Jirga Appeals to Pashtun Nationalism to Combat Talibanization

The much anticipated Jirga of Pashtun tribal leaders from both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is underway. For weeks president Karzai had promoted just such a gathering as a cure all for the transborder agitation and the infiltration of insurgents and weapons to Afghanistan, all the while drumming up Pakistan’s dishonesty in the war against the Taliban.

Read Ahmad Rashid’s account of the Jirga for the Daily Telegraph here. Here is an excerpt:

“Clean-shaven tribal chiefs with large turbans, religious scholars with long beards and young political activists sat together in a large hall in the Pakistani border city of Peshawar to demand that the peaceful traditions of the Pashtun tribes which ‘are being drowned out in a sea of blood’ be restored.”

Called by Karzai and organized by a prominent Pashtun secular political party in Pakistan (ANP) the Jirga is aimed at appealing to Pashtun nationalist sentiments to battle the “Talibanization” of the ethnic group.

This of course assumes that Talibanization itself is not a manifestation of Pashtun ethnic nationalism. For many in Afghanistan who see that Taliban have an exclusively Pashtun popular base, and certainly for many of the Taliban who see themselves as legitimate defenders of Pashtun ethnic interests, this separation is not so clear cut.

And then there is the question of to what extent can Pashtun ethno-nationalism be rallied before that in itself spirals out of control and becomes a threat. After all, the phrase unintended consequences has an all too familiar ring to it in recent Afghan history (e.g. rallying the faithful to Jihad with American money.)

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13 Responses to Jirga Appeals to Pashtun Nationalism to Combat Talibanization

  1. hatif says:

    dear hamisha,
    i am more than glad to hear your strong voice,reflecting those ideas and concerns that either go unnoticed by the rest of us or get plunged in masses of confused analyses.
    about the jirga in question, i think no matter how strong the intention of detalibanization is (among those “clean-shaved” participants), there is a convergence point between the two- taliban and secular pashtun parties in pakistan- when it comes to Pashtuns’ birthright to power monopoly in Afghanistan. Thus it is not a root-and-branch fallacy that Pashtunism and Talibanism are the same in most cases, with tactics and strategies tailored exactly for ,if you will, unintended cosequences.

  2. Warlordish says:

    I believe this is not the planned ‘Jirga’ that the two head of states have vowed to convene. This is just a shadow event to the ‘Jirga’ that is to come—the ANP is calling this Pashtoon Peace Jirga. One should remain vigilant about the resurgent Pashtoon nationalists in Pakistan—and not bank too much hope in them, as we have historically done. Their base within the Pashtoon populace is very shaky—it is so because of their secular orientation and past alliance with the onetime Moscow sponsored governments of Afghanistan. Also, their opposition to and confrontational relations with the state machinery in Pakistan has led to successful attempts by the state at outweighing the nationalists in their constituencies by promoting and supporting religious figures—the Madrasa-elite. I believe the whole notion of Pashtoon nationalism—rallied around an ethno-linguistic identity—seems to be a matter that will not survive another generation. You tell me how many of the young Pashtoons in Pakistan can write or read in Pashto anymore? The new popular culture inside the Pashtoon household in Pakistan is beamed in from Islamabad—through Khyber TV and what not…

    Historically we (The Afghans) have felt ease in creating a state of insecurity for the Pakistani state through our alliance with Pashtoon and Baluch nationalists, and recent trends show a revival of that policy within the Afghan government. I think it is about time to understand that one passive reason for Pakistan’s unhealthy incursions in Afghan affairs is our untimely tweaking around with nationalist causes within the borders of Pakistan.

    But all the above aside, the presence of secular figures within the Pushtoon populace and their attempts at regaining popular support in their constituencies is a welcome fact for any hope at balancing the reign of Madrasa-elite in that region. Good for both Pakistan and Afghanistan. One just has to remain realistic enough to understand that they won’t be able to change much—and it will take them long and hard work to secure the trust of the Pakistani state machinery and their own people. They have to remain sober enough to understand that they can’t work against the state machinery in Pakistan but with it, and they have to seek to gain the trust of Islamabad. Which is far more crucial than the by default trust they have enjoyed in Kabul for decades—virtually unaltered, minus the Taliban time.

