I sit sad in the valley
Listening to the river that says
Trespasser, trespasser, trespasser.
I stubbornly say, All the same
It’s still beautiful.
And I know that’s true
But I know also
Why it fails to recognise me.
- ‘The exiles lament’ The poems Of Norman Maccaig edited by Ewen MacCaig,
Recently a friend visiting Peshawar and Islamabad after four years narrated me a story about a recently retired colleague in Peshawar. This colleague had been a successful government official for much of his life and had also been a local activist in Peshawar. Despite these ties his colleague had moved to Islamabad, he had sold everything and moved to the capital. When he met him he found a man both happy at the opportunities the capital offered his children and depressed at his social isolation.
This little anecdote for me signified something significant happening in the Pashtun belt stretching from Chitrals Lowari pass and south to Qila Saifullah. The region is experiencing the greatest migration within and outside the region possibly for over a century since the great Frontier rebellion of the late 20th century. Many reading this will probably ask the question as to why this great migration has gone unnoticed by so many in Pakistan. The reality is the tribal ethos of taking in those they share an affinity for has absorbed the impact by taking in many of them and hosting them. For those less fortunate amongst them sadly little help has come their way from the state and the rest of the country.
Frozen in history
Traditional scholars of the region like Akbar. S Ahmad and books of reference often used by researchers like Olaf Caroes The Pathans and James W Spains ‘Pathans of the latter day’. They saw the region in traditional terms divided into distinctive regions as late as the 1990’s and 9/11 distinct from the Pashtuns of Afghanistan. The class based hierarchy of Mardan, Charsadda and Swat dominated by influential and powerful Khans. The oft forgotten Hindko, Seraiki, Kohistani, Chitrali and non-Pashto speakers of Peshawar, Kohat, DI Khan, Hazara, Kohistan and Chitral. The Maliks of FATA reinforced by the Frontier Crimes Regulation through financial inducements and powerful political agents. The conservative electables and influentials of Southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Northern Balochistan. These established hierarchies were in turn governed by myriad of laws and financed by a basic but gradually developing industrialization. In addition to this there was everything from overrepresentation in the military, remittances from far away Karachi, expatriate labourers in the Gulf states and the Afghan transit smuggling trade.
Culturally Pashtuns were seen through a prism of their own cultural code. The Pashtunwali code code consisted of hospitality, the right of asylum, revenge, bravery and issues of honour. This code was used by both elites amongst the Pashtuns of Pakistan and the Pakistani middle class to glamorise a life and for many excuse underdevelopment. At the same time there was a sense of individualism and relative egalitarianism compared to the more hierarchical societal structures in South Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan.
|Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan|
Politically the region was dominated by the Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns of the ‘settled areas’ whether Kashmiri, Tarins, Yousafzai, Kakkar, Marwat, Khattak or Muhammadzai. These were successful politicians, generals and bureaucrats like Abdul Qayyum Khan, the Wali of Swat, Abdul Wali Khan, Generals like Habibullah Khattak and Waheed Kakkar, Bureaucrats like Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Roedad Khan. While many of these were local leaders, they drew their strength from their broader national and regional connections. This was distinctively different from their counterparts in other provinces who often were more geographically constrained.
Historical trade routes, wars and geography have meant that migration has been common to the region. The fabled sily route and grand trunk road travelled from East to west and followed the Delhi to Peshawar and from there on Kabul and Central Asia routes. The road and later on rail works were built for troop deployments and transit trade through the region and not as tools of integrating various parts of the region together. This imperial legacy was inherited by the new state of Pakistan in 1947 and that lack of development ensured that the major source of employment would remain the migration of labour. Their lack of education meant that much of that employment would be in the area of construction and transport work. Whereas prior to 1947 this migration was east towards Delhi and in particular modern day Mumbai it was now restricted to within the Pakistan state and the new economic engine of Karachi.
The last great migration
At the time of the creation of the state of Pakistan in 1947 the Pashtun belt remained largely untouched from the horrors of partition. Out of the four provinces Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and the then NWFP and Federally Administered Tribal Areas., NWFP and Balochistan escaped the communal violence of partition and the Pashtuns became the second biggest ethnicity in the western wing of the country.
The scale of the events of partition on the areas on the border was enormous. Cities like Karachi ended up with over 50% migrants compared to 10% in Peshawar. While there was initial political and cultural dissent as the new government imposed its idea of a unitary political, linguistic and cultural state the region rapidly integrated into the new state. The economic boom was centralised in business centres like Karachi from the Pashtun belt by 1980 out of an estimated 8 million people an estimated 1.5 million were Pashtun.
After the breakup of Pakistan in 1971 and creation of Bangladesh a second economic boom in the middle east following the increase in oil prices. Robert Nichols book ‘A History of Pashtun Migration’ highlighted some of by 1981 it was estimated that 34.6% of the national total of Pakistanis over ten years were from the NWFP. While those figures do not include FATA and Balochistan it is safe to say the region benefitted two to three times their representation in the country. At the same time in Karachi the increasing economic influence of Pashtuns in Karachi created resentment in the dominant Urdu speaking community. It has seen a major spike in Pashtun migration into the city from 8% in 1981 to 11% in 1998 making it the biggest Pashtun urban centre in the world. Many of these migrants have taken up jobs in small businesses and transport, --- this culminated ? in the violent 1985 ethnic riots triggered by the death of a young girl in a traffic accident, the subsequent backlash made the city relatively less inviting to new migrants.
While in the Middle East, the increased competition from lower cost workers like Bangladeshi and Philippines workers led to a relative decline in the presence of people from Pakistan in general. The common factor linking Karachi and the Middle East was that while the Pashtun presence was significant, it was not perceived as permanent. This was in part because many migrants did not migrate with their families, often due to the economic cost and in case of the Middle East visa restrictions, it was seen as a temporary measure.
