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Pakistan has been prey to strong ethnic and sectarian divides since its inception. The politics of ethnic nationalism has been used to disguise the exploitative class structure and this paper explores the case of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in this regard. The politics of ethnicity has scarred national integration and solidarity. As politics has mainly remained the domain of the elite, the slogan of ethnicity has been raised time and again to perpetuate the existing political structure and class inequality. The case of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is no different. The Pashtuns are a historic race who takes pride in its bravery, hospitality and heroism. This strong cultural tradition and affiliation only to one’s own ethnicity and tribe should have faded over the years somewhat with the influence of modernity. However, this was not the case. This strong allegiance continued and the role of the tribal Sardars and the ruling class is crucial in this. It is always essential for the ruling class to maintain the status quo, since that is what perpetuates and strengthens their control. In order to achieve this goal they use the slogan of ethnicity to distract people from the real economic and social disparities that confront them. This is precisely what the nationalist leaders of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have done in the name of the Pashtun nationalist struggle.
                   According to Lenin on Marxist ideas about nationalism:
“Throughout the world, the period of the final victory of capitalism over feudalism has been linked up with national movements. For the complete victory of commodity production, the bourgeoisie must capture the home market, and there must be politically united territories whose population speak a single language … Therein is the economic foundation of national movements.” (Lenin).
                  Marxist point of view believes nationalism to be a capitalist construct created by the bourgeoisie in order to detract the masses from the real issue of class exploitation that they are facing. For Marx the proletariat are a community in their own who are not subject to national boundaries but it is imperative for them to recognize their class exploitation as a whole. In much of the third world “nationalism” was used to mobilize the masses against colonial rule. In the case of Pakistan as well, the ruling dominant party was the Muslim League which consisted mainly of the landed class. However the concept of a separate state for the Muslims without Hindu subjugation and with equal economic and social opportunity seemed very attractive for the masses that ended up supporting the Muslim League. However once the new state was formed the ruling elites entered the spheres of state and nation building and the idea of equal economic opportunity proved to be an elusive dream for the vast majority of Pakistanis. In essence the elite bourgeoisie not only directly affect the lives of the masses through means of the market forces and means of production which they control but also indirectly affect the way the masses perceive their own reality. This is identified by Marx as “false consciousness”. Through the disguise of ideology the ruling class in reality serves its own vested interest and manipulates the lower classes into believing that their progress lies in uniting under the flag of ethnic nationalism.

When we apply the above mentioned dynamics to the case of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it transpires that the same is true for this enigmatic Western Frontier. Wali Khan at one occasion made a historical statement that has been quoted by ANP supporters till today. According to him :

“I have been a Pakistani for the last 40 years, a Muslim for 1300 years and a Pashtun for 400 years.”(Khan).

The above statement is a prime example of rhetoric used for manipulating masses to believe that their escape lies only in uniting on ethnic grounds.

Although the overall social structure of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is much like the rest of Pakistan, certain differences exist. Tribal “jirgas” form an important part of state machinery in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Even at the eve of partition the Governor of NWFP consulted the tribal elders on the issue of “Pakhtunistan”. The elders of the village not only made decisions on behalf of the tribes but also had the agency to call the “Lashkar” (Stewart). The importance of “Jirgas” cannot be ignored as even today they stand unchallenged hence the lives of ordinary people depend to a great deal on the tribal elders and leaders. The British Raj played almost the same card in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as they did in Punjab and other areas of the subcontinent. The big “Khans” were given huge tracts of land on which they exercised considerable social and economic control. Below them were the small “Khans” who owned smaller landholdings and also were not the direct favorites of the British (Banerjee). Therefore a class conflict in the society of Khyber Pakhtunkwa was bound to evolve entailing control in the hands of the aristocracy and marginalizing the peasantry.

