Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"Pakistani or Pashtun?" The Frustrating Question of Identity

Apparently, the below article is very ... "controversial"... then again, I love controversy and enjoy raising it; it's sometimes the only way to get a discussion started.

It was originally published on Pashtun Women Viewpoint, of which I'm a team member and an editor, but a couple of readers misunderstood the whole point and thought it was *Pashtun Women Viewpoint's* attempt to divide Pashtuns (whereas this is written by me and nothing on the website there necessarily reflects the team's perspective), and so we had to remove it from there to stop the ignorant remarks. I decided that I want to continue this discussion on identity so am posting it here for interested readers' pleasure. I can handle "attacks" on myself but not on Pashtun Women Viewpoint, so stop being stupid, you small lot of people, and reply here instead of attacking the website! Geez, you know what one of our many problems is, folks? We can't handle disagreements and think anyone who disagrees with us is not from us, is a fake Pashtun, is trying to divide everyone. Oh the lies you tell yourselves...

Anyway, bismillah. Here it goes!

"Pakistani or Pashtun?" The Frustrating Question of Identity

One of the most frustrating questions that the Pashtuns of Afghanistan and those of Pakistan who believe in the independence of Pashtuns from Pakistan pose to Pakistani Pashtuns is: “Do you consider yourself Pakistani or Afghan?” (Sometimes also, “Are you Pashtun or Pakistani?” as though one can’t be both.) The questioner’s understanding is that the person’s answer will determine how “real” a Pashtun she/he is: if the answer is, “I am Afghan,” the person is indeed a real Pashtun; if otherwise, they must prepare themselves for a circular, exasperating, and never-ending debate that is initiated often solely so that the questioner can inform them of how brainwashed and less informed they are of their origin and history.

When Pashtun Women Viewpoint first launched, we received a similarly challenging question: “Why did you guys name this ‘Pashtun’ women viewpoint and not ‘Afghan’ women viewpoint?” In fact, naming this platform took some time to reach a consensus, as many members of the team had anticipated that we would have to explain ourselves to our readers, especially our Afghan readers. Some suggest that it is racist to highlight the needs and concerns of “Pashtuns”—but that it is not racist to do the same with “Afghans.”

Here, I want to discuss two main sides of the issue as I understand it as a participant in the conversation between our team members and some of our readers.

 First, I’ll address the pro-“Afghan” perspective.