The Perfect Storm
The factors that have upended this old system are not hard to place, the US occupation of Afghanistan side by side with armed revolt, in the presence of thousands of foreign troops and support personnel and hundreds of billions dollars being spent per year and the associated development work as well as development work. This was side by side with multiple military operations, governance vacuum and the ensuing economic collapse.
A recent report by writer Javed Aziz gave some insight into the scale of the attacks 3,275 militant attacks were carried out all over Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during the last nine years in which 4,175 people, including 1,381 personnel of civil and armed forces and 2,794 civilians, were killed, and 8,054 civilians and 3,010 security personnel were wounded.
As per the 2011 housing survey, there are approximately 26 million people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 4.4 million from FATA with at least 6 million people from Balochistan being from the Pashtun belt out of an approximate total of 196 million people in the country. Out of this number as per the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas alone as of early 2013 nearly 1.1 million people are currently displaced in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and FATA due to ongoing conflict and insecurity since 2008. While during the conflict in Swat from 2007-2009 2.5 million were displaced as IDP’s. Leading to a peak of 3 million displaced in 2009 and with an estimated five million people have been displaced by conflict, sectarian violence and human rights abuses in the north-west of the country since 2004.
Economically the situation in the region has been even more dire according to statistics from the Khyber-Pashtunkhwa Chamber of Commerce between 2007-2010 out of a total of 1600 industrial units operating in 2007, only about 542 units were left by 2010. The rest of the units were closed down incurring nearly Rs 70 billion worth losses to the province and rendering 57,000 people unemployed. On a local level the cost of insurgency was even greater e.g., in Buner, around 500 marble factories were closed in May 2009 leaving 200,000 people unemployed. While few statistics are readily available for the state of things at present in Khyber-Pashtunkhwa and Balochistan anecdotally the situation is little better and in case of the latter possibly worse.
The accuracy of these numbers in estimating the direct impact on the region is difficult to say as because of administrative separation the numbers will not be as accurate as the numbers for Sindh which was also hit by devastating floods but conversely is more geographically, administratively and poetically well defined by the state.
The new migration
‘You can never cross the same bridge twice’
|The funeral of Liaqat 'Tension' Bangash, one of Karachi's Pashtun new guard|
Conversely it was essential in Punjab which was the dominant province and also where the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had strong electoral support. In addition Musharraf a native Karachiite also focussed on the mega city and oversaw an economic boom in the city. While in the Middle East the war in Iraq led to a cash windfall once again for the oil rich states of the region. However this traditional pattern has been altered by post 2007 surge in violence in FATA, Khyber-Pashtunkhwa and Karachi. The Punjab has largely escaped the bulk of the post 2007 violence and that has altered migration patterns. Research by writers like Shahid Saeed highlighted the variation of violence between the provinces in 2013, with the risk of being a target of violence in Punjab 1 in 1,422,535, Sindh, 1 in 29,424 Khyber-Pashtunkhwa 1 in 28,387, Balochistan 1 in 9,256 and FATA 1 in 6,143.
There has been several sides to this mass migration, the migration of those seeking security migrating out en masse for the first time, some to the former camps of Afghan refugees and others to the big urban centres of Khyber-Pashtunkhwa like Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan and Mardan. In turn the impact of such an influx into Peshawar came side by side with devastating attacks on the city. The city has been also hit by a wave of abductions and extortion rackets. Those with some income have been devastated by these attacks and large numbers have relocated to Islamabad, Lahore and Abbotabad for reasons of security. A tragic side story to this is the destruction of the home and culture of non Pashto speakers of the Pashtun belt and in particular hindko speakers of Peshawar. This once rich, multicultural and multi-ethnic community has been hit the hardest. Some have migrated outwards while the remaining have been assimilated with the new migrants but in the process witnessed their own decline. They in turn were followed by the flight of many of those who had made money from business in Afghanistan in hope of security. While in the South there has been an exodus of people from DI Khan towards Dera Ghazi Khan and then to Multan and Southern Punjab. This marks a shift from the traditional migration towards Karachi, with scholars like Ayesha Siddiqa pointing out how the Seraiki belt of Southern Punjab receiving the second highest number of Pashtun migrants after Karachi.
A big difference with this migration and the previous ones is the inclusion of displaced families, this has meant that unlike before where the locals had no stake in the host areas, now out of compulsion being apolitical was no longer an option. The need to take a ‘side’ in local battles for resources changed and a more overt alliance with local groups started to take place. Here the influence of the local areas has challenged the traditional concepts of individualism. The influence of the Middle East with a puritanical version of Islam that fixated on the ‘west’ led to an increasing conservatism. This impact was in turn reflected by the growth of religious party’s in K-P and FATA, an increase in religious schooling and the decline of a traditional legacy of progressive politics.
In Karachi contact with the powerful criminal-political gangs with their use of extortion mafias in conjunction with electoral support triggered a political and violent assertiveness. This with a rapidly changing demographic was first reflected in the 2002 elections when in Karachi the MMA surprised locals with electoral wins in traditional strongholds of the MQM. This in turn became far more violent post 2007 with the power struggle between the new coalition partners over control of Karachi.
|Punjab law Minister Rana Sanaullah recently said to |
protect Punjab, “operations” will be mounted in 174 areas of the province where communities of Pashtuns settled
It would be easy to see the great migration as a linear process but it is a dynamic process, large scale migration often breeds resentment in host communities, while the law and order situation can change and many migrants (can) and will want to return home. Returnees will inevitably be changed by their experiences, their expectations of governance and traumatised by feelings of vulnerability. The great frontier migration of the 21st century impact on the people and the region is another story yet untold