After the creation of Pakistan, over time the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (known as NWFP before 2010) began its own nationalist struggle on the grounds, that for the Pashtun race Pakistan was a secondary identity and that their ethnicity was the foremost source of identity and affiliation. Much like the Muslim masses of the subcontinent, the Pashtun masses of Pakistan have been made to believe that their salvation lies in attaining self determination and in the ideology of ethnicity that is promoted by these nationalist leaders. The Awami National Party (ANP) has been the single most important voice of the Pashtun nationalist struggle since independence. The party has come a long way from before partition under the auspices of Bacha Khan and the “Red Shirts”. The “Red Shirts” or the “Khudai Khidmatgar” party in essence was a non violent anti colonial movement that wanted to rid the subcontinent of the British Raj (Sufi). It is noteworthy that over the years the movement has evolved a great deal and is now one of the mainstream political parties in Pakistan; however the class element among the party leadership remains quite the same.

The Red Shirts were lead by Abdul Ghaffar Khan who wanted “Pakhtunistan” - a separate homeland for the Pashtun race. He came from a family of aristocratic landowners. At the time of independence in 1947, majority of the Red Shirts voted against Pakistan as according to their demands the referendum should have had an option of voting for “Pakhtunistan” (Ahmed). After independence, the Red Shirts elected Abdul Ghaffar Khan as their party President. Initially in 1958 with the imposition of martial law the party suffered a setback however later came together in 1964. Throughout much of the next decade the party adopted a socialist ideology and consisted of leaders from both wings of Pakistan demanding provincial autonomy (Rashiduzzaman). Later in 1986 the Awami National Party emerged along with other ethnic nationalist groups, and elected Asfandyar Wali Khan as the chairperson.

Abdul Ghaffar Khan belonged to the Muhammadzai clan which is a sub division of the Abdali or Durrani tribe. Ahmed Shah Abdali was the founder of the state of Afghanistan so in essence the Muhammadzai clan is one of the royal dynasties of Afghanistan. The close association of this family’s nationalist politics to the politics of Afghanistan can therefore be attributed to this link. According to the Marxist conception of the Asiatic mode of production, land was allotted to “jagirdars” for raising revenue for the state. After the introduction of the Permanent Settlement Act, the “jagirs” became private property. Furthermore, the Indians who had helped the British in the mutiny of 1857 were rewarded a great deal. The case of Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s father Bahram Khan falls under this category. He extended his support to the British in the mutiny and as a result got awarded acres of land which later became his personal “jagir”. Nevertheless Abdul Ghaffar Khan involved himself in an anti colonialist struggle and went ahead to mobilize the masses against the foreign rulers. Nevertheless, when viewed closely it is evident that throughout his movement the interests of the Muhammadzai clan elites were always accounted for (Ahmed). More so he never raised the slogan of land reforms or anti feudalism as land is the principle means of exercising political, social and economic control in the rural areas of Pakistan especially.
               The introduction of the ‘One Unit’ plan, in 1955, developed anguish among the smaller provinces of West Pakistan. This lead to the formation of the National Awami Party (NAP) which was a conglomeration of individuals from various political and ideological leanings all demanding provincial autonomy and representation. The overall tilt of the party was anti imperialist especially opposing the inclusion of Pakistan’s entry into defense agreements with the United States. Although the political ground realities had changed to an extent however Wali Khan, the son of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, decided to continue his father’s political heritage. Hence the idea of “Pashtoonistan” was not completely washed out of the picture. Cold war politics was at its peak at that time and he used the appeal of socialism to prove his anti imperialist stance and to gain support from the USSR. They portrayed themselves as a progressive bourgeoisie who was fighting for the rights of the oppressed proletariat against the imperialist and centralist state (Ahmed).
                   If viewed in contrast to the other nationalist struggles for provincial autonomy and representation of language, the Pashtun struggle cannot compare on equal footing. Unlike the Bengalis they were never able to forward the cause of their language as they did not form a majority in the overall population. Although the centralist tendencies of the state did impose Punjabi-Mohajir dominance, it is evident that the leadership of the Pashtoonistan struggle simply wanted to regain their past hegemony. The people of the province had voted in favor of Pakistan with a majority. The creation of the state of Pakistan was to harm the Pashtun elitist leadership the most. Many of the powers previously exercised by the tribal leaders and landlords now became the domain of the state.
                When considering the case of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa it is essential to realize that the Pashtun bourgeoisie consist of landed as well as industrial families. The three major capitalist families are the Hotis, the Khataks and the Khanzadas. These families were also part of the 22 famous families of Ayub Khan’s era which controlled the majority of Pakistan’s financial assets. Much of their financial capital is invested in sugar mills. These capitalists can easily associate with other capitalists in Pakistan on the basis of shared interest and material welfare. They are aware of the fact that economic links with the rest of the country are crucial to their survival as it provides the chunk of the market demand for their sugar. The Pashtun capitalists have also invested in other industries such as pharmaceutical and textiles (Ahmed).

