Afghans or Pashtuns: Why the Fuss?

By Sajid Ullah

Recently the leader of Pukhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party in Pakistan, Mahmood Khan Achakzai faced severe criticism because he called Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP) the land of Afghans. Although taken out of context on social media, it sounded worse from a Pakistani’s viewpoint, the remarks offended many Pakistanis including those who acknowledged the ethnic affinity between Pashtuns and Afghans.

Hashtags like #DeportAchakzaiToAfghanistan and #TreasonCaseOnAchakzai started trending on Twitter. Mr. Achakzai gave all his explanations of the context of his remarks on media but it brought to light another important issue. The people who supported Achakzai in the social circles of Pukhtunkhwa expressed a strong sense of separatism and deprivation. Though Mr. Achakzai said the newspaper quoted him incorrectly, linguistically and ethnically speaking “KP belongs to Afghans” is correct from a historic point of view.

Historically, Pashtuns and Afghans are two names interchangeably used to refer to the same group of people. They have been settled in this part of the world which falls in modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan since thousands of years. The Pashtun belt in both these countries has been hard-hit by terror and the war on terror. In Pakistan, ever since we decided to intervene in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion the Pashtun/Afghan belt has been a war zone. Not only has this belt been war-torn, most of the area is subject to laws which would be considered inhumane by 21st century standards. Human rights violations are well recorded and documeted in this region.

Federally Administered Tribal Areas which make around 27000 square kilometers of the Pashtun belt in Pakistan have been subject to the Federal Crime Regulation (FCR) since 1901 which denies basic human rights to the people. Clause 21 of the FCR requires a person charged with a crime to surrender, and in case of failure to surrender, the people of the whole village except their elderly are detained and held responsible for the charges against the alleged criminal. The person is not allowed access to advocacy nor given any right to appeal. This is the basis of what is known as Collective Responsibility. 

Most of the Pashtuns in Pakistan lack basic facilities of health and education and are hence breeding generations of uneducated and unhealthy people who are left vulnerable to being exploited for radical goals. There has been little to no industrial development in the areas occupied by Pashtuns. Due to the lack of industrial growth and economic activity the people are inclined towards religion which is directly or indirectly controlled or influenced by one form of extremists or the other. It is quite clear Pashtuns have been the less fortunate among other ethnicities in the country, and due to lack of awareness they always fall prey to imperialistic designs of other ethnicities.

It is not surprising that in a country where a Punjabi governs Punjab and a Sindhi governs Sindh, Pashtuns elect others to govern them due to their lack of quality judgment. But there are some Pashtuns who possess the capacity to think and understand this suppression and enslaving of their ethnicity by others. These are free minded people who want to live and let live, certainly not let others enslave them. This kind of a situation brings about havoc in the country and leads to further divisions in the already divided country between various ethnicities. One wonders what’s the way out of such havoc and finds examples in history and the contemporary world. Today the world believes in democracy which in its true sense means letting the people of a country make their own decisions.

When there are such divisions in countries as there are in Pakistan and certain people live with a strong sense of deprivation and segregation, the countries have to give those people a chance to have their say.

This takes the shape of a referendum. A referendum is probably one of the best ways to mainstream the discontent section of a society where certain ethnic groups feel marginalized and deprived.

If in the case of Pakistan, there are voices calling Baluchistan a lost case or Pashtuns disloyal to Pakistan, the state should hold referendums in both these provinces. This will not only ensure providing the ethnic groups living in Baluchistan and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa their right to freedom but also resolve the recurrent cases of “treason” and ethnic discrimination. Some may question the possibility of holding a fair referendum in a country where almost all elections are allegedly rigged but thorough deliberations and sincere efforts could make it possible. This would be living and letting live in the true sense.

I believe in a Pakistan of pluralism and diversity, not of religious bigotry and caste politics. I dream to see a South Asia that’s a proud example of tolerance, freedom and hope for the downtrodden. If we can’t end our differences, we can make the world a safer place for diversity. Mr. Achakzai’s heart was in the right place, his words, should be seen in a broader context.

Sajid Ullah

The author is a graduate of English literature and is based in Swat and Glasgow. Follow him on Twitter @miansaj999

sajid has 1 posts and counting.See all posts by sajid

4 thoughts on “Afghans or Pashtuns: Why the Fuss?

  • July 14, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    A realistic and refreshing topic, I hope we hear more from sajid Ullah.
    I enjoyed his work

  • July 15, 2016 at 1:35 am

    A very well written piece, hope we’ll see similar efforts on other circulating issues as well.

  • July 16, 2016 at 2:10 am

    The author is wrong in Afghan and Pashtun are the same. Afghans now consist of Pashtun, Hazara, Uzbek and other ethnicities living in Afghanistan whereas Pashtun is very different from them, in language, in culture, in food, in traditions.

  • August 30, 2016 at 3:38 am

    The religious and cultural definition requires Pashtuns to be Muslim and adhere to Pashtunwali codes. Claimants of Pashtun heritage in South Asia have mixed with local Muslim populations and are referred to as


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *