Pushtoons disillusioned over fencing
By Malik Siraj Akbar
Diplomatic ties between Pakistan and its niggling western neighbor, Afghanistan, are once again in the lowest ebb. Both the states have traded extremely serious allegations against each other over the past couple of months. After much toing and froing and taking considerable flak over its alleged support for the Taliban, Pakistan has now unilaterally decided to fence and mine the Pak-Afghan border.
Islamabad made the divisive decision in the wake of protracted allegations from the Karzai-led Afghan government regarding the trouble it is presently confronted with at home. With its unsubstantiated claims, Kabul insists that Pakistan is harboring and arming the regrouping Taliban. Quetta, the Balochistan capital, Karzai has frequently contended, is the Taliban headquarters from where they devise offensive strategies and operate further.
On its Afghan policy, Pakistan now finds itself between the devil and the deep sea. Given her utter failure to convincingly refute Kabul’s allegations and redress her reservations, Pakistan has been left somewhat isolated in the comity of her allies in the so-called war against terror. Questioning Pakistan’s bona fides, there is huffing and puffing among several western countries against Islamabad-floated idea of mining the border. This, they believe, will further aggravate the situation rather than ending the recurrent terrorist assaults on the NATO and Afghan forces.
As Pakistan dramatically flip-flopped its pro-Taliban policy in the aftermath of 9/11, it has lost its credibility as a trustworthy ally either of the Taliban or that of the moderate Pashtoon nationalists. Today, Taliban no longer recognize Pakistan as a reliable long-term partner in any sphere, neither does the Karzai government have any faith in Islamabad.
On January 10, Pakistan installed a biometric control computerized system in Balochistan’s bordering district of Chaman. The newly installed system is aimed at checking illegal border movement between both the countries.
“The new system has replaced the old permit system,” states Iqbal Mehmood, Director General Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), “this system would closely monitor all the personal and vehicular movement on border.”
The newly inducted system in Chaman includes 16 new and sophisticated computers that, according to the government sources, would record all necessary information about those who cross border or enter Pak-Afghan border.
Col. Masood Ahmad of Pakistan Border Force (PBF) says as many as 6500 persons have been issued computerized border crossing passes so far.
The installation of biometric control system has, however, failed to muster support among the local people and the Pashtoon nationalists. They have vocally opposed the government move in the recent days.
In Chaman, several hundred people protested against the government move of installing computerized system on the border. They believe it is the first step towards fencing and mining the Pak-Afgan border. Furthermore, the ordinary Pashtoon is of the opinion that the government move is intended to divide the Pashtoon people on both sides of the border. There is little support for the Taliban among the Pashtoon nationalist forces in Balochistan.
“ As a matter of fact, Pakistan is training and arming the Taliban. Pakistani leaders want to destroy the younger generation of the Pashtoons by giving guns in their hands instead of pens,” alleges Haji Jilani, a tribal elder from Chaman. Jilani accuses Pakistan of having established religious schools that are serving as “ the factories of terrorism” which continuously churn out militants.
“It is surprising that General Musharraf is extending a hand of amity towards Iran and India but, on the other hand, he is dividing the Pashtoons of both sides of the border by fencing and mining of the border,” he adds.
Another tribal elder, Daro Khan, says the Pashtoon division would not be tolerated. “We will resist the government move tooth and nail,” he vows.
Not only have the nationalist Pashtoon parties, such as Pashtoonkhawa Milli Awami Party and Awami National Party (ANP), vented their resentment towards the government plans of fencing the Durand Line but Baloch nationalists and rest of the mainstream political parties of the country have equally spurned the government plans. In an All Parties’ Conference (APC) held in Quetta on January 14, the idea was opposed. “The government is hiding its own weaknesses by dividing the Pashtoon people,” said a leading Baloch nationalist leader.
Balochistan, particularly its capital, Quetta, has had remained a safe haven for the Afghan nationals since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the recent US-led strikes on that country following the 9/11 kamikaze. Around 2 million Afghan refugees rushed to Pakistan two decades back. Since then, too few of them have been repatriated. Most of them continue to live in the province with distinct identities – some proudly calling themselves as Taliban and the others as Pashtoon nationalists. While Pakistan, through a number of raids on different private hospitals of Quetta in which several Taliban were rounded up, has been showing the international community that it is actively fighting the Taliban, the Pashtoon nationalists, on their part, present the other side of the picture. They insist such operations are merely eyewash.
The Pashtoons in Balochistan do not buy the official claim that it is earnestly operating against the Taliban. They accuse the government of playing double standards. One manifestation of these clear double standards is the joining of hands between the ruling Pakistan’ Muslim League’s hands with the obscurantist Muthida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a staunch backer of the Taliban, in the provincial government of Balochistan. The MMA has stridently opposed the frequent raids conducted on the religious schools or the hospitals where the Taliban have supposedly take refuge or get treatment. MMA has also expressed its displeasure towards any government raids on religious schools under the pretext of nabbing the Taliban sanctuaries.
Mahmmod Khan Achakzai, chief of Pashtoonkhawa Milli Awami Party, said recently that not would a single bullet be fired in Afghanistan provided that Pakistani intelligence agencies stopped their support to the regrouping Taliban. “ Once that is done, I guarantee full peace in Afghanistan,” assured Achakzai.
Having already alienated the Baloch with its relentless military operation, Islamabad seems to be creating more trouble for itself in Balochistan by estranging the Pashtoons too. 2007, experts believe, will witness a more vulnerable and instable Balochistan if the Center opens a new front against itself in the province. Given the fact that several Taliban were rounded up last year from various places in Quetta in successful raids, there is enough room for carrying out a more organized drive against the Taliban in Quetta and elsewhere in the province.
At the same time, Islamabad appears to be running out of options in Balochistan in its efforts to bring complete peace and normalcy in the province. It has come under mounting criticism of the world community to contain the Taliban activities while the Pashtoon population, which makes up around 30 per cent of Balochistan’s population, does not endorse the idea of fencing and mining the border. It has yet to be seen how General Musharraf will peruse his war against the Baloch insurgents and Pashtoon Talibans in 2007 amid his growing unpopularity among the man in the streets of Balochistan and increasing support for the later.