External and internal stereotypes about Pashtuns: Misppropriation of Pashtun nationalism by Deobandi terrorists – by Nadeem F. Paracha


Editor’s note: In this valuable analysis (Dawn, 2 March 2014), Nadeem Paracha shows that not only colonial and non-Pashtun writers but also Pashtuns themselves have played a role in constructing and reinforcing certain stereotypes and myths about Pashtuns. For example, he refers to Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s (Bacha Khan) role in reinforcing the (false) myth of Pakhtuns being unbeatable warriors to construct the anti-colonial aspect of his Pakhtun nationalist organisation, the Khudai Khidmatgar. Paracha’s article suggests that Bacha Khan’s view contrasts to an alternative view that Pashtuns are largely pragmatic people who make ample use of opportunities as they deem fit to serve their economic, political and ideological interests. This, at least in part, also explains the ascendancy of the Deobandi and Salafi puritanical ideologies in Pashtun areas in the last 200 years since the semi-Salafi takfiri movements of Syed Ahmed and Shah Ismail to the semi-nationalist semi-puritanical Jihad of the Faqir of Ipi and from the lucrative Afghan Jihad of 1970s-1980s to the current semi-Deobandi semi-nationalist Jihadist movement of the TTP and affiliated ouftits.

It is, therefore, no surprise that Deobandi or/and Salafi/Wahabi ideologies are amply mixed with Pashtun nationalist sentiments in some of the videos, songs and messages published on radical Deobandi and Salafi websites operating by Islamist Pashtuns. (Some examples are provided towards the end of this post.)

Here’s a video of a funeral in Waziristan attended by local Pashtuns. Clearly we can hear chants against Pakistan government and in support of the Deobandi Taliban (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan). Is Pakistan government an enemy of the Deobandi Pashtuns but Taliban are their friends?

Deobandi TTP propaganda video: Funeral in Waziristan


Deobandi TTP Propaganda video: A Deobandi Pashtun massacred 3 soldiers of Pakistan army in FATA


TTP Propaganda video: What do tribal Deobandi Pashtuns think about Pakistan army?


TTP Propaganda video: Why did tribal Pashtuns become Deobandi Taliban?


While some Pashtun scholars legitimately blame the external factors (eg British, CIA, Punjabi, Saudi establishment) for the exploitation and radicalization of the Pashtun society, their exclusive emphasis on external factors only weakens their own discourse because it deprives Pashtun people of their own agency, choice and pragmatism, presenting them as passive recipients of external factors. As a matter of fact, many if not all Pashtuns have pragamatically used external factors and their own geography to exercise and gain (at times, dispropotionate) power in terms of money, arms and other resources and political and ideological dominance in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Combine this with the inflated sense of Pashtun nationalist pride of the likes of Ahmad Shah Durrani (known for sectarian massacres of Hindus, Sikhs and Shias), Faqir of Ipi, and Bacha Khan, and also a misjudgement on the part of Bacha Khan to contribute to the spread of Deobandi madrassas indirectly enabled the Deobandization of the Pashtun areas.

Ironically, when Shia, Sunni Barelvi and Christian victims of the Deobandi TTP-ASWJ terrorism support Pakistan army’s action against Taliban holed up in Waziristan, some Pasthun nationalist friends protest that innocent Pashtuns are being killed. When victim communities speak against Deobandi hatemongers who are now indigenous, not external, to Hangu, Kohat, Kurram, Waziristan etc, some Pashtun nationalists go to the extent of defending the Deobandi sect by describing it as dominant faith of Pasthuns. Clearly, those nationalists who are equating Deobandism with Pashtun culture are serving neither Pashtuns nor Islam. Peaceful Pashtun culture is thousands of years old, whereas Deobandi and semi-Salafi hate ideology was imported in Pashtun areas in last 200 years only. Deobandi and Salafi hate ideologies are not an integral component of Pashtun culture.

This non-reflective, self-exonerating, ahistorical attitude of some Pashtun nationalists who place entire blame on external factors, Americans, Punjabis, Saudis, Iranians etc, may also be seen as an attmpt to hide the fact that many within us were pragmatic or inadvertent partners, due to ideological, economic or/and political reasons, in their pro-colonial or anti-colonial stances. Yes, foreign factors must be criticized due to their role but we can’t completely absolve our own society, history, leaders, clerics, madrassahs, liberals, politicians and media persons on their pragmatic and opportunistic collusion or callous neligence in the radicalization of our own society. Not everyone who critically assesses Ahmad Shah Abdali Durrani or Bacha Khan on their indirect role in the spread of Deobandi or Salafi ideology is an anti-Pashtun racist. But, this happens when arguments are scarce and emotions are high.

