Highlanders and Rulers Pakhtoon due to the poor quality of land they occupy and their insistence on living on higher grounds have always been economically challenged. Their response has always been to supplement their income by working outside their home land.
In the past they excelled as soldiers and were part of every Ruler’s force in India. They were also responsible for making many rulers like the Mughals.
Pakhtoon dynasties like the Khiljis and Suries Ruled over India in their own right.
The Age Old Purdah (veil) & British Rule
Pakhtoon have defied any central authority and maintained their independence on their highland. They even did not accept the Durranis hegemony on the land while allowed them to control main communication lines and cities like Peshawar, Kabul, Jalalabad and Khandahar.
A loose connection with the current rulers was maintained through Agents. The rulers like Babar had to struggle to get married to a Yousufzai lady while a nephew of Sher Shah was killed by Niazi tribe for trying to force a marriage with a local girl he loved.
Pakhtoon preserved the secrecy of the highlands at all cost. On this issue all differences were set aside and all tribes gathered to fight any intruder.
This Purdah (veil) was maintained till it was broken by British by 1800 when they entered the forbidden land of Swat, Malakand, Bannu, Kohat, Chitral, Gilgit and Northern Baluchistan.
Six FATA agencies managed to maintain their independence till now but it seems that the current military action will lead to its end also.
British Challenge & Pakhtoon Response
During British Rule, Pakhtoon became traders and money lenders all over India. Towards the end of British rule, they once again joined the army and after independence they accrued significant share (23%) of Pakistan army.
With the Indian market denied they spread across Pakistan as traders, transporters and labourer. They are the uniting force of Pakistan.
After the oil boom in Middle East a large number of Pakhtoon flocked to oil rich states.
British Blunders & the Red Shirt Movement
During the period 1876 to 1901, when substantial gains were achieved by British in settling in some Pakhtoon areas, progress could not be made in FATA and the other NWFP regions. This was a major blunder and it was continued even after the creation of NWFP commissionery in 1901 and its conversion to Governorship in 1932.
The Chief Commissioners and later Governors assumed that FATA and NWFP was a special case and better be left alone. The theory of the “powder magazine” was allowed to rule decisions up to 1929. Nothing was done to enlarge the political horizon, and resentment grew and flared.
This apathy was challenged by Khan Abdul Ghaffar when he stated his Red Shirt movement. His preached non violence and contended that common Pakhtoon was a peaceful person and had same aspirations as rest of the country.
Therefore representative government as already introduced in Punjab in 1920 should also be applied in NWFP. He stressed that Pakhtoon should acquire education at all cost and be given a chance to assimilate with the rest of the world. He favoured equal voting rights for the down trodden. He allied himself with Congress.
When in 1937 representative institutions with wide franchise came to the Frontier, Congress won the election.
Exit from Power in Afghanistan
Pakhtoons enjoyed position as rulers and landlords in Afghanistan till the Soviet backed Sur Revolution. Socialist Sur revolution upset centuries old power equations in the country which was detrimental to the Pakhtoons. Other lesser tribes like Hazaras, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmen became prominent politically at the cost of Pakhtoon.
Land reforms introduced by Soviets resumed lot of land belonging to Pakhtoons and gave it to other tribes. This created a rift in the country which continues to this date. The brutal attacks by USA after 9/11 and revenge attacks at Mazar Sharif left a bitter taste in Pakhtoon psyche and fuel the ongoing conflict in the name of Taliban. Since 1988, a lot of Pakhtoon have been killed in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan and their ordeal seems to be non ending.
Current Military Operation
As the military action progresses in Waziristan, Orakzai, Khurram, Khyber and Bajour agencies, one ponders as to what should be the response of the extended Pakhtoon nation as a whole. Should they mourn the gradual end of their independence and submission to powerful state or accept this as inevitable and part of the evolution of the nation. British managed to create an orderly province of Baluchistan which contained a large Pakhtoon population. The formula used was that the rural areas (B areas) were left for the tribal jirgas to manage; in the urban areas (A areas) proper British laws and institutions were introduced. The respective tribal jirgas insured safety of roads and keeping at bay any foreign or local criminals from their area in return of annual subsidy for the tribe and certain number of well paying jobs in the local levies. This has ushered an era of unprecedented prosperity in this area. Same formula was applied in Chitral, Gilgit and Malakand agencies with similar results. The six FATA agencies on the other hand became a global heaven for the criminals and now considered source of all ills in the world. The Ideal Pakhtoon Destiny The five year rule of MMA has spurred ultra religious and conservative forces in NWFP. The fall out of collapse of Taliban rule in Afghanistan is still continuing in the form of actions by Pakistani Taliban. Armed forces have started a decisive action against taliban in all FATA agencies, while USA is going for a surge in Afghanistan. The end game seems to be nearing. Time has come when Pakhtoon must give up their tribal system and agree to allow FATA be absorbed in Pakistan. They should learn to be tolerant to other people’s religious believes and not insist on introduction of strict wahabi Sunni laws.
To solve the Pakhtoon issue for good they should demand inclusion of all Pakhtoon areas left in Afghanistan to be incorporated in Pakistan. Durand line may be redrawn on ethnic line to include all Pakhtoon area into one state. The current line drawn on scientific line divides the Pakhtonkhawa in half. This anomaly must be fixed with the help of international community to bring lasting peace in the region.