An article in a Lahore Urdu monthly, Naya Zamana, of May 2014 by a friendly writer, Ubaidullah Ubaid — using a naming technique of the Taliban when they threaten someone with assassination — has upbraided me for defaming the Pakhtun by calling them violent.
I had quoted Amartya Sen from his book Identity and Violence: the Illusion of Destiny (2006) to stereoty-pe the violent among the people of Pakistan. My ancestors hailed from Kaniguram in South Waziristan, the heartland of the tribal Pakhtun. I don’t know if my forefathers really were Pakhtun or became like them by living among them; but they certainly behaved like them. In Jalundhar, then in Lahore, my elders often complained of the “lack of honour” (baighairati) of the Punjabi man.
In civil service, I believed the Punjabi to be without real identity. He was able to mould into other identities, as if he had several. He was seen as a fellow-traveller with powerful Pakhtun coteries. In college, the Punjabi was not a good brawler. He shrank from violence; as a Pakhtun, I didn’t. I was proud; I found the Punjabi lacking in pride and guts. My friends were mostly Pakhtuns. I sensed charisma in them that I didn’t find in Punjabis.
I proudly proclaimed the Pakhtun were great warriors in history, never defeated, and greatly admired by their enemies for gallantry. Sadly, in the past quarter century, I have seen the proud Pakhtun as a crushed people, their women and children crawling after food in the refugee camps of Pakistan. They were repeatedly made to leave their homes to allow the brave Taliban to defeat the armies of many states. They die of disease, are blown up by IEDs, still looking beautiful. The shameless Punjabi flourishes; the proud Pakhtun is pulverised by violence.
Sen never stereotyped, but he did speak of “single identity” being productive of violence. He thought “multiple identities” within individuals cooled their innate violence. However, stereotyping was done first by Ibn Khaldun, who saw violence in asabiya (group feeling), which is stronger in tribes and weaker in settled populations, but very intense in food-scarce mountains and deserts.
In Muqaddimah, his theorising swings between the asabiya of badawa (nomads) and asabiya-less hazara (city-dwellers). Asabiya is the feeling that binds the family, binds the tribe and, beyond the tribe, binds the state. It also leads to violence towards those seen as “different”. In states, it leads to war with neighbours. Ibn Khaldun thought the Arab nomads called Bedouin had the worst asabiya or hyper-asabiya, as Akbar Ahmed would later write. To survive against asabiya, the freedom to be different must be legally protected.
Violence has been seen in certain “single identity” groups. In Moscow, I saw Russians secretly admire their forefathers, the Cossacks, for being “brave” and “warlike”. Like the British, who admired Pakhtuns, the Russians admired Chechen Muslims who, like Pakhtuns, are a crushed people today.
The Baloch man is different because his single-identity violence is curbed by his submission to the sardar. Pakhtuns accept no sardar. Sindhi has a syncretic or multiple identity because of the cult of the Sufi mystic who prefers wonderment (hairat) to certitude (yaqeen) and passes no judgement and therefore is no warrior.
The Punjabi in history had become “liminal” with Hindus and Sikhs and was tamed by invading hordes. After 1947, he was pushed back into “single identity” by his custodianship of the Pakistan Movement. The state of Pakistan, run by Punjabis with a Punjabi army, is to blame for perpetuating violence among Pakhtuns by using them as cannon-fodder in its foolhardy proxy wars. Conversely, the “warrior” Sikh was mellowed by the Granth Sahib, which is based on extremely syncretic anti-orthodox bhakti. The Bhindranwale episode was a throwback to Mughal times when Sikhs and Pakhtuns fought the same enemy.
The Arabs don’t like Ibn Khaldun, who was a Berber, for calling them violent. Allama Iqbal thought there was glory in the warrior carrying Shamsheer-o-Sanan (sword and javelin) and destroying the soft city-dwelling people who must perish because of civilisation (Taoos-o-Rubab). Today, the “decadent” West has invented drones on the basis of its “creativity”, while the “invincible” but non-creative Pakhtun warrior is helpless on the ground.
Hatred is an individual trait and may be justified. Intolerance is collective hatred and is not justified because it targets victims who have given no cause for it. Culture serves to cause multiple identities to inhabit a single individual. When this happens, it becomes possible for individuals of different identities to mingle in peace.
Religion is opposed to culture because of religion’s tendency to keep purifying itself and excluding elements and communities that cross the boundaries of identity. Islamisation in Pakistan is actually a process of retribalisation; hence, the Punjabi Taliban. Since the Taliban are Pakhtun, an imitative assumption of “single identity” is implied.
Jinnah was for multiple identities within a single Pakistani man. You could be a Muslim, Christian or Hindu, but you were allowed to wear your original identities under the larger identity of Pakistani; and the state had nothing to do with this matter. Sen writes: “The descriptive weakness of choiceless singularity has the effect of momentously impoverishing the power and reach of our social and political reasoning.”
The violence of the Pakhtun was eulogised by the British Raj, most of whose officers were “tribal”, from Scotland and Ireland. But one great leader whom the Pakhtuns ultimately rejected, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, tried to “humanise” their identity. Tragically, it was a Pakhtun gang that dug up his grave in Jalalabad, and not Punjabis who hated him for championing Pakhtunistan.
The Pakhtun men of god, poets and mystics have inspired many generations but most of them were warriors too. Sana Haroon in her book Frontier of Faith: Islam in the Indo-Afghan Borderland (2007) writes that Baitullah Mehsud of Wana convened a big conference of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in Aurakzai Agency near the tomb of warrior saint Haji Turangzai to proclaim that his emirate had come to stay.
Mystic Pir Roshan Bayazid Ansari (1525-1560) united the Pakhtuns against the Mughals and remained true to the reputation of warrior mystics. The equally “warlike” Mujaddadis rejected Pir Roshan’s spiritual innovations, killed him and ended his Roshnai movement. (Former cricket captain Majid Khan’s son, cricketer Bazid Khan, is named after the Pir-e-Roshan.)
Just as I was told by my elders to mock the cowardice of the Punjabi man, the Taliban and their followers in Swat hated the “softness” of the people of Swat. Commerce had given them civilisation and culture, as reflected in the speech by Malala Yousafzai at the UN. She inspired hope around the world, coming from a melting pot of violence unleashed by a Pakhtun warlord, Mullah Fazlullah. Like the desecration of the grave of Bacha Khan, she was nearly killed by a fellow Pakhtun.
From a Pakhtun I have become a multiple-identity “shameless” Punjabi, with a strong bhakti colouration of non-violent Baba Farid, Bulleh Shah and Shah Husain, linking me to Eknath of Maharashtra, among others. I was “shameless” when I touched the foot of a Punjabi “non-state actor” chief of “sacred warriors” and pledged that I would never write critically of him. Being a “soft” Punjabi, he forgave me; Mangal Bagh of Khyber wouldn’t have.
The writer is a consulting editor with ‘Newsweek Pakistan’
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