Saudi-centric Deobandi cleric Popalzai and the dilemma of secular Pashtuns – by Abdul Nishapuri


I don’t contest that Pashtuns are the most suffered ethnic group in Pakistan particularly since late 1970s due to the so called Afghan Jihad, increasing Deobandi and Salafi radicalization of their youths and the post-9/11 war on terror. Also, I don’t contest the imperialist role played by the CIA, Pakistan army and Saudi Arabia in using Pashtun Deobandi clerics, madrassahs, intellectuals and politicians as pawns to promote their own strategic objectives. Peaceful Pashtuns of Sunni Sufi, Deobandi, Shia, Salafi and non-Muslim backgrounds are indeed an honourbale community, like all other Pakistani communities, and they have my full respect and support.

However, my concern pertains to the lack of Pashtun intelligentsia’s ciritcal self-reflection in the profitable and willing participation of at least some Pashtuns in the regional and global Jihad project. I am also concerned that some Pashtuns are unwilling or/and unable to differentiate between their centuries old pluralistic ethnic identity (Pashtun) and relatively new intolerant and violent faith identity (Deobandi), given that more than 70% of Pashtuns (except those in parts of Kurram, Hangu and Kohat) happen to be Deobandi, an inherently intolerant and violent ideology, influenced by Salafism/Wahabism.

Often in their articles, facebook statuses and comments, Pashtun nationalist friends (of Deobandi Islamist or secular liberal leanings) freely amalgamate their ethnic and faith identities. It is my considered view that Pashtun nationalist friends can either own and defend their Pashtun identity or Deobandi identity. Trying to own and defend both is ideologically impossible and historically naive.

Amalgamation of Pashtun and Deobandi identities is not only an exclusive and discriminatory approach (it wipes out the Sunni Sufi, Barelvi, Shia and non-Muslim Pashtuns), it also deprives Pashtun intellectuals of critical self-reflection, forcing them to resort to silence or obfuscation on issues such as the Deobandi-Saudi nexus and genocide of Sunni Sufis and Shias at the hands of Takfiri Deobandi terrorists (of Pashtun and Punjabi backgrounds).

To some extent, the recurring and divisive issue of Mufti Popalzai’s moonsighting and arguments in Popalzai’s defence by Pashtun activists too fall in the same category. Every Ramzan, many “secular” Deobandi Pashtuns take off their secular cloak and show their true Saudi Deobandi colours by supporting the false and always Saudi-centric claims of Eid sighting by the fraudulent Deobandi cleric Mufti Popalzai. Often Mufti Popalzai announces the sighting of Eid crescent when scientifically moon is not even born or is invisible in all areas of Pakistan including KP and FATA.

The tacit and visible support to Deobandism and the apologia or silence on Saudi-driven radical Deobandization is exactly why Pashtun intellectuals have been, largely, unable to develop and present a coherent discourse and response to the Deobandi and Salafi-Wahabi radicalization and violence that Pashtuns of Pakistan and Afghanistan have been experiencing, particularly since late 1970s.

Blaming the outsiders (Punjabis, Arabs, Chechens, Americans etc) offers only a part of the story. The story remains incomplete in the absence of critical self-reflection within Pashtun intelligentsia about their own identity, its past, present and future. In particular, they need to reflect about the inherent violence and intolerance of the Deobandi ideology and how the menace of Deobandi madrassas, clerics and organistions could be replaced with more tolerant and pluralistic Sunni, Sufi and Shia Islam.


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