The long Pukhtun march was preceded by years of systemic neglect & abuse. The promises made during the elections in 2013 have been forgotten.
You would think that officials would sit up and take note when the encounter-murder of a gorgeous young Pathan boy united us into coming out on the streets of the capital Islamabad for the Pukhtun March. You would think that the mere fact that the media was forced to cover Pukhtun demands would shift the paralysed officials in their comfy leather loungers. It wasn’t just a one-off case of racial profiling and of a few civic society elites protesting in Pakistan. It wasn’t even a political stunt by leaders to resuscitate their politics by using the Pukhtun card.
Instead, this is how our politicians reacted.
After Naqib’s murder and the protest demanding justice for 444 extra-judicial murders, Rao Anwar, the officer accused of these murders, conveniently disappeared overnight.
Asif Zardari, the leader of the liberal left party the PPP labelled the absconder a “achha bachcha” — a good lad.
The Pakistan Justice Party (PTI), with its now signature ‘naainsafi’ slogan, descended on a peaceful protest in Swat and registered FIRs against the young leaders. The young activists were demanding respect but were accused of causing disruption, and spreading anarchy and upheaval.
The journey of the long Pukhtun march was preceded by years of systematic neglect and abuse in the region.
The promises made during the elections in 2013 have been forgotten. The party of change, PTI, formed its government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with tall claims of eradicating corruption in 90 days, which ended with the Ihtesab commission head being forced to resign. The even taller claim of producing enough electricity to power the whole country materialised into only 74 MW.
Instead of providing quality healthcare to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) as promised, there was more pressure placed on existing poor services because of the influx of internally displaced people from North Waziristan. No arrangements were made to cater to their needs. By July last year, 3,87,228 children were displaced, according to an estimate by the national disaster management authority.
About 85,000 displaced children were now homeless and out of school, roaming the streets of already overcrowded cities like Bannu in South KP, with the federal & KP government turning a blind eye to them.
The so-called party of the youth finally announced a youth policy for KP on the 29 Nov 2016. It was the promise of job training, job opportunities & a vibrant KP in a matter of days. But within a year after the announcement, professional engineers took to the streets of Peshawar asking for jobs.
The CPEC, the much-hyped and much-awaited ‘game changer’, seemed to have not caught the eye of political parties in KP & representatives in FATA. As a result, the Pukhtun areas & population have again been overlooked. The areas of KP that lie close to the main corridor have long suffered because of the rugged mountain terrain and frequent landsliding. Finding jobs here is hard. Most families live without a father or older brothers as they go as far as Karachi & UAE to look for employment.
Schooling has always been a challenge, especially for girls, because of the long commute. Inevitably, child marriages are the norm. Infant mortality & poor maternal health is a huge issue because of early marriages, multiple births, and lack of health facilities nearby.
In these circumstances, the CPEC could have given these communities the jobs they need and the new road should have meant more training centres for our youth.
It should have alerted our political brains to the potential of educating our youth better to empower them for future employment on the CPEC. But, here again, Pukhtuns were deprived of their rightful share.
Instead, there has been an unprecedented assault on schools in the province.
The PTI-led government’s education program resulted in 42 schools — 39 of them middle schools for girls — being shut down in Kohistan. Over a total of 1,000 schools have been closed. Child protection units in 11 districts were shut down. The reason cited for all these closures was a lack of budget.
However, where there is a will there is a way; and in Pakistani politics where there is an election, there are many, many ways.
Over 57 crore Pakistani rupees appeared miraculously, and were given by the government to only one school deemed deserving of it in all the province — the Madrassa Haqqania. Darul Uloom Haqqania is a religious seminary founded in 1947 located in Akora Khattak in KP province. Critics have dubbed it as the ‘University of Jihad’. The content of instruction is viewed suspiciously and Mullah Omar even received an honorary doctorate from the Madrassa. Among its alumni are Jalaluddin Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani network, and Asim Umar, leader of Al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent.
Following much public condemnation, the PTI finally released an MoU between the Public Health Department and the Madrassa Haqqania to upgrade it to a degree college. An additional academic block will be built as well as new computer and science labs given to it.
Perhaps what is more worrying is the fact that this agreement allows the Haqqania to supervise all other madrassas in the province.
These do not even begin to scratch the surface of the problem. And yet we have the temerity to ask: why are the Pathans suddenly disillusioned and outraged?
Reham Khan is a journalist, child rights activist, and single parent in Pakistan.