The Frontier Post, July 1989
By Shahid Orakzai
“Hey buddy, how about a job at Kabul?”, the bandarwala would ask the monkey in the course of his public interview. The rhesus would shriek and jerk his head in strong disapproval and audience would burst into laughter. By the late 1920s, even monkeys roaming the dusty streets of Peshawar had picked up that much common sense. “Da Kabaul naukari na kawam,” (“employment in Kabul-Oh never”) had become a popular Pashto expression that echoed in the hills of the Khyber and rang through the valleys of the Pathan country. A job at Kabul, most probably recruitment in the ill-clad Afghan infantry, was not worth a monkey who happened to live east of Durand Line.
That was the time when the times actually started changing for the Pukhtoons on the two sides of the British drawn demarcation. Apparently, they had only two options. Either stay loyal to an impotent and bankrupt monarchy in Kabul or do business with flourishing British imperialism in India. There were very few floor crossings and people generally settled for whatever was available on their side of the Line. On average, it appears that Pukhtoons were sold out on a “As is where is” basis.
Some may now cite the hatred for monarchy as one of the reasons but the reason that worked and outweighed all others was the silver coin of the British India. The rupee, today the most authentic and popular measure of a Pukhtoon’s life and achievement, was to be found east of Durand Line. Military service in the Indian Army, earthwork labor, firewood, shoe-shine, transportation, smuggling and narcotics helped the Pukhtoons to discover the new frontiers of the worldly success beyond the banks of ‘Abaasin’ (the Indus). Like a typical watchman, Pukhtoons have watched everyone’s interest but their own.
The British initiated the phenomenon and did everything possible to make sure that the original Pukhtoon culture and values get drained out as fast as possible. The leftover residue of Pukhtoon nation, the way it lies before us today, could then be easily managed. For that objective, the British cultivated two classes in particular, i.e. the Maliks among the hill tribes and feudal politicians in the Charsadda and Mardan. The raj used them like the knife and fork to tear the Pukhtoon nation into pieces. North of the Khyber, Pukhtoons were fast asleep for decades and south of Torkham they were awake only to pocket economic gains. Today, on both sides of the Durand Line, they are a people without a vision of nationhood, sovereignty and even individual honor that once turned clay into a Pukhtoon.
The departure of the British did not prove to be a departure from colonial approach and policies. The knife and fork just changed hands. In fact, they went into hands that could mishandle the tools. Pakistan’s colonial establishment inherited the British visions and outlook and viewed the geo-political realities no differently. The reunion of the divided Pukhtoons could never fit in its scheme or frame of mind. That possibility could be perceived only as a threat. Consequently, Pakistan’s political and military leadership moved to counter that threat instead of capitalizing the idea.
After 1947, the Pukhtoons secured a reasonable share in the economic fortunes. Their lower and middle classes began to move around freely in the agriculturally rich plains of Punjab and Sindh in a variety of economic pursuits. Consequently, their social and economic bonds with Punjabis grew stronger with time while their blood bond with the people northwest of the Khyber began to liquidate. A bit of economic prosperity and political freedom injected a strange superiority complex among Pakistani Pukhtoons. They began looking at their own Afghan brethren as inferiors- in every sense of the world. During the last few decades, the economic pace at the two ends of the Khyber Pass drew another Durand Line. That’s what anyone seeking to divide a nation could eventually desire. The Establishment had always worked in that direction, patting the Pukhtoons and telling them, “you are much better off with us than you could be with Kabul.” Allow me to recall the comments of a Sindhi Prime Minister, as he addressed an audience of Maliks at my hilltop village. The most enlightened premier Pakistan ever had ordered his minister for power and resources to fix big tungsten bulbs on the Afghan border “so that they (the Afghans) can see the light on our side and feel the darkness on their’s.” If electric bulb is all the light that nations need to get enlightened, one wonders who is the dark?
As an Islamic Republic, Pakistan had always turned its back to the miserable state of Iranian and Afghan people. The champions of the freedom and liberty never challenged the policy that consolidated despotism in our western neighborhood. While the Muslims of the Pakistan wanted freedom and civil rights for themselves, they preferred to see others in chains. Turning a deaf ear to the advice of Prophet Muhammad-“Do not prefer for your brother, what you don’t like for yourself,” they set a new standard for Islamic brotherhood. The new motto is, “Support the kings, wherever you find them.”
The indifference towards the Persians and Afghans had a penalty. The penalty is being paid in the capitalist havens of the Karachi. And that’s quite natural and well deserved. If you don’t accept the blood bond between the Pukhtoons on the two sides of the Durand Line, how valid is the bond between the Pukhtoons and the Punjabis or Punjabis and Sindhis, the Sindhis and Muhajirs, Muhajirs and Punjabis. Name a single one of these relationships that is stronger than the bond between the divided Pukhtoons. What does a Pukhtoon share with a Sindhi that he does not share with his own tribesmen across Torkham? Religion? Language? Philosophy? Or separatism?
Employment in Kabul is still out of question for a Pukhtoon east of Khyber but his rejection this time shouldn’t be based on poor salary, provident fund and pension. A job at Kabul is still worth a monkey and Moscow has found the monkeys it needs. Informatively for the Pukhtoons, it is willing to pay them more than the British once offered.