Afghanistan has suffered immensely from, among innumerable other issues, ethnic tension and racism of many sorts within the country; some factions for political reasons have been trying to divide Afghans based on their ethnicities in an effort to root out Afghaniyat, or being an Afghan, from the Afghan society. It appears that each Afghan ethnic group—that is, an ethnic group holding the nationality of Afghanistan, such as the Hazars, the Tajiks, the Pashtuns—vies for the highest recognition, struggling to make it to the top and attain full equality, insisting that it is just as Afghan as any other ethnic group in the country. Many citizens of Afghanistan, whom we will refer to here as Afghans regardless of their ethnicity, have realized the harm of the racist attitudes among them and are working hard towards promoting unity and eliminating ethnic-oriented attitudes, such as “I am Pashtun!” or “I am Hazara!” They instead urge each other to identify as Afghans, as children and citizen of Afghanistan, no matter their ethnicity, because their nation can no longer afford to be sacrificed in the name of ethnicity. The Pashtuns of Afghanistan can no longer claim that to be Afghan is to be Pashtun necessarily, or that the title of “Afghan” belongs only to the Pashtuns, when “Afghan” today refers to any citizen of Afghanistan. As such, when, for example, the Hazaras or the Pashtuns of Afghanistan do privilege their “Hazaraness” or “Pashtunness” over their “Afghanness,” they are doing a disservice to the country and those of its people who are working towards eliminating any sense of racism or ethnocentrism.
However, the pro-“Pashtun” perspective, though embracing the efforts of eliminating racism among Pashtuns and Afghans, also acknowledges the reality that the Pashtuns of Pakistan are just as valuable as the Pashtuns of Afghanistan. While there are those Pashtuns in Pakistan who believe in the struggle for Pashtunistan, or independence of Pashtuns from Pakistan, there are some others who do not support this struggle. There are also those Pashtuns who are patriotic towards Pakistan and value their Pakistani national identity while acknowledging and honoring their ethnic identity as Pashtuns. Since to be an Afghan today does not necessarily mean Pashtun, such as in the case of Hazaras or Tajiks as Afghans, and instead refers to a citizen of Afghanistan, the Pashtuns of Pakistan, who prefer their Pakistani identity, might feel excluded from any group that works primarily for Afghans. Whereas Khushal Khan Khattak famously wrote that “Afghans are Pashtuns, and Pashtuns are Afghans,” he did not, in mid-1600s, take into consideration the birth of new nations, such as Pakistan, and his quote possibly does not apply to all times and circumstances and needs to be regarded in its specific context; today, identity issue are far more complex, and to be an Afghan is not simply to be a Pashtun. Importantly also, the pro-“Pashtun” side points to the concerted efforts anywhere, whether in Afghanistan or Pakistan, to eliminate the use of the word “Pashto” and “Pashtun.” While many Afghans arguing that “We’re all Afghans—not Hazara, not Pashtun, not Tajik, just Afghans!” regardless of the positive meaning behind it to unite all Afghans under the banner of unity, this can be interpreted as an effort to get rid of the word “Pashtun” or “Pashto.” Meanwhile on the other side of the Durand Line, in Pakistan, one observes that the re-naming of NWFP as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, instead of simply Pakhtunkhwa, is an indication that “Khyber Pakhtunkhwa” detracts one’s attention from the actual name; it also makes it easier for non-Pashtuns to reduce the name, indeed Pashtuns’ identity, to “KPK,” and not all who refer to “KPK” know what the acronym stands for.

As Pashtuns political circumstances continue to evolve, it becomes necessary for the Pashtuns of Afghanistan and those of Pakistan to understand that not all Pashtuns are going to have the same views on what it means to be Pashtuns—or what a “real” Pashtun is like, if there really is such a thing. The Pashtuns of Afghanistan need to acknowledge that today, being Afghan is not just being a Pashtun; it more generally means being a citizen of Afghanistan, which the Pashtuns of Pakistan are not. Hence, the Pashtuns of Pakistan embrace their identity as Pashtuns ethnically—and many also accept their identity as Pakistanis nationally, often proudly—and the Pashtuns of Afghanistan need to recognize, if not also respect, this fact. Similarly, the Pashtuns of Pakistan need to recognize that Pakistan history is taught to them from too biased a perspective, as all history is, for them to be able to learn their history in a more complete way; when Afghan-Pashtuns then tell the Pakistani Pashtuns that all Pashtuns are originally from Afghanistan, that the Durand Line is an artificial and arbitrary boundary demarcated by the British to keep Pashtuns as divided as possible, or that Pakistan does not mean well for Pashtuns, there is at least some truth to each statement. It would thus be in our best interest to re-view Pashtun history from as many different perspectives as possible so that we get a more complete picture of the reality of where we are today and how we got here, whether we are in Afghanistan or Pakistan. At the very least, the most important things we have in common are our shared history and lineage—and our language.


  1. "Similarly, the Pashtuns of Pakistan need to recognize that Pakistan history is taught to them from too biased a perspective, as all history is, for them to be able to learn their history in a more complete way; when Afghan-Pashtuns then tell the Pakistani Pashtuns that all Pashtuns are originally from Afghanistan, that the Durand Line is an artificial and arbitrary boundary demarcated by the British to keep Pashtuns as divided as possible, or that Pakistan does not mean well for Pashtuns, there is at least some truth to each statement."

    All countries in the world teach their citizens a biased perspective of history, not just Pakistan, but America,China and even Afghanistan, I don't justify but I think it's unfair to point out Pakistan's "historical bias", and I many Pashtun nationalists and Afghans may find it hard to believe but Afghanistan does preach a biased perspective of history, and many Afghans & Pashtun nationalists believe it without, it's almost impossible to debate with a nationalists.

