Counter-Terrorism: The Potent Power Of Pushtun Politics


August 19, 2014: In Pakistan several hundred thousand Pushtun have fled the recent fighting in North Waziristan and most have taken shelter in temporary refugee camps. North Waziristan is the home of some of the most conservative Pushtun tribes in the region and many outsiders (other Pushtuns and non-Pushtuns) got a first-hand look at these normally secretive and often hostile people who supply the core membership of the Pakistani Taliban. Thus resulted in some shocking discoveries. Recently those running the refugee camps were alarmed when tribal elders among the refugees decreed that unaccompanied (by a male relative) women could not go and collect the food refugees were entitled to. This presented a problem as many of the women in the camp were widows with children, or wives with children whose husbands were absent (and probably with the Taliban.) Women who defied the decree were attacked by men the tribal elders had sent to enforce the rules. As long as these enforcers did not cause permanent injury, Pakistani troops and police did not interfere with these men slapping and otherwise physically forcing the women out of the food collection lines. It was unclear how widows and unaccompanied wives would get food and other supplies because to keep the fraud under control registered heads of household had to personally show up to get food and other items.

U.S. Army Special Forces troops operating in the region and who speak the Pushtun languages and understand the customs and have long warned their superiors (sometimes unsuccessfully) that the Pushtun tribes are all a bit different and some, like the ones in Waziristan and Kandahar (in Afghanistan) are very different, very conservative and the source of most Taliban true-believers. Foreign aid workers in Afghanistan reported that in clinics they run they see a lot of women and children obviously injured by the men in their families and these men are not shy about discussing how they must use physical force to keep the wives and kids in line.

While Pushtuns are 40 percent of all Afghans, most Pushtuns are in Pakistan, where they are a small minority. "Pushtunstan" is a disorganized “nation” of 30 million Pushtuns caught between Pakistan (still over 160 million people) and northern Afghanistan (with about 18 million non-Pushtuns) Without Pushtuns Afghanistan would become yet another Central Asian country with a small population (neighboring Tajikistan has 7.7 million). But Pushtunstan is never going to happen because the Pushtuns have long been divided by tribal politics and cultural differences. When the Pushtun aren't fighting outsiders they fight each other. The violent and fractious Pushtuns are a core problem in the region and have been for centuries. There is no easy solution to this and Pakistan likes it that way. 



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