Violence Against Development Programmes In Pashtun Society: Mullah, Religious Blik And Culture

"Aligning initiatives with Pashtun culture is crucial, especially involving clerics to address local religious concerns"

Violence Against Development Programmes In Pashtun Society: Mullah, Religious Blik And Culture

The intricate tapestry of Pashtun society's perceptions towards contemporary development programs and their workers is woven by a complex interplay of religious blik (beliefs), cultural sentiments, historical echoes, and the power of misinterpretation. This intricate web shapes the lens through which the Pashtun community views development initiatives, often leading to scepticism, suspicion, and even violence against these projects. At the heart of this issue lies the crucial realisation that the success of any development program hinges on society's clear understanding and acceptance of its goals.

In Pashtun society, religious beliefs find their roots predominantly in the teachings of local clerics, "Mullahs." These clerics, products of traditional madrassas, emphasise outdated religious forms while sidelining modern subjects like science and mathematics. This disconnect from the contemporary world creates a stark divide between education and religious teachings. Consequently, this disconnect fosters a breeding ground for misinterpretations of modern education, technology, and science. The revered status of these clerics in society renders them influential conduits for the spread of misconceptions, perpetuating an environment where falsehoods are propagated unchecked. This polarization often paints questioners as enemies and unwavering followers as devout, creating an environment in which development proponents are met with unjust criticism due to skewed interpretations of Islamic teachings.

The societal landscape of Pakistan is marked by a contrast between modern and traditional approaches, leading to an inherent imbalance. On one hand, there are those embracing modern scientific perspectives, while on the other, traditional beliefs are upheld by clerics and less-educated individuals. Moderation, however, is found among moderately educated scholars like Javed Ghamdi. The traditional worldview is rooted in outdated thinking, predominantly upheld by religious clerics and the less-educated populace. This perspective colours every aspect of life with religio-cultural significance, often viewing new developments with scepticism and as potential threats to religion and culture. Thus, the implications of the traditional worldview are two-fold. Firstly, local clerics often lack modern education and scientific knowledge. Secondly, they approach new inventions and events with apprehension, fearing challenges to their authority and the status quo. There is a contention for authority within Pakistan between traditional clerics and modernised scholars, as various institutions vie for relevance. The religious elites, in particular, fear political, scientific, and medical institutions that offer alternative explanations. This dynamic represents a competition for authority, often tinged with anti-secularism.

Thus, the reluctance of the Pashtun community to embrace scientific knowledge and development projects is deeply rooted in limited access to modern education and reliance on narrow worldviews propagated by local clerics. Emotional bonds with these clerics contribute to the rapid dissemination of skewed interpretations. Within this society, these clerics play a significant role in perpetuating misconceptions about development projects, breeding anti-Western sentiments, fostering conspiracy theories, and casting doubt on the morality of aid programs and their workers. These clerics portray these initiatives as threats to Pashtun sociocultural values, effectively framing them as incompatible with the community's way of life.

Further complicating the narrative is the influence of communal sentiments, often shaped by local clerics who mobilise support through religious means. Religion, in this context, carries a mantle of authority drawn from divine laws, guiding the spiritual trajectory of society. However, religion can sometimes be perceived as obstructing modernisation, with development projects sometimes seen as potential catalysts for cultural erosion. Navigating this delicate terrain requires a deep understanding of local nuances and a cooperative engagement with religious leaders. The narratives often take shape under the influence of religious justifications, with clerics wielding considerable power in shaping societal perspectives.

Additionally, in Pakistan, the power of religious scholars, particularly the Mullahs, stretches beyond the religious realm, impacting state affairs within a secular legal framework. Similarly, in Pashtun society, these clerics wield significant influence, shaping common people's perceptions as well as those of NGO workers. The latter often find themselves subject to the teachings of these religious leaders during weekly sermons, where they are informed of perceived Western threats to Muslims. These sermons solidify the scepticism that shadows development projects in Pashtun regions, despite NGOs often stepping in to bridge gaps in the state's weak systems to address pressing issues like poverty and health.

