Pashtuns: Who are they and how are they divided between Pakistan and Afghanistan?

Pashtuns: Who are they and how are they divided between Pakistan and Afghanistan?
Pashtuns: Who are they and how are they divided between Pakistan and Afghanistan?

4 Sep 2021 02:07 GMT

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Pashtun fighters

The Pashtuns are an ethnic group that resides mainly in the area between the Hindu Kush mountain range in northeastern Afghanistan and the northern section of the Indus River in Pakistan.

They constitute the largest ethnic group of the population of Afghanistan and were known as Afghans before the name Afghanistan was adopted to denote the current state of Afghanistan at the end of the nineteenth century.

Pashtuns have a common language, Pashto. Other commonalities include religion and the common social law (Pashtun wali) that govern moral behavior and mores in Pashtun society.

It is known that many Pashtun tribes moved from Afghanistan to present-day Pakistan between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, and many Pashtuns moved to northern Afghanistan after the formation of the modern Afghan state in the late nineteenth century as part of the plan of the then-governor of Afghanistan, Prince Abdul Rahman Khan, to overcome the divisions ethnic.

According to current estimates, Pashtuns make up about 40 percent of Afghanistan’s population, and the two largest groups of Pashtun tribes are the Durrani and Golzai.

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All the kings and rulers of Afghanistan during the past two centuries were Pashtuns

Historic home

The historical homeland of the Pashtun tribes is southern and eastern Afghanistan and the tribal areas in the northwest of Pakistan known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Balochistan Province in western Pakistan, where the Pashtuns constitute the second largest ethnic group in Pakistan after the Punjabis.

The number of Pashtuns in Pakistan is more than twice their number in Afghanistan (their number was 11 million in Afghanistan and 25 million in Pakistan at the beginning of the current millennium, according to the British Encyclopedia). Current estimates indicate that the population of Afghanistan is about 40 million.

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Pashtun men

The Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Kandahar, Afghanistan, are considered the main homeland of the Pashtuns who reside in Quetta, Pakistan, and Kabul, Laghman, Kunar, Paktia and Faryab, Afghanistan. The number of Pashtuns residing in the Pakistani city of Karachi is estimated at more than 1.5 million.

All the rulers of Afghanistan during the past two centuries were Pashtuns who are Sunni Muslims and follow the Hanafi school.

The stronghold of the Pashtuns in Afghanistan is Helmand province, which is also one of the most important and largest strongholds of the Taliban movement.

Most of the Pashtuns are sedentary farmers, combining agriculture and animal husbandry. A few of them are still nomads.

Blood ties are the basis of the Pashtun tribal community. Each tribe consists of relatives who follow the same lineage in the male lineage from a common ancestor, and the tribe is divided into clans, sub-clans, and families.

Tribal lineages define inheritance and inheritance rights, the right to use tribal lands, and to speak in a tribal council (jirga).

Disputes over property, women, and bodily harm often lead to bloody feuds between entire families and clans and may be passed on to the next generation unless they are settled by the intervention of clan chiefs or a tribal council known as a jirga.

The Pashtuns formed the spearhead in resisting the Soviet invasion in 1979, as their areas in neighboring Pakistan were the rear base for the provision of arms and supplies and the recruitment and training of fighters.

They also played the same role after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, when the US forces were unable to break the back of the Taliban movement, whose backbone is the Pashtun, for two decades.

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Pashtuns on the Pakistani side of the border (file photo)

colonial legacy

Until the end of the nineteenth century, the Pashtuns lived under one authority and their historical areas of residence were not divided.

During the nineteenth century Afghanistan was the scene of conflict and competition for the so-called “Great Game” between the Russian and British empires. When Russia began to seize the regions of Central Asia one by one and the Russian Tsarist Empire began to expand rapidly and approach the Pamir Mountains, which were the borders of India, the jewel of the British crown during the colonial era, Britain moved to stop the Russian expansion.

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A symbolic image representing the Afghan prince trapped between the Russian bear and the English lion and written under it “Save me from my friends” before the outbreak of the second Afghan-British war in 1878

The English fought two wars against the Afghan kings, the first was between 1839 and 1842, in which the Indian-dominated invading forces suffered a terrible defeat, as only one person survived to tell what happened to their army at the hands of the Pashtun fighters.

The British succeeded in provoking differences and discord among the Afghans, and they won the second battle that took place between 1878 and 1879, and they were able to impose their guardianship on the Afghan King Abdul Rahman Khan, whom the British brought back from exile and installed him as Emir of the country in 1880.

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Pashtun fighters led by Afghan Prince Dost Muhammad Khan annihilated the English forces when Britain attempted to occupy Afghanistan in 1839

In order to secure control of the strategic Khyber Pass, the British sent diplomat Mortimer Durand to negotiate with Afghanistan an agreement to demarcate the border between Afghanistan and British India. The new frontier, called the Durand Line, divided the lands of the Pashtun tribes in two.

Half of the Pashtun tribal region became part of British India and the other half remained part of Afghanistan, and since then the Pashtuns on both sides of the line refuse to recognize it and look at it with utter resentment.

The agreement also led to Afghanistan losing the province of Balochistan, depriving the country of its historical view of the Arabian Sea and depriving it of any sea port.

permanent division

As the British prepared to leave India, Afghanistan demanded a review of the border, but Britain refused the request. When Pakistan joined the United Nations in 1947, Afghanistan was the only country that voted against its membership.

Subsequently, Afghanistan declared all agreements relating to the Durand Line including subsequent Anglo-Afghan treaties void because the Afghan rulers were forced to sign them through British pressure.

During the Cold War, Pakistan became an ally of the United States, while Afghanistan sought diplomatic and military support from the former Soviet Union. The greater rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union overshadowed the Afghan-Pakistan conflict, which prevented a solution to the Durand Line problem.

The Afghan regions, which became part of Pakistan after its secession from India in 1947, represent nearly half of the areas historically inhabited by the Pashtuns. These areas have maintained a kind of self-management inherited from the British colonial period and are currently called the Federally Administered Tribal Areas because of the Pashtuns’ refusal to rule over them and their refusal to obey and comply with other than their customs and traditions inherited through the centuries.

According to the United Nations Development Program, these areas consistently rank lower in education, health and standard of living in Pakistan.

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Many Pashtuns are anti-Taliban and against the policies of the Pakistani government

The Pashtuns in Pakistan caused a storm after a large number of them participated in the “Pashtun Unity March” in Wana, South Waziristan, in March 2020, a movement known as the “Pashtun Long March” led by young people in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

This march was organized by the “Pashtun Protection Movement” (PTM), a political party that exposes the violations that the people of the region are subjected to at the hands of the Pakistani army and sheds light on the problems that the region suffers from such as enforced disappearance and others. It is noteworthy that the people of this region did not enjoy citizenship rights until 2018.

This movement supports the former Afghan government and was anti-Taliban and the Pakistani government and anti-war and condemned the Doha Agreement between the Taliban and the United States. And the Pakistani authorities arrested a number of leaders of this movement on various charges.

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