The interests of the petty bourgeoisie and the urban middle class of Pashtuns have always been in line with integration with the rest of the country’s economy. The Pashtuns have dominated the transport business in the country especially in Punjab and Sindh. The migration of Pashtun workers to these urban centers has provided them with employment opportunities and has enabled them to send back remittances home to their province (Ahmed). So much so that this migration has caused ethnic violence in Karachi especially between the Pashtuns, Mohajirs and Sindhis who are all competing for employment and land. The Sindhis feel that their rights are being usurped by these foreign immigrants. On the other hand we do not find many examples of the Frontier hosting as many migrant workers from other parts of the country or in that case the vast majority of land and property in the Frontier is owned by the Pashtuns.

In order to establish the claim that much of the ethnic nationalism is lead by the elites and does not essentially hold mass support it is essential to consider the viewpoint of the peasantry as well. Statistics reveal that many evicted peasants from Khyber Pakhtunkwa ended up in urban centers of Punjab and Sindh specifically Karachi for alternative sources of employment (Ahmed). The peasants now have realized that the concept of “Pakhtunistan” would have entailed total control of the landlords over all means of production hence depriving the peasantry of any chances of education, employment etc. They have realized that tendencies towards national integration are in their best interest. This by no means implies that they are willing to give up their cultural and traditional values and practices; rather it implies that they accept that assimilation with the rest of the country and acceptance towards the social setup of other provinces will help them achieve economic progress and development.

