistently strong since 1970, with a vote bank in the 2008 elections in most areas ranging from Bajaur in FATA to Dera Ismail Khan in KP. This is similarly the case with the JUI-F which has a broad vote bank from Mansehra to Quetta. The Pakistan Muslim League historically had significant support in the region from the old Frontier Muslim League. Several famous leaders attained senior party and political positions, ranging from the late Aslam Khattak to Nawaz Sharifs close associate Sartaj Aziz. With the advent of the PPP, the Muslim League has relied heavily on the Hazara belt in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa , is now dependent on so called ‘electables’ in FATA, Karachi and Balochistan.

Hailing from Pakistan’s seraiki belt the cricket star turned politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, has remained consistently more popular in K-P than in Imran Khan’s home province. In fact it was K-P was where Imran Khan polled the most votes, in Malala’s Swat district, during his disastrous 1997 electoral outing.

This political fragmentation of the power amongst the Pashtuns has had a major impact in economic terms. The problem with estimating this accurately is that much of the statistics used are based on the geographical divisions mentioned earlier on. So according to the UNDP’s most recent survey poverty levels in KP are 7% higher than the national average. If one discounts the wealthier districts of the Hazara belt (Abbotabad and Haripur) and includes FATA where poverty is double the national average, poverty in the Pashtun belt poverty levels are much higher than the national average ( conversely it means the Baloch poverty levels are even higher if adjusted for the Pashtun districts).
This dismal state is also reflected in the decline in the Pashtun presence amongst Pakistan’s business elite. While several Pashtun families were mentioned by Dr. Mahbub ul Haq in 1968 list of twenty two families; by 1990 that list had changed dramatically showing a clear relative decline. The larger undocumented Pashtun economy is difficult to calculate, again showing a fragmentation, with the interprovincial transport trade, transit trade to Afghanistan, expatriate money from the Middle East and the Karachi Pashtuns having increasing influence. An even bigger factor is the presence of ISAF personnel 100,000 next door and hundreds of billions of dollars being spent in an impoverished area. This has led to huge distortions in the Afghan and Pakistan economy which has anecdotally led to a shift in power away from traditional centres like Peshawar and Quetta towards places like Kabul, Islamabad, Dubai and Karachi.

What all this tell us about the TTP and the Taliban in Pakistan? It tells us that the terms insurgency, or terrorism, or lawlessness are all right and wrong in different situations and different settings.

More importantly it suggests that the attack on Malala is not an isolated event and it remains to be seen whether the backlash against it will be. For things to change, it is imperative for the Pashtuns to challenge ignorance and extremism which itself cannot be done without introspectively looking and reconnecting.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Any relief for Chitral?

by Siraj Ul Mulk

Two happenings are rapidly contributing towards disturbing the peace that we continue to enjoy in Chitral despite the unfortunate happenings in the rest of our province:

  1. The speedy and accelerated rise in the number of madrassa’s in our Mulkhow valley since the past four years.
  2. The closing down of tourism business consequently affecting the economy of Chitral in an adverse manner.

Both these factors are a direct result of the poor understanding of our district at our provincial level compounded by the poor quality of the officer in charge of the district police in Chitral.

Let me give some specific examples:

Last month the police was found protecting a man named Zahid Salarzai who had sneaked into Chitral impersonating as “a captain from the Pakistan Army”. Even the vehicle turned out to be a stolen vehicle. This incident has happened soon after another person from the tribal area had been escorted and entertained by the Chitral police saying he is “the son of Asfandyar Wali Khan of ANP” until the man’s true identity was discovered as a notorious man named Naushad Ali Khan from Landi Kotal. Both these cases are in court in Chitral.

A month ago, under a new name, one of the banned militant outfits was allowed to make a fiery hate speech in the Goldur Masjid in Chitral. Again last month when people in police uniforms and without identity papers were intercepted in front of a bank by the Chitral Scouts, the DPO ( instead of appreciating the alertness of the scouts) reacted by registering a false case of possession of alcohol against a scouts soldier the next day of this incident.

Chitral river, pic courtesy author
Four years ago people would scorn if asked what chances Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s JUI had to contest a National Assembly seat from Chitral. Today, with the help of his mushrooming madressa’s he has become a major player.

Tourism is a major bread earner for a large section of Chitrals population. Especially hotels, shopkeepers, jeep drivers and people in high villages wanting to serve as porters. This DPO works over-time to harass the few ordinary tourists who have been lucky to get an NOC to visit Chitral but he turns a blind eye on people establishing madrassa’s in our district for dubious reasons.

In the very early days of the Swat disturbances I used to ask my friends there what they made of the imbroglio. A large percentage of them would comment that they cannot help seeing an official hand behind the mischief makers. I am reminded of those words each time I see our DPO going about his duty to protect the peace that he has inherited in our district.

- writer Siraj Ul Mulk Retired army Officer, retired Airline pilot, is now in the hospitality and agriculture business in Chitral and the owner of Hindukush Heights Chitral www.hindukush.com.pk

Thursday, 18 October 2012

An Open Letter to the World about Malala

An Open Letter to the World by Malala Yousufzai

Obviously, this WAS NOT written by Malala. But read on anyway. Maybe you'll like something you see.

If you are here, you probably know my story, so I'll cut to the chase and address the people of this world directly. Before I do that, I'd like to extend my heartfelt appreciation for all the love and dua pouring in from around the world.

1) To the men:
Dear brothers, I appreciate the love. I really do. I see you talking about how reprehensible this act of violence is and I see you voicing your hate for Taliban and all. But let us step back and think about this for a second. Why are we even talking about me here? Why am a big deal? I'm a big deal because we live in times where fathers and brothers not only discourage their women from speaking out, but are actually an impediment in their way. Every house has a Malala, you just need to stop muffling her voice!

And I entreat you my brothers. Don't stand in vigils for me, don't make placards and protest. Instead I want you to go make a change in the world around you. Stop objectifying women. Love them and treasure them. Cut back a little on your vanity-expenses and educate someone instead. Make an actual, measurable, physical change in your attitude towards women and their welfare. Use your imagination, use your education. Be the great men you were meant to be!

2) To the women:
Sisters, I appreciate the love. I really do. But talking about it Twitter, or writing a blog post about me doesn't really help anyone. If you truly believe all the great things you say about me, then bring about some change in your own self. No matter where you live in this country, you can always find someone illiterate. Take some time out of your schedule and teach someone for an hour every day. I know you love the things you buy and I wont tell you to stop. I'll ask you to cut back a little and donate it to education. Be the women you were meant to be. Be the women of change. Don't fall victim to a consumerist social structure that objectifies you every day. Do something great with your life, and watching Hamsafar or spending sprees doesn't cut it.

