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Afghan: Ethnicity or citizenship


A statement of Mehmood Khan Achakzai has tremored both Pakistani social and electronic media and the aftershocks of this statement continue and will remain for sometime in media. Mehmood Khan, a veteran Pashtun nationalist politician, cited Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as a part of Afghan homeland and called himself Afghan.

His statement fumed self-proclaimed uncles and aunties of the state. This is not a single time that Pashtun nationalists quote themselves as Afghans. From eulogizing Abdul Ghaffar Khan with title of Fakhr-e-Afghan (Pride of Afghan nation) to frequent use in our literature and folk songs, the word Afghan is making a good show around us.

I recall when my father was filling the caste blank in my domicile certificate with the word “Afghan”, I was quite anxious.  Blimey, why did my father put Afghan in my identity certificate? Where did this word come from? God forbid, we are too Maajar (A slang used for Afghan refugees)? Why am I surrounded by the rhetoric of Afghan?

Loathing the words Afghan and Maajar was fruit of our media’s depiction. Unlike others, my hatred put me on the road to search and study my origin or the history of Afghan. The history of Pashtuns (Afghans) is as older and complex as the nature of Pashtuns is. Here narrating the tale of “Afghan” in a few lines is like almost an impossible task.

The origin of the word “Afghan” is too much obscure. The traces of Afghanistan history could be sought in texts based on prehistoric civilizations. Excavation of some sites suggests that early humans were dwelling in Afghanistan at least 50,000 years ago. A clear hint comes from the conspicuous Greek historian Herodotus in his book (The History of Herodotus), who cited some people called Pactyan residing in area which is presently Afghanistan, in first millennium BCE. An ancient book of Indian collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns “Rigveda” which dates back to 1700-1100 BC, mentions word Pakhta for people inhibiting Eastern Afghanistan. Majority of scholars adhere this word to modern Pakhtun (Pashtun) people. Some trace back to a paradoxical evidence of Alexander’s commendation of a military group in Darius’ army. That group comprised of soldiers who were called Paktyans of the now a days Afghanistan.


During the 3rd century CE, the earliest authentic reference of the name Abgan (Afghan) was coined by Sassanid Emperor Shah Pur I, The great. Later, recording of word “Avagana” in the 6th century is done by the Indian polymath Varahamihira his book Brihat Samhita. Encyclopedia Iranica adverts Brihat Samhita and converges that this name was used for Pastun (Pashtuns were anciently called Pastun in Persian documents) residing in present day Afghanistan. In early Persian scripts, “Afghan” was only stipulated for Pashtuns.

The correct word “Afghan”, however, is documented in an anonymously written Persian book Hudud Al Alam (Boundaries of World), written in the 10th century CE. As the name indicates, it’s a book about geography in anthropological context. After this, the word Afghan has become the core subject of prominent historians’ interest and is substantiated in their text. For example, in Alberuni’s Tarikh Ul Hind (History of India); Ibne Battuta’s Travelogue Manuscripts; Amir Karor’s Pata Khazana (Hidden treasure); Khushal Khan Khattak’s Diwan (Poetry collection); Muhammad Qasim Hindu Shah Farishta’s Tarikh e Farishta (Narratives of Farishta); Naimat Ullah Harvi’s Shajara e Afghan (Family tree of Afghans); Hafiz Rehmat Khan’s Tawarikh e Hafiz Rehmat Khani (History narrated by Rehmat Khan, compiled by Khan Roshan Khan); and many more to date.

The history of origin of this race, however, is quite a mystery for historians and some say that the different theories are mere conjectures. For example, some advocate their Indo Aryans ethnicity; some have Turkish tales about their origin; some present them descendants of Greeks; but the unique one is, reckoning them the lost children of Israel. This theory clings Afghans to the Jewish bloodline. This theory was presented by Mullah Naimat Ullah Harvi at behest of Afghan Government and elders. His main aim was to give an auspicious touch to this race; however, there are many holes in his story.

All these theories may differ about Afghan origin but are on same page about their existence and residence for millennia. The historical evidences cited above, has displayed a group of people who were referred as Pactyan, Paktyan, Pakhta, Abgan, Avagana, Pastun, Patan, Pathan, Pashtun or Afghan, were dwelling in a region between Amu River and Indus River. In simple words, from Amu River to Abassin (Indus River) is the region which homes and cradles Afghan race for centuries. Thus this region is known as Pashtuns’ homeland.

