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Pakistan’s Western Frontiers Restive: The Pakhtun Awakening
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Dr Subhash Kapila | Date:21 Apr , 2018 0 Comments
Dr Subhash Kapila
is a graduate of Royal British Army Staff College Camberley and combines a rich & varied professional experience in Indian Army (Brigadier), Cabinet Secretariat and diplomatic/official assignments in USA, UK, Japan, South Korea, and Bhutan.

Pakistan’s Western Frontiers comprising Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunwa Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), have been restive for decades but recent Pakhtuns widespread protests in Islamabad and in rest of Pakistan has been described by Pakistani columnists as “The Awakening” and the “Pakhtuns Spring”.

That this new phenomenon emerging on Pakistan’s domestic politics milieu is worrisome can be judged from a virtual blackout imposed on Pakistani media, obviously on orders of the Establishment. Easily dismissed as a limited occurrence but surely, it cannot be wished away when it is kept in mind that this discontent is seething for decades.

This when added to the ongoing insurgency in Balochistan—Pakistan’s largest Province abutting both Afghanistan and Iran, and both emerging in2018 from Pakistan Army’s protection of China’s flagship project the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Gwadur Port the terminal of the CPEC, is a dangerous challenge for the Pakistan Army.

Pakistan’s Western Frontiers emerging restive and turbulent can prove a security concern for the United States in relation to Afghanistan and for India with Pakistan ranting that India is behind all these events.

Neither Afghanistan nor Iran which are contiguous to Pakistan’s Western Borderlands can be held responsible for the restiveness in these Regions. The restiveness and turbulence here stands generated by the acts of omission and commission of the Pakistan Army which traditionally has managed these Regions with a heavy hand like the British colonial role oblivious to the fact that both the NWFP and Balochistan belatedly and under military pressure opted for joining Pakistan. They therefore deserved more care and nurturing of their urges for economic and social development.

Perceptionaly, the population of Pakistan’s Western Frontiers perceive the Pakistan Army as a “Collusive Force” with external powers. First, it was with the United States in relation to Afghanistan Now it is with China in promoting China’s flagship China Pakistan Economic Corridor, without bothering about economic and social development of the Pakhtun and Baloch people.

The above stands conceded by Pakistani columnists who have reflected in their Columns that these spontaneous protests demonstrations by the younger generation of Pakhtuns is a reflection of their agony and frustrations arising from years of the erstwhile North West Frontier Province and FATA being inflicted by double violence of the Islamic Jihadi groups affiliated to Pakistan Army and Pakistan Army’s own military operations in these areas resulting in thousands of Internally Displaced Persons, Drone-killings and permitting these Western Frontier Regions as safe sanctuaries for Pakistan Army affiliated and sponsored Islamic Jihadi terrorists.

Resultantly the social fabric and honour of these century-old Honour Code wedded people has been torn to shreds. Moreso when Pakistan Army was permissive to Islamic Jihadi terrorist groups from other countries safely ensconced in these frontier sanctuaries.

The Pakhtuns Movement underway is spearheaded by Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) which in its Pakhtun version can be translated as Pakhtun Long March. . PTM is not an affiliate of any political party and in fact PTM is also against the established Pakhtun political parties sharing political power today in Pakistan.

Notably, Pakistani Columnist Zahid Hussein in his Column on 11 April2018 in the English Paper DAWN describes the Movement as “The Awakening”. Another Pakistani Columnist Khurram Hussein describes the emergence of the PTM grassroots movement as “The Pakhtun Spring”. The “Awakening” has certainly emerged but it remains to be seen as to how long the Pakistan Army tolerates the “Pakhtun Spring”

Whichever form this Pakhtun Movement acquires now, the inescapable fact is that after years of suffering atrocities the Young Pakhtuns have lost their patience. The Pakhtun Movement under way by the young generation presently peaceful and devoid of arms does carry the potential of turning into an armed militancy should Pakistan’s security establishment continue to prevail over the media not to give prominence in coverage of the PTM Movement.

Notwithstanding the above, what should be a worrisome feature of the PTM movement is that inherent in this Movement is the potential that it has in creating serious political and security complications for Pakistan as a whole.

Political alienation of the Pakhtun peoples especially in the young generation as presently underway when added to the ongoing insurgency in Balochistan and similar restiveness in Northern Area like Gilgit-Baltistan challenges the ‘very idea of Pakistan’. It is pregnant with all the symptoms of a pre-Bangladesh creation if no political solutions are found

Security challenges arise for Pakistan Army as restiveness on the borderlands of its Western Frontiers where Pakistan is in conflictual stances with Afghanistan and in edgy relations with Iran because of permitting these Western Frontiers as safe havens for assorted Islamic Jihadi groups, both indigenous and external, Pakistan will continue to suppress these areas by military force. Resultant dynamics have their own spiralling effects on Pakistan’s security.

Pakistan’s Western Frontiers provinces of Khyber Pakhtunwa, FATA and Balochistan seem destined and condemned for endless restiveness as the Pakistan Army will compulsively for its own corporate interests be forced to continue with its suppressive strategies just to protect the China Pakistan Economic Corridor which is an over-riding strategic imperative for China.

Concluding, it needs to stressed that no indicators are presently available even on the horizon that suggest that the Pakistan Army would desist from subjugating Pakistan’s national interests to those of its external patrons. The spin-off to that would be increased restiveness in Pakistan Western Frontiers.


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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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