    Some of the myths that Afghans and Pashtuns nationalists love to reiterate:
    Myth #1.The British "occupied" present-day KPK.
    Truth:The Afghan king Abdur Rehman Khan sold present day KPK to the British and even accepted payments for many decades after the agreement was signed.

    Myth #2:The Durrand line agreement was only valid for "100 years".
    Truth:The Durrand line agreement had NO time limit, in fact in the original copy of the Durrand line agreement in a museum in London, there is no time limit stated, and the US state dept. and the British gov. have also stated that the Durrand line agreement never had a time limit.

    Now you might ask how did the "100 year myth" surface?
    Afghan and Pashtun nationalists assumed that the Durrand line treaty was similar to that of the treaty of Hong Kong between China and Britain, that lasted for 100 years, before the British held a referendum and handed over Hong Kong to China, but they were greatly disappointed to find out that the Durrand line treaty and the treaty of Hong Kong didn't have the have the same clauses.

    So instead of blaming Pakistan for not "returning" "pashtun lands" back to Afghanistan, you should blame Abdur Rehman Khan for being a terrible negotiator, no matter what you do, you can't turn back the clock, he screwed up big time for his people and now they got to live with the consequences, instead of whining like little kids because they lost a chunk of their land because of selfishness.

    Myth #3: Afghanistan is "5000 years old" whereas Pakistan is only 65 years old(This a Pashtun nationalists favorite line).
    Truth:Afghanistan is actually only 250 years old, before that it was part of Khorasan ruled by Persians, so Afghanistan is roughly the same age as America.

    Myth #4:Afghan/Pashtuns descend from Jews, where as "Pakistanis" descend Hindus.
    Truth:Most Pakistanis may descend from Hindus, but so do most Afghans because Afghanistan had a very rich pre-Islamic Hindu & Buddhist history, so calling Pakistanis, "fake Muslims" because of our Hindu ancestry is really hypocritical.

    Myth #5: Afghans "brought" Islam to India.
    Truth:Credit goes to Mohammad Bin Qasim, an Arab.

    Myth #6:"Afghans" ruled the subcontinent for over 800 years.
    Truth:Most of those so called "Afghan" rulers were actually Persians and Turkics.

    I could go on and on about the myths Pashtun nationalists, and probably many even know ridiculous some of their claims are, but they will continue to believe in these because it gives them a false sense of superiority, but you can't change history

    PS If Afghanistan want's KPK back, they can take Pakistan to the International Court of Justice, but so far they haven't, because they don't have a strong case.

    1. Let me educate on you on some of the "myths" you've picked out of context, and that even from wikipedia fof that matter.
      1. Under the succession of states rule all territories formerly under colonial occupation are supposed to go back to their original owner. The loophole for the then NWFP was that it happened to be a province within the the empire and so were any claims except FATA which was included as a autonomous appendix buffer region to the FRs which is part of KPK. And you're forgetting that the Durand Line Agreement also included the Baloch whose chosen representative the Khan of Kalat was not a signatory whichade the document void from the get go.
      2 Abdur Rahman Khan never "sold" anything. He ceded over political control over of the then north western territory and diplomatic control of all of Afghanistan to prevent homself from being over thrown and the Persians from invading Herat who thd British and Russian instigated.
      3. In a way Afghanistan is older than 5000 years. The majority of the people occupying it have resided there for eons in close to the same government system that is still there today. The ancient state of Aryana being described by Alexander.
      4. Who said Afghans were Jews? Afghans are an Iranian ethnic group, something that also bothers many insecure Pakistanis such as yourself. And Afghans werw never hindus. Hind amd Sindh are the names of two major river systems in Avestan, a precursor/contributing language to Pashto. Hinu being upper and Sind the lower. Hind was translated by the Greeks as Indus; even the name india comes from it Indus Indica.
      5. Muhammad Bin Qasim failed on most of his attempts to try and convert the locals. It was only after Mahmood of Ghaznavi and the succeeding barrage of sufi yogis when the hindustanis became Muslims. Afghans/ Pashtuns and Tajiks and later Persians were ancient practitioners of Zoroastrianism the Greco Buddhist polytheism and then Islam. Hindus were too few in number and may not have been local. The Shahi era was made up of group from modern day Gilgit Chilas and Swat.
      6 Do you know who the 3 ruling classes of India were? The Turan (Turks), the Persians and the AFGHANS.
      Also when discussing Afghan claims to Pakhtunkhwa you forgot to mention the Bannu resolution of 1946 and the rigged NWFP referendum that same year where Qayyum Khan killed more than 100 peaceful Khudai Khidmatgar activists.
      Please do go on, I'd really like to see you try to spin more wikipedia knowledge out of context.