3) To the Taliban:
Nice try guys, you have to do better than this to kill me. Maybe you'll kill me the next time you come for me, maybe you wont. You know what you cant kill? The will of Malala, the idea of Malala, and that pain in your heart that a 14 year old girl stood her ground against you. You were born of women, and you were raised by women, and I hope someday, you'll realize that you can't really kill us all.

4) To the Government of Pakistan:
We are a country of great people. STOP SELLING US SHORT!

5) To the "We are Malala" crowd:
No you are not. You know why? Because you aren't in a hospital bed right now. Actually, you aren't even on someone's hit list. And if you really think about it, you didn't give a crap about my cause till I got shot. You don't become a Malala by protesting on Twitter. Simple as that.

To the people who read this: I obviously think every one (including myself) is at fault for what Malala is going through right now. If you did something sentimental but utterly ineffective in reaction to Malala's shooting, and I forgot to mention you, I apologize.

You can follow @Jibbyd on Twitter and on his blog at thehimgrim.wordpress.com

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Malalai: Wounded Lioness! Wake up and Call

by Dr. M. Ashraf Adeel


Shining star

Of the valley of deep blue skies

Can you hear your mother’s cries?

Gurgling springs and lush green fields

Dancing harvests and golden yields

All are searching for your eyes

Shine the eternal truths on them

Rise up and meet these gems

Hands of destiny are your hands

History is your blackboard---write!

“Little girls and grown up women

More than equal are they all

To little men and oversize boys

Who walk the earth with wilderness in their souls

And never grow to see the truth.”


Wounded lioness

Hardly breathing

You have breathed life into matter

Deserts and hills have started trembling

Rivers have come to a thundering halt

Sky is making endless rounds

Breeze is en route to your home

Earth has turned into a wailing wall

You can never leave them all

Wounded lioness! Wake up and call

Cuckoos of swat and your doll!

Dr. M. Ashraf Adeel is a poet and Professor of Philosophy

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Shah Khisro of Bara Durushkhela, Swat

By Kalim Khan, with some edits & additions by Hafsa

None of us is alien to the happenings in Swat [1], dubbed Switzerland of Asia for its natural beauty and picturesque landscape. The destruction caused by Taliban who challenged the writ of state & tyrannized locals and subsequent army operations to rout them, have been given coverage by the media. While there are innumerable accounts of tragedy and untold sufferings, there are also the stories of great resilience in the face of adversity and courage in the face of fear. The story of Shah Khisro Habib of the village Bara Durushkhella, martyred by Taliban at the young age of 31, is one such account of bravery. I’d recount the story here, as narrated by his friend Kalim Khan.

Shah Khisro was a very good friend of mine. His liveliness and wit endeared him to all who knew him. A school teacher by profession, his talents ranged from playing rubab to sports commentary for cricket matches hosted by our village. His outgoing persona was complimented by a profoundness that was reflected in his love for literature and poetry, Ghalib & Ghani Khan being two of his favorite poets. One of his abiding passions was cricket. He used to organize inter-village cricket tournaments in our district, for which he’d also do the commentary, often mimicking famous cricket commentators. Often during the match, while doing live commentary, he’d regale us by impersonating famous cricket commentors like Geoffrey Boycot, Tony Greig and Michel Holding, among others. He was equally popular among the young & old of the village and was loved by his students. He had a way with jokes that never failed to elicit laughs, no matter how banal the joke. Once he set us all laughing during a cricket match by announcing the arrival of a friend, who wouldn’t play cricket anymore, thus: “Oh Look! we’ve been blessed with the company of the legend of our times; The Don! I mean the Don Bradman, who has played 5000 matches for us and so far his highest score has been zero not out.”

In early 2008, TNSM started taking the administrative control of Swat and imposed their myopic and unforgiving interpretation of Islamic laws on the local population. Their FM radio broadcasts, initially used as a propaganda tool, had earned them supporters in every village. They’d beguiled the people, who had genuine grievances against a system that had failed to deliver (PATA regulations & absence of state institutions), into believing that TNSM was a solution to all their problems. Taliban (of TNSM) established a network of informants in every village in Swat and started targeting and eliminating those who offered any resistance to them. They’d abduct and/or kill at will and often carry out brutal executions. These tactics permeated an atmosphere of fear among the local populace. No one dared criticize them, not even in front of their own relatives and in the safety of their own homes. You never knew who’d turn out to be the informant. Everyone in the village was afraid. Everyone, but Shah Khisro, who openly questioned and condemned Taliban’s tactics of terrorizing people in the name of Islam. When advised by friends to exercise some caution and avoid criticizing Taliban, he’d reply, “By killing me they will kill one more person but if I stay silent, I might avoid Taliban brutality but my soul will die inside my body and I will rot”. His indomitable spirit wouldn’t be subdued and he continued to uphold the truth, condemning and exposing the Taliban. Then one fateful day, on October 17 2008, the bad news struck our village that Shah Khisro has been abducted by the Taliban. Three days after his abduction he was blessed with a daughter. His immediate family and friends were very concerned for his safety and started searching for him by contacting the local Taliban. After a while, they heard rumors that he had been transferred from the local Taliban prison to the Taliban headquarters in Ghat Peuchaar. His elder brother Jan Sher searched for him for several months and appealed in every Taliban court. But he was not given any news about Shah Khisro’s whereabouts. His mother, an elderly woman, tried to approach the wives of the Taliban commanders. She pleaded with them to tell her if Shah Khisro was alive, and if not, then she should at least have the body of her son. The only reply she got was that Bibi’an (the term normally used for the wives of Prophet Muhammad PBUH) are busy and she should come another day. People back at the village were hopeful that some day he might return alive from the Taliban prison. Once the military operation against Taliban started in Swat, the army captured some of the Taliban who were involved in Shah Khisro’s abduction. They confessed to his murder and said that eleven days after his abduction, that is on October 28, 2008, they shot and killed him. His dead body was finally recovered on March 28, 2009. For almost six months, his family kept searching for him, hoping he might still be alive. Hard to explain the agony of his old mother, his elder brother Jan Sher and his wife with a newborn baby at this loss. His daughter no longer has a father because of the cruelty of Taliban. People in the village say that Allah blessed Shah Khisro with the status of shaheed (martyr) as his body was fresh as a normal living human being. Later on, we found what had befallen Shah Khisro while he was in Taliban’s custody. We heard that he was taken to a Taliban court where he was tortured and beaten for his criticism of Taliban. He was told to mend his ways and to stop being vocal against Taliban to which he had replied, “I will say what is right and if you want me to stop then prove me wrong in a public debate with your chief Maulana Fazlullah”. This made his tormentors more furious and ultimately they shot him in the chest with a burst of AK-47.

He was my dear friend, who now appears in flowers and shines in stars.

