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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Is there a Pashtun Factor in Islamist Insurgency in Pakistan?


After Taliban’s debacle and influx of Al Qaeda from their safe sanctuaries in Afghanistan to the tribal areas of Pakistan, Pashtuns as an ethnic group have come under an intense scrutiny of political scientists, sociologists and anthropologists. The fact that Al Qaeda and Taliban were not just able to establish themselves in the tribal areas of Pakistan, but in fact successfully initiated a bloody insurgency against the US supported regime in Kabul  and Pakistan have led some scholars to develop diverging hypothesis to explain the Islamist violence emanating from the region. The cultural fallout of some these hypotheses have been that, perhaps, Pashtun culture itself contains element that justifies violence for political causes.  
Since the nature of violence committed by Al Qaeda and Taliban is overtly religious, and the fact that these groups thrive in some of the Pashtun areas, along with Pashtuns own religiously charged social outlooks, have led some scholars to see Pashtun culture as largely compatible with the political values propagated by the militant groups.
It is true that Pashtun regions, specifically the tribal areas and the regions in Baluchistan that borders Afghanistan, have provided significant number of foot soldiers to Taliban regime in Afghanistan. But main support has come in the form of students-cum- Jihadis provided by the networks of seminaries that were established with the support of Pakistan and United States to support Afghan Jihad during the 1980’s. These seminaries had been the main source of accommodation and educational opportunities for the children who came as refugees to Pak-Afghan borders areas during the first Afghan Jihad. This was the generation that grew up in a social and political environment that was instigated and supported by Pakistan, United States and allies to support the holy war against the Soviet Union.   This was the generation that grew up under the violent shadows of the first Afghan Jihad.  Tragic political fallout such an environment that glorified the notions of holy war has been a grown generation that sees such violence as the only meaningful political approach.
Despite such stereotyping about the Pashtuns, the empirical facts on the other hand seems to speak against any general cultural trend that may explain some of the Pashtuns support to religious violence. A study by team of professionals from Princeton, Georgtown and Standford University  shows that Pashtun areas in Pakistan are least supportive of the terrorists group such as Al Qaeda and Taliban. This is because its the Pashtun who have paid the heaviest human, social and economic cost due to the terrorist violence during the last decade.
In one of my recent studies, a random sample of the profiles of 329 terrorists were collected from Counter Terrorism Wing of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of regional police offices in Pakistan. The data describes in detail about the demographic and socio-economic background of the terrorists. Final statistics show Khybar Pakhtunkhwa which makes almost 13 percent of Pakistan total population contributes approximately only 10 percent in the sample of terrorists. It implies that there is no over representation among the terrorists by the Pashtun living in the Pashtun dominated province of Khybar Pakhtunkhwa. However, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), another Pashtun dominated region is over represented by margin of approximately 6 percent.
Since there are varieties of terrorism organizations which operate in Pakistan, I further disaggregated that data to determine whether there is any over representation among Pashtuns in case of religious terrorists such as Taliban or Al Qaeda. Again, the results show that it’s the Punjab and FATA region which makes up the special regions as far as the contribution to the sample of religious militants is concerned. Specifically, when terrorists, who are simultaneously affiliated with Taliban as well as other religious organizations such as Al Qaeda are take into account, the share of Punjab increases to mighty 78 percent as compared to its share 54 percent in total population.
The reason that FATA region is over represented whereas Khybar Pakhtunkhwa does not  indicate any unique cultural pattern among Pashtuns as religiously more violent. Even in the case of FATA, there is no uniform pattern that explains religious violence. For example, not all Taliban fighters in FATA condone that fight against the State of Pakistan. Also, not all Taliban condones the global jihad ideology of Al Qaeda.  Lack of any evidence for a uniform pattern of recruitment to religious terrorist organization among Pashtuns implies that the roots of terror are not located into cultural factors. The specific economic and political profile of FATA further implies the necessity to look at the root causes that make some people substitute their allegiance to violent organizations as Taliban and Al Qaeda instead of the State.
Recently a report was published on District Education Ranking in Pakistan by Islamabad based team of professionals who the run the education campaign by the name Alif Ailaan. They developed an index giving weights to the quality of education, the availability of infrastructure and level of learning. According to the report, North and South Waziristan, the two most affected regions score abysmally low and falls at 144th and 145th rank respectively, only to be followed by Kurram Agency and FR Kohat. This is just one statistic that shows the terrible absence of one of the basic fundamental right of FATA people as supported by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of United Nations.  Successive Governments of Pakistan, whether military or democratic, have been unwilling to abolish the Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR), an oppressive ordinance that legalizes the use of collective punishment, through which the State have ruled FATA. It is the lack of basic necessities of life and any political stake whatsoever in the system that has led some people to support the radicalizing solutions offered by Taliban and Al Qaeda.  Instead of looking at cultural reasons and dwell into hopelessness about political solution to the crisis, the war against terror requires the addressing of fundamental issues to raise the cost for people to  support the terrorist organizations.



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