    2. Thank God for you, Anonymous! I didn't even remember to respond to the first Anon's comment.

      Thanks for educating us all!

    3. 1. According to the cabinet mission all of the Muslim majority states of Northwest colonial India and East Bengal/Sylhet were supposed to merge and form a new country for the Muslims of the subcontinent, I don't how Briton was supposed "return" all of that land west of the Indus, to Afghanistan.
      2.Afghan king Abdur Rahman Khan received payments from Britain up until his death and so did his successor(his son) Amir Habibullah Khan and even if the British had acquired Afghanlands through conquest that isn't any different to how Afghanistan gained a lot of it's land, but you only remember what happened in recent history and not about the historical injustices your country had inflicted on the subcontinent long before that, also a lot of the land the British had acquired from the Afghans were previously under Sikh rule too.

      As for the Baluch lands, only northern Balochistan ceded into British India after the Durrand line treaty, the other Baluch lands(Kalat and others) were annexed by the British in the 1870s, and Pakistan bought Gwadar from Oman in 1958
      3."In a way Afghanistan is older than 5000 years. The majority of the people occupying it have resided there for eons in close to the same government system that is still there today."lol, how different is that from me saying that "in a way Pakistan is more than 5000 years old cause the people occupying it have resided for eons", the truth the Afghanistan was established as the Durrani empire in the mid 1700s and then gained it's current name(Afghanistan) in the late 1800s and I don't see how Afghanistan has had the "same government system throughout it's history"!Afghanistan is now a democracy for the first time in it's history.
      4.How about you read carefully! I never said Afghans are jews but many Afghan nationalists claim that they descend from "lost Israeli tribes"(no substantive evidence about that claim) and that us Pakistanis(read Sindhis and Punjabis) descend from Hindus(hence we aren't "proper Muslims" according to them) and i don't how the majority of Afghans being Iranic makes us Pakistanis "insecure" lol.
      5.Mohammad Bin Qasim's first conquests of Sindh and South Punjab brought Islam to the subcontinent(in 712 AD) and succeeded in converting the majority of people in these regions, and that's why Sindhi was one of the first languages in which the Quran was translated into and Sindh is known as the Gate of Islam in South Asia, I do believe that Turko-Persians(maybe Afghans) brought Islam to upper Punjab and Kashmir, , and Afghanistan does have a very rich pre-Islamic Hindu and Buddhist history(which many Afghans deny) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-Islamic_Hindu_and_Buddhist_heritage_of_Afghanistan so not all Afghans were Zoroasters before Islam arrived, Afghanistan also had some of the biggest Buddha statues in Bamiyan(which the Taliban destroyed).
      6.Yes I am aware that the 3 ruling classes of the subcontinent were Turko-Persian(Afghans) and they did oppress the indigenous people of South Asia, even the Muslims, I don't see why you should be proud of that, even to this day in my ancestral hometown in Kashmir, the word Afghan has a negative connotation because of what the Durranis did(we shall never forget), heck even Ranjit Singh treated South Asian Muslims better than our Muslim "Brothers" did.