Na wo Mansoor laiwanaye
Sae kho lidalee wo zaka kho pa daar oukhato

Translation: Mansoor was not crazy; He must have seen something or he wouldn’t have walked to the gallows

[1] "The Battle for Pakistan: Swat Valley" by Daud Khan Khattak, April 19 2010
[2] Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (Accessed on Oct 14, 2012)
[3] Provincially Administered Tribal Areas, Wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Provincially_Administered_Tribal_Areas (Accessed on Oct 14, 2012)

The writer, Kalim Khan, belongs to Bara-Durushkhela in Swat

Obstacles to Pashtun Women's Leadership

Farida-Afridi-2The murder of Farida Afridi, a Pashtun women’s rights activist from FATA, in early July has left us all, especially Pashtuns, many questions about women's leadership in our society.  Although I do not have the answer to why she was murdered, it is frightening to know that the underlying explanation is partly our society’s immersion in an extremist interpretation of Islam and a lack of education.

Afridi’s death, as one of the very few Pashtun women leaders in any field, leaves a large gap and begs the question of why there aren't more like her. It is certainly not because Pashtun women are incapable of serving as leaders. They have historically repudiated this assumption when given the opportunity - or when they have created opportunities for themselves. Samar Minallah, Bushra Gohar, and Begum Nasim Wali Khan are among the most distinguished. But how many young Pashtun girls dream of becoming leaders of their society when they “grow up”? The answer is, very few. However, blaming extremism and a lack of education for this is far too simplistic.

Our society believes that leadership is a “male” job, and it is feared that if women become leaders, the family system will break down. While the popular African proverb teaches us, "It takes a village to raise a child," that lesson has been ignored in our society where women are the only ones responsible for raising children and hence, many are deprived of a chance to lead.  The same society views men as both domestic and public figures— but one cannot dare view the woman as both a mother and a "public" figure simultaneously. This means that even with quality education, there is a dearth of Pashtun female leaders due to societal norms and practices.

Honor, Pardah and Peghor

The norms and practices in Pashtun culture that are largely responsible for holding women back are very specific. Honor, although not an exclusively Pashtun notion, always comes first. A family’s—read: man's— honor depends almost entirely on a woman’s public behavior. This behavior entails the proper practice of the pardah, the seclusion of women from society at large. If anything she does brings shame to her family, then the family becomes the victim of other people’s peghor, taunting, which all families strive to avoid. The threat of peghor, which translates to ta’na in Persian/Urdu, or ridicule with the intention of reminding women and their families of their failure to maintain honor, is thus the single most important reason why Pashtun women are denied positions of leadership and, ultimately, why many of them fear leadership.

While a man rarely may be capable of bringing shame to the family, it is the woman who gets the constant reminders to "please take care of our honor." When a woman is raped, the family's major concern is seldom her personal dignity, her health, or the effect that the rape might have on her as a victim; their major concern is instead their own honor. This is where the idea of honor becomes both complex and oppressive. On the one hand, we do not want to get rid of it because, for many families, honor is all they have—and it would impractical and ludicrous to attempt to rid our society of it in the first place; but on the other hand, it is so oppressive to women that some of their own basic human rights are denied to them because of it. That explains much of the violence against women in the name of honor: we dishonor our women, our own flesh and blood, to respond to our own dishonor; we sometimes kill them when they "dishonor" us just to assure the rest of the society—people whose opinion should not matter at all—that we care more about what they think of us than of our own women. And, obviously, dishonoring and killing our own daughters, wives, and sisters help bring our honor back.

Clearly, a family's honor is so delicate that it can be stained by anything the girl does—talking to a male, falling in love, wearing “unacceptable” clothing, walking in an “unacceptable” manner, living on her own, driving, choosing her own husband, appearing in the public without a full body covering, or even appearing in public at all—and the list goes on. Needless to say, not all families immobilize their women in the same manner or to the same extent.  Nonetheless, the threat of peghor compels the family to take action against the family member who has "dishonored" its name. The action therefore does not seem to matter to them so much as other people's view of their honor. And this is why education does not necessarily help create more leaders who are women; it is not that the family is stupid or ignorant but that it has its honor to preserve –from other people's taunts.

Thus, when a young girl is made aware of these norms and the consequences of not upholding them, there is no questioning why she feels uncomfortable dreaming of doing something big for her people. When all her life she has been expected to be an invisible creature, hidden behind the parruney, the traditional full body covering required in many parts of Pakistan, it is no surprise when she is afraid of doing something that will make her stand out. It is hardly a lack of self-confidence. Rather, it is the desire to remain invisible for the sake of her family's good honor that keeps many women from becoming public leaders.

Avoiding Farida's Fate

The harassment and murder of female leaders is a universal plague, not exclusive to any one society. However, incidents like Farida Afridi's murder are the final straw in the hurdles that keep most Pashtun women from leading. When we hear of the assassinations of the women who are role models to us, we shudder—and some of us take a step back and wonder if we would want our lives and efforts to end that way, too. Some of us start to question ourselves, doubt ourselves; our dreams become hopeless and pointless; we reconsider our future, and we convince ourselves that "I'm just one individual; what can I do for so many people?" Some of us immediately slap ourselves for thinking this way, re-energize our sense of valor, and remind ourselves of our ambitions to help our people. This is why we still have some Pashtun women leaders among us. They, and perhaps their families as well, have grown past the threat of peghor: they know what their coming out into the public means, and they recognize the dangers they may face on the way. To many traditionalists, these women may appear as selfish women who just want attention from men and the public. And a large number also see them as a danger, a serious threat to the traditional roles designated for women "by God"; some also view them as a negative influence on their own women, which might explain Farida Afridi’s murder.

One could convincingly argue that women can be strong leaders inside their homes. However, the issue here is not of private leadership; it is of public service. It is of not permitting women to play a role in solving major social problems; it is of the lack of appreciation for female politicians, social activists, and other leaders whose roles and careers are not confined to their homes. Yet, if the positive outcomes of women's leadership are contrasted against its perceived repercussions, it is quite obvious that the former overshadows the latter. To decry women's leadership solely on the basis of what might happen, something "bad" that may lead to peghor, is a mistake on the family and society's part. At a point in history when women have literally reached the moon, the threat of peghor and ta'na are attacks on the humanity of those women who are denied equal access to positions of leadership.

As Farida Afridi proved, a Pashtun woman can respect her culture and religion and be of service to her people. She conformed to the practice of parruney, never showing her face to the public, while fighting for equality and working for peace among her people—but she was killed anyway. There would be no issue here if something as necessary and important as a woman's equal participation in her own society were not grounds to dishonor the family or to see a woman as a threat to the society.

