Zamin Khan Momand

Mob. no. 03459423424

M.Phil. Deptt: of International Relations, QAU Islamabad.

A joke is circulating that Pakistani military has exhausted all its options, including F-16, to put down Taliban’s insurgency. As a last resort, it will resort to its “strategic assets” to assert government writ in Pakhtunkhwa. The joke not only eulogizes the rising of the Taliban, but also connotes the busting of the “carefully constructed myths” in and about the Pakhtun’s society.

Within society three major prevalent myths are facing challenges. These are about religion, state and about the society itself. Similarly some well-entrenched myths in academia about Pakhtuns, are losing feet.

Historically religion has been remained a source of unification among pakhtun’s tribes. True to the spirit of Islam, religion and politics intermingled in their society. Religion has been instrumentalized against invaders as well as to establish a just and egalitarian society. In revolt against Persian, resistance against Mughals, uprising against British, jihad against USSR, and now against USA and Pak military religion played a pivotal role; engendering energy for jihad. In the story to establish a just and egalitarian society, religion is the protagonist force. From Pir Rokhan to Taliban, nearly all social and political movements are organized around the religion.

But Taliban mishandled the religious libido. The movement in a way is a disjunction in the religio-political traditions of the Pakhtuns. It failed to take into consideration the traditional code of life of the society. As a backlash, Lashkars are organized against Taliban and people voted in favor of the secular parties in 2008 elections. Taliban, in turn, replaced the legitimacy of the divinity with fear; equated sharia with Hobbesian state. It seems that now they are relying more upon “fear factor” than divine legitimacy.

Since 1958, successive regimes in Pakistan endeavored to replace popular legitimacy with divine legitimacy. On the canvas of the divine legitimacy, they attempted to assimilate diverse ethnic identities into a monolithic Islamic identity. In their attempt to submerge ethnic identities, reciprocally submerged both ethnic as well as Pakistani identity in Pakhtunkhwa. An “ummah identity” overpowered other identities. ”Ummah identity” transcended territorial boundaries of the state and imparted an identity of the trans-border global movement. It challenged state’s legitimate monopoly over coercion in its boundaries. Sharia courts and parallel administration in some parts of the Pakhtunkhwa endorse the argument. Sovereignty and its essential attributes is rapidly weaning in this part of the country. Even the usual inscribed phrases on vehicles “Pak fauj ko salam” transmuted into “Dawat-e-tablegh zindabad”.

In the process, “Ummah identity” enervated Pakhtunwali, the traditional code of life of the Pakhtuns. Once at ideational level, it was a sole criterion of assessing the identity of the Pakhtun. The subjective concept of a Pakhtun about himself/herself ought to be in conformity with Pakhtunwali. It was a kind of social conformity. Being a tribal and agrarian code of life, it was already crumbling under the duress of modernization. Besides “ummah identity”, multiple factors halted its evolution. The cooption of the educated Pakhtuns in the power structure is one of the most conspicuous factors among them. Their apathy accelerated the degeneration of Pakhtunwali. In the throes of crisis, Pakhtun intelligentsia failed to reinterpret it in a way to suit a modern society. The rise of Taliban expedited the nemesis of these ideals. In retrospect, it is easy to discern the crisis of the Pakhtunwali.

Academia over the years constructed its own myths about the Pakhtuns. In their case, politics rather than zeal for truth determined the course of the academia. Marx says “A theory about society and history is true, not because it provides an objective or tested analysis, but rather the theory is true if it works. If it leads people to believe in it and act upon it, this will make the theory true”. From Elphinstone, two types of intellectual apostles led the world to believe in truth about the Pakhtuns.

First, British who wrote about them were driven by either “forward policy” or “masterly inactivity”. In a way they are analogous to Edward Said’s “orientalist” as they prioritized the objectives of the British Indian office over objectivity. Second, after independence being the true heirs of the colonial legacy intellectuals in Pakistan readily owned the British constructed notions about the Pakhtuns but “forward policy” and “masterly inactivity” prisms were replaced with the phobia of “Pakhtunistan” and “strategic depth”. It was a kind of “sub continentalism”. Unfortunately, politics dictated culture, history, religion and even the race of the Pakhtuns in academia.

During the war of terror, some well entrenched myths underwent busting, but interestingly “newly found myths” are filling the vacuum created by the process of myth-busting. Again the nature and meaning of the “newly-found myths” will be determined by the politics.