    You might find the below article/opinion piece informative on what this ‘Jirga’ is about:

    Pakhtun Peace Jirga
    Asfandyar Wali Khan
    The Statesman, November 20, 2006

    Awami National Party (ANP) is the continuation of the Pakhtun freedom movement, founded by Baacha Khan in the early 20th century. Baacha Khan and his Khudai Khidmatgars (Servants of God) allied themselves with the All India National Congress in 1930 and were part of the mainstream South Asian struggle for freedom, peace and democracy. Due to their total dedication to the cause of peace, non-violence and social reforms Khudai Khidmatgars were recognised as apostles of peace and social reforms in the entire South Asian region and beyond.

    Taking ahead the legacy of peace and non-violence, ANP has a consistent position of supporting peaceful methods of conflict resolution. It is, therefore, only natural that ANP has taken the present initiative of convening the Pakhtun Peace Jirga. The Party wants to achieve the purpose of establishing peace through dialogue and helping democratic transformation on social and political level.

    The failure of the structures of the international community; and regional and national governments in putting an end to war, bloodshed and large-scale destruction for the last three decades has forced Pakhtuns to invoke the strength of their most important traditional social institution — the Jirga — in the hope that it will bring peace and stability back to their lands. Over the centuries, the Jirga has also successfully confirmed the Islamic teaching of “mushawarat” (or “consultation”), [“[t]hose…who (conduct) their affairs by mutual Consultation”; Holy Quran, 42:38] that gives it additional strength. Although the Jirga is an ancient social institution, it would be wrong to perceive the present Pakhtun Peace Jirga (PPJ) as an effort at ethnic revivalism or withdrawal from modern world. On the contrary, the PPJ is cognizant of the realities of the contemporary world and, accordingly, has purposely taken steps to prevent being confined, as in the past, to traditional leaders of the tribes and clans. Political parties across spectrum, social organisations and members of the intelligentsia will participate alongside the tribal leaders. The purpose is to evolve a societal consensus for bringing pressure to bear on regional governments to grow beyond their present rigid positions and become proactive in bringing about peace.

    When violence erupted in Afghanistan in the aftermath of intensive ideological and political polarisation of the Cold War in the late 1970s, our now deceased national leader, Baacha Khan warned that the erstwhile Soviet Union and US-led Western bloc were fighting their war in Afghanistan. Afghans and Afghanistan had to pay a very heavy price in terms of large-scale death and destruction. After the withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan in the spring of 1989, most of the Western countries disengaged from Afghanistan leaving behind a vacuum that attracted regional hegemonism and violent groups of different shades from all over the world into the conundrum of Afghanistan. The suffering of the Afghan people was prolonged as proxy war in Afghanistan dragged on — this time with those wishing to establish “a true Islamic state” at the expense of Afghan sovereignty — and the country degenerated into a virtual capital of international terror and violence. This later development led to the re-internationalisation of the Afghan conflict and new international interest and engagement with Afghanistan was initiated after the events of 9/11. It should be recognised that the Pakhtun belt in Pakistan was deeply involved in the conflict, both new and old, from the very beginning.

    The Pakhtun areas in Pakistan were used both as a launching pad for war against the Soviets and, subsequently, as a base-camp for the later adventures across the line, which led to militarisation, socio-political deformation, and lack of reform and perpetuation of social isolation of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

    1) Pakhtun, Pashtuns and (Afghans by virtue of language and ethnicity) are synonyms. However, the name, Afghan is being used for every citizen of Afghanistan generally.

    2) Hujra is a social institution among Pakhtuns, traditionally used as a community guest-house; and a place of entertainment and interaction for men in each village or section(s) of a village in Pakhtun society. It is the place where Jirgas may be convened for deliberations and consultations on issues relating to the community’s worldly affairs.

    3) Traditionally, among Pakhtuns, the role of the mosque has remained confined to be a place of Allah’s worship and Islamic education.

    The roots of the current violence on both sides of the Durand Line lie in the dual policy of Pakistan’s ruling establishment towards Afghanistan and the failure of US. and NATO in addressing the root causes and sources of insurgency. While declaring to take a U-turn on Afghanistan after 9/11, influential elements in Pakistani establishment refused to give up the policy of using extremist militants to achieve “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. As a direct result of the failure to abandon these policies, FATA and northern Balochistan are allowed to be used as base-camp for the elements fomenting insurgency in Afghanistan across the line. The effort to hide behind the tribal xenophobia of Pashtun tribes, as part of the Pakistani strategy to de-stabilise Afghanistan, has worsened and complicated the situation.

