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Pashtun Awakening: Defeat The Taliban By Changing The Narrative – Analysis

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By NWSC

Pakistan has systemically weakened Afghanistan by undermining the sacred tribal structure of the Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group, by attempting to replace it with the extremist ideology and practices of the Taliban – a process we refer to as “de-Pashtunization”. The only way to stop this process is by changing the narrative via a grassroots public relations campaign and through psychological operations aimed at telling the truth about the Taliban’s origins and objectives.

Purpose

Afghanistan - Pakistan Relations
Afghanistan – Pakistan Relations

The objective of this brief is to provide U.S. policymakers with a snapshot of the ground truth in Afghanistan so they can make informed decisions on how to best address the de-Pashtunization of Afghan society. There are a number of cultural, political, socioeconomic and security-related reasons why the Taliban movement continues to flourish in southern and eastern Afghanistan. This policy brief will focus on the cultural aspect because it’s foundational, as we shall demonstrate.

Background

After 34 years of incessant war the Afghan people find themselves trapped in a violent nexus between the Taliban insurgency, NATO’s occupying forces and the predatory and corrupt Karzai regime. A war-weary populace has been psychologically numbed – trapped in a Hobbesian world of kill or be killed and rendered powerless. Instead of being governed by legitimate moral authorities who derive their power from the will of the people, Afghans of all ethnicities are ruled by strongmen who derive their power from the barrel of a Kalashnikov. These conditions have acted as a cultural straight jacket that has enslaved the Afghan mind, while denying the population their own much deserved “Afghan Spring”.

The current crisis can be traced to the fall of Afghanistan’s monarchy during the 1970s, which was a unifying force that helped bind the disparate ethnic and tribal groups together. Societal fragmentation has been working in the Taliban’s favor. With the death of the dynastic principle and the absence of a well-respected national leader as head of state, Afghan society now lacks a common lineal thread with the past that could unify the nation.

Polls have indicated that the Taliban are even more unpopular than the reprobate U.S.-backed Karzai government. However, Taliban popularity seems to be on the rise as more and more Afghans are alienated by corruption, civilian casualties, Koran burnings and mass murders. Thomas Ruttig of the Afghanistan Analysts Network described the lack of options the Pashtuns have available: “In today’s violent atmosphere, between the anvil of the Karzai government and the hammer of the Taliban, there are no viable political alternatives for Pashtuns.”

De-Pashtunization

Since the 1990s via its Taliban proxy, the intelligence and military instruments of the Pakistani state have transformed Afghanistan into an epicenter of global terrorism. Through a gradual process of destroying Pashtun tribal culture the Pakistani state has attempted to de-Pashtunize and Arabicize the Pashtuns by subjugating them to the Taliban’s ultraorthodox Islamic belief system, which is an affront to traditional Afghan sensibilities. Taliban assassination campaigns against tribal elders clearly betray the group’s maniacal designs. Pakistan and the Taliban have conspired to keep the Pashtuns in the dark ages by blowing up schools in an effort to deprive future generations of a modicum of secular education.

Afghanistan has always been a dedicated Muslim society but most Afghans never embraced the Wahhabist fanaticism of the House of Saud or the extremist doctrine peddled by the Deobandi school. Afghan spiritual beliefs were always a mixture of secular tribal values and Islam. Not to mention many Afghans adhered to the Sufi mystic tradition, which is denounced by modern hardliners. Extremists have pushed Afghan society into becoming more and more madrassa-centered as opposed to jirga or shura-centered. In short, the traditional secular power of the khan is now bowing to the authority of the mosque and the mullah, despite the fact that Pashtunwali, the Afghan ancient tribal code, predates Islam by 4,000 years.

Tribal experts have noticed a disturbing trend within the past few years. Although the Afghans have, for the most part, refused to accept the Taliban ideology at depth, the Taliban have been successful in gradually eroding traditional Afghan tribal values by eating away at the social fabric of Afghan society. Demographics point to a growing amnesia of the golden years of King Zahir Shah as upcoming generations are increasingly radicalized by the Taliban’s perverted version of Islam. The confluence of corruption, radicalism and foreign occupation is exacerbating this trend, and until it is reversed, Afghanistan is at risk of remaining a radically violent failed state in perpetuity.

While the Western coalition has focused more time on winning militarily, we’ve lost or simply ignored the battle of the narrative, which is the jihadist’s center of gravity. The U.S. military’s entire COIN doctrine is premised on winning the hearts and minds of the local populace, yet American tactics such as errant drone strikes and humiliating night raids have continually alienated native Afghans, rendering a complete antipodal effect.

Taliban practices and teachings were intentionally designed by Pakistani leaders to undermine the Pashtun way of life. Because of the Taliban’s draconian tactics, Afghanistan has suffered huge losses in nearly every measurable societal aspect. The Taliban have helped Afghanistan regress economically, socially, culturally, technologically, educationally and politically. Pakistan has established jihadist factories on Afghan soil so that Pashtuns are shunned by the world. Everyone knows the seeds of global terror are planted in Pashtun tribal areas. In other words, Pakistan’s program of de-Pashtunization is working.