The writer is a PhD student of Islamic Studies with emphasis on gender relations in Islamic law and the Pashtun society. She blogs at orbala.blogspot.com and tweets @qrratugai.
Originally published at Safe World for Women.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Taller than His Mountains: Afzal Khan of Swat

ed note: this interview was taken before the Military operation in Swat 

By Dr.M Taqi

Fit to govern!
No, not to live. O nation miserable,
With an untitled tyrant bloody-scepter'd,
When shalt thou see thy wholesome days again,
Since that the truest issue of thy throne
By his own interdiction stands accursed …

Self-interdiction and then an abdication by the Awami National Party (ANP) in favor of its nemesis -the Taliban is obvious, but one ANP leader stands taller than the mountains of his native Swat, against the bloody scepters of the untitled Jihadist tyrants.

At the other end of my phone call today was an unmistakable deep voice, with an inimitable Pashto diction that many of us from the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, would readily recognize.

Muhammad Afzal Khan of Droshkhela, Swat sounded calm, composed and firm in his resolve to deny a military or moral victory to the Taliban who have unleashed terror on our province. He expressed his resolve to remain in what he described as his fortified house. How I can leave my family spread over five villages and my people all over Swat, questioned Khan Lala, as the veteran Pashtun nationalist is called with affectionate reverence.

General Janjua, a military doctor, had recommended for Afzal Khan to be evacuated out of Swat for a medical condition, which he has had since 1994, but too proud to turn his back on his people, the Khan declined.

Afzal Khan talked about his meeting with the Pakistan Army Chief, General Ashfaq Kiyani with palpable skepticism. “I told the Army Chief that the Swatis feel that they are being killed by the Taliban and the Army both”.”Give me a reason to explain to the Swatis that this is not true”.”The Chief didn’t say anything”, said Afzal Khan.

Known for his moderate views towards the State of Pakistan, of which he has remained a Federal Minister, member of the National Assembly, deputy opposition leader and contestant of a presidential election, Afzal Khan sounded intrigued at the inaction of the Pakistan’s security apparatus.

He however reserved his deepest concerns for his own party, the ANP. Afzal Khan said that he has conveyed his displeasure at the so called peace agreement, to the Chief Minister of the NWFP, Amir Haider Hoti. “I asked Haider Khan Hoti, where are the Swatis in this whole deal”, “you never asked us about our opinion”, said Afzal Khan.

He went on to talk about how the Swatis, having elected the ANP candidates on all seven provincial assembly seats, feel disenfranchised after the deal. He relayed his fear that this lull is providing the Taliban the respite they required to rearm and regroup to extend their attacks outside Swat. “Look, all that the ANP deal has done is to give the Taliban a reprieve from fighting here and now they are in Buner and Shangla”, he lamented.

“Afrasiab Khattak and Iftikhar Hussain (ANP’s provincial president and information minister, respectively) came to see me, escorted by government security agencies”, said Afzal Khan. “I told them that the first priority of the state is to provide security to the citizenry, but you chose to remove the security away from the Swatis and yet have it for yourselves”, he concluded.

Last year, the ANP had rebuked its leaders like Latif Afridi, who had suggested a march to Swat and a show of strength, in support of Afzal Khan and the Swatis. Many in the ANP believe that the current leadership is wary of Afzal Khan because he has achieved a larger than life stature and probably ranks right up there with Mir Wais Hotak, Khushal Khattak and Ahmed Shah Durrani.

Afzal Khan, though cognizant of the symbolic nature of his stand, remains focused on the practical aspects of the struggle and its outcome for his people. He is the embodiment of Faiz’s thought about the course of the people’s struggle: when the times demand, it is the seasoned campaigner who walks and sets the momentum for the whole movement and when needed is firm like the mighty mountains; and in doing so he makes the journey proud and the path shining :

جو رکے تو کوہِ گراں تھے ہم , جو چلے تو جاں سے گزر گۓ
رہِ يار ہم نے قدم قدم , تجھے يادگار بنا ديا

jo rukay to koh e garan they hum, jo chalay to jaan se guzar gaiay
rah e yar hum ne qadam qadam, tujhey yadgaar bana diya

Originally published as Taller than His Mountains: Afzal Khan of Swat April 24, 2009

-Author practices and teaches medicine at the University of Florida and tweets as @mazdaki 

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

A Young Girl's Life Almost Stolen: On Malala Yousafzai's Shooting

By SesapZai

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzai – the lovely little 14-year-old Pashtun Peace Activist and promoter of girls’ education from Swat – was shot. And not only once, but twice: once in the head and the second time in the neck, while she was on her way back from school in Swat’s main town of Mingora. Very fortunately, though, the shots were not life-threatening and it is reported by her uncle that she would survive. Alongside her, two more girls were injured, though there is not enough detail about them and whether their gunshot wounds were life-threatening or not. I guess only time will tell as we all wait anxiously to hear more about this staggering news.

In case some of my readers are wondering about Malala Yousafzai and who she is exactly, she actually rose to international fame in 2009 – at only 11 years old – when she wrote bold poems and kept a blog/diary for BBC (Urdu), depicting in detail her life, while living under the Taliban militants who’d taken control of Swat during that bleak time. Her story was almost similar to that of Anne Frank’s — a brave young Jewish girl who lived in hiding with her family during the Second world war and legibly depicted her life, during those horrible times, in her diary, which was later discovered after her death and published all over the world.

Similarly, in her blog/diary, Malala, too, included stories of her life under the Taliban. She wrote about how her classmates had to hide their school books under their paruney (a shawl used by girls/women to cover their bodies and sometimes their faces), in fear of having acid thrown in their faces. And although her blog was anonymous (she actually used a pseudonym “Gul Makai”) when it first got published on BBC (Urdu). It wasn’t too long until Malala’s identity was revealed – and out came a bold, confident, articulate little girl whose campaign for girls’ education won her admirers and several peace awards at home and all around the world. She was also the first Pakistani child to be nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize. Hence, Malala has become the sweetheart of our nation – a child who would grow up to bring change; to create a difference. And this was further emphasized when she appeared on national and international television, and spoke of her dream of a future Pakistan where education, especially for women and girls, would prevail.

However, hearing about her shooting has not only left me utterly flabbergasted, but it also forces me to ask the burning question that many Pashtuns especially those who love, admire, and support her and her marvelous work, are wondering: Why? Why has this sweet little innocent girl become the recent victim of violence, which has deeply affected Pashtuns all over the nation? What did she do that was so bad; so horrendous; so licentious that she deserved to be killed? And as I read more into it, the revelations of why she was shot (and almost murdered) made absolutely no sense to me. Rather, it deeply angered and frustrated me at the sheer cowardice and obtuseness of certain individuals, who in this case are none other but members of the Taliban.