The Green Revolution of the 1960s was a watershed event in increasing economic and class disparities in Pakistan targeting the peasants directly. Upon independence most of the peasants in Punjab and NWFP were involved in a sharecropping relationship. The Green Revolution in President Ayub Khan’s era introduced mechanized farming techniques and the use of HYV (High Yield Variety) seeds. The idea was to improve efficiency and to eradicate the parasitic relationship that existed between the landlord and the peasant in which the landlord was not responsible for the entire process of cultivation but was only interested in the final produce (Herring). However, this reform plan backfired, as  on most middle and few large land holdings  the use of tractors and tube wells rendered many of the peasants evicted from the land and unemployed (Alavi). The new techniques improved the yield and hence a large majority of peasants in the rural areas found themselves landless and searching for alternative employment. This lead to unrest followed by armed clashes as income disparities reached new heights.
             The Pashtun proletariat in Karachi has on several events proven himself to be part of a class struggle against the capitalists as opposed to being involved in an ethnic struggle. The economic and social deprivation that he suffers at the hands of the capitalist makes him realize that it is more imperative to confront this class exploitation. The notorious slaughter of S.I.T.E workers in Karachi was a landmark event for the labor struggle in Pakistan. The ruling political bourgeoisie though at once subdued the unrest; however the event had far reaching effects throughout the country. The Pashtun peasants in Peshawar lead a protest and rally in order to express their solidarity with the innocent workers who had been killed. During the same year a group of peasants were involved in a fierce struggle with the landlords in Malakand when 14 other peasants from Mardan were arrested on the grounds of extending their support to the peasants of Malakand (Ahmed). This made them a part of a greater class struggle beyond the narrow bounds of ethnicity or province. 
                 The urban and rural middle class of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also do not share grievances on ethnic grounds as have been witnessed in the cases of Bengali or Sindhi nationalist movements. In Pakistan, the civil service and military are the major employers for the middle class. According to the government’s statistics, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa accounts for 13.40% of Pakistan’s population whereas they account for 22-25% of the military according to unofficial estimates (Rizvi, 199). This represents a more than proportionate representation of the Pashtuns in the army. A similar observation can be made about the civil service. Moreover employment in the military provides a valuable indication on the socio-economic reality of the Pashtun middle class. This is because defense expenditure forms the greatest chunk of Pakistan’s annual budget. Moreover the military as an institution is well grounded in Pakistan and hence provides people with fair chances of upward social mobility unlike most other institutions which have been riddled with corruption and have no marks of meritocracy left. Therefore the Pashtun middle class has no grievance against the military in terms of not getting an equal chance rather many other communities accuse the Punjabis and Pakhtuns of dominating the military and hence other organs of state machinery as well.
            The last elections of 2008 once again saw the Awami National Party coming to power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They were welcomed once again as a breath of fresh air after the suppressive regime of MMA. Overall the country’s political situation took a turn as a democratically elected government came to the fore after a nine year long military dictatorship. One of the landmark measures that ANP was successful in taking was the change in name of the province to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Attaining a separate identity for the Pakhtuns and their province had long been on their agenda and this was finally achieved through the eighteenth amendment. However when examining their role within the past four years it appears that politically and economically their performance has been quite dismal. The politics of elitism was once again witnessed when Asfandyar Wali, named his nephew Ameer Haider Khan Hoti as the Chief Minister. Such an act in the presence of other senior and competent candidates such as Bashir Bilour was a golden example of the dynastic politics which is characteristic of the politics of not only ANP but also of most other mainstream parties of Pakistan. 
                 The Chief Minister in 2009 explained that a massive reform in health, education and industry was one of the foremost goals of the ANP on attaining power. According to the United Nations assessment report the flash floods that hit Swabi District in 2009 created massive problems of food supplies and sanitation (UNDP). However the government was unable to bring the situation under control without the help of international agencies such as the United Nations. The catastrophic floods of 2010 were a classic example of failure on the part of the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa especially. The military had to step in with its resources in order to rescue people from the disaster (UNDP). The government’s steps have been insufficient and the plight of thousands of poor and helpless people continues. Furthermore to aggravate the situation, the international donor community has expressed serious skepticism on the efficient use of funds. The state apparatus is prey to corruption and the funds are not being used properly which is a big question mark for the government of ANP.
              On coming to power another major claim made by the ANP was to curb radicalism and hold dialogues with the militants in order to achieve peace in the region. However the police was often found inefficient and helpless and the vacuum left by them was filled by the Taliban. Incidents of Taliban taking over the sphere of law enforcement in the province indicate the failure of the government in its promise of providing law and order and security to the public. The Chief Minister of the province also claimed to build underpasses, major hospitals, Burn and Trauma center of Peshawar and provision of clean drinking water however ground realities are quite murky ( ANP).  
              On its agenda of eradicating illiteracy and lack of awareness, the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa faced another setback recently. In August 2011, the anti polio drive carried out in the province failed to produce the desired results as a vast majority of parents refused to get their children vaccinated. This percentage was mainly to be found in areas with lower literacy rates where parents were misconstrued into believing that vaccinations might render their children infertile or impotent. The United Nations has expressed concern over this alarming trend as it is arising out of many of the relatively peaceful areas in the province (Dawn News). This establishes the fact that the government despite carrying out the drive has failed to take necessary measures in order for the drive to be successful. The masses with low rates of literacy need to be made aware of issues concerning their own health and betterment but the government’s role is nowhere to be found in this regard.

