May issue 2009

By | Opinion | Speaker's Corner | Published 15 years ago

The tomb of the great Pashto poet Rahman Baba was violently desecrated by militants in Peshawar recently, to demonstrate against women paying homage at Sufi shrines. Such acts of violence raging in our land are not accidental or simply causational; they are a consequence of the deliberate militarisation of our society.

The most damning finger for the current state of affairs must be pointed at our own successive governments — not just the Zia and Musharraf dispensations, but each and every one of them — for turning the NWFP into a violence-ridden region. The Taliban government, after all, was created in the era of Benazir Bhutto. However, it is not only the Taliban that have inflicted mayhem in the region; they are merely the final gory manifestation of cultivating and sanctioning violence as a norm.

Since Partition, the militarisation of our society has taken place in several guises: territorial justice (Kashmir), stability and development (Ayub Khan), to defend the integrity of the nation (Yahya Khan), to make us a proud nuclear power (Bhutto), to uphold the values of an Islamic state and fight godless communism (Zia-ul-Haq), to continue Islamisation mindlessly (Nawaz Sharif), for strategic depth and to control Afghanistan (Benazir), and of course, as the trusted ally in the perpetual war on terror (Musharraf and now Zardari).

When violence becomes accepted as a norm, to be imposed by select guardians of governance, either within or outside the state, why then are we surprised and confounded by the actions of the extremists or the Taliban? Or the self-righteous drone attacks of the Americans? The reasoning behind the two acts is the same: an ideological framework is constructed to justify death, oppression and violence. Should one not stop and ask: Does, or should, any ideology, lofty ideal or moral imperative justify the killing of people in order to impose a particular brand of power? Is any cause, after all, more important than life itself?

There was a time when the people of the NWFP (the colonial name which, to Pakistan’s shame, it has kept unchanged) were among the avant-garde who led the non-violent movement for independence against colonialism. People like Abdul Ghaffar Khan, fondly known as Bacha Khan, took their inspiration from the humanism of towering figures like Rahman Baba to point out that the Pakhtuns were not inherently violent but that perceptions, categorisations, geographical and historical conditions combined had made them so. He pointed out that the Pakhtuns had internalised and made real the characteristics by which the British had labelled them: the savage, illiterate, hotheaded hordes that could not be civilised or tamed and must thereby be kept in check because of their geo-political strategic relevance in the Great Game.

The violent, yet honourable, somewhat dim-witted and childlike creature made famous in Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, became the epitome of the “Pathan.” And the infinitely sad thing in this story is that all of us in the subcontinent, including us Pakhtuns, not only accepted this stereotype, but also internalised it. We prefer to think of ourselves as a proudly vengeful and violent people rather than those that forgive with a largesse and tolerance. Nanawati(forgiveness) is a prouder part of our heritage than dushmani (unending enmity) and badla (revenge) — the latter manifest themselves only when the former breaks down. But instead, we give truth to the colonial categorisation of the volatile, irrational and unthinking Pathan; we embody the stereotype that was meant to manipulate and control us and thus participate in our own hegemony.

In continuing to do so, we Pakhtuns are now labelled as terrorists and as the Taliban by the American Orientalist categorisation. This imperial will is what created the violent Talib and the violent Pakhtun — why then do we think that in taking pride in being called the Taliban, we oppose the will of imperialism? Instead, in doing so, we have turned ourselves exactly into the pawns they need to perpetuate their endless war on terror and we lose the battle to liberate ourselves from this new colonisation of our psyche. We have become their minions and carry out actions exactly as they expect and want. We provide the fodder and targets for drones to happily obliterate. We remain a colonised and shackled people. And to our endless shame, we have helped forge the shackles and put them on with our own hands.

Successive Pakistani governments have colluded with this colonial hegemony justifying the abuse of that region in the name of national interest, but in essence, it has looked upon with suspicion the land of the Pakhtuns since its inception. Especially virulent was the attack against the non-violent movement and philosophy of the Khudai Khidmatgars. After they sacrificed their lives as one of the most successful forces that liberated India from colonial rule, they were proclaimed traitors instead of heroes, and tried for acts of sedition and treason against the state. Bacha Khan faced worse accusations with longer and harsher sentences in Pakistani prisons than in British ones. His dream of a transformed Pakhtun society through education was brutally vandalised by the brash new nation-state, and the vacuum left since the destruction of his azad schools gapes ominously, which the militant madrassas now try to fill.

The philosophy of non-violence will always be most bitterly and violently opposed by those in favour of the status quo, because it upsets the paradigm of power for the sake of power over others. We, too, have come to rationalise the need for death and the necessity for violence on a daily basis — if only with our silent assent — and justify the killing of others. Violence is sanctified as a pragmatic necessity; if for no other reason but as a morally valid form of justice or preemptive protection. If we do not pull back from embracing violence as a way of life — it threatens all of humanity — an orgy of unadulterated violence awaits us all.

Yet we cannot also reuse the tactics of the Khudai Khidmatgars, who bravely stood by and let the British armies kill them till the enemy’s moral conscience was aroused. Drones do not have a conscience — they do not look their opponent in the eye. The resounding question then still remains to be answered: How does one oppose the inhumanity of today’s militarisation with a non-violent force? I believe it begins with, and may in essence be as simple as a revolution in thinking, as Bacha Khan and Gandhi were trying to teach us and what Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela themselves demonstrated.

The establishment’s status quo is upheld by our unthinking acceptance and obedience to its implicit philosophical position, at the heart of which lies the definition of the human as being inherently violent, justifying thereby the pragmatic necessity of brute force and the validation of a sovereign authority. This thinking is the foundation upon which imperialism has built its empires and dictators leech the blood of their own people in order to sustain themselves. We need to change these very foundations which are lodged in our consciousness — we need to become the change we want to see. And only through this private individual realm will the change seep into the public collective body.

As a Pakhtun woman, I call upon the characteristics of my heritage of which I am proud: my passion for independence and autonomy in order to liberate myself from all who would declare themselves as my sovereigns, whether it be the nation-state or an individual. For the peace we all long for and in homage to that spirit, I call upon Rahman Baba’s words:

Sow flowers so that your surroundings become a garden
Don’t sow thorns; for they will prick your feet
Don’t shoot arrows at others,
Know that the same arrow will come back to hit you.
Don’t dig a well in another’s path,
In case you come to the well’s edge
You look at everyone with hungry eyes
But you will be the first to become mere dirt.
Humans are all one body,
Whoever torture another, wounds himself. (D 304)

Speaker’s Corner is a forum for reader’s views. Readers are invited to send in contributions on any subject under the sun. Contributions should be between 600-1,000 words and may be edited for space and clarity. The views expressed in these columns do not necessarily reflect Newsline’s editorial policy.