Yes, it’s true that she, at only 11 years old, back in 2009, openly and publicly criticized the Taliban; she was the only one who dared to speak out against the Taliban. And it was important that she had her voice heard against a group of tyrants who were not only ruining the lives of women and girls, physically (acid-throwing) and intellectually (banning education), but emotionally as well. And now, it appears, that her attempted murder is being justified by the notion that she is too “pro-West” and here’s a pathetic quote I came across in one of the news articles that explicated just that:

“We wanted to kill her as she was pro-West, she was speaking against Taliban and more important she was calling President Obama as her ideal. She was young but was promoting a Western culture in the Pakhtun populated areas,” Ihsanullah Ihsan, who is the spokesman of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP had said.

As much as the above quote irks me, it has come to my realization that these men are nothing but filthy cowards; they realize Malala’s great potential and how influential she is at only 14 years of age, which is hence instilling hate and fear in them – fear that some day they will lose power to a woman (or women). So they kill. They kill because it’s convenient. And it’s convenient because they can get away with it, and maintain their despicable power and control over the region as well as the lives of women and girls.

I’ve also realized something else — something beyond just the fear of women — and that is the fear of progression. We all know how brave and influential Malala is; how she’s managed to speak up when no one else would. We also know how powerful children can be — how quickly they learn and get inspired. And when more and more young girls learn and get exposed to the bravery of iconic youths like Malala, they, too, will begin to wonder why they’re just sitting at home, when they could go out to discover the world, attain the knowledge that should be available to them, and make something of their selves. Of course, this is not to imply that older women are not influential, for example extremely courageous women like Farida Afridi who was also murdered through gun wounds just a few months ago; for women like Farida are, in fact, very influential. But children like Malala poses a greater threat because she is still a child — a child that knows too much for her own good.

Hence, there is now what I like to call a shift from war on women to war on female children. And according to our Pashtun culture, children are supposed to be obedient; they should listen to their elders; they shouldn’t talk back or talk ill of anyone, otherwise they suffer dire consequences. Yet, here was Malala — a child prodigy, speaking against the Taliban, exposing them for the horrible beasts that they are, and telling the whole world about the atrocities that they were putting the girls under. And this is bothersome to the likes of Talib madmen, because what they deem as normal is abnormal to a child who shouldn’t be allowed to question and shun common norms and beliefs. So, while they claim that they wanted to kill her because she was promoting “western culture” (whatever the heck that means), there is more to this than meets the eye. It’s a war on children and women alike.

However, my greatest fear now that is that she most probably will be targeted again, now that she’s on her way to recovery. These murderers are ruthless barbarians. Their mission in life is to eradicate anything and anyone who becomes a threat to their beliefs; their rules; and worst of all; their authority. They are petrified of women – a gender that is supposed to be “inferior” in every possible way, as well as children (especially female children). They can’t handle the fact that women, like men, are intelligent; capable; out-spoken; can think and act for themselves; and most importantly of all, expose these cowardly men for the smutty goons that they are!
Yet, I hope that Malala will overcome this misfortune that has befallen her and that she will not get discouraged from pissing off these mindless thugs by doing what she does best: working for women and girls; and promoting their education in a world that views women as nothing more than sex slaves, child bearers, and inferior, both intellectually and physically, to men.

Nevertheless, all that’s about to change now. Too bad these hooligans are unaware of what’s about to come their way. They actually believe that by killing someone, it will all stop? That women will suddenly become discouraged from criticizing the wrongs that they are enforcing, and further be discouraged from working towards women’s empowerment and educational development? Well, then they are nothing but fools to think that way. For bullets are weak and it can only stop so much.

So, long live Malala! We are proud of brave young women like you! You are the light to a nation that has been enveloped in darkness for far, far too long! And these madmen may do anything and everything in their power to put out this light — this fiery flame — but they’ll only end up burning themselves.

The author is a PhD Candidate, a visual artist, and the co-founder of Heela Foundation. Her personal blog can be read at sesapzai.wordpress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sesapzai.

Praying for Malala Yusufzai, a Pashtun Symbol of Hope and Courage

It has been almost 12 hours since I was first informed about the attack on Swat’s fearless angelic soul, Malala Yusufzai. I cannot remember how exactly I came across her the first time I did, but I do remember being so impressed with her words, her ability to speak and to challenge the violence of the Taliban at a time when few dared to do so the same, that I immediately started asking on Pashtun forums if anyone knew how I could contact her. I still have the email I sent her and her father, an email in which I thanked her father wholeheartedly for his support for Malala and for encouraging her to pursue a path that is sure to brighten the future of Pashtun women, and congratulated him for having a daughter as brilliant-minded and as brave as Malala. My emails to both of them were very long, very much from the heart, and I confessed in them that Malala’s achievements put me, a Swati Pashtun female twice her age, put me to shame. I shared with her a poem I had recently written and reminded her that she was truly an angel, one whose presence was more than a blessing for Pashtuns at a time when oppression and tyranny were the norm of the day, a time when young children commonly set their gazes on beheaded bodies hanging by poles in Malala’s town of Mingora, a time when, as the people of Swat prepared to escape their once-beautiful Swat for other districts to protect their lives, tripping over dead human bodies lying all over the roads and streets of Swat was a common sight, as my relatives in Swat tell me when narrating to me dreadful stories and anecdotes about time during the Taliban. This was a time, they inform me, when people had to be careful about what they said even in the confines of their home because anything they said could be heard by the Taliban who were roaming their streets, knocking on the doors of anyone they suspected were harboring “criminals,” and this was indeed a time when Mullah Fazlullah, the Swat Taliban leader at the time, would victoriously and shamelessly announce how many people his men had beheaded that day and who was next. And this was a time when virtually all Swatis had left the region, many of them returning to destroyed homes and families, a time when the streets of Swat had become so quiet that no one believed it'd ever recover from its tragedies--and perhaps they were right.

What exactly happened at that time, why, and what legacy it has left remains to be told.

Seeing things from that perspective, then, we cannot deny that what Malala was doing back in 2009 was truly the most courageous thing any human in such a situation could do. In fact, she was more than courageous: she fearlessly and publicly stated that she was going to continue her education no matter where she were being educated, she showed her face—and her father stood and sat right by her side as she would talk—being fully aware of the deathly reprecussions of her intense valor. So she did not just speak against the violence of the time: she did it openly, she wrote about it, she brought it to the spotlight in Western media so that it became internationally known and not just a secret harbored by the mountains of Swat. (For more on the tragedy of Malala's shooting, why it took place, and what this means for Pashtun women, please click here.)

And then I hear that she has been shot. It’s been over 12 hours, and I am still in shock, but I think it is finally hitting me that it’s real, that she’s really seen as a threat, that those who shot her actually intended to kill her (it hurts to use this word while talking about her – may God bless her with a long, healthy, and safe life, one in which she accomplishes many, many more of her dreams, and one in which her struggles for bringing peace and justice will eventually be accepted by everyone around her regardless of their religious, political, and personal beliefs, aameen).