A close examination of the Awami National Pary’s rule shows that they ended up preferring the politics of expediency over their claimed politics of nationalist struggle. An example of elitist politics in the ANP was when Wali Khan awarded a ticket to Ghulam Farooque for a seat in the National Assembly. Ghulam Farooque was one of the architects of the industrialization of the era of the 1960s which resulted in increasing disparities and depriving the Frontier of its rightful share in Pakistan’s development (Ahmed).The leadership though itself belonged to the landed class and the bourgeoisie, adopted leftist and socialist leanings in order to forward its cause of Pashtun nationalism.

The overall economic conditions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have never been appreciable. The central government has always been accused of neglecting Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and lack of development plays an important role in shaping the minds of the people. According to the Bureau of Statistics, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the literacy ratio for the province is 37.26 %. The situation in the tribal belt is even more appalling with a literacy ratio as low as 17.42%. Despite this the provincial government has allocated only 6.04% of the revenue expenditure for education (Federal Bureau of Statistics). Overall a low rate of education means that the masses are more prone to the rhetoric of ideology and ethnic nationalism. The lack of exposure means the people readily accept the claims of the Awami National Party.

Supporters of “Pashtun” nationalism argue that this ideology cannot simply be brushed aside by arguments regarding class cleavages. It is essential to look into history to view the various ethnic nationalist struggles that have taken place in this land. The British Raj experienced numerous tribal insurgencies from the Pashtuns. The Faqir of Ipi’s revolt is an example of one such struggle. He was a man of good repute and saintly demeanor however was only able to mobilize a small force to fight against the British. Despite inadequate supplies and overall asymmetrical capability against the British army, Faqir Ipi’s force fought with valor and bravery. The Pashtuns gathered under his umbrella to fight foreign intervention and with the hope of maintaining the purity of their land and race. However it is noteworthy that the tribes of the area always found it impossible to unite. Apart from their differences and feuds, another reason for the lack of support to Faqir Ipi’s movement was the fact that the British secured the loyalties of many of the tribal leaders by giving them financial subsides. This provides analysis into the class structure of the area. It suited the tribal lords to admit allegiance to the British Raj when they were provided with financial incentives that kept the control in their hands (Talbot).  
             Another historical example of Pashtun resistance are the Anglo Afghan wars. These wars must be analyzed from the viewpoint of the Pashtun race as resistant not only to foreign military invasions but also to the cultural change brought about by outside powers. The first Anglo Afghan war especially has been considered one of the worst defeats for the British army leaving them with only one survivor (Eliot). The wars took place as part of the larger phenomenon of the “Great Game” which was a tussle between the Russian and British empires for influence in Afghanistan.
             Ethnic identity throughout the world is one of the strong notions of affiliation. Several movements and struggles have taken place in the name of ethnic nationalism. In some cases such as East Pakistan, they have produced the desired outcomes. In other cases however they continue to be futile. Although the socio economic and cultural realities of every community differ nevertheless all such movements share certain characteristics and all aim to achieve autonomy and identity. Pakistan in its initial years had to deal with Bengali separatism until finally in 1971 the two wings of Pakistan parted ways. The Bengalis too were promised an elusive dream of self identity and equal economic opportunity and an escape from the colonial hegemony exercised by West Pakistan. However with the exception of the acceptance of Bengali as their national language, Bangladesh too has failed to achieve much. The post independence politics of Bangladesh too has been a victim to military dictatorships and dynastic elitist politics.
                 The case of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Awami National Party presents a similar dilemma. The politics of pragmatism has caused the party to shift sometimes in favor of socialism and sometimes in favor of industrialization. What began as a non violent anti colonial struggle against oppression has over the  years corrupted and become one of the many opportunistic political parties found in much of the third world. The flag of ethnic nationalism continues to win the ANP votes in most areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Low rates of literacy and lack of awareness has rendered the masses incapable of realizing that their elected representatives are in fact their exploiters. The masses need to realize that their freedom lies in confronting the class conflict which is existent not only in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but in all parts of Pakistan. Uniting under the banner of ethnic nationalism will simply continue this process of exploitation and prevent them from achieving upward political, social and economic mobility. 

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Written By: Chanel Khaliq

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