Monday, December 04, 2006

Pashtuns Want an Image Change -- By Ahmed Rashid

Since 11 September 2001, Pashtuns feel they have become the most vilified ethnic group in the world. They are angry, frustrated and now want to reclaim their identity from being lumped with the Taleban and as perpetrators of terrorism and suicide bombings. Most Afghan prisoners held by the Americans in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba or at Bagram air base near Kabul are Pashtun. Those who have emerged from these - and Afghan and Pakistani-run jails are also Pashtun. So are the thousands of civilian casualties who have been bombed by mistake or carelessness in southern Afghanistan by US and Nato pilots during military operations since 11 September. US soldiers who knocked down doors and interrogated women, alienating the population, did so largely in the Pashtun south, where American forces have been accused by locals of treating all Pashtuns as the enemy - an association that Nato is now trying to change. In Pakistan, secular and democratic-minded Pashtuns have long resisted the idea that the 3,000-year-old Pashtun culture and language should be Talebanised. Now, for the first time, hundreds of political leaders and tribal chiefs from the Pashtun tribes inhabiting Pakistan's border with Afghanistan have held a Pashtun Peace Jirga, or tribal council, demanding an end to Taleban violence in both countries. They accused Pakistan's military regime and its intelligence agency, ISI, of giving clandestine support to the Taleban and other extremist groups and demanded an end to it. "Around the world we are accused of being terrorists, but tolerance is in our blood - it is taught by our mothers. We do not hate people just because their noses are long or they speak in foreign tongues. We demand all the world respect our values, culture and the dignity of our people."


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