Fortunately, however, we can express our infinite gratitude at the attention that this tragedy has received thus far and continues to receive from all across the world. In fact, when I heard about it this morning, it was from my non-Muslim, non-Pakistani, non-Pashtun friends who called me, texted me, tweeted me, Facebooked me, and emailed me to ask me if I had heard about the attack yet. Moreover, I have just been informed that all private (non-governmental) schools in Swat are closed, since the attacked van in which Malala was riding in was a private school van. There are also headlines coming out of the Pakistani media like "The Nation Prays for Malalai"; a positively overwhelming number of people are talking about it on Twitter (with hashtags like #Malala #PrayingForMalala #MalalaiYusufzai #MalalaMustLive, and many others), Facebook, and other social media, and everyone so far has condemned the attack. At times like these, one can't help but be grateful for social media and for the global village we all share as humans who, despite our many differences, all ultimately just want peace and justice in our world, a world in which an attack on one individual among us is an attack on all of us.

But as we sit here to praise her fearless initiatives and her angelic beauty (mashaAllah), let us not forget that she is also as human as the rest of us. She therefore needs prayers, comfort, and well wishes from friends of peace and justice. I request anyone who has contact with her family, friends, or anyone else who knows her personally to please contact them, share your sympathy, and let them you are praying for her and that you condemn the attacks on her. The attack on Malala is not just an attack on Malala: it is an attack, however cowardly, on the face of humanity; on all friends of love, peace, and justice; on the potential of a stable and more peaceful future for Pashtuns; on all humans but especially women who refuse to submit to the threats and the violence to which they are subjected upon standing up against violence and injustice.

What happens now? Well, we are first going to continue praying for her recovery, and while we are waiting and praying and being hopeful, we need to do everything necessary to ensure that her attackers are caught.  If we can reach them to speak with them about the matter, we can also reach them to catch them and get justice for an innocent victim. Otherwise, we are going to continue living in fear, restless and uncertain about our safety and the safety of our children and others around us, retaining the restrictions against women and girls, such as not educating them, not allowing them to work, not allowing them to participate as equal and full members of a society shared by both women and men. Protests, mass demonstrations, petitions, more blogs, more articles, and even more awareness to ensure that enough pressure is put on Pakistani authorities to get justice--and to ensure that such attacks are reduced and eventually hopefully completely stopped.

Malalai! Always looking hopeful and bright, nazara ma she!
Our Dear Malalai, you are a true champion of justice for fighting for it in a land where you know you are unsafe doing so but do it anyway! Thank you for existing! We are all praying for your recovery, and you will soon, inshaAllah, be back to us all, mesmerizing us all with your intelligence, strength, and boldness. Swat is currently in a chaotic mode in response to the injustice that has been committed against you, which tells us all that you are indeed admired, respected, and appreciated for all of your efforts. We are expecting you back with good health, your passion, and your energy.

I will end with a Qur'anic verse on justice to remind ourselves to always stand up for justice, even if it means losing people we would hate to lose in the process--and that those who have attacked her have indeed committed a wrong: "Oh you who believe, stand up firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even if it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be against rich or poor; for God can best protect both. Do not follow any passion, lest you not be just. And if you distort or decline to do justice, verily God is well-acquainted with all that you do." (Quran 4:135)

Prayers and well wishes for Malala are requested and sincerely appreciated.

Qrratugai is an Islamic Studies student with emphasis on gender relations in Islamic law and Muslim societies. She blogs at orbala.blogspot.com and tweets at @qrratugai.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Social Networking and Pashtun Women's Empowerment

For a detailed abstract of this study, please click here.

In August-September 2011, after reading some articles on women’s blogging activities and the overall role of the internet in women’s lives in certain parts of the world (e.g., Egypt, Iran), I decided that I wanted to do something with Pashtun women’s blogs. Indeed, the mere idea of the Pashtun diaspora fascinates me—their issues, their concerns, their identity politics, their traditions—and the blogosphere and virtual communities, the focus of the study below (and a major research interest of mine) arguably fall under discourses on the diaspora. So I regularly tweeted about these blogs and asked if anyone knew (of) other bloggers who identified themselves as Pashtun who were not included in my list, and I was introduced to several amazing blogs by Pashtun women all over the world but mostly in the West, although it does not matter to me where they are based or where they are from so long as they self identify as Pashtun women. I’m still looking for more, and I suppose I’ll be looking for more for as long as I am interested in the idea of women’s empowerment through the Internet, so if you know of more Pashtun women bloggers, please feel free to share them with me. 

Then in a course I took in the Spring of 2012, I was having a conversation with a professor on this idea of blogging and the whole phenomenon of the Internet forums (virtual communities) among Pashtuns, and he seemed more excited about this whole thing than I was. He encouraged me to write about for the term paper for our class, which I thought was an excellent idea. And so, below is a partial result of that study—partial because 1) I share here only excerpts from the paper, and 2) this study is not complete as of yet, as I’m still seeking more bloggeres and I’m still surveying the Internet forums looking for how exactly gender is performed in the members’ conversations with each other, or just how gender interaction works online among Pashtuns.

Although I focused only on Pashtun women’s blogs for the paper below, I understand that, especially because of the lack of Pashtun women bloggers as well as because of the importance of our men bloggers, it is important to highlight the men’s role on the Internet as well. In the study below, when noting gendered conversations, I focused on both women and men, but for the blogs, I did not. However, I am still looking for Pashtun blogs, whether women or men, young or old, Pakistani or Afghan (nationally), no matter where they are located or what they do. I still need more bloggers (men or women) to answer some questions I have on empowerment, gender interactions online, their blogs, etc.  The list of bloggers I have developed so far can be accessed here.

Thanks in advance for your participation – and for reading! :) Feedback is always welcomed and deeply appreciated!

P.S. The symbol […] means that that the original version of this paper continues to say more at that instance, but I have excluded that from this version.

Friday, 5 October 2012

War of the drones?

ed note- this is part of a two part series discussing opposite views on the recent Drone report 

by Ali

The recent report on drone attacks by Pakistani and non-Pakistani students of Stanford University and New York University raised more questions instead of answering them .

For instance, the report states the narrative that drone attacks are effective is wrong and they have no legal basis. Despite this premise it talks of psychological effects of drone victims.  While this is a valid concern, how does it fall in the purview of legal studies? For every one person killed in drones 15-16 Pakistani citizens, soldiers and policemen have been killed in indiscriminate suicide bombings and terrorist attacks by the nexus of Jihadist groups that have taken over North Waziristan.

The drones target these Jihadist militants that are supported and protected by elements within the State.

Who bears greater responsibility?

Is it just the drone attacks or those cowardly Jihadist militants that use women and children as civilian shields? Like a previous 2009 study, this study also obscures the role of the drone victims drawing stringent categories such as “major Al Qaeda leaders”.