Moreover, the diversity of community perceptions is shaped by historical legacies, contextual factors, and the worldviews propagated by clerics. The influence of these clerics contributes to instances of violence against development projects and workers, evident in attacks on polio vaccination campaigns and other initiatives. Historical legacies further shape Pashtun resistance to development programs, often rooted in a history of mistrust, geopolitical intricacies, and a legacy of colonialism.

Nonetheless, the complexity of Pashtun society's resistance to development programs also stems from its historical mistrust and present-day socio-political realities. A legacy of colonialism and the state's historical avoidance of meaningful engagement with tribal areas foster an atmosphere of scepticism towards development initiatives. Basic infrastructure projects are often viewed as unwelcome state intrusions rather than beneficial endeavours. The epistemic worldview of the Pashtun community, intricately intertwined with religious, cultural, and social perceptions, forms the foundation of their stance on development projects. The NGO sector in Pakistan's Pashtun regions faces numerous challenges, including misconceptions, hostility, derogatory behaviour and violence. The historical resistance to foreign intervention sets the stage for an ongoing anti-foreign sentiment that extends to modern development efforts, often seen as remnants of Western imperialism. Religious leaders play a significant role in shaping these views, further complicating the landscape for development initiatives.

Mullahs, backed by examples, frequently highlight the prevalence of conspiracy as a religious blik in Pashtun society's historical context. They assert that across societies, especially in Pashtun culture, common people tend to embrace and propagate rumours, baseless information, and news lacking evidence, considering these as religious bliks. Following these bliks, in the evolution of technological advancements, the Pashtun society's response often reflects a pattern of scepticism and mistrust. When airplanes were invented, many believed that flying in them was sinful and un-Islamic due to their passage over sacred sites like mosques and tombs. The moon landing was met with disbelief, with some considering it an act of disbelief (kafir). Similarly, the introduction of tractors prompted rumours of land destruction and wheat's inedibility to animals when threshed by tractors. Likewise, the spread of electricity was seen as a government ploy to control homes and independence. Recently, Polio vaccination, intended to protect health, was misconstrued as harmful, possibly rendering Pashtuns infertile to curb their population. In Waziristan, people believe that polio vaccination has led to a rise in boys' interest in cricket and a fervour for education among girls. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, distrust in hospitals emerged, fuelled by a belief that doctors injected lethal poison. The recent Corona vaccine is met with suspicions of implanted microchips and potential mass mortality within two years, a reflection of prevailing mistrust in advanced countries' intentions. These instances illustrate a recurrent theme in Pashtun society where new advancements are met with scepticism, often influenced by misperceptions and conspiracy theories.

Besides, the ongoing scepticism towards development projects in Pashtun society is deeply entrenched in concerns about Western culture, erosion of local values, and fears of religious conflict. However, even within sceptical communities, there is an appreciation for infrastructure development, disaster relief, and essential services, as long as these efforts align with religious values and cultural identity. It is imperative to recognise that the bridge between development initiatives and community acceptance rests on a nuanced understanding of the interplay between religion, culture, and historical legacies.

In the quest for effective solutions, policymakers, development organizations, and stakeholders must recognise that Pashtun society's perceptions are a complex mosaic woven from a multitude of threads. An informed approach to development should acknowledge the influence of local clerics, the power of religious interpretations, and the delicate balance between modernization and cultural preservation. As the world seeks to bridge divides and uplift societies, understanding the nuances of Pashtun society's acceptance and perception towards development is not just beneficial but essential for sustainable progress. To address misconceptions leading to violence in the Pashtun community against development projects, a comprehensive strategy is advised. Policymakers, government bodies, development sectors, donors, and the United Nations should collaborate to implement policies that educate about project significance. To counter these misperceptions, a multi-pronged approach is proposed. Firstly, understand the root causes behind these misperceptions, guiding effective interventions. Secondly, implement training to sensitise the community, bridging gaps between misconceptions and reality. 

Aligning initiatives with Pashtun culture is crucial, especially involving clerics to address local religious concerns. Donor agencies should offer advocacy and training, bridging religious and secular perspectives. Tailored strategies within Pashtun society should be inclusive. Adequate religious interpretation and relational reasoning should be employed, building trust. The significance of context is recognised, emphasizing localised approaches based on unique situations.