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Nadeem Farooq Paracha and oversimplification of Pashtun history

The Subtle Distortions

A typical example of oversimplification can be observed in a piece by Nadeem Farooq Paracha, otherwise an objective writer, titled ‘The misplaced image of the warring Pakhtun’ published in Dawn on June 12, 2016.

Dr. Khadim HussainIt is now almost five hundred years since the peoples called in history the Pashtuns, Afghans and Sulemanis dubbed by the colonizers as Pathans and who traditionally lived between the River Oxus (Amu Darya) and River Indus (Abaseen) were constructed as bull-headed, ungovernable, ignorant, uncivilized and militants. As the Pashtuns lived in the regions between South and Central Asia, they mostly remained victims of invasions, external influences and target of manipulations both from the armies and empires expanding down to South Asia and penetrating up into Central Asia.

The latest construction of the Pashtuns by the post colonial oligarchies of the states of the region boils down to two major constituents. The first constituent pertains to sustenance of war economy developed in the region with the narrative of privatized Jihad. The Pashtuns have been constructed as representative and major carriers of this narrative. Proxies and non-state actors fighting to continue and expand the war economy have been cloned to be dubbed as ‘expression of Pashtun nationalism’. This construct not only helps the oligarchies to retain their influence for political and strategic domination in the region but this also leads to dissolve the national identity of the Pashtuns.

The second constituent of this construct far more formidable at best is the historical manipulation so as to create different histories of the Pashtuns living in different administrative domains. Hence, we come across terms like the Pashtuns of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pashtuns of Balochistan, Pashtuns of FATA and Pashtuns of Afghanistan. This historically seems to be the most effective tool with colonial powers to dissolve a nation into thin air and pave the way for its extinction.

If the manipulations of the pro-oligarchy writers and scholars were not enough, the apparently independent, rational and objective writers have also contributed a great deal to this phenomenon due to a tendency to oversimplify or due to overwhelming influence of state-controlled information. A typical example of this oversimplification can be Nadeem Parachaobserved in a piece by Nadeem Farooq Paracha, otherwise an objective writer, titled ‘The misplaced image of the warring Pakhtun’ published in Dawn on June 12 2016.

The following point by point rejoinder is presented of the review of Adil Khan’s book by Nadeem Farooq Paracha published in Dawn, June 12, 2016.

  • Nadeem Farooq Paracha(NFP) writes: “in 1849, when the British captured the southern part of Afghanistan, they faced stiff resistance from the Pakhtun tribes. The British saw the tribes as the opposite of what the British represented: ‘civilisation’.”

One can imply from Tuzk-e-Babri, Tuzk-e-Jahangiri, Ayeen-e-Akbari, J-Spain’s works and Olaf Caroe’s works that the construction of the Pashtuns as a ferocious nation (tribes) had started long before they struggled to keep away the British from their areas. This, if believed, would mean that external construction of Pashtuns by successive empires have traditionally put the Pashtuns in the peril of being attacked and subdued. Hence, elimination of the Roshinyat Movement, attacks on Yousufzais and incarceration and subsequent devastation of Khushal Khan Khattak’s campaign for a secular national political dispensation in the 16th century.

  • NFP writes: “Adil Khan complains that such an attempt to pigeonhole the Pakhtuns has obscured the economic and geographical conditions that have shaped the Pakhtun psyche. He argues that the image of the ‘unbeatable noble savage’ has been presented in such a manner that many Pakhtuns now find it obligatory to live up to this image.”

The text above assumes as if these economic and geographical conditions were naturally in place in the Pashtun belt. From the Greek till the British and its successor state, empires have shaped, de-shaped and reshaped economic conditions and have drawn geographical boundaries. This process ruptured historical continuity and disfigured natural evolution of the Pashtuns. The claim above ignores these historical realities and subtly affirms the construction of the Pashtuns. The claim above only tries to justify presence of such traits in the Pashtuns as a nation which are historically and socially not substantiated.

  • NFP writes: “This image has also been used to build narratives by those who see religious militancy emerging from the Pakhtun-dominated areas in the north-west of Pakistan as a consequence of the state’s ‘callous’ handling of the traditions of the ‘proud Pakhtun tribes’. Such narratives, which are mostly applied by politicians and analysts who have frequently opposed military operations in the country’s tribal areas, suggest that they (the operations) have triggered the ‘historical’ penchant of Pakhtun tribes to indulge in acts of violence as revenge.”

The text assumes that religious militancy originated in the Pashtun belt and that military operations were meant to curb that militancy. Hard core literature on the history of the construction and permeation of extremist narrative, the perspective of the development of war economy and the desire to build an empire in the guise of ‘Khilafat’ clearly indicates that the above theoretical framework is both unviable and implausible. The narrative originated elsewhere for which the people of the Pashtun belt were used as fodder by closing on them all doors to earn decent living after decimating their socio-cultural capital and political leadership. The socio-cultural capital was destroyed by both the ‘terrorists’ and the ones who went after those ‘terrorists’.

  • NFP writes: “For example, the central architect of Pakhtun nationalism, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, banked on the myth of Pakhtuns being unbeatable warriors to construct the anti-colonial aspect of his Pakhtun nationalist organization, the Khudai Khidmatgar.”

The above claim is a sheer distortion of facts. It is now a well-documented fact that the narrative of Khudai Khidmatgaar Movement was built on three major premises. First, national consciousness (history, culture, language, natural resources, unity, economic development, socio-cultural advancement and political empowerment) was the mainstay of the slogans: khpala khawra, khpal ikhtiar (Our land, our right to rule) and Lar aw Bar Yo Afghan (All Afghans/Pashtuns are united). Second, social justice (equitable distribution of resources, inclusive political framework or pluralism, non-violence and civilized living) was expressed through the slogan: Pora vi ka Spora, Pa Shareeka ba vi (We shall distribute equitably whatever we have). Third, gender equity was duly emphasized. No where did the Khudai Khidmatgaars claim the Pashtuns to be ‘unbeatable’ and ‘undefeatable’ rather they pleaded the otherwise.

  • NFP writes: “But Earnest Gellner in his book, Myths of Nation & Class in Mapping the Nation, is of the view that though the Pakhtuns are an independent-minded people and take pride in many of their traditions, they are largely an opportunistic and pragmatic people.”

This claim is based on the sample of those who are co-opted by the imperial and post imperial powers and oligarchies. You can find such kind of classes in all nations but these classes never represent collective aspirations of a nation. Hence, they must never be thought to be Pashtun-specific.

Writer: Khadim Hussain

The writer is a columnist with THE PASHTUN TIMES and Managing Director Baacha Khan Trust Educational Foundation. He tweets   @Khadimhussain4


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