Taliban, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, are an attempt to wipe out entho-nationalism among the Pashtun and temper with the Pashtun cultural identity
Pak-Afghan Relations Important Points
One of the media and academia’s axiomatic constructions about Pashtun is that Taliban are Pashtun nationalists. This construction is based on distorted one-sided information and selective references to the Pashtun history that too are misrepresented to concur with the notion that Taliban are Pashtun nationalists. Drawing upon the current Pashtun ground realities and history, I will argue that Taliban, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, are mere proxies of the Pakistani state to wipe out forces of entho-nationalism among the Pashtun as well as temper with Pashtun cultural identity on both sides of the Durand line in the state pursuit of the foreign and domestic policy objectives set and controlled by the military establishment of Pakistan.
Let me say on the outset that the Pashtun experience of having been assaulted with state proxies in garb of religion is not new. In the past the Mughal and the British states have done the same in order to force the Pashtun to behave in line with the states’ strategic interests. There are basically three big pan Pashtun nationalist movements in the Pashtun history. All the three movements were perceived as clashing with the contemporary states’ interests. Thus all the three were assaulted with states’ proxies and propaganda skillfully camouflaged with religion.
The first movement was initiated by mystic, Bayazeed Ansari, from Kaniguram, South Waziristan. He was called ‘Pir-Rooshan’ (the saint of light) by his followers. He lived during the reign of the Mughal Indian Emperor Jalaludin Akbar (1542-1605). The Mughal emperor imposed a ban on him and his followers. Above all the supposedly secular Mughal ruler, Akbar, tasked mullahs to launch a politically-motivated religious campaign against the teachings of Pir-Rooshan. Prominent among the those mullahs are Akhund Darveza (a mullah of Tajik origin) and another Pir Ali Tirmizi (of Uzbek origin). These two state sponsored mullahs declared him Peer-Tareek (the saint of darkness) and assaulted his movement with a sustained malicious propaganda apparently rooted in Islam.
The second Pashtun nationalist movement was launched and led by Khushal Khan Khattak, well-known Pashtun poet, political leader and warrior. The nationalist movement led by him was fully supported by two other influential Pashtun tribal leaders, Darya Khan in Khyber agency and Aimal Khan in Mohmand agency. Arguably, Khushal Khan can be regarded as the founder of modern Pashtun nationalism. For the ethno-nationalist inspiration of future generations of Pashtun, Khushal Khan, also known as lord of pen, has left volumes of his Pashto poetry that is full of Pashtun nationalistic motivation, aim and expression. In one of his well-known couplets, he says this: ‘Drast Pashtun la Kandahara tar Attoca sara yo da nang pa kar pat ao ashkar, pa yowa zhaba wail sara Pashto kro walay nashoo la yo bal khabardar’ ( All Pashtun from Qandahar to Attock speak Pashto language (and) are (socio-culturally) one and the same, but are (politically) oblivion to one another). Khushal Khan’s movement was suppressed by the most bigoted Mughal ruler of India, Aurangzeb Alamgir (1618-1707). One of the Khushal Khan’s couplets in which he condemns the Mugahl ruler’s atrocities is this in. ‘Che pa noom Pakhtanay ghuseegi pray khawkheegi, Aurangzeb dasay badshah de da Islam’ (He (Aurangzeb) derives pleasure from massacre of Pashtun, such is Aurangzeb’s kingdom of Islam).
The third great Pashtun nationalist movement was launched by Khan Ghafar Khan, popularly known as Bacha Khan. A prominent difference between Khushal Khan and Bacha Khan is that the former ran his movement with sword in form of armed struggle against the Mugahl army led by a fanatic Muslim ruler and the latter’s movement was non-violent. Essentially, Bacha Khan’s movement was for mass-scale social reformations in the Pashtun society in order to cleanse it from socio-cultural practices that hindered wide spread human development in the society, such as revenge or the inhibition towards modern education.
The British-Indian and the successor Pakistan states used religious proxies to oppress Bacha Khan’s movement. Wali Khan’s book, Facts are Facts, contains interesting research about the role of mullahs against the Pashtun nationalist movement under the British Raj. Both the British-Indian and the Pakistani states never allowed Bacha Khan to enter the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) although despite all the states’ opposition, his movement did inspire countless people across FATA, including many parents who sent their children to the schools established by Bacha Khan in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa areas on the border with FATA.
Linked with Bacha Khan’s movement was the mass scale social reform and state building agendas of Amanullah Khan, the great Pashtun King of Afghanistan (1919-1929). The king made arrangements for compulsory education for all Afghans and gave right to vote to women. Pashto was declared the official language of Afghanistan. He began to build a strong Afghan armed force, including the air force with help of the Russians, and initiated a process of industrialization. He tasked the Russians to build a road linking Tashkand with Kabul and Khyber agency in FATA. The king regularly used to read Pakhtun, a Pashto language magazine launched by Bacha Khan, and used to advise other people in Afghanistan to do so. The Pashtun, although divided by the British drawn artificial Durand Line, had turned their faces towards progress, development and ethno-national unity.
All this was too much for the British rulers of India to bear because it was happening in the area that the British had assumed their buffer zones vis-a-vis Russia. Their first buffer zone, Afghanistan, and their second buffer zone, FATA, along with the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (formally NWFP) seemed going out of the British control coupled with a possible tilt towards the Russians. The British had to act to eliminate the reforms undertaken on both sides of the Durand Line. The British knew they could not do it militarily. It could have brought the British face to face with the Russians that the British never wanted. Secondly, the harsh experiences of the three Afghan wars had taught them that military intervention in Afghanistan is pointless. Thus they unleashed mullahs on Bacha Khan and King Amanullah Khan to rob their reform agendas of religious legitimacy. In case of the king the British lowered themselves to such an extent they made fake photos of his wife, Queen Soraya, showing her half naked. The photos were distributed in Afghanistan with the malicious propaganda that the king is not a Muslim in his personal and political life and hence cannot be king of the Pashtun, who are Muslim. Deadly chaos was created in Afghanistan in which Bacha Saqa took power who did with Afghanistan what the ISI backed Taliban did during their reign (1996-2001). Girls’ schools were closed down, Afghan Shias were massacred, the state building agenda was rolled backed and Kabul was ravaged. Similarly, mullahs were also unleashed by the British to discredit Bacha Khan’s movement as well.
King Amanullah Khan’s agenda for social reforms, imposed from above, was very vulnerable to conspiracies by anti-Pashtun forces, who exploited the vulnerability to the full. Contrary to this, Bacha Khan’s movement for social reforms was firmly rooted in people’s confidence that he and his followers had successfully won through direct interaction people in villages and towns. Thus his movement could be never rolled backed despite severe and prolonged oppression by the British-Indian and Pakistani states. Nevertheless, the implantation of the social reforms that both Bacha Khan wanted was thwarted by the successive states’ oppressions. Imagine where the Pashtun as nation would have been today if the reform agendas undertaken on both side of the Durand Line had been carried forward.