Perception is reality

The Pakhtun’s relationship with the state and the federation is passing through a critical phase and requires competent statesmanship, not a militarised response

What you perceive is reality and reality cannot be denied. What the Pakhtun perceive is reality for them and instead of denying reality it should be taken into consideration. Pakhtun’s relationship with the state and the federation is passing through a critical phase and requires a statesman like attention not a militarised response.

After a long period of confusion and bewilderment the Pakhtun youth awakened to the current stark reality that their status is defined by mistrust, maltreatment and misrepresentation by the state. What adds insult to the injury is that the state now increasingly believes as truth in its own engineered stereotypes and imageries about Pakhtun. Instead of bolstering this trope, the state needs to reconsider its course leading to the Pakthun estrangement. If the state continues to follow the colonial era mechanisation of divide and rule, malign and oppress, it will only rock the boat.

The perceptions prevailing among the Pakhtun are mind boggling and terrifying. Brushing them under the carpet with heavy handedness will exacerbate the situation beyond repair. Currently, the youth does not trust the state neither the institutions nor the traditional social political bodies no longer capable of representing and articulating the problems faced by them.

The Pakhtun Long March and subsequent 10-day long sit-in in Islamabad almost dismantled the influence of the tamed Maliks when they tried to pressurise through intrigues and browbeating to wind up the protest. The same is the case with the ensuing protests in Bajaur, Swat and Thana in Malakand.

Similarly, the Swat Quami Jarga also faced a backlash by the youth and people when it retrieved its call for protest to be held on February 25, 2018 after a verbal assurance by the administration to meet the demands. The Jarga was criticised for presenting superficial demands instead of articulating the basic issues of the people of Swat. It was also remonstrated for negotiating with the civil administration when it had no power to do so.

However, the disappointment and backlash were controlled to some extent when the Jirga held a meeting with the representatives of youth and Pakhtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) and explained its position and pledged for joint struggle. Such is the level of mistrust that nobody is ready to accept the state institution’s verbal assurances without a formal document in writing. If the Swat Quami Jarga faced such backlash, the state’s arranged and controlled bodies and so-called people’s Jiragas have completely lost their credibility. Nobody is ready to accept that the selected few in a controlled environment can represent and articulate their issues.

Besides, there is a clear cut clash between the state and people’s narratives regarding the War on Terror. The state wants the people to accept and own the official narrative of War on Terror but the people have their own version of the story which is expunged from the main discourse. State imposes secrecy but people demand transparency and openness regarding the entire episode of War on Terror. The state institutions’ narrative is trying to depict that the Taliban emerged out of the blue and overpowered the Swat, Malakand Division and FATA. Since the army had taken them out and the people should accept the prevailing situation as a cost for that. The state’s swinging narrative about the causes of militancy and terrorism adds further confusion and mistrust. Initially, the state declared it as an internal threat emanating from fail justice system, poverty, lack of social justice etc that exploited by some elements. Later they were called the stray and rouge elements challenging our way of life. But for the last four years this narrative changed from internal to external threat provoked by hostile states.

The state, particularly, the military narrative is that Baitullah, Naik Mohammad, Hakimullah and Fazlullah were Pakhtun and from FATA and Swat and their ethnic origin was generalised to depict the entire Pakhtun population. This is also a well-entrenched perception that military has an institutional geo-strategic and economic interests, particularly in Swat and they consider the construction of cantonment as prelude to that.

After a long period of confusion and bewilderment,the Pakhtun youth has awakened to the stark reality that their status is defined by mistrust, maltreatment and misrepresentation by the state

However, majority of these bad boys were taken out by the US drones and no Mehsud protested against that. The media, PTI and religious organisations, which were later tried to be politically mainstreamed, made a hue and cry over the drone attacks but when the tribal gathered in Tank and later in the sit-in in Islamabad, not a single voice was raised against the drones attacks. However, it was the former interior minister who was infuriated over the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud. Fazlullah escaped, perhaps, because drones were not operating in Swat.

But the Pakhtun now consider this as the outcome of the state policies and they bear the brunt of those polices in many ways ie physically, politically, economically and socially. Therefore, voices are raised for a truth commission to determine the causes of how militancy and terrorism came into the Pakhtun region. They are no longer ready to buy the security, national interests and sacrifices charade. Security and national interests are sacrosanct and worth sacrifices when articulated, defined and determined by the people. But when parliament has no role in these crucial areas of policy making, how long can they be imposed on the people?

In times of oppression, poetry remains the means of expression and Pakhtun’s perceptions about the so-called war on terror is well enunciated in Pashtu poetry of this era. Mohammad Gul Mansoor, a poet from Kabal, Swat, exploded the mystery through his poem few years ago of which I will quote a verbatim translation of two verses just as example:

‘If not killed today, tomorrow will be, his death is now certain because he cried for peace; it is a well plotted drama, but the painful scene is the killing of Pakhtun in reality.’

There are also perceptions about the mystery of missing persons which border on violation of basic human rights and putting them in a vulnerable position for misuse.

Another overwhelming perception among the Pakhtun youth is the credibility, particularly of the electronic media. The nearly frenzied coverage of the deceased Indian actress Sri Devi triggered a discussion on the social media that her death carried more importance for the Pakistani media than the existential problems and basic human rights issues of Pakhtun which are systematically and continually blacked out. People now read the discourse on media in reverse, causing it to lose its over killed gimmick to shape opinions and perceptions in the way ‘they’ want.

This time the Pakhtun youth is determined to carry out their democratic struggle for their basic human and constitutional rights. Manzoor Pakhtun announced his program to visit the southern Pakhtun belt and will address public meetings in Zhob on March 9, Qailla Saifullah on March 10 and Quetta on March 11.

Instead of teaching them a lesson by countering this movement through spurious tools, the state should learn a lesson and reassess. Labelling a genuine and indigenous peaceful democratic movement as anti-state instigated by foreign hands will no longer work.

The writer is a political analyst hailing from Swat. Tweets @MirSwat

Published in Daily Times, March 1st 2018.