Pathanophobia On The Rise

Pathanophobia On The Rise
The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word ‘phobia’ as “an extreme fear or dislike of a particular thing or situation, especially one that is not reasonable.”

This unreasonable and irrational fear could be from animals, places, and human beings. Similarly, it could also be from a particular group of ideas, i.e. Islamophobia, “the hatred, fear, and prejudice against Islam and Muslims.” Zafar Iqbal states in his book, “Islamophobia, History, Context and Deconstruction” that the term Islamophobia was used for the first time in a doctoral dissertation in France in 1910 by Alain Quellien. So, it is after this dissertation that the word, Islamophobia came into common use. The irrational fear could also be from a particular ethnic group, i.e. Pathanophobia, “the hatred, fear, and prejudice against Pashto and the Pathans.”

In the “Holy War” against USSR, the military dictator General Zia fashioned militias of the tribal Pathans, Afghans and the foreign Jihadists to fight against the invading Soviets. In his patronage, Pakistan’s ISI equipped and trained the mujahideen against the Soviet Union. Rahman Ullah states in his book, “Militias as a Counterinsurgency Strategy in Pakistan” that between 1983 to 1987 alone, the ISI trained some 80,000 guerillas. Unfortunately, the guerillas comprised the tribal Pathans and Afghans alongside the members of Al-Qaida. After the defeat of the USSR, a civil war broke out. The civil war ended with the Taliban capturing Kabul with the support of Pakistan. The Taliban used armed force to bring about a fragile peace by eliminating prominent members of various militias. Again, unfortunately, almost all the members of the Taliban were Pathans. The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 till the invasion of the US in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks. Some of them migrated to FATA, what is now the Merged Areas.

These incidents worked as catalysts in creating another group of indigenous Taliban, the TTP, under the leadership of a tribal Pathan, Baitullah Mehsud. Since then, terrorism has either consciously or unconsciously been associated with all Pathans.

Then, private militias were organized with the help of tribal chieftains in order to fight with the Taliban militants. Through this bottom-up approach, almost every young tribal man took up arms. Later, some of the militias also went astray and started to use the weapons provided against the providers. Hence, gun culture proliferated widely among Pathans.

When I was enrolled in APS Attock in 2012, my Punjabi classmates didn’t allow me to play with them because they were told by their society the “single story” of the Pathans which was full of hatred, horror and terror. Moreover, in the class of almost forty students, the five to six Pathans used to sit together because of the discrimination we had faced.

This hatred, prejudice and discrimination against Pathans is on the rise, following the irresponsible speeches made by leaders and members of major political parties. The first among the list is Imran Khan. He polluted the land of Pathans by saying that two persons from South Waziristan have been given money and weapons to kill him. His statement unconsciously leads in building a narrative of Pathan terrorism. Following this incident, the previous week at Zaman Park, Lahore, a Punjabi woman could be seen uttering hateful words against Pathans. She says as an answer to a question about the supporters of IK, “they were looking like Pathans; they were terrorists.” These incidents could also be the result of that “single story”.

It has not stopped here. Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of the ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, says in one of her interviews with anchor person Mansoor Ali Khan that Imran Khan was protected from police custody by the terrorists which were called from the KPK.

This monolithic narrative of hatred and terror of the Pathans is circulating throughout the most populated province of Pakistan. The young ones in the province are born with this story in their immature minds. They grow up with this narrative, and it leads them to look upon all the Pathans with terror and hatred in their eyes. Though most of the members and the leadership of TTP and other militant groups are almost Pathans, yet it would be profoundly biased to treat all Pathans based on that.

Being Pakistanis, we should have a strong aversion to archetyping Pathans this way. We need to abandon stereotyping Pathans and should work to dismantle Pathanophobia in its initial stages.