Of course, this recent writ in Peshawar High Court, against Shia genocide, was filed by a Pashtun Shia, not a Pashtun Deobandi (Feb 2014). Why didn’t this voice come from progressive or secular Pashtun parties? Did any progressive party including ANP, PPP, PKMAP etc ever demonstrate against Shia genocide or Sunni Barelvi/Sufi genocide by takfiri Deobandis? The onus on them is particularly relevant because most, if not all of the suicide bombers, who have in the last few years massacred Shias and Sunni Barelvis happen to be brainwashed Deobandi Pashtuns.

Currently there is a deliberate attempt by Deobandi and Salafi Islamists as well as many liberal and progressive activists and parties, inclduing Pashtun and Punjabi liberals, to hide or obfuscate the Deobandi identity of almost all terrorists (TTP, ASWJ etc) that are currently killing not only Sunni Barelvis, Shias, Christians etc but also liberals and ordinary folks including moderate Deobandis. There are many reasons for this Nazi style silence. Some of them have a sectarian bias due to their own Deobandi (or Salafi) identity. This is particularly true for many Deobandi Pashtuns including those in progressive parties, but is also applicable to Punjabis and other ethnic groups. Some people have no knowledge of history and they are adamant a their ignorance and ahistorical stance. Some of them know the facts but are hypocritically silent because they don’t want to lose friends or material benefits (populism and avarice). Some simply lack spine or intellectual capacity.

There are currently not many voices in Pakistan other than LUBP and a few others who are clearly exposing the common Deobandi identity of terroris outfits, and the inherent violence and takfirism of Deobandi and Salafi hate ideologies. Those people who do not agree with LUBP’s discourse or methods have consistently failed to offer a better or more effective discourse or methods in dealing with Deobandi terrorism. Shias, Sunni Barelvis etc continue to be target killed on a regular basis and the killers freely operate in Peshawar, Karachi, Quetta, Lahore, in front of us, because the bigoted Deobandis don’t want to name them and the spineless Shias and liberals are too coward, pragmatic or populist.

Deobandization of KP and FATA is neither ahistorical nor completley external.  Hate clerics such as Ibn Taymiyya, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahab, Sayyid Qutb are not the only ones who are relevant in our analysis of the takfiri Salafi and Deobandi Jihad. In the Indian subcontinent, the takfiri Jihadist and sectarian chain is found in the shape of Ahmad Sirhindi (the fake Mujaddid), Shah Waliullah, Syed Ahmed, Shah Ismail, Manzoor Nomani, Nizamuddin Shamezai, Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, Adnan KakaKhel, Hakeemullah Mahsud, Fazlullah etc. In other words, the present Deobandi movement may be seen as a semi-Salafist mutation of the peaceufl Sunni Hanafi Islam, which is currently preserved in the shape of peacful Sunni Barelvi/Sufi sect in India and Pakistan, the majority of Sunni Muslims in this part of the world. Nowhere do we insist that all Deobandis are takfiris nor do we insist that all Salafis are takfiris. We only insist that all takfiri terrorists in Pakistan happen to be Deobandis (and a few Salafis) and that it is neither accidental nor purely external. The evil of intolerance resides in these very ideologies.

For example, “the United States created the Taliban during the Soviet Agfhan conflict” is a common excuse used by pro-establishment analysts in Pakistan. They completely ignore the fact that the Jihad was already underway when the US joined in. The germs for the Jihad and cloning of Madrassas may have been put on steroids by the US and Saudi Arabia, but the Deobandi militants and ideologies in some Madrassas were very much present long before the Afghan Jihad.

In his column in Dawn, Paracha notes that the “myths associated with the Pakhtuns’ character have most recently been used to inform the narratives weaved by those who see religious militancy (i.e., Deobandi militancy) emerging from the Pakhtun-dominated areas in the north-west of Pakistan as a consequence of the state’s careless handling of the traditions of the ‘proud Pakhtun tribes’ (which may have triggered the ‘historical’ penchant of these tribes to inflict acts of revenge). Interestingly, the same myths were once also used by secular Pakhtun nationalists.” We note that the discourses of contemporary Pashtun nationalists are not much different because of their consistent refusal to acknowledge that Deobandi and Salafi takfiri ideologies are now an indigenous root of intolerance within local Pashtun society, which were imported in Pashtun areas in the 19th and early 20th century, and cannot and must not be treated and defended as an integral component of Pashtun culture.

Nadeem Paracha’s article is provided below:

The enigmatic Pakhtun
by Nadeem F. Paracha

Source: Dawn, 2 March 2014

Recently a Pakhtun friend of mine who is doing his doctorate in Anthropology from a European university emailed me the following: “Nothing has damaged us Pakhtuns more than certain myths about our character that were not constructed by us”.

We were exchanging views on how some self-proclaimed experts on Pakhtun history and character in Pakistan were actually using the stereotypical aspects of this character to deter the Pakistani state from undertaking an all-out military operation against religious extremists in the Pakhtun-dominated tribal areas of the country.

My friend (who originally hails from the Upper Dir District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) also made another interesting observation: “You know, these myths have been engrained so deep into the psyche of today’s Pakhtuns that if one starts to deconstruct them, he or she would first and foremost be admonished by today’s young Pakhtuns. They want to believe in these myths not knowing that, more often than not, these myths have reduced them to being conceived as some kind of brainless sub-humans who pick up a gun at the drop of a hat to defend things like honour, faith, tradition, etc.”

But in his emails he was particularly angry at certain leading non-Pakhtun political leaders, clerics and even a few intellectuals who he thought were whipping up stereotypical perceptions and myths about the Pakhtuns to rationalise the violence of extremist outfits like the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that has a large Pakhtun membership.

He added that in the West as well, many of his European and American contemporaries in the academic world uncritically lap-up these perceptions and myths. He wrote: “They are surprised when they meet Pakhtun students here (in Europe), who are intelligent, rational, and humane and absolutely nothing like Genghis Khan”!

There have been a number of research papers and books written on the subject that convincingly debunk the myths attached to the social and cultural character of the Pakhtuns.

Almost all of them point an accusing finger at British Colonialists for being the pioneers of stereotyping the Pakhtuns.

Adil Khan in Pakhtun Ethnic Nationalism: From Separation to Integration writes that in 1849 when the British captured the southern part of Afghanistan, they faced stiff resistance from the Pakhtun tribes there. The British saw the tribes as the anti-thesis of what the British represented: civilisation and progress.

This is when the British started to explain the Pakhtuns as ‘noble savages’ — even though in the next few decades (especially during and after the 1857 Mutiny), the colonialists would face even more determined resistance from various non-Pakhtun Muslims and non-Muslims of the region.

From then onwards, British writers began to spin yarns of a romanticised and revivalist image of the Pakhtuns that also became popular among various South Asian historians.

Adil Khan complains that such an attempt to pigeonhole the Pakhtuns has obscured the economic and geographical conditions that have shaped the Pakhtun psyche. What’s more, the image of the unbeatable noble savage has been propagated in such a manner that many Pakhtuns now find it obligatory to live up and exhibit this image.

The myths associated with the Pakhtuns’ character have most recently been used to inform the narratives weaved 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 careless handling of the traditions of the ‘proud Pakhtun tribes’ (which may have triggered the ‘historical’ penchant of these tribes to inflict acts of revenge). Interestingly, the same myths were once also used by secular Pakhtun nationalists.

One of the most popular architects 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 organisation, the Khudai Khidmatgar.

Earnest Gellner in 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 centuries-old traditions, they are largely an opportunistic and pragmatic people.

When Pakistan became an active participant in the United States’ proxy war against the Soviet forces that had entered Afghanistan, the Ziaul Haq dictatorship — to whip up support for the Afghan mujahideen — used state media and anti-Soviet intelligentsia to proliferate the idea that historically the Pakhtuns were an unbeatable race that had defeated all forces that had attempted to conquer them.

One still hears this, especially from those opposing the Pakistan state’s military action in the country’s tribal areas. But is there any historical accuracy in this proud proclamation?

Not quite. The truth is that the Pakhtuns have been beaten on a number of occasions. Alexander, Timur, Nadir Shah, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and the British, were all able to defeat the Pakhtuns.

In the 2008 paper, Losing the Psy-war in Afghanistan, the author writes: ‘True, the British suffered the occasional setback but they eventually managed to subdue the Pakhtun tribes. Had the British wanted they would have also continued to rule Afghanistan, only they didn’t find it worth their while and preferred to let it remain a buffer between India and Russia. The Russians (in the 1980s) too would never have been defeated had the Soviet economy not collapsed — and it didn’t collapse because of the war in Afghanistan — and had the Americans not pumped in weapons and money to back the so-called Mujahideen.’

The paper adds: ‘… while Pakhtuns are terrific warriors for whom warfare is a way of life, they have always succumbed to superior force and superior tactics. The Pakhtuns have never been known to stand against a well-disciplined, well-equipped, motivated, and equally ruthless force.’

























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