I am from North Afghanistan. Although there is no such thing as North or South Afghanistan but when I look at the state of my country right now, I am assured that Afghanistan is already a psychologically divided nation – a division along ethnic lines of the Pashtuns who claim to be the majority and native Afghans versus the other, lesser deserving ethnicities who the Pashtuns claim to be Afghans by the virtue of being in the land when Afghanistan’s borders were drawn.
The recent backlash against propositions to form an official gravesite for the former Afghan King Habibullah Kalakani – a figure who is mockingly referred to as ‘bacha-i-saqao’ (son of the water carrier), a bandit and even a British ‘agent’ by the most nationalist of Pashtun Afghans – is a stark reminder that Afghanistan remains hostage to the Pashtun denial. The denial that Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic country that regardless of its history of violent overthrows of its kings and heads of state, is today a country where tens of thousands of minority members are taking to the streets to demand their rights. I find it ironic that Pashtun nationalists who themselves are bound by Pashtunwali (the tribal code of ethics of Pashtuns which prevails Sharia law and Civil law) and who share more in common with the brutal Taliban are making comparisons of a former King to that of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
For the first time in my life, I was told by a Twitter user to go to Tajikistan and that I did not belong to Afghanistan
This mockery of people from ‘the other’ ethnicities in the public eye and subjugation of influence and positions of authority by the Pashtuns continues its violent legacy to our present day – it’s no wonder that Pashtun Afghans living in the western countries still feel sympathetic towards the Taliban and disturbingly, even have a sense of pride in Taliban being Pashtuns. For example, Orlando shooting attacker’s father Mir Seddique Mateen who is a Pashtun, made videos on YouTube sympathizing with and supporting the Taliban. Other examples include Afghanistan’s former President Hamid Karzai, who towards the end of his second term, became increasingly bitter against the United States as his sympathy for the Taliban grew.
The Pashtun Politics of Pandemonium and Denial
The growing Pashtun nationalism and their sense of entitlement to Afghanistan’s leadership is the reason the results of the 2014 elections in Afghanistan were stonewalled. For the first time in my life, I was told by a Twitter user to go to Tajikistan and that I did not belong to Afghanistan. Even the former Presidential candidate and the current CEO of the country Abdullah Abdullah who, like many Afghans is biracial, is not considered a ‘pure’ Afghan by Pashtun nationalists. One would have to be born out of a Pashtun mother and a Pashtun father of a favorable Pashtun tribe in order to be accepted as an Afghan worthy of taking up leadership in Afghanistan. Some western journalists and writers are quick to throw the blame on Afghanistan’s civil war with regards to growing discontent amongst leading ethnic groups of Afghanistan. Such views are short-sighted and ignore Afghanistan’s long history of violence led by Pashtuns.
One has to go further into the psyche of a nationalist mindset to understand why ethnic minorities of Afghanistan are consistently dismissed as ‘real’ Afghans or being worthy of statesmanship. Nationalist Afghans don’t believe in Afghanistan as it is today on the world map – they believe in ‘Loy’ or Greater Afghanistan which claims parts of Pakistan’s territories mainly inhabited by Pakistani Pashtuns. While Afghan Pashtuns continue to relate to and seek approval from Pakistan’s Pashtuns, from my personal experience the Pakistani Pashtuns could care less about Afghanistan’s Pashtuns. Unlike Afghanistan, Pakistan has successfully managed to form a sense of national unity and pride which Afghanistan grossly lacks. For the Pashtuns of Pakistan, an Afghan includes all of Afghanistan’s ethnicities.
Another method used by Pashtuns of Afghanistan to subjugate other ethnicities and deny them their basic human rights is by quickly labelling them as agents of Iran, Pakistan or the US. For example, Mujahideen resistance leaders who fought against the Soviet Union puppet regimes in Kabul in 1980s are labelled with terms like ‘ISI and CIA agents’, ‘puppets of Iran’, and in more extreme cases, ‘warlords and war criminals’ – these are the most common tactics used to write people off from public sphere and instill a sense of fear that should anyone speak up for their rights, they would be marked off an foreign agents.
Afghanistan’s future success in global arena is dependent on the international community of world leaders and journalists acknowledging the diversity in Afghan voices and for Pashtuns to come to realization that our success as a nation will mean that Afghanistan has to be ready to accept leadership at the highest level from minority groups such as the Hazaras and Uzbeks too, not just Pashtuns and Tajiks. Today, international reporting on Afghanistan is predominantly done by Pashtun Afghans – some of whom do not have the best of intentions for the country – and the global audience gets information that is highly filtered and biased from a unilateral perspective.
The first step to resolving Afghanistan’s ethnic problems is for Afghans to be honest with themselves and acknowledge that we have a serious social problem due to racial divide in the country and not blame anyone for it. Failure to acknowledge this reality could lead to Afghanistan continually not being able to accept leadership from ethnic minorities without any strings attached. This, in turn, could lead to Afghanistan being geographically fragmented on the world map – and that would be an historic tragedy for Afghans.
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