It is also quite well documented fact that Pashtuns were zealots about their Afghan ethnicity for centuries; Qasim Shah Farishta narrates in his book (Tarikh e Farishta) written in 16th century that when they (Pashtuns) were inquired (in India) about their fellow Muslims in Kohistan (Land of mountains- Afghanistan). They replied: Don’t call our homeland Kohistan; it’s Afghanistan and we are Afghans.

Khushal Khattak categorically wrote that Afghans are Pashtuns, Pashtuns are Afghans. In his famous verse, he says “I have taken up the sword to defend the pride of the Afghan; I am Khushal Khattak, the gallant man of the age.”

Khushal baba

Pashtuns or Pathans living all over the globe have a same Afghan background and they have been referred in all historical text of India with the word Afghan. Writing this word Afghan in domicile certificate is practiced since British colonial times. In 1933, in renowned pamphlet “Now or Never”; Chaudray Rehmat Ali came up with the name of Afghania for Pashtun region in North West of India and made it an integral part of the word “Pakistan”.

The huge enigma about the word Afghan was created in 1964, when Afghanistan’s constitution delineated it and referred it to citizens of the Kingdom of Afghanistan irrespective of their ethnicity. This diversification of Afghan resolved many ethnic grudges in Afghanistan and was a pivotal step towards their national reconciliation and harmony. This move, on the other hand, has created a mass confusion about Afghan ethnicity and citizenship. Asfandyar Wali Khan acknowledging Afghanistan’s constitution mentioned that every Pashtun is Afghan but every Afghan is not a Pashtun.

All these evidences and quotations elucidate that Afghan is a race having a peculiar origin and genetic composition. The fact remains that Afghan is a nation like other nations i.e. Balochi, Sindhi or Punjabi, not a citizenship of any particular state. Supporting the significance of genetic makeup in demarcation of nations, United Nations defines Nation as: “A group of people living in a geographical area sharing same genome, language, culture, socio-economic interest and religion.” This definition guides the seekers where they belong to.

Mehmood Khan Achakzai, in my opinion, is very naïve. Being Pashtun leader with already considered hazy loyalty, his statement is very inappropriate in this delicate and paranoid country because here such statements are strictly denounced. Achakzai may have anticipated that like Pervez Ilahi and Nawaz Sharif, calling himself Afghan will be applauded; they have both frequently in past verbalized that Pakistani and Indian Punjabis have one heart and Indo-Pak border is merely a line which cannot keep Punjabi people apart. It was a utopian thought and Achakzai should now firmly deduce that here some people have some discrete rights not all.

After his this statement people including some geek Pashtuns, started demonizing him and queried about his loyalty again. His press conference was called as a part of a sinister plan and argued to expunge him from Pakistan. We live in a society where our mental state always remains critical. Contrary to acceptable Pervez Ilahi and Nawaz Sharif, words of some people like Achakzai are considered more pernicious. Our social paranoia incited hate campaign against him which was quite a good pretense of a jingoistic ideology now called Trumpism.

Achakzai like his forefathers is inhabitant of this land for millennia. This land belongs to him and he belongs to this land. Nobody can undone his bond with his homeland or judge his loyalty to it. He is a partisan of odds and he cannot be panicked by few buffoons with keyboards or few cameras distributing certificates of treason and apostasy.

The only thing that was matter of immense regret was active Pashtuns involvement in this wave of hate against Achakzai forgetting which blood runs in their veins. Allah has created us Afghan with Afghan genome in our creation. If someone is ashamed of his origin then he should change his Afghan DNA.

I believe that a Pashtun should be proud of his Afghan origin and pronounce it. Cursing Afghan will go nowhere but will fall upon that Pashtun. It’s a famous hadith that “the one who castigates his nation (caste) is none of us.”

Afghan is not a citizenship; it is a race which lives in this region.Dr. Kalim Ullah Khan

Writer: Dr. Kalim Ullah Khan

The writer is a doctor by profession and working as a lecturer in a medical college in Peshawar. He can be reached at



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