The missing voice of Manzoor Pashteen in Afghanistan

Once in her public speech, Assata Shakur, a member of Black Liberation Army said: “Where there is oppression there is resistance.” Shakur’s words, these days reflect the state of millions of Pashtuns who have been facing violence and oppression in Pakistan. The ethnic Pashtun, who make one of the largest identity groups in Pakistan, have paid a huge human price for the ongoing war and violence in the region. Social grievance coupled with poverty are high among the community.

The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), a Pashtun rights movement in Pakistan, raised out violence and war to advocate for better and peaceful lives of the Pashtuns. The Pakistani state, however, have oppressed PTM activists every time they have taken to the streets to rise their long-silenced voices. The security apparatus of Pakistan have killed dozens of them, justifying their move as a threat against Pakistan’s national security.

In most recent case of oppression, the Pakistani police arrested Mazoor Pashteen, the 27-year-old PTM activist, who is lambasting at the Pakistani army establishment for its oppressing policy against his neglected community. Inspired by Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan’s nonviolent ideology, Mr. Pashteen is trying to fight back oppression by a nonviolent political act: peaceful public rally.

One cannot be a freedom fighter and freedom oppressor at a time.

Mr. Pashteen’s arrest in the hand of powerful Pakistani police was widely condemned by the Afghan leaders including President Ashraf Ghani, a Pashtun who is born in Afghanistan. Mr. Ghani, who is leading an ethnically diversified Afghanistan with an estimated 36 million population, said in a tweet that he was troubled by the arrest of Manzoor Pashteen and called on the Pakistani state to immediately release him.

In the aftermath of the arrest, almost majority of Pashtun civil activists in Afghanistan, expressed deep sympathy for Mr. Pashteen, and condemned the act of Pakistani police as violent and anti-Pashtun— which to be sure is an oppressive move.

But paradox lies here.

In a clear irony, Pashtun elites in Afghanistan, including Pashtun tribal leaders, have a double-standard approach toward rights activism. In Pakistan, they are standing on side of the oppressed, but in Afghanistan, they are robust devotees of the Afghan government which is trying to centralize power.

This double standard approach toward civil rights activism lies in power relationship. In Afghanistan, the Pashtun elites feel a deep sense of entitlement to power and state, assuming state power as their tribal inheritance but in the case of Pashtuns in Pakistan, they express solidarity with PTM.

In the past, let’s say 18 years, at least three major rights movements, mobilized by ethnic Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzbeks in the capital Kabul, demanding reforms in state policy, were oppressed by the state. These movements were not only welcomed by the Afghan government policy makers but were labeled as handpicked moves in the hand of ethnic leaders and foreign embassies.

Violence is initiated by those who exploit and oppress, and it is denounced and hated by those who are oppressed. We the human see the world from the point we stand in. Our social cognition is shaped in social milieu. The paradox, which lies in approaches of the Pashtuns on the two sides of Durand Line, is partly explained by realities of Pashtun lives in the two separate states of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

On a larger scale, the democratic dream of Manzoor Pashteen is that all of citizens in Pakistan are equals as so was the democratic dream of Assata Shakur. Acknowledging the existence of oppression against the poverty-stricken and war-torn Pashtun population in Pakistan requires nothing but an unprejudiced pair of eyes.

Sympathetic statements by Pashtun elites of Afghanistan on support of PTM will not be appreciated unless they do not cultivate a truly mature approach toward rights activism, civil rights and human rights. One cannot be a freedom fighter and a freedom oppressor at a time. We can not be freedom fighters and freedom haters simultaneously.

Like the fact of life and death, power is a dirty fact in social life. The willingness of Afghan Pashtun elites to express support for PTM in Pakistan and their reluctance to acknowledge human claim of non-Pashtun ethnic groups for equal rights in Afghanistan rest in a dirty politics of power.

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