A Pashtun Village Elder Praises President Trump
Recently, I was speaking with a friend of mine, a committed liberal and an equally committed member of the anti-Trump camp. Despising President Donald Trump is almost a default position in my Chicago-area community; however, my liberal friend has always impressed me as reasonable and well informed. Hence my particular consternation when he, in a most matter-of-fact way, said President Trump is costing us friends and influence around the world, as if it were an accepted truth.
This was more annoying than surprising, because ever since Donald Trump took office, the mainstream media and their political allies have been working overtime trying to convince us that the rest of the world has lost respect for the United States, that we have become something of a joke, and that there was a foreign policy "golden age" under President Barack Obama. (Many refer to a Pew Survey but fail to note that it was conducted about a month after Donald Trump's inauguration or other limitations on methodology.) While that might be the case for certain European elites, whose contempt for the United States and our values has never been more than thinly veiled, it has little to do with reality.
Those with a political agenda to delegitimize President Trump and the people who voted for him, reality be damned, might find cold comfort in the myth. But for the people who are putting themselves and their families in danger to fight for their freedom against the same enemies who want to attack us, the only thing farther from the truth than the anti-Trump drumbeat is the belief that Obama's foreign policy brought us friends and allies. I reminded my liberal friend that I see this close up regularly in urban centers and villages throughout South Asia in particular, where almost one out of every four people on the planet lives.
North Waziristan is an area of Pakistan that borders Afghanistan and is best known as a haven for Islamist fighters from both sides of the Durand Line, the British-drawn border between the two countries that separated tribes, neighbors, and families. It also is one of the most dangerous places in the world for us and our friends. Despite that, an elder from the village of Shamiri in Tehsil Spinwam defied Islamist threats and took to the airwaves to thank the United States and President Donald Trump for giving hope to millions. Omer Khan Wazir is from a noble Pashtun family, and that is highly significant. The Pashtun are known in the West for their overrepresentation in the Taliban and other South Asian Islamist groups. Most Pashtun, however, favor democratic rule, which they see as squarely in line with traditional Pashtun values. Along with Baloch, Sindhi, and others, they also face massive human rights abuses by Pakistan.
In his video, Wazir thanks President Trump for his tough and "widely popular" policy that favors U.S. allies and calls out Pakistan for decades of "lies, deceit, and duplicity in [the] war on terror." He prays that God "bless President Trump" and grant him "a long and successful life and leadership." He also reminds us how successive U.S. governments have given Pakistan billions for its people's welfare and to fight terrorism, and in return, "Pakistan has given us nothing but terrorism." President Trump, he believes, is putting an end to that suicidal policy. He and other Pashtun leaders have said Pakistan's many "fake military operations" that were supposed to target Islamist terrorists in Waziristan and the rest of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were smokescreens for "ethnic cleansing." In reality, they note, "Pakistan's security forces assassinated only pro-U.S. and anti-terrorism voices among the locals" while supporting safe havens for their Taliban allies crossing over from Afghanistan. While previous U.S. administrations ignored Pakistan's "double-game," it appears that President Trump has not.
"We, the common people of Waziristan, are neither terrorists nor their supporters[; rather, we are victims of] religious extremism imposed on us by the state of Pakistan," Wazir says, urging the president to bypass the Pakistani government and send "U.S. teams to Waziristan to know about the ground realities, human rights violations, and atrocities by Pakistan's military."
Imtiaz Wazir (no relation), a Pashtun activist and journalist in the region, has told me that we should not underestimate the courage shown by Omer Khan Wazir in making the video, as the Pakistani military and its Islamist allies have "slaughtered thousands of thousands among the local tribal elders and youth as they were raising voices against Pakistan's pro-terror and anti-U.S. policies." However, he adds, the people of the region believe that President Trump has provided them and others with a real opportunity to gain their freedom, which makes any risks worth it.
Imtiaz Wazir reported that in May and July of 2017, this sense of hope led more than 300 elders and youths representing "all Pashtun tribes living on both sides of the Durand Line" to gather in Jalalabad and Kabul, Afghanistan. They "unanimously called on Pakistan to withdraw its civil and military administration from FATA and shun terror sanctuaries on its soil. [They] urged the U.S. and the rest of the civilized world to establish direct relationship with the people of FATA, instead of blindly depending of its enemy – Pakistan." And they "pledged their full support for the U.S. against Pakistan and terrorism."
This sort of open opposition to Pakistan would not have happened during the Obama administration, many have told me. Several colleagues in the region reference the case of Malik Umer Wazir. He repeatedly identified Pakistan's duplicity in the war on terror and urged the Obama administration to take action, but nothing was done, and eventually, Pakistani intelligence agents assassinated him in 2016. At the 2017 gatherings, one young Waziri praised Trump's stance and criticized Obama for his slow reaction to Pakistan's "treachery," especially after it was clear that the government was providing a safe haven for Washington's number-one enemy, Osama bin Laden.
Imtiaz told me, "I work with the pro-democracy forces there and can tell you that they are ecstatic about the Trump administration's foreign policy, and especially the president's recent hard-line actions toward Pakistan and its patronization of radical Islamists."