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2009 Interview with Mahmud Khan Achakzai, leader of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMA) party

Interview by Karlos Zurutuza

"Respect the sovereignty of Afghanistan otherwise, the whole world will be at risk"

"Pashtun number 50 million people, of which maybe 1% are Taliban."

What is the situation of the Pashtun in Pakistan?

The Punjabi empire dominates the state of Pakistan so the Pashtun, the Baloch, the Sindhis and other ethnic groups are effectively second class citizens.

The name of our region is still NWFP (Northwest Frontier Province) - an artifact of the British colonial times. After 60 years, Islamabad has yet to approve the name Pakhtunkhwa.*

The tendency in the West is to identify the Pashtun with Taliban country. What do you think?

This equation is extremely annoying to me. It is true that this is the region where the Talib phenomenon was created, but the Taliban are comprised of people from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other places, as well.

Pashtun number 50 million people, of which maybe 1% are Taliban.

[Unable to translate from the Basque using GoogleTranslate: Mahmud Achakzai speaks of a tradition of tolerance amongst the Pashtun chronicled by Herodotus and Marco Polo. He notes that Taliban practices fall outside those of traditional Pashtun society.]

How, in your opinion, did the Taliban phenomenon emerge?

Basically, the Taliban were created by the U.S., Pakistan and Saudi Arabia during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Islamabad provides continued support for the Taliban and manipulates our people, but the existence of a sovereign government in Afghanistan makes a great impression.

Unfortunately, Pakistan didn't react to the bombing of the mosque and government buildings by the Taliban. The military has recently carried out operations, but it is well known they received a tremendous amount of money to do so. In any event, only the military can put an end to the Taliban.

What do you think about elections in Afghanistan?

We all know that it is difficult to carry out transparent elections in a war-torn country. Karzai can move the country forward. His approach is realistic. It is pragmatic. He is very much aware of the need for outside help.

But is there a danger of becoming a slave to the USA?

Throughout history, the Pashtun love for freedom is valued above all things. We have shown that. The sovereignty of Afghanistan is to be respected. If not, Afghanistan and Pakistan will become a battlefield and the entire world will be at risk.

*Note, the Northwest Frontier Province was officially renamed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on April 15, 2010. "The amendment to the Pakistani constitution that established the new name of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, an ancient expression meaning "grazing land of the Pashtuns at the Khyber Pass” was deemed less controversial than Pashtunistan, which had been proposed for decades as the name for this territory."

Karlos Zurutuza is a freelance journalist covering off-the-radar conflict regions in the Caucasus and Central Asia. He was awarded the Nawab Bugti Reporting Award 2009 for his reporting on the Baloch areas in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.