    Experience has proved beyond any doubt that using religious militancy as a tool for hegemonic policy is a double-edge sword. Those who stoke the fire of religious militancy across the borders of a neighbouring country, because of its very nature, help in its cancerous growth back home. “Collateral damage” in military operations on both sides of the line creates “collateral enemies” thus leading to widening of the conflict.

    The spiral of violence that began in the wake of military operations in Waziristan resulted in large-scale displacements of the local population; destruction of the area’s subsistence economy; and scores of murders and target killings of the non-violent tribal elders. While the wounds of Waziristan had yet to heal, the tragic events in Bajaur and Dargai prompted ANP to invite Pakhtun leadership and opinion-makers across all spectrum of the civil society to stand up against the growing momentum of violence in Pakhtun areas east of the Durand Line.

    The ANP is of the opinion that the PPJ is not to be expected to extinguish the fires of a conflict spanning a quarter-century in one broad stroke. It does, however, promise to be the beginning of a new discourse of peaceful co-existence in which Pakhtuns — the major stakeholders in the conflict — will not remain mere pawns or silent spectators among competing regional and global interests that are set on a violent course to achieve their respective national goals. To enable Pakhtuns to determine their destiny in the midst of a very complicated situation, and accordingly utilise their energies and national potential for peace, democracy and development in the entire region, it is imperative for all Pakhtun leadership to start an internal dialogue. For this purpose, the Jirga could be a very effective tool due to its social legitimacy and deep psychological appeal.

    Unfortunately, violence is not the only problem in our region. Under-development, immense poverty, mass proliferation of heavy weapons and drugs have made us even more vulnerable to manipulation. Fortunately, our land and people have enormous potential to become major partner in the development of both the regional and global economy. Pakhtuns straddle a land mass that is the confluence of civilisations. No other community, from the foothills of Urals to the banks of Indus, is in a position to play the role of a bridge and conduit to the regional development of Southwest Asia than Pakhtuns. The huge reservoirs of fossil fuel in the Caspian region and the deepening processes of regional and global trade have provided Pakhtuns with historic opportunities for development; however, to enable development for our people, peace is the first pre-requisite.

    As a consequence of the 25-year old Afghan conflict, Pakhtun society has lost its social balance. Traditionally, Pakhtun society was built on two pillars — the hujra and the mosque. The former fulfilled the temporal and the latter the religious needs of Pakhtun society. However, the ideological polarisation during the Afghan conflict deformed this centuries-old synthesis of Islamic tradition and values of Pakhtunwali and the enemies of our people tried to demolish Afghan/Pakhtun national identity to achieve the goals of hegemonism. As a consequence, Pakhtun society was pushed to polarisation on extreme ideological lines.

    This historical process also resulted in the empowerment, coordination and networking of the extremist militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan in general; and in Pakhtun society in particular. In other words, a highly organised and empowered constituency of extremists and militants is active in the entire region whereas the moderate religious, progressive, democratic and peaceful groups are disorganised and marginalised. In order to diffuse this polarisation in Pakhtun society and effectively turn the tide of violence in the entire region, the PPJ is a step towards proactively pursuing the aspiration of groups and people who stand for peace, development and democracy in Pakhtun society, in the region and in the entire world.

    The primary motive behind convening the PPJ is to articulate and voice the national aspirations of Pakhtuns and build a constituency of peace within and around Pakhtuns. To achieve these objectives, the PPJ will deliberate on how to engage Pakhtuns, as well as competing regional and global actors, on a sustained course of dialogue that will address accommodation of the national interests of Pakhtuns in reconciliation with the legitimate interests of major players in the region without resorting to violence.

    The ANP appreciates the initiative of Afghan and Pakistani heads of state for convening representative Jirgas of Pakhtuns in Pakistan and Afghanistan at the government level and the PPJ is neither a pre-emption nor duplication of this exercise. To the contrary, since our experience and understanding shows that the Pakistani establishment is not enthusiastic about the proposed Jirgas, the PPJ is, therefore, aimed at strengthening the peace process at the civil society level with the interests of the common people as the primary focus — rather than notions of security that are deeply rooted in the opinions of certain figures and government institutions.

