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Afghanistan – not the right war either

October 5, 2009

Barack Obama told the Americans and the world that the war in Iraq was not the ‘right war’. He said that the focus of the United States should be to fight the scourge of terrorism and that the epicenter of terrorist activities lies in Afghanistan and not in Iraq. He was right when he said that the war in Iraq was not the ‘right war’. But to say that Afghanistan is the epicenter of terrorism is looking at things too simply.

Afghanistan is the land of the Pashtuns and the Tajiks. Other ethnic groups that are found in Afghanistan are the Hazaras, Uzbeks, Nuristani, Balochs and others.  There have been terrorist attacks the world over starting from the 9/11 World Trade Centre, on to Bali, Madrid, London, Nairobi and others. Who was behind these attacks? Were any Pashtuns found to have been involved? Were any Tajiks or Hazaras the reason behind these attacks? The answer is a resounding no. Afghans are a peaceful people. They have their own culture. They are largely un-alphabetic and do not have the means to indulge in terrorism. For a Pathan (the name for Pashtuns in South Asia) killing innocents is anathema. They are a gentle, kind people who lead a very simple life.

It is true that the Taliban is Pashtun dominated. It is also very likely that Osama Bin Laden is hiding somewhere in the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The fact that these Taliban are ruthless, orthodox Muslims cannot be denied. But the question that begs to be answered is – were the Pathans always like this? Yes, they have been Muslims for centuries, and their brand of Islam always tilted towards orthodoxy, primarily because the education levels especially in rural Afghanistan were abysmal. But before the Soviet invasion and during the reign of King Zahir Shah Afghanistan was not an ultra-orthodox state. Kabul was a thriving city and was indulgently called by some as the Paris of East. Women in Afghan society were always respected and many were professionals working as doctors, lawyers and businesspersons. Are Pashtuns basically violent? The answer is a big ‘NO’. I may add here that Pashtuns are found not only in Afghanistan but also in western Pakistan.

The life of one of the most illustrious sons of the soil is testimony to the fact that Pashtuns are not only peace loving people, but many have lived a Gandhian life. A life dedicated to non-violence. This one towering personality that has dwarfed most leaders in the subcontinent is Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan or Frontier Gandhi as he is fondly called. His life should be studied by all who advocate peace and want to shun war. The man was such a force that the British kept him in jail most of the time. He told his fellow Pashtuns that he will give them a weapon that no opposition will be able to face, if they have the will and the patience to use it. He told Pashtuns the importance of doing what they believe is right and to shun violence at all cost. He started schools for children both boys and girls. His followers who believed in non-violence were called Khudai Khidmatgars – Servants of God. They wore red shirts and therefore were called the Red Shirts by the British. The bravery of the Pashtuns is legendry and once they had taken up the clarion call of Gaffar Khan nothing could shake their will. On April 23, 1930, Ghaffar Khan was arrested during protests arising out of salt satyagraha. A crowd of Khudai Khidmatgars gathered in Peshawar’s Kissa Khwani (Storytellers) Bazaar. The British ordered troops to open fire with machine guns on the unarmed crowd, killing an estimated 200-250. The Khudai Khidmatgar members acted in accord with their training in non-violence under Ghaffar Khan, facing bullets as the troops fired on them. Not one Pathan retaliated. We have all heard of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre but few talk about the Peshawar massacre. On another occasion when the British officer asked his Garhwali troops to fire at Badshah Khans followers – the Khudai Khidmatgars, the Garhwali soldiers refused. Many were thrown into prison and many other were court marshaled. They were all Hindus. It is also said that during the Anglo-Afghan war when the Pathans were fighting the British, the Indian soldiers noticed after sometime that the Pathans were firing only at the British officers and soldiers and not at the Indians. The Indian soldiers then refused to fight. The Pathans said that Indians were their brothers and they shall not fire at them but only at the British who were their enemies!The Pashtuns of Pakistan were dead against partition. Although it is said that during voting the vote for going with Pakistan went nine to one, but that poll was mired in controversy. Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan never reconciled to the partition of the country. He was thrown into prison for decades as was his son Wali Khan. He was treated very badly by the Pakistan government and spent more than 52 years of his life in prison. The man was a colossal, both figuratively and otherwise. He was more than 6’3 in height and like a true Pathan had a smile on his face. He may have been influenced by Gandhi and his non-violent methods but it is also true that Gaffar Khan was more successful with non-violence as a means of protest. For that the credit must also go to the brave Pathans who once they make up their mind will not budge an inch.

Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan

Pathans have been an intrinsic part of the Indian landscape. They are known to be honest and men of their word. Tagore’s Kabuliwalla epitomizes the beautiful relationship that people across the country had with the Pathans in almost every city in India. Partition led to strife and bloodshed for the Sindhis, Punjabis and the Bengalis. There was this other community that bore the brunt, the one people that never accepted partition and those were the Pathans.  India and Indians have not forgotten our relations with the Pashtuns and therefore Indians and Afghans are naturally drawn towards each other. Partition saw the Pashtuns unable to travel to India and that has been a disappointment for them and for us. Gaffar Khan was given the Bharat Ratna, the only non-Indian to have received the highest civilian award. But in some sense he was never a non-Indian, for he never accepted Pakistan. Khan Market in Delhi is named after Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan.

That is the Pathans  we Indians know and that is miles away from how they are portrayed now. They are thought to be radicals who would kill at the drop of a hat and would beat up women and all those vile things that we see on the TV. The fact is that the west gave them guns and asked them to fight. Pakistan government started a campaign where thousands of madrasas were started in North West Frontier Province. Religion was used in its most blatant form to brain wash them and to make them do as Islamabad wanted. The west has used their simplicity and gave them Wahhabi Islam which was very different from the way they have been for centuries. I may add here that in Afghanistan there are Shias and Sunnis living side by side in peace and never has there been friction between them. The introduction of drug trade has further complicated the situation and the innocent Afghan fails to understand as to why his country and his people are being subjected to such mindless violence that refuses to end.  What was started by the CIA and Benazir Bhutto to thwart the Soviets has spiraled into unending violence. The strategic location of this rugged land is the reason for this continued strife. It is the gateway to Central Asia and therefore critical. But to say that America is in Afghanistan to fight its war on terror is taking things too far. If the Americans were really serious about eradicating terrorism all they need to do is end all aid to Pakistan and Afghanistan, especially that of arms. They then need to talk to the elders and the leaders in the Loya Jirga which is a conglomeration of the various tribal chiefs. Chances are, if they stop all aid to either country and  only focus on developmental projects with the help of international agencies and some credible NGO’s they will not need to think about war on terror that they are fighting in Afghanistan. The first step to any efforts on fighting the war on terror will be to pin point the source of the terrorist attacks. Afghanistan will figure nowhere in the list. This is not a war on terror – this is something else, maybe a turf war. It also is a strategic move to have a presence in Central Asia. The US can easily persuade Central Asian countries for bases if they needed presence in the region.  This is as needless a war as was the one being fought in Iraq. America needs to do a serious rethink about its war on terror.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 14, 2009 11:01 pm

    Hello, i have a little offtopic question. I like the Layout of this site, can i get the template somewhere? Thank you in behind and best wishes from austria.

    • sharma24 permalink
      October 24, 2009 6:31 am

      The layout theme is Silver is the New Black by Gregory Auld. It will not be too difficult to download. Cheers!

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