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On The ‘Organic Link’ Between Teachings Of Eqbal Ahmad And The Struggle Of PTM

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Ahmad Riaz Lodhi argues in this article that ‘Punjabis must recognize the “organic links” between their struggle in their province and Pashtun struggle in the frontier. Only then can we hope to pressurize the state into adopting a reconstructionist approach’

In the summer of 1987, a scholar of global revolutionary movements came to Peshawar. The place back then wasn’t kind to those advocating a negotiated end to the raging conflict in Afghanistan. This, however, didn’t deter the scholar. For his name was Eqbal Ahmad.

How unfortunate it is that not many in Pakistan know Eqbal’s name or have any familiarity with his work. He was a man whom they can feel proud of. I’ll come to his subject in some other article. However, his association with the freedom struggles is of relevance here.

Eqbal was an embodiment of scholar-practitioner ethic. While earning his Ph.D. at Princeton in the early ’60s, he went on to fight in Algeria against the French imperialists. This acquaintance with FLN and their revolutionary tactics taught him many lessons. In 1980 he toured the PLO positions in South Lebanon and the insight gained in Algeria revealed to him the exact outlines of the 1982 Israeli invasion and the subsequent defeat of Palestine Liberation Organization.

One year before 1987, he had interviewed Osama Bin Laden in Peshawar and predicted that the “modern equivalent of America’s founding fathers” (a term used by Reagan for the Mujaheddin) would turn against their allies once this “jihad” is over.

You see the past continuously touching the present in the land beyond the mountains. The city of men and the city of flowers, Peshawar, bears testimony to this observation. And so in this context, we see the arrival of this formidable intellectual into this region.

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The war in Afghanistan exacted a terrible price from the Pashtun population residing in the North West (not to discount what Afghans themselves went through). Eqbal described this conflict as a game of “Buzkashi” in his article titled “Bloody Games”. You need powerful backers to play this sport. The Afghans and the Pashtuns of Pakistan became the “goat” that was being pulled by the players who were backed by powerful sponsors. He met Sayd Bahauddin Majrooh, a dean at Kabul University and a moderate who was killed at the behest of Hikmetyar for advocating a settlement not seen favorably by the establishment of one country. Majrooh had arranged a meeting where Eqbal was also invited. Participants were restive for they blamed the country’s military establishment for their troubles.

Eqbal wasn’t known for his pacifism. He was the one who was always seen as motivating the subjugated and oppressed people to organize, rebel and revolt. Therefore, it was strange to see him restraining the Pashtuns present in that room! He was a serious academic never letting his emotions cloud his judgment. He knew by his experience of Algeria that revolutions exact a terrible price and demand extreme sacrifice from the populace.

He would’ve told them as he told many others that a revolution or a revolt succeeds only after isolating the opponent morally not only in the eyes of your people but also of those who stand behind your opponent. FLN was defeated militarily but succeeded politically when the French populace realized the moral bankruptcy of their actions and claim over Algeria. This had to be applied here. The State would ruthlessly crush any dissenting voice as it had done in the winter of 1971.

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However, when Eqbal returned to Punjab, he raged against the Punjabi inaction. It was the people of Punjab, he said, who have to support their Pashtun brethren in their just struggle for their basic human rights. The state couldn’t afford to harm the Punjabis which was evident from the actions of the military when it was ordered to crush the 1977 movement against Bhutto. Three of the Brigadiers opted to resign rather than to fire bullets into the crowd. Something they wouldn’t probably have hesitated on if the place wasn’t Punjab.

The statement about the past touching the present is to be seen in this context. We recently saw the emergence of the most political of the movements from the tribal region, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), which is vocal about its concerns. It is progressive and reconstructionist.

There are some concerns about the inclusivity but they can be addressed. It has ignited debate and the state has and would use all means to silence the participants. The movement has been and should focus on morally isolating the oppressors by non-violent means.

About time Punjabis recognized the “organic links” between their struggle in their province and Pashtun struggle in the frontier. Only then can we hope to pressurize the state into adopting a reconstructionist approach. For those asking how it can be done, “Organize, organize, organize”.


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