Let’s Have Empathy – OpEd


By Aziz Amin Ahmadzai and Mona Naseer*

For years now Pashtun lands have been a battleground for competing interests, but the last 50 years – possibly been the darkest in its history. Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand line have been the worst victims of the great game of the 20thCentury. While the period of 1980s saw the huge influx of Afghans mainly Pashtuns into the north west of Pakistan, in the current times we now see the Pashtuns from FATA (federally administered tribal area) Pakistan border area, being internally displaced in their own country and some taking refuge in Afghanistan. They are living in camps battling extreme poverty, and squalor just like their brethren from Afghanistan living in various camps of Pakistan. In fact the internally displaced Pashtuns from FATA in Pakistan are now occupying one of the largest refugee camp known as Jalozi some 30 kilometre away from Peshawar, previously set up for their Afghans brethren in 1980s.

However the most ironic side of this political, humanitarian tragedy for Pashtuns of both sides, is their growing divide in terms of animosity and blame game for each other on the recent social media trends, despite the fact that both sides are the victims themselves.

Some recent observation on how media and social media on both sides is now driving this agenda of alienation for one and another purpose. The most pathetic manifestation of which was observed on the social media, when certain elements from Afghanistan were smug and jubilant about Peshawar tragedy and many so called educated Afghan national questioned “ what is so special about Peshawar murdered kids getting all the international attention, another voice from Afghanistan was well “how does it feel to be hurt so much referring to the 140 children brutally massacred .

Well Pakistan side has this particular wedge driving, hate mongers in abundance too, not of course forgetting the suspicion and mistrust many Afghans feel for Pakistani government and its continuous meddling in Afghanistan politics. Here however we are concerned with the views of the ordinary people (especially Pashtuns) on both sides of the border .

Immediately after the brutal killing of hundreds of children in army public school, a narrative is on its course and that is, Afghans refugees should be kicked out of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Peshawar (a city north west of Pakistan which hosts the bulk of 1979 migration of Afghans) should be cleansed of all the Afghan elements. One clip shown on a Pakistani mainstream TV channel was a parent victim of army public school from Peshawar, crying and lamenting in anguish why don’t we change our foreign policy, and why are we not asking Afghans to leave this country. A sad political obfuscation of the facts, shown by Pakistani media but then how do you expect a house wife to understand the complexity of the Pakistan Afghanistan situation. When media, social media on both sides is involved in a narrative building which only moulds the ordinary people views.

Afghan Pashtuns are mostly of the view that Pashtun from Pakistan has over the years developed apathy towards Afghans miseries, and Pakistani Pashtun suffered from compassionate fatigue towards Pashtuns brethren in Afghanistan. Pashtuns from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa lost nearly 70 thousand people in the last ten years or so, predominately Pashtuns and has million displaced from FATA, so do they suffer from the same apathy and compassionate fatigue towards their own people too then? Pashtun Afghans and other forces from Afghanistan and their ability to paint ordinary Pashtun in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or FATA in the same light of being their oppressor has come to dominate the social media, completely oblivion to the facts that it is the both sides ordinary Pashtuns who are the worst victim of this great game. Although the only difference at the moment is that Pashtun of Pakistan carries a different identity of being called Pakistani. Tragedies continues to haunt both sides of the Pashtuns along with this growing resentment for each other, giving into the agenda which was set some few decades ago successfully . One wonders about the voices from 1979 on both sides, when the slogan of mujahedeen, the concept of Madinah mohajir and Ansar and pashtunwali were raised to unite Pashtuns of both sides to fight the evil of USSR Empire. These voices benefited certain section of Pashtun elite on both sides at that time, and the ordinary suffered. Millions of dollar poured into the region went into the coffers of both elite, and continues to do so now in the name of good and bad Taliban.

Pashtun economy which is already reeling under the effect of Taliban onslaught will suffer further if Afghan ready casual labour and business so integrated in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa economy are asked to evacuate. Pakistani Pashtuns contemptuous words for their Afghan brethren like mohjair (refugee) send them home is a narrative which won’t help the faltering economy of this province and the ordinary people of both sides. Peshawar had in 80s emerged as a hub of cross-border trade and its commercial sector benefited greatly both sides of pashtuns and Pashtuns from both sides were an integral part of this story.

However the rise of social media use among our people can spell disaster if the negative voices are not countered with more positive voices, advocating understanding and empathy for the ordinary pushtun on both sides of the border. Educated pashtun on both sides should play responsibly, because the growing divide on social media can have negative effect on the, already politicised and complicated bond which both sides of Pashtun share.

These negative voices need to dwell on some questions before they voice their frustration on social media, like Pashtuns who are ethnically, culturally, linguistically and geographically so interconnected, can they afford to carry on the agenda of hatred and biases, and how does it benefits both sides to cling on to this hate? We might stop listening to our great shared artist and their music from Sarder Ali Takkar to Nashenas, or our great Pashtun poets like Ghani khan can exclusively belong to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Pashtuns from Afghanistan can make a claim on Pashto as language exclusively and both sides can even deny their shared genealogy, but how do Peshawar changes its border from Jalalabad? Or do we move khost from kurram and Kandahar from Quetta and deny the interdependence of both sides of ordinary Pashtuns on each other. The fact is that Peshawar and its surroundings, and the bordering regions of Afghanistan, are virtually a single market. Borders are open not only for the movement of people but also for the movement of goods and these negative voices can only create distances. In Afghanistan rehabilitation and reconstruction the ordinary Pashtuns from Peshawar and Quetta have an equal important role to play. Ordinary people are just people on both sides, whether a Pashtun kid die in Paktia or another of his brethren die in army public school Peshawar, both are victims. Pashtun solidarity might have died on both sides of the border but at least humanity should live. And if we stand helpless against the tides of politics, let’s have empathy please at least. Spinoza once said “blame game is one of the more useless human responses.”

About authors:
Aziz Amin Ahmadzai
is a writer based in Kabul. He tweets on@azeezamin786 and can be reached by email at [email protected].

Mona Naseer is from FATA, a political and social commentator on Pak-Afghan region & tweets on @Mo2005

Aziz Amin Ahmadzai

Aziz Amin is a seasoned professional with a comprehensive and hands-on background in policy analysis, conflict resolution, security and peacebuilding, research and development, strategic policy and planning, media and strategic communication, governance, political affairs, and socio-political engagement within conflict and post-conflict contexts in South Asian and African region. He has written extensively for broader public audiences, with his work published in renowned media outlets including Foreign Policy, The National Interest, Foreign Affairs, First Post, The Diplomat, BBC, TRT World, War on the Rocks, Small Wars Journal, Eurasia Review, and The Week, among others.

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