Like the 2009 study, this stringent category probably does not include mass murdering Jihadists like Baitullah Meshud.  Along with issuing death threats to Shaheed Benazir Bhutto which eventually resulted in her assassination along with hundreds of PPP activists in an earlier blast. Baitullah’s TTP has boastfully taken credit for other attacks.  They have owned up to killing thousands of innocent Pakistani civilians.

But the report attempts to exclude him just as it ignores that a significant percentage of the 2700-3200 victims of drone attacks are foreign militants and are not even Pakistani citizens.  They include transnational Jihadist from China, Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Saudis, Jordanians, Egyptians, Libyans and even Britishers and Germans.  Similarly, the various Jihadist and sectarian groups from Punjab and other parts of Pakistan ( the so called 'Punjabi Taliban') that are also based in this area and allied to Al Qaeda and TTP are excluded!

And this leads us to the most fundamental flaw in this report which is its basic methodology.  As per many sources and indications within the report itself, the drone victim relatives were interviewed in Peshawar and even Islamabad. This opens up the study to criticisms:
  • Is this report limited to only those drone strikes that caused the highest civilian casualties?
  • Does it include other drone strikes where civilian casualties were minimal or zero?
This is a sampling technique that highlights a clear bias and also casts doubts on the veracity of the interviews.
picture via statesman peshawar

The report also conveniently excludes crucial facts that only the militants and their minders in North Waziristan have access to that area.  As pointed out on more than one occasion by academics and activists like Farhat Taj, the areas being targeted by drone strikes are not controlled by the Pakistani government. They are controlled by the nexus of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and their Jihadi affiliates like LeJ/ASWJ/JM etc. This is why it has been virtually impossible to determine the exact number of civilian casualties. This leads to other criticism of the study:
  • Did the respondents interview the 46,000 (and increasing every day ) victims of Jihadist terrorism in Pakistan about the psychological effects of seeing their near and dear one killed across the country?
  • Did it ask the 15-20% of the country’s population which is Shia about the psychological effects of seeing gruesome beheading and executions of pilgrims and laborers on the basis of their religious identity.
  • Similarly, did the respondents speak to the countless Pashtun families as well as PPP, ANP, JUI-F, other political activists and even those Deobandi clerics who were massacred for opposing the Taliban and their methods?
  • Did the respondents speak to the Sufi adherents of Rehman Baba, Abdullah Shah Ghazi, Jhal Magsi, Bari Imam and Data Darbar who all witnessed death and destruction caused by those who use human shields when hiding drone attacks?
  • It ignores the fact that it is in the interests of Jihadist groups to exaggerate civilian casualties for a variety of reasons.  It is vital for maintaining the morale of the Jihadists by refuting actual casualties within their ranks. Similarly, exaggerating civilians casualties is a valuable recruitment tool.  
Who are behind the Foundation for Fundamental Rights and why is their 'Rights agenda' selectively restricted to 3000 drone victims?
  • What is their moral calculus and the political affiliation of the Pakistani's involved in the research? Have they declared any potential conflicts of interest?
  • What is their link with Imran Khan who recently endorsed Sheikh Rashid’s acceptance of Mullah Omar as 'The Leader'?
  • Is this report a promotion tool for Imran Khan’s anti-drone rally to North Waziristan?
It would be instructive to read what writer Asad Munir ( Imran Khan’s march to Waziristan Published: September 28, 2012) has written  on this topic:

There is no dispute over the fact that drones are violating our sovereignty. The difference in opinion is about the effects and collateral damage caused by these strikes. A large majority of people are of the opinion that these strikes are not helping the counter terrorism effort, are counterproductive and are leading to anger and more violence. Imran khan is of the view that there is a correlation between drone attacks and suicide bombings as such kind of violence started after the first drone strike in 2004. The fact is that there were 413 incidents of violence including 11 suicide bombings before the first drone strike. Terrorist activities have little or no link with drones. In 2009, there were 53 drone attacks and the casualties in the war on terror were 11,704 while in 2010, the number of strikes increased to 117 but the causalities decreased to 7,435.
Drones are violating our sovereignty but so are the foreign militants staying in our country without travel documents and using our soil for terrorist activities. They are the cause for drone attacks. The day they are expelled from our country, in all probability, there will be no drone attack. All kinds of weapons are used in wars; a drone is one of these weapons. Why are Western human right organisations protesting against only drones and not against say, daisy-cutters, artillery, mortars, bombers, IEDs, F-16s and many other weapons that cause more collateral damage than drones? Since the media has no access to drone-affected areas, the casualty figures reported are conflicting, ranging from 2,400 to 3,300. A recent report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) claims that 474-881 civilians, including 176 children, have been killed. How does the TBIJ differentiate between a civilian, a terrorist or a facilitator when it does not have the lists of names of members of the Haqqani network, Gul Bahadur and thousands of other Taliban, jihadis or the various sectarian groups operating in the area? On the other hand, people present in the area, having information about the terrorist organisations, their members and facilitators, reject claims of high civilian casualties. Except for three strikes, the other 312 have mostly killed terrorists and their facilitators.
The debate on drones cannot afford to be selective.  No killing tactic can be celebrated or cheered for – whether it is the drones or its targets that include mass suicide bombing Jihadists.  Similarly, a proper debate cannot be framed on faulty data, sampling bias or creating a false binary between the targeted and relatively discriminate drone attacks as opposed to the indiscriminate suicide attacks that target civilians on the basis of religious identity or ethnic affiliation. (Source)
In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, tens of thousands of Pashtuns have been massacred by the Taliban and the various transnational Al Qaeda mercenaries in the most gruesome manner.  However, for those who selectively condemn drones, the Pashtun is presented as the “noble savage”.  Their lives only have meaning if they agree to be used as Jihadist auxiliaries along with the rest of other disenfranchised Pakistanis.

Ali Arqam is a freelance journalist and researcher, he contributes to http://t.co/aCBsq9l and tweets at @aliarqam 

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Afzal Bangash: the Marxist maverick

Afzal Bangash: the Marxist maverick
By M. Taqi

“I count myself in nothing else so happy,

As in a soul remembering my good friends” — Shakespeare in Richard II

Reminiscing about some of the stars of the secular galaxy of Pakistan and especially Pakhtunkhwa is needed not just due to a family association or personal, feel-good nostalgia. It is a must because the current generations – being fed a steady diet of Wahabiism – ought to get acquainted with the history of this land.

Where first the state-controlled, and now the state-indoctrinated media persons have systematically relegated both our saints and secularists to oblivion while projecting larger-than-life images of the obscurantist characters from Pakistan Studies and Islamic Studies textbooks, such recollections become an obligation. One such distinguished progressive was the leader of the Mazdoor Kissan Party (MKP), Muhammad Afzal Bangash who died on this day (October 28) in 1986.

