Mahmood Khan Achakzai’s recent statement that “Khyber Pakhtunkhwa belongs to the Afghans” was perhaps read through the prism of perverted history.
One thing we as a nation have accomplished successfully is the distortion of history – by rewriting it in the hope that everyone will accept it as a universal truth.
Slothfulness is another characteristic of ours. Before launching a nationwide barrage of criticism, proper contextualisation of Achakzai’s statement would have somewhat reduced the mortifying verdict passed on him.
Those who offered their insight, including the editorials by leading English dailies, did not deign it proper to read beyond the headline. The full story clearly stated that Achakzai’s statements, published in the ‘Afghanistan Times’, were extracted from his interview given to the Voice of America’s Pukhtu programme, ‘Ashna’.
In the interview, Achakzai clearly states “belongs to Afghans” instead of ‘belongs to Afghanistan’. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge in semantics and phonology would surely be able to distinguish between those two terms.
The term ‘belongs to Afghans’ would not have impacted the national patriotic honour if only we were not given to tailoring everything from history and ethnography to engineering political parties and elections. An overwhelming majority in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has Afghan lineage. Knowingly or inadvertently that was recognised by the colonialists and later by Pakistan. This can be verified by checking the revenue record of any Pakhtun where his/her quom/caste is mentioned as Afghan. Perhaps the statement is not the entire saga and carries the mistrust and suspicions of the colonial legacy of forward policy and containment.
Why is it necessary for a citizen to renounce his/her cultural, ethnic, religious history in order to become a trusted and a patriot citizen in the eyes of the state?
This raises fundamental questions regarding the behaviour of the state. If Pakistan is a federation anchoring the consensus of its federating units where the sphere of influence, and rights and responsibilities are enshrined in the constitution then why is it hard to swallow if a Pakhtun prefers for himself/herself the word Pakhtun or Afghan? Afghan is an all-encompassing term, embracing original Pakhtuns as well as the associated Pakhtuns in its fold. Similarly, why does the state feel threatened when Sindhis, Balochis and Saraikis want to retain their cultural history? Why is the social contract between the federating units, the state and its citizens constantly questioned?
The Yusufzais came to this land from Afghanistan in the 16th century and did not allow Mughals, Sikhs and the British to intrude into their areas. They always maintained cultural and historical relationships with Afghanistan but never opted to merge with it when they were free or come under its influence before the advent of the British to the Subcontinent. During the time of British India, the Yusufzai states of Dir and Swat did not think on those terms even though Dir bordered Afghanistan.
Now their Afghan lineage has become doubtful in Pakistan. Will they be considered more trusted citizens if they do not refer to their Afghan lineage? Is the real elephant in the room the news carried by the Kabul-based newspaper or Achakzai’s statement on the refugees from Afghanistan?
In the 1980s, refugees from Afghanistan were a political issue because they were lured to leave their homes in hordes through systematic propaganda dubbing Afghanistan as ‘darul harb’ after the Soviet invasion. Without that mass exodus defeating the Soviets would have been nearly impossible as refugees provided a breeding ground for recruitment, and a cover and conduit for arms supply.
As far as the repatriation of Afghan refugees is concern, they should be sent back with honour, not thrown into the very circumstances responsible for their displacement. The majority of the refugees come from south-eastern Afghanistan, mostly the Pakhtun belt, a site of ongoing conflict and war between the Taliban and Afghanistan forces.
Regional powers and the international community should prioritise peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan should also be careful not to establish a wrong precedent for the world, particularly the West where the majority of our diaspora who migrated cite a distressing situation for those seeking asylum. States have the right to change their municipal laws, and the current threat of terrorism can provide an excuse to establish a precedent of state-forced repatriation.
On several occasions Achakzai spoke in public and in the National Assembly on the issue of refugees and the ripple effect for Pakistani Pakhtuns. He referred to Nadra’s cancellation and blocking of thousands of CNICs of Pakhtuns suspected to be refugees living on this side of the Durand Line.
Why should denouncement of ethnic discrimination byAchakzai become a declamation against his politics and citizenship? Our parliamentary archives are replete with his speeches on constitutionalism, federalism, democracy, sovereignty of parliament and civil-military imbalance in the polity. During his incumbency as a parliamentarian, Achakzai leads the way in those who regularly attended sessions. Ironically, parliamentarianism and democratic creed are used as theatrical ploys.
But the boot is on the other leg. In Pakistan treason charges have a treacherous history – mostly politically motivated and never proved in a court of law. Such allegations, along with corruption and nepotism, are contested through media trials against politicians who stand on the wrong side of the power equation.
Unfortunately, we are not only facing religious radicalism, where ijtihad and religious interpretations are a non sequitur, but also political radicalism. This is a prerequisite to political stagnation. And a politically stagnant polity does not need any traitor or enemy. It is a traitor and an enemy within itself.
The writer is a researcher and a native of Swat.