Pakistan’s Pashtun could embrace militants – report

Written by: Natasha Elkington

A man rallies against alleged police raids on Pashtuns during a demonstration in Lahore. The placard in the background states "Police harassment of Pashtun people should stop." REUTERS/Mohsin Raza
A man rallies against alleged police raids on Pashtuns during a demonstration in Lahore. The placard in the background states “Police harassment of Pashtun people should stop.” REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

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Pakistan may push ethnic minorities in its conflict-torn North West Frontier Province into the arms of militants if steps are not taken to resolve grievances, a rights group said on Tuesday. The Pashtun, one of the biggest minority groups in the region, are key to restoring stability in the area, Minority Rights Group International(MRG) said in a report. While the Taliban draws its fighters mainly from the Pashtun, the majority do not support the insurgency. But Pashtuns living in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan now find themselves at the centre of a conflict. The army’s assault on the Taliban in the Swat and Buner districts displaced more than 2 million people, including Pashtuns, and was one of the biggest human migrations of recent times. “The impression that I got was the more alienated the Pashtuns felt from the state, the easier it is for these militant groups to come in and recruit them,” said Jared Ferrie, the report’s author, after a visit to a camp for internally displaced people in the region. Taliban militants have long exploited grievances among the Pashtun, who say the government has failed to provide them with adequate education, health care and protection from a corrupt judicial system. Mark Lattimer, executive director of MRG, told Reuters even though they had found some evidence in the camps of Taliban trying to recruit followers, support for the militants among the Pashtuns is even weaker than in Pakistan as a whole. “So the assumption that the Pashtun are somehow supporting the Taliban is a very dangerous assumption,” Lattimer said. MRG had seen military operations that have had huge disproportionate impact on the local Pashtun civilian population, Lattimer said, and he warned that this could create “a very dangerous potential situation for the future”. “The Pakistan government and the international community need to start recognising the Pashtun communities as an integral part of Pakistani society rather than supporters of the enemy.”

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