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April 1, 2018

Welcome to your land


April 1, 2018

Dear Malala, your arrival in Pakistan is one of the most joyous moments for us, not only because you are the youngest Nobel laureate ever, but also because your presence in Pakistan is a message to the world that Pakistan is changing.

You belong to the land that was at the forefront of our struggle for freedom. Bacha Khan was the greatest leader this region produced in the first half of the 20th century. When we look at you, we see the continuation of that struggle in this country now – a struggle that was not based on religious and sectarian hatred, but on harmony and tolerance. Bacha Khan was a symbol of courage and valour, he spent not years but decades in prison for fighting colonialism and tyranny. He lit the spark of freedom and refused to bow to the monster of parochialism that was being raised in this region.

You belong to the land that gave us great poets and Sufi saints much before Bacha Khan; Khushal Khan Khattak, Pir Roshan and Rahman Baba, just to name three. From where not just invaders came, monks like Fa Hian also came through the Khyber Pass, and this was the region that welcomed Buddhism. The edicts and inscriptions found throughout the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province still tell us stories of the hospitality of this region’s people, whose love was not always reciprocated. Al-Beruni also came from the Khyber land and left us his ‘Kitabul Hind’, a gem of geographical, social and scientific observations.

This was the route Subhas Chandra Bose and members of the Reshmi Rumaal (Silk Handkerchief) Movement took while trying to gather international support for their struggle for independence. This was the passage from where the first Indian comrades of the 20th century went to Tashkent and Moscow to learn about the new Soviet system and came back to form people’s movements in the Indian Subcontinent. Peshawar was the city where the Qissa Khawani Bazaar incident took place that shook the British Empire to its core. This was the land where the Khudai Khidmatgar Movement served the people without considering their cast, creed, or religion.

But that was till the mid-20th century. Malala, your, and our, land started bleeding following the first incarnation of the Taliban – created right after Independence – as proxies. Like many other after them, they failed, but cultivated a long-term belligerence in the entire region. Our and your land started suffocating when Bacha Khan was put behind bars and the Red Shirt Movement – which represented a very large liberal, progressive, and secular segment of society – was banned and its leaders arrested, tortured and forced to renounce their democratic aspirations.

Dear Malala, it pains me to remind you of the events of the 1950s that sowed the seeds of discontent in your and my land. The National Awami Party (NAP) was perhaps the only true democratic party of the then West Pakistan, in which Pashtun leaders played an instrumental role along with the leaders of other nationalities. They were patriots but were declared traitors because they demanded people’s democratic, linguistic and national rights. NAP stood with the Awami League of East Pakistan as a vanguard in the struggle for democracy.

Alas, the same region that gave us leaders such as Bacha Khan also gave us those who crushed and mutilated the nascent democratic structure in the 1960s. Again, Pashtuns were standing with Fatima Jinnah, who challenged the forces of despotism. I am sure she must be one of your inspirations in your own struggle. General Ayub Khan and Bacha Khan represent two opposing schools of thought: one, which hated democracy and politicians, especially those who refused to bow down to the dictator; and two, those who stood their ground for people’s rights.

By the 1970s, the tide had turned. The first 25 years after 1947 had, to a great extent, diminished the democratic, liberal and secular forces of this country, especially in the NWFP (now KP). It was left to Z A Bhutto to further emaciate the democratic and progressive lights that were finally almost put out by General Zia. Whether Bhutto did it under the establishment’s pressure or on his own makes no difference. The NAP of the Baloch and Pashtuns was finally killed and buried by the Bhutto regime with the help of generals and judges.

Malala, it was almost 20 years before your birth that your land became a conduit for exporting jihad – of course, without any permission from your or my people. Those who occupied your area in front of your eyes didn’t come from nowhere. Those who snatched your and your friend’s books didn’t land from Mars. The Taliban who burnt your schools and wanted to kill you were the new avatars of the mujahideen of the 1980s, who were nurtured and pampered by General Zia and his fellows, both in civil and military bureaucracy, and by turncoat politicians.

The land of the Pashtuns has bled ever since. If the 1990s witnessed the Taliban takeover in Kabul, in the 2000s it was Kurram, Orakzai, Mohmand, Swat, and Waziristan that were taken over by our own strategic assets. The rest you witnessed yourself.

Coming to the present; we hope that our state and its real policy and decision-makers have learnt their lessons – though there is enough reason to believe the contrary. Let’s hope that the myriad operations that we have seen since you left produce some long-lasting and tangible results in terms of not only tackling ‘prodigal sons’, but also in terms of a changed tack that leads to enlightenment and not to bigotry, as we lately witnessed in numerous sit-ins. Let’s hope that your blood that was shed in our land serves as a catalyst for harmony and peace.

Dear Malala, you are great, not because you were shot and you survived, but because you have become the new face of Pakistan – the face recognised from Afghanistan to Argentina, and from New Zealand to Zimbabwe. You are the hope of this country, of its children, men and women. The path you have chosen is arduous and perilous, but the girls of this country look at you as a beacon of strength. The bright future of this country is in the hands of girls like you who refuse to submit to male domination.

Once you mentioned that you want to enter politics and become the prime minister of Pakistan. We are sure that you have the courage, intelligence and public support that not many prime ministers have enjoyed in this country. When you enter politics, the children of the Bhutto and Sharif families will still be around; you will have good company with Aseefa and Bakhtawar. You will have to work hard in the land where Mashal Khan’s life was taken away by a bunch of criminal bigots; the spark of Naqeebullah Mehsud was put out by those who were supposed to protect him; and where in Fata people can be seen standing for their rights and against the indignities they have been made to suffer.

Welcome Malala, we will wait for you to return after you have earned your academic degree at Oxford. When you come back you will still have a handful of issues to fight for. And by then, there will be millions of girls – and boys – who would join you.

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]

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