Originally Posted at: The Friday Times
Pashtuns are believed to be the largest segmentary lineage society in the world today. They have been living in their defined homeland areas since ages, in a social order loosely defined by the code of Pashtunwali.
They believe in the myth that they are children of one common ancestor, Qaise, who converted to Islam once he met the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). However, there is historical evidence that Pashtuns did not convert in mass and as late as 12th century there were non-Muslim Pashtuns residing in tribal areas.
Being a leaderless society, the tribal system does not usually develop institutionalized political power. They feel that all Pashtuns are born equal and individuals can change the existing social and economic inequality. Tribals lead a semi independent life as per their code of conduct, managing their social issues and disputes through a council of elders known as Jirga. Invaders passed through the lands of some of these tribes for thousand of years, but did not bring any significant change in their social system.
In the post-Soviet times, civil order, economy and security were restored faster in the areas where the tribal system was dominant or intact
These tribes, on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, were almost independent. The Sikhs administered these areas by maintaining strong forces at district level; but the tribes openly asserted their independence. The relations of the British with the tribes depended on the situation in Afghanistan. They did not make any serious effort to penetrate the area except for some punitive expeditions and defending the passes which led to Afghanistan. The Durand Line divided tribes on both sides, but the British provided them with easement rights for their back and forth movement. They used the tribal areas as the second buffer between them and Russia, the first being Afghanistan.
After the creation of Pakistan, a special status was granted to these areas. They were declared Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Tribals were used as non-state actors in both the Kashmir wars of 1947-48 and 1965.
Until the 1970s, about 70% of the tribal areas were administratively inaccessible. No Pakistani official was allowed to enter. In 1973, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto formulated a policy of opening up of the tribal areas through development. An industrial unit was established in each agency. Two new agencies, Bajaur and Orakzai, were formed. Electricity was provided to some of the areas and road infrastructure was developed. Some of the areas that were opened up had tactical importance during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Most of the remaining inaccessible areas like Tirah and Shawal were partially opened in the aftermath of 9/11.
In the Pashtun social system, the inhabitants of a village are normally divided into three segments, the Pashtuns, Mian or Mullah (religious functionaries) and Kasabgars (professionals, like barbers and carpenters). The influential class has always been the Pashtuns. The Kasabgars have seldom challenged the authority of Pashtuns; they have concentrated on earning their livelihood and providing education to their children. A number of them excelled in fields like medicine, engineering, education, armed forces and even in politics. But once they make a name for themselves, they want to be known as Pashtun, by aligning with the tribe in whose area they were born and brought up.
The roles of the Khan or Malik and the government officials posted in the area are well defined. They derive legitimacy from state laws. The Mullah is made to perform only some religious rituals. And he is not content with this limited role. He wants his role to be defined and expanded to make him part of the decision-making process in the Pashtun society. Religious people have led almost all the Pashtun uprisings against invaders in history. Followers of Ahmed Shah Barelvi (1863) rose against Sikhs and the British, Pir Roshan (16th century) against Akbar, Sartor Faqir (1897) against the British, Powinda Mullah (1893-1913) also against the British. Faqir of Ipi (1935-1947) was also a key resistance fighter. The leadership of these movements remained with the Mullah only for the duration of the Jihad. When the battles were over, the Khans and Maliks became leaders again.
In the Pashtun society, Rawaj (custom) has generally been more dominant than religion. Music, dance, non-observance of pardha within a tribe, women shaking hands with men, were commonly seen in Pashtuns. They would perform all rituals religiously, but would never force these on others, except for fasting, which is considered an act of Pashtun honor.
The Afghan Jihad did not bring any significant change in the life of the average Pashtun. The Pashtun society started changing once preachers started going to these areas. They were peaceful, polite, and non-coercive, and they were able to persuade older Pashtuns to lay down some restrictions on the younger ones. Music, which was a regular feature of hujras and weddings, was banned in some areas.
But the event that really changed the Pashtun way of life was the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The Talib was a familiar character in each Pashtun village, known as Chinay in Pashto. Docile, well mannered, quite, friendly, not interfering, not preaching, just concerned with his own task, collecting food for the imam of the mosque. In November 1994, once the Taliban captured Kandahar, nobody, including the intelligence agencies, was sure who they were, and who was supporting them. They suspected it was the US.
In the next few years, what the Taliban practiced was in contrast with Pashtun culture. Under the influence of Al Qaeda, they tried to implement Wahabi and Salafi culture. Inspired by them, the talibs of Pakistan also raised forces in Orakzai and North Waziristan. In the aftermath of 9/11 and NATO operations in Afghanistan, members of Al Qaeda, Pakistani Jihadis, secterian outfits, Uighur fighters from China, and groups from Central Asia took refuge in FATA and other parts of Pakistan. Jihadi organizations and some tribals supported them.
The state could not decide on the course of action to be taken against them. They had never seen such a situation in the past. The tribals suspected that state was supporting these elements, therefore they submitted to the Taliban, who used brute force against prominent tribal elders.