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Photo Source: ICG

Pakistan Reader# 306, 8 March 2022

Women and Peacebuilding: The case of northwest Pakistan



The report by the International Crises Group stresses sustained efforts to reduce discrimination.

Ankit Singh

Peacebuilding mandates non-violent ways to transform structural and political circumstances emanating from a conflict, women, therefore, become critical agents of peacebuilding along with men in transforming conflicts. Women and peacebuilding in Pakistan are still in nascent stages. The Aurat March, started in 2018, is one of the umbrella networks which provides a platform for women for contesting and reclaiming public spaces. In the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan, a Pashtun majority region, the resistance and demands remained isolated due to the region’s terrain. Oppressive tribal customs like riwaz, swara and ghag, besides the ‘malik-i’ (male tribal elders) sponsored jirga have been antithetical to women’s social, political and economic mobility. When the influence over northwest Pakistan passed into the hands of Islamic militants, the archaic patriarchal customs were overhauled. However, the equal moral agency of women was ignored by religious seminaries who had different priorities in shaping the conflict. The Pashtun women have come a long way in sailing through multidimensional conflict in northwest Pakistan.

The ICG report: Four takeaways
On 14 February International Crises Group released a report titled “Women and Peacebuilding in Pakistan’s North-West”. It discussed how the recent changes in the constitutional status of commonly called Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) has and will contribute to peace, security and civic life in remote tribal North West of Pakistan. The Constitution (Twenty-fifth Amendment) Act, 2018 nullified the tribal customary laws and brought the communities and women of the northwest under the modern constitutional purview of the law. The report tries to gauge the change through the Gramscian-Fanonist precepts of national-popular, which activates the production of universality through particularity, in this case for the tribal female gender. The report compiled after extensive individual and group interviews recorded stance-ed empowerment of women in negotiating the civic spaces through their acts of resistance, unity and expression.

The report details how women have acted as mothers, wives and sisters to resist against the control over female agency and have contributed to peacebuilding efforts supplemented by civil society organizations. The report has seen the internal displacement of families during Pakistan Military’s operation against militants as an opportunity for women to experience the address the problem of immobility and lack of education and health facilities.

One could identify the following four, as takeaways from the ICG report.
First, the report has tried to take a stand for an urban constitutional paradigm in the developing nation-state of Pakistan. Historically frontier areas are isolated and alienated from the main urban centers of Pakistan. Mainstreaming the northwestern areas into modern constitutional and penal procedures will likely reduce the oppressive customs on Pashtun women. The awareness and litigative efforts by civil society organization are timely to mitigate the problem of recruitment, radicalization and enforced disappearance of youths from north-west areas.

Second, the report looks at the contribution of women in building a better security environment. According to the report, women as a group resisted and were instrumental in the socialization of the communities with the fear of militancy and fundamentalism. The peaceful means of claiming the civic agency by women did dilute the reign of fear in the northwest region of Pakistan.

Third, the report, presents the region of erstwhile FATA and PATA as a single entity. Whereas there are stark differences in Pashtun women from different tribes. For example, the exodus of Wali tribe communities from Swat region was possible due to their well-off situation, while the vulnerable tribal groups far remote areas could not migrate farther to urban areas like Peshawar, Mardan and Charsadda. Lack of inter-tribal social differences in the report has reduced the meaning of peacebuilding by leading tribes only.

Fourth, the UNSC Resolution 1325 has acknowledged impact of conflicts and war on women but it is nowhere near to gender responsive peacebuilding. In this context, the report has created a case for political, economic and legal engagement of female, which will induce gender sensitivity enabled by achieved female agency in northwest Pakistan.
However, the recommendations in the report have been presented in a prospective outlook rather than continuous critical engagement of women. The geography may not change but the political terrain of power has certainly been shaken by the increasingly secular civic spaces in tribal areas by expression of resistance by Pashtun women. 

References
Women and Peacebuilding in Pakistan’s North West,” International Crises Group, 14 February 2022
Ayyaz Mallick, “From Partisan Universal to Concrete Universal? The Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement in Pakistan,” Antipode, 28 August 2020
Zeenia Faraz, “Women, Peace, and Security in Pakistan,” USIP, February 2017
 

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