Afghan Pashtuns see themselves as victims
WASHINGTON: The Pashtuns of Afghanistan are unsure of their security and view themselves as “victims” rather than victors, according to a report on Afghanistan issued by the US Institute of Peace (USIP).
In the north and northwest of the country, said the report, there have been reprisals and settling of scores as the Hazaras, Uzbeks and Tajiks battle among themselves to control the territories that the Taliban once dominated. The report, based on the contributions of a number of well-known area experts, quoted one of them to assert that the Pashtuns are the “losers in this struggle.” Internally displaced Pashtuns often leave the areas where they have been living with tales of persecution. The assassination of vice president Haji Qadir, a Pashtun, left some in the community wondering if their leaders were being targeted to deprive them of a political role in Kabul.
Pashtuns who were interviewed in Afghanistan and Pakistan as part of research that went into the report were at pains to stress that they did not wish to give the impression that they were against the Bonn process that brought in the Karzai government. They also were willing to overlook ethnic tensions for the sake of a united Afghanistan.
Based on opinion surveys, the researchers concluded that at this stage, Pashtun grievances have not reached a point that threatens the political process currently underway. However, two developments outside Afghanistan could have an impact on the situation. The victory of religious parties in Pakistan and Iraq. Kabul is worried about effect of pro-Taliban elements in Pakistan on Afghanistan’s internal stability, including that of the Karzai government. There is some evidence that cross-border manipulation by Pakistan east of Kandhar is generating unrest among Pashtuns, possibly increasing ill will with Ismail Khan’s forces. Pashtun traders feel that they have lost out significantly in the post-September 11, post-Taliban period. The report says the Taliban supported Pakistani as much as Pashtun trading interests. “Still the response of the trading community to the political change has been pragmatic, not wanting to destabilise the political process because they believe that destabilisation will cost them even more. At the same time, they have made it clear that if they are discriminated against, they will look to alternative local support.”
According to the report, beyond their economic interests, Pakistani Pashtuns believe that fellow Pashtuns across the border have suffered because of US military action, with a strong accompanying sentiment that they must help Pashtuns in Afghanistan. Ironically, the report points out, Pashtuns across the Durand Line in Afghanistan are extremely suspicious of “anything that comes from across the border” as they remember Pakistan’s role in the creation of the Taliban and what it did to their community and view Pakistani intervention as undesirable.