Sunday, May 26

The Pakhtoon Community: A Tapestry of History, Culture, and Resilience

The history and customs of the Pakhtoons, a distinctive community with a rich heritage, have been extensively studied by authors such as Olaf Caroe, Dr. Bellew, Longworth Dames, Ghani Khan, and Brigadier Omar Shahid Afridi. In fact, emperor Jahangir also had a great interest on this topic and the very first work on the history of Pakhtoon was also completed in his reign in 1612 by his courtier Niamatullah under the name Maghzan e Afghani .His book also brought many controversies with it as for the very first time he associated pakhtoons with the lost tribes of Jews and this lacked factual grounds.

The Pakhtoons are of Aryan stock and have strong ties to the Turkish-Persian race. They are a conglomeration of tribes that have retained their identity over time, often migrating due to conquests, invasions, or natural disasters. The Suleman Range, also known as the Ghor, used to be one of their permanent settlements, but they migrated to surrounding areas due to upheavals. It is noteworthy that there is a significant Pakhtoon population in India who, despite their ethnic roots, have forsaken their language and cultural purity. They are the descendants of Pakhtoons who accompanied various invaders from the North and settled in their new environment.

To understand the history of the Pakhtoons, it is essential to consider the histories of Persia, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, as these regions have played integral roles. The Persian empire, under King Darius, included Arachosia, which encompassed the Peshawar region, where the Ghandarians (Pakhtoons) resided. There were also references to Paktyans or Paktuike in ancient texts like the Rig Veda, further supporting the existence of these people in the region they presently occupy. Throughout history, the Pakhtoons faced various invasions and conquests, such as those by Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and Timur. The advent of Islam also brought significant changes, with the Muslims spreading to the region but not causing major conversions. The region faced upheaval and destruction, but the Pakhtoons, surrounded by mountainous valleys, managed to maintain their identity.

This heralded the advent of recorded history describing the rule of the Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs, and the administrative border and the British. Another notable mention –  Ahmed Shah Abdali, who was not only victorious in numerous battles but also extended the rule to those areas where the pakhtoons were residing and above and beyond the ethnic boundaries as well. Latter on after his death his empire faced internal dissensions due to which they lost many territories to the Sikhs and than three battles with the British completely reshaped the history of pakhtoons. After the defeat of Sikhs from the British, they took over all the areas where the pakhtoons were residing except the Afghanistan region. We next witness the demarcation line between Afghanistan and Pakistan which was signed under the Presence of Amir Dost Mohammed Khan the ruler of Afghanistan, also known as the Durand Line.

After the British departure from the subcontinent, Pakistan and India became independent states. The Pakhtoons were given a choice through a referendum and overwhelmingly joined Pakistan. However, political divisions between Pakhtoons in KPK, Baluchistan, FATA, and Afghanistan have affected their unity. Attempts for unification have been made by leaders like Samad Khan Achakzai, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Mahmud Khan Achakzai, and Afzal Khan Lala, but the inherent egalitarian nature and division in culture have hindered the attempts.

Maghzan e Afghani, one of the earliest recorded book written by the Niamatullah in the reign of emperor Jahangir in 1612 based all the myths and the genealogies which brought many controversies with it. However, Niamatullah’s research and compilations was based on those Afghanis who worked under the emperor Jahangir and that was the time when Mughals were considering pakhtoons as their threat and bitter rivals so one must be allowed to open the room for biasness. As Olaf Caroe also mentioned in his work that “Afghans who had taken service in India with the Mughal Emperor, and had become to a large extent “deracine”. They were ill acquainted with Pakhtu and lacked knowledge of the`border land` to which they usually refer as the land of Roh. Their account smells of the Delhi lamp, the lamp of the courtiers of Afghans ancestry, but now speaking and writing only Persian, trained to raise a titter at the expense of an uncouth Pathan soldiery to amuse the Mughal court”. Both Niamatullah and his source had little or no knowledge about the homeland of Pakhtoon which they referred to as the land of Roh.These facts must be borne in mind when examining the facts proffered by this source.

The Pakhtoons have several unique cultural traits, including their strong religious beliefs as predominantly Sunni Muslims, with some Shia communities in specific areas. They are hardworking, hospitable (known as Malmastia), and hold egalitarian values, although this sometimes leads to jealousy and disunity. They take pride in their work and excel nationally and internationally. Their love for poetry, cultural music, and traditional dance (“Athurn”) reflects their joy for life.

Pakhtoons are known for their guerrilla fighting skills and have shown resistance to subjugation by various superpowers throughout history. They are witty and practice Jirga, a traditional assembly, to resolve issues. They hold great respect for their elders and value their experiences. The Pakhto or Pushto language is spoken by different tribes, with variations in accent and pronunciation. Traditional Pakhtoon attire includes long shirts with baggy trousers for men, while women wear long shirts with embroidered adornments. Factional rivalries exist among tribes, often depicted by terms like “Gar” and “Samil,” which originated from historical religious divisions. These rivalries have hindered the Pakhtoons from achieving greater unity and glory as it is also beautifully scribed by  Khushal Khan Khattak in his poem, “In days gone by Pathans were kings of hind and still in deeds the Mughals they outdo, But concord they know not, and they have sinned against God’s unity, so come to rue : Ah God! Grant them but concord, sweet refrain, and old Khushal will rise, youth again!”.


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