      The Durrand line is now an internationally recognized boundary line between Afghanistan and Pakistan(apart from Afghanistan not accepting it), so it would be better if the Afghan focuses on uniting it's country instead of fanning ethnic conflicts in Pakistan, you can either have a united Afghanistan or a "Pashtunistan", but you can't have both, if you plan on balkanizing Pakistan, the sames going to happen to Afghanistan.

      As for spinning "Wikipedia knowledge", i would say they're more reliable than your jingoistic rhetoric.

  2. @Anonymous - Thank you for explaining the myths to us but in reality Pashtuns on both side of the Durand line share the same traditions, culture, Pakhtunwali, same blood etc., they can write agreements, they can try to inject Pakistan studies or whatever into the our brains and they can try to divide us for as long as you they please to do so but in reality when we Pashtuns from Lar and Bar get together in one hujra and talk to each others in the same language that’s the time when we realize that wait a minute all those stories of pakistanisum or whateverisum they told us were all lies and we are in fact Afghans. Pakhtuns from Qandahar, Jalalabad, Paktia, Kunar, Wardak and Pakhtuns from Malakand, swat, Bajour, Waziristan, kurram, mardan buner, Dir, kohat, Quetta etc will get together in our hujra every week drink tea playing Rabab mangi and singing songs in pastho and telling Pakhtuns love stories like I would do in my home with my family and relatives, and that’s the time when we realize and use common sense that our way of life is the same. These people are our own brothers and we are one blood and no one can divide us. They can draw the lines, you can explain the myths and say whatever you want but all I know that we did rule india, we did defeated the famous warriors of their eras, we did defeated almost all the super powers and time will come when Pakhtuns will rise in sha allah and then there will be no Durand line and there will be prosperity and peace. Remember history always repeat itself.

    1. Thanks for your insight, Yousafzai! Agreed about how similar/same our traditions are across borders.

    2. Exactly my view point. I'm a pashtun from swat and I cannot stand non pashtuns in pakistan who claim that we belong to them. We belong to nobody. We are Pashtuns. It does not matter which side of the border we reside, Pashtuns are one and the same blood. My father always says: The Pashtun race is like water, no many how many times you beat out with a stick or even create a dam in it, the water will always find a way to join back together again. I think that speaks for itself!

    3. Pakhtun Yousafzai@ History will not repeat it self nor it is possible to unite nor Pakistan Pashtuns are interested simple as that :) i'm From Mahsud belongs from S.Waziristan and i want to make it clear for you & i.e we are happy here in this country,First let afghans to fix their failed country and make it prosperous and fix terrorism issue..i know pashtuns and no one like afghani pashtun and to be honest most of them hate them,why ?? bcz our pashtuns gave them houses,meals when they came here in 80s after ussr invasion and after 2001 but what they are doing here is speaking against Pakistan and always call Pakistani Pashtuns #DAAL_Khor and slaves of someone else :) your wet dream of loyAfghanistan will always remain a dream :) so keep dreaming bcz dreams are for free :) Reality on ground is far different and as soon as u realize this the better it will be for you :) there is no need of LoyAfghanistan nor we Pakistani Pashtuns accept it :) ...Khushalaa usaay !!

    4. All this reading matter was very interesting. Im South Indian, born Hindu but kinda raised atheist and consider myself progressive in mots ways. What are your thoughts on Kashmir. Are Kashmiris on both sides of the divide differentiated in the same way that Pashtuns are ? What about Punjab ? Im curious ... i sincerely believe we in South Asia should have open borders and complete access to each others homes like a South Asian EU but that seems like a pipe-dream given the current geo-political reality and all the baggage that goes with it.
      My country is now wracked by Hindu fundamentalists. I abhor their primitive views. I look at whats happening in Pakistan and it appears as though the Pakistani military is hellbent on using religion as a tool and has weilded it expertly so far. I see Afghans and Pakistanis battling with their own fundamentalists.
      Does anyone see light at the end of the tunnel or are we doomed to live in this perpetual cauldron of hate ? Ahh well ....

  3. to the Writer of this Article remember Pakistan also call us Afghans and the simple evidence would be my domicile where it clearly says "QOOM AFGHAN" -


Dare to opine :)

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