PM criticized after he verbally strikes Pashtuns, again

In a press conference in August, Imran Khan labelled Pashtuns ‘xenophobic’

Prime Minister Imran Khan holding ‘Pashtun nationalism’ responsible for pro-Taliban sentiments in Pakistan during his United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) speech, has the Twitterati severely irked.

The PM said it was not ‘religious ideology’ but Pashtuns at the Pak-Afghan border who sympathized with the Afghan Taliban and fuelled a sense of support for the group in Pakistan.

Khan added that close to 500,000 Pashtun refugees from Afghanistan heightened the pro-Taliban feelings, which later turned into terrorism as Afghan Taliban’s offshoot Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) combatted Pakistan’s armed forces in militant attacks.

Peace and conflict expert Dr Saira Bano Orakzai lamented Khan’s defamation of the ethnic group and stated that Pashtuns were not intrinsically extremist like the Taliban, just like all Muslims were not terrorists. Orakzai added that Khan’s address was a disservice to Pashtun’s who would suffer due to the PM’s remarks in everyday life. She opined that every ethnic group had some inkling of nationalistic sentiments, and that Khan should retract his statement and apologize to the Pashtuns with haste.

Tribal Young Journalist Association President Salahuddin Salarzai said that Khan missed the mark in his speech as Pashtun nationalist sentiment was based on ‘secularism and non-violence’ not religious extremism like the Taliban.

More than one user pointed out that Khan hadn’t realized that Pashtun nationalists bore the brunt of Taliban atrocities. Physician Saleem Javed said that the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) was targeted by the fundamentalist group repeatedly. Javed added that the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) that advocated for restoration of human rights for Pashtuns in Pakistan, was being punished for their ‘hard stance’.

ANP Culture Secretary Khadim Hussain reiterated Javed’s words and said that the Taliban murdered Pashtun nationalist leaders, artists, and elders. Hussain added that Khan would go down in history for his ‘populist sloganeering and distortion of truth & reality’.

ANP President Aimal Wali Khan also took to Twitter and condemned Khan’s criminalization of Pashtun’s who were in fact victims of the Taliban. Aimal said that his party members like Bashir and Haroon Bilour paid the price of an anti-extremism stance with their lives. Aimal went on to list the contributions the ethnic group made towards the security of Pakistan in the form of Pashtun police officers like Malik Saad and Sifwat Ghayur, both of whom were killed in suicide blasts orchestrated by the TTP in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The Pashtuns have a complex relationship with Pakistan. For many years, the Pashtuns have faced the worst in a war-torn Afghanistan. They have also been demonized in Pakistan as the faces of allegedly anti-nationalist movements like the 2014 PTM, which strives for the development of social and human rights for the ethnic group.

UNGA’s speech was not the first occasion the PM spoke out against Pashtuns. Khan addressed a press conference of international journalists in August and partly blamed the Pashtuns for unrest in Afghanistan as they were an ethnic majority that tried to assert itself on minority groups. The unrest, he added, had a domino effect across the border and into Pakistan. The PTI lawmaker labelled the Pashtuns a ‘xenophobic’ group that fought amongst itself but united in the wake of external aggression.