    The ANP is hopeful that the PPJ will draw the interest and attention of major Pakhtun leadership, because there is a growing dissatisfaction among the people with the constant perpetuation of proxy wars and violence. Our people desperately need freedom from violence and a hope for peace and development. We have had countless widows and orphans already. It is time for the Pakhtun people to return to their own way of life in which rule is accomplished through consensus at Jirgas, and concern for the community is the priority rather than identification with the global agendas of others. Our children have the right to peace, education and a better tomorrow in which their national identity can remain alive and vibrant. The ANP, through the PPJ, calls upon all Pakhtun leaders, regional and state governments to join with our efforts in working for peace. Otherwise, history stands witness that the flames of war in the Pakhtun areas will have dangerous consequences for peace and security in the region and in the world.

    The writer is President Awami National Party (ANP) and Convener of the PPJ

  3. Afghan LORD says:

    Hamesha jan,

    I enjoyed reading this one…

    peaceeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

  4. Afghan LORD says:

    again i am here. I put your weblog in both kabuli.org and Afghan LORD. I think WordPress has a wide range of changes to enable the user but not Blogger. I am looking to put a LINK POT rolling to have daily news updated and linked there but seems i can’t. tough coding…

    payenda bashi

  5. Apart from the cynical political angle, I think the Pushtoon nationalist have to realize that Talibanization of Pushtoon society does not necessarily bode well for their identity. Already, the Islamists are going about killing and beheading the traditional feudal elite (the khans, sardars and such). This will only unleash more latent forces and by and by convert the Pushtoons to a vistage and extension of Pakistani and Saudi Arabian interests. The secular Pushtoon nationalists have little credibility left, partly because of their irritating habit of getting in bed with all sorts of people for short term political gains.

    It’s true that when it really comes to it, the Pushtoon nationalists have not really opposed Taliban because they suckle at the same sense of entitlement in ruling Afghanistan as hegemons. But in reality, this does not bode terribly well for Pushtoons in the long run. Its only a question of short-term political expediency. They will eventually become non-Saudi Saudi Wahabbis.

  6. safrang says:

    Thanks to Hatif, A-Lord, and the Dragonfly for your comments.

    Special thanks to Warlordish for clarifying that this Jirga is not the one Karzai has been calling for, but a prelude of sorts to that -and for posting the article.

  7. Ghyasudin says:

    The problem I feel facing Puktun political groups is one of a destructive greed that causes them to fall at the heals of anything which incoporates the aengda of Pukhtun hegemony in Afghanistan. To a certain extent it is not their fault that they have such a view – since the name of Afghanistan, ie the Land of the Afghans/Pukhtuns semantically jutifies such views. What is ignored is the fact the British named that territory Afghanistan, they defined it officially and that the whole setup for the region is a design of the British and that by default does not have the interests of the Pushtuns at hand. The setup is such that the Pukhtuns are forever made to feel insecure and ever ready to become the clients of vicious agndas in defence of the misconception of Pukhtun right to rule over the territory of Afghanistan. That nationalism is then mixed up with that the portents of Alqaedaism, Wahabism, Islam against the pecieved agents of Russia and so on from he east of the durrand and from the western side it manifested by nationalism, monarchism, communism, socialism and today the notion of democracy. all of it is esentially he same thing – ethno facism – but manifested under different faces. The results of such things are clear to see – with the Pushtun population being the most to suffer form it -all again thanks to the setup intitiated by the British and today continued by their legacy holders on both sides of the Durrand.

    To sum up – I would contend that the political concept of Afghanisan – the FATA and NWFP along with northern parts of Baluchistan hav all been the rotten foundations upon hich the Pukhun popultion has been made to sufer and be used a the pawns of so many different agendas. Until Afghanisan – the political concept exist there will this forment no for the Pushtuns lone but for all the area.

  8. Helmand Khan says:

    Well ANP deserves huge credit as it has got together the Pashtoon left and the right of the spectrum. It showed that pashtoon politics is mature engough to listen to very opposit views.
    Good luck

  9. EJ says:

    Who has information on the Jirga in Keil?

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