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Friday, February 16, 2024

Jalalabad: A hub of anti-Taliban & anti-Pakistan sentiments?

Jan Achakzai, a geopolitical analyst from Balochistan, discusses the massive anti-Taliban and anti-Pakistan sentiments festering in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, an area dominated by Pashtuns. In an eye-opening piece, Jan Achakzai narrates that such sentiments can be weaponized by the local forces against the Taliban and Pakistan easily.

A progressive non-kinetic, Pashtun resistance is being organized in the southeast, particularly in the Nangarhar region, of Afghanistan.

According to informed sources, Jalalabad is seeing a massive anti-Taliban and anti-Pakistan sentiment amongst the masses. There are different local and regional forces waiting to capitalize on these sentiments.

The leading local group is led by Hazrat Ali who is a strong Commandor having the backing of regional actors, particularly of Russia. Like other foreigners, Russia has not left Jalalabad, said sources.

Hazrat Ali is a Former Northern Alliance Commander hailing from Jalalabad and has served as police chief of Jalalabad between 2003 and 2004.

Besides, there is a strong Neo-Communist presence in Nangarhar, who interestingly do not follow communism per se anymore but are inclined towards Russia and believe in progressiveness and modernity.

Read more: How communism in Eastern Europe ended

The Pashtun elements are very much anti-Taliban and also have influence in civil society. There are roots of non-religious Pashtun nationalism in Jalalabad for over five decades.

As per sources, there are also tensions brewing over the properties of Afghanistan in Peshawar and Islamabad owned by the Afghan Government. The ex Ashraf Ghani govt’s diplomats are believed to have removed vehicles from the Afghan Consulate in Peshawar and the Embassy in Islamabad. The property of the Afghan govt comprises rental shops mainly in NamakMandi Peshawar and a few in Islamabad.

Previously, an NDS deputed gentleman used to look after these properties and rental income. Now there is a vacuum and these are a bone of contention not only among groups of Jalalabad but even within the Taliban.

Sources also said since the division between Mullah Baradar and the non-political Taliban is now public knowledge, Mullah Baradar is also trying to use sort of moderate Pashtun sentiments in his favor, which is an add-on in the current situation. Though Mullah Baradar does not hail from Jalalabad, he has sufficient ingress as many people of Jalalabad have differences with the Haqqanis due to economic competition on both sides of the border where Haqqanis have a major influence.

What caused dislike for Pakistan?

The gist of Jalalabadi ideology makes it suitable for the start of the non-kinetic Pashtun progressive movement.

Afghans who enter Pakistan from Torkham are mostly residents of Jalalabad– Nangarhar. Before the institution of biometrics/border systems at Torkham, they would be coming over using the old British facility of Easement Rights (available to locals). Their movement was dependent on the goodwill of border guards from Scouts. Extortion, humiliation, and maltreatment were common phenomena thus becoming a symbol of hatred. These mistreatments have partly etched into their memories developing a dislike for Pakistan. Frequent closure of borders also adds to their miseries /hatred.

Read more: 15,000 containers held up after Pak-Afghan border closure

A recent incident of Pakistan’s flag being removed in Jalalabad from a truck carrying humanitarian aid is the result of this phenomenon.

It may be mentioned here that historically the Jalalabad area is one of the examples where the Durand Line in 1893 divided the tribes and families into two halves, for example, Safis, one of the major tribes in Mohmand, had their Chief always in Jalalabad.

Pashtunistan was a demand-led by the people residing in the Peshawar-Mardan plains and between River Kabul & Indus. Faqir of Ipi in NWA continued this struggle against the British, going on since the 30s.

1n 1947 traditional interaction of Jalalabad and Peshawar plains led to an active movement to demand a third option for NWFP in 1947; besides, Pakistan and India. Bacha Khan hence desired to and is buried in Jalalabad. His shrine was non-noticeable till 2005 but now a huge charitable building has been built on it.

The followers of Bacha Khan have normalized but Manzoor Pashteen has emerged as his spiritual son. ANP ideologues like Afrasiab Khattak joined the PTM.

Read more: #RIP_PTM: Mohsin Dawar launches National Democratic Movement

Jalalabad: A safe haven for Pakistani Pashtun dissidents

The roots of the Pashtunistan Movement were anchored in Jalalabad. The so-called “Pashtunistan movement” in the 1950s-70s had followers and sympathizers in Jalalabad, which is a few hours’ drive from Torkham. Pakistani Pashtun dissidents who were supportive of Pashtunistan used to take refuge in Jalalabad.

Afghan government officials, especially Sardar Daoud and his brother Sardar Naim who both for some time supported Pashtunistan, used to spend winters in Jalalabad. Jalalabad is a Pashtun majority city close to the Pakistani border and was a sort of a mini-hub for Pashtunistan activists.

The 1989 failed attempt by the Peshawar-based Mujahideen to capture Jalalabad also hardened the attitude of those Jalalabadis who viewed Pakistan with suspicion. Afghans supposedly have long memories.

The above sentiments do not change despite the economic dependence of Jalalabad on Pakistan more than anyone else.

Read more: Pakistan closes its consulate in Jalalabad over unnecessary intervention and security reasons

Jalalabad is going to be the hub of new non-kinetic, secular but nationalist Pashtun Resistance which can be weaponized against Taliban and Pakistan easily.

What is needed is non-kinetic long-term perception management campaigns in Jalalabad like Pakistani school systems, Pakistani media, and other such projects for making a friendly neighbor in the Nangarhar region especially Jalalabad.

Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan, and an ex-adviser to the Balochistan Government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service. He is also Chairman of the Institute of New Horizons (INH) & Balochistan. He tweets @Jan_Achakzai. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.