In mid-1986, Bangash sahib had returned from exile and was residing at the Kohat Road, Peshawar. The word spread and I got to tag along with friends and family who called upon him. Somehow the conversation started in Urdu. But then Bangash sahib asked “Tussi saray Hindko samajhdeyo na?” (All of you understand Hindko?). Some nodded, others said yes. He then quipped: “Bohat achha aye, kyoonkeh mein Urdu bolna waaN tey inj lagda aye jhoot bol riya waaN” (Great then, because if I speak in Urdu it feels like I am lying).

In one sweep he had thus made a case for the mother tongue; Bangash sahib was not known for subtleties. Twenty-four years later a study by the British Council Pakistan recommended last month that the mother tongue be the medium of instruction in elementary schools.

Afzal Bangash was above any chauvinism or parochialism though. He spoke and wrote in Urdu, Pashto and English and had great command of the Peshawari and Kohati Hindko. He remained part of the Ulasi Adabi Jirgah (People’s Literary Guild) along with the Urdu poets Farigh Bokhari and Raza Hamdani, progressive Pashto poets like Ajmal Khattak and Qalandar Momand and the religio-romantic nationalist masters like Amir Hamza Shinwari and Dost Muhammad Kamil. The guild was founded by his mentor Kaka-ji Sanober Hussain Momand, a revolutionary leader of the Indian freedom movement, after whom Bangash sahib later named the MKP weekly Sanober that also carried Kaka-ji’s verse on its cover.

In fact Bangash sahib detested labels and branding. While many characterised him as a Maoist, he took umbrage at the tag for he was the Marxist maverick who recorded his opposition to the Chinese invasion of Vietnam in the MKP’s journal Circular and parted ways with his colleagues who endorsed the invasion. After the Afghan revolution Hafizullah Amin wanted Bangash sahib to form a Pakistani party allied with his Khalq faction. Not only did he snub Amin but further admonished him for their transgressions and advised them to take the local culture and norms into serious consideration.

A son of the soil, Bangash sahib was not fond of importing or exporting revolutions and believed in an indigenous struggle. He was of the opinion that only the local circumstances can dictate the means to revolutionary ends. To him the most essential tool was revolutionary self-reliance, meaning a combination of the mass mobilisation of the oppressed people through an astute leadership, culminating in the directly concerned people waging the struggle. In an agrarian society this meant that the peasantry was to be the vanguard of such a movement.

But having served as Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah’s provincial campaign manager in her bid against Ayub Khan, in an election rigged by the general, Bangash sahib was acutely aware of the deck stacked against the masses. He had been a member of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) since 1948 and had seen the Quaid-e-Azam watch helplessly as the West Punjab Assembly flouted the recommendations of its own land reform sub-committee within six months of independence. Whether it was fixing the tenant’s share in the crop, the abolition of begaar (unpaid forced labour), making cheap credit available to the tenant or preventing their forced evictions, legislative help was not on the horizon.

Having been elected as the first General Secretary of the National Awami Party (NAP) in 1957, Afzal Bangash was intimately familiar with the workings of such multi-class leftist fronts, where in many instances the feudal nationalist elements held sway over party decisions. One such decision by the NAP leadership barring Bangash sahib and others from working in the peasant committees led to his parting ways with NAP and founding on May 1, 1968, the MKP – perhaps the largest revolutionary leftist party in Pakistan’s history that openly eschewed electoral politics.

The MKP’s red flag with a white star became a symbol of resistance to the feudal lords in Hashtnagar (Charsadda), Peshawar, Mardan and Swat/Malakand. It drew support from not only the tenants and agri-labourers but also from white-collar communities like the lawyers. In fact, Wali Khan’s nephew Faridoon Khan hoisted the MKP flag at his father Ghani Khan’s house and ‘de-classed’ himself to join the peasant uprising. After a tenant, Sardar Shah raised the MKP flag as a challenge against his landlord Usman Ali “Wawa” Khan’s eviction order, the scene was set for a mass uprising in northern Hashtnagar and an armed struggle ensued. The peasant uprising lasted through three successive governments including that of the NAP. Along with its contemporary Naxalite struggle and the Peruvian and Nepalese peasant movements that followed it, the Hashtnagar peasant struggle provides a unique case study in an era when urban fascists pretend to be anti-feudal!

Well-versed in Marxist theory as many of his speeches and writings reflect, Afzal Bangash however, was not a dogmatist. He did develop a methodology of modifying both theory and practice to adjust the ideological framework and the means to achieve political goals. He was proud of his comrades like Major Ishaq Muhammad, Professor Eric Cyprian, Imtiaz Alam and Sher Ali Baacha who contributed immensely to both theory and the practical struggle. During the recent judiciary movement some of his former associates like Latif Afridi and Justice Shahjahan Yousafzai demonstrated, from the bar and the bench respectively, the acumen and resolve of the seasoned campaigners that Bangash sahib had trained by the dozens.

Afzal Bangash did gradually move towards mainstream politics starting with the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD), of which the MKP was a founding and highly functional component. He had a great working relationship with Shaheed Benazir Bhutto during that era. In 1985 he, along with Ataullah Mengal, Mumtaz Bhutto and Hafiz Pirzada, formed the Sindhi Baloch Pashtun Front, proposing a confederal state to counter the Punjabi establishment’s hegemony.

Upon returning to Pakistan, he remained involved with the merger of the left-oriented parties and closed the door on a generation-long rift with Wali Khan. The MKP, a faction of the PNP, Rasool Paleejo’s Awami Tehrik and the NDP thus came together to form the Awami National Party (ANP). Wali Khan became its first president while MKP’s Sardar Shaukat Ali was elected as its General Secretary.

Bangash sahib’s legacy is that of a secular, selfless devotion to the deliverance of the wretched of the earth from oppression and exploitation, if needed, by challenging through all means available, the Weberian concept of the ‘legitimate monopoly on violence’ as well as the hegemony of the forces of tradition. Having declined high office and judgeships many times, Bangash sahib remained wedded till his last breath to the cause he championed. He was originally buried in his ancestral graveyard in Shadi Khel village, Kohat, but later on his mortal remains were transferred to Hashtnagar where he rests in peace along with his comrades and cadres.

One column cannot do justice to a political life spanning more than four decades but I will say to my younger friends in the words of Iqbal and Hafiz:

“I scatter the petals of tulips upon the dust of martyrs;

For their blood profits the sapling of the community;

Come so that we may strew roses and pour wine into the cup;

Let us tear open the roof of Heaven and think upon new ways.”

The writer can be reached at mazdaki@me.com. He tweets at http://twitter.com/mazdaki
Originally published by the Daily Times Pakistan Thursday, October 28 2010