The Taliban movement has burgeoned over the past five years due to a number of factors summarized in the following figure as four layers:

Unless the cultural aspect is made the foundation of any proposed remedy, the next generation will be indoctrinated and there will never be a legitimate political solution. Hearts and minds are indeed the key to neutralizing an insurgency, but the U.S. has gone about winning them in a contraindicative and self-defeating manner.

Without a cultural awakening and some semblance of security, political stability is impossible. And without political stability there will never be economic improvements.

The problem with the political solution is that the Karzai family has a death grip on the legislative process and has “bought out” most of parliament. So it will be difficult to trigger the Loya Jirga option in the constitution to unseat the Karzais.

Hence, the Afghans may have to “work within the system” and establish a pan-Afghan political party. But this isn’t possible if the mindset of the Pashtuns is continually exploited and molded by Pakistan and the Taliban.

Change the Narrative

There is still hope if the Pashtuns can restore their sacred tribal structure and identify the Taliban movement for what it really is – a religious mafia concocted on white boards in Rawalpindi. It needs to be clearly communicated to the Pashtuns that Pakistan via its Taliban proxy is using Islam as a strategic weapon. The Pashtuns must be made aware that they are being de-Pashtunized.

As the U.S. heads towards the exit doors and reduces its footprint in line with Biden’s “counter- terror lite” option, it can at least modify its policies to deal with the Pakistani/Taliban threat. If the crux of the problem is a lost narrative the solution is taking it back from the jihadists that hijacked it. This calls for identifying, confronting and defeating propaganda through public diplomacy counterstrikes and preemptive psychological tactics.

Instead of brokering an unholy alliance, the U.S. State Department and ISAF public relations personnel should be working with educated Pashtun facilitators on a mass communications program to make the Pashtuns aware of what is really happening. This would include facilitators working on the ground with the tribes, communicating orally, organizing shuras and disseminating information via local press. The U.S. should leverage media, press, radio, the internet, social media and other information technology tools to spread the word in both Pashto and English. It will also encompass monitoring Pakistani and Taliban websites and producing rebuttals to misinformation.

This path will be much more effective than the military option. Pashtun unification is the key to a truly independent Afghanistan.

Grassroots information campaigns, public diplomacy and psychology operations can go a long way in educating the tribes, changing the narrative and combating misperceptions, including the misperception that the Taliban are an indigenous movement.

The NWSC (New World Strategies Coalition) is a think tank founded by native Afghans that creates nonmilitary solutions for Afghanistan. The NWSC has outlined a comprehensive reconciliation process in a white paper entitled Restoring the Tribal Balance. Afghanistan National Reconciliation: www.facebook.com/krn9117

26 thoughts on “Pashtun Awakening: Defeat The Taliban By Changing The Narrative – Analysis

  • September 15, 2012 at 10:28 am
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    This is a brilliant article. Hope more people can read it to understand the “True Afghan”. People outside tend to associate Afghans as suicide bombers and radical Islamists. A very interesting and sobering article indeed!

    Reply
  • September 15, 2012 at 11:56 am
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    Peace can be established in few weeks,if minority rule is finished (Northern Alliance-non pashtun)and will of the majority of the people (Pashtun) is established.Minority can never subjugate the majority, this is a lesson of the history and it should be a bigger part of the narrative.Moreover,if Indian role as a whole in Afghanistan is curtailed or stopped, especially supporting, training and equipping insurgent (TTP) is stopped, the process can be catalyzed by this.Afghans are Free and will remain Free,a lesson from the history. All advance technology could not made any difference in-front of caved Afghanies, time to rethink the policies.

    Reply
  • September 15, 2012 at 1:33 pm
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    Brilliant analysis – but too little time left between exit of NATO and now for implementation of a social strategy which by nature requires large scale ground effort and moves slowly. Strangling Pakistan financially while restoring Pashtun social structure may be more effective

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  • September 15, 2012 at 1:51 pm
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    Typically the USA is in up to their eyebrows in others business and of which they have no understanding what-so-ever! Pashtun culture needs to be left to its own devices; let it evolve, the good and the bad according to the will and wishes of Pashtuni people.

    Reply
    • September 19, 2012 at 6:54 am
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      agree cent percent this is how the cultures must evovle….. while let it alone

      Reply
  • September 15, 2012 at 1:53 pm
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    really stunningly brilliant analysis. hope the sober message reaches out to players concerned. solution lies also in driving out the corrupt karzai and installation of a nationally acceptable democratic coalition which is committed to all round development of the war weary afghans.

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  • September 15, 2012 at 2:01 pm
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    this is the first time commenting on this subject. objective political analysis.solution lies in driving out the corrupt and impotent karzai regime and bringing in a truly national govt that is committed to civilized governance and reconciliation and international peace.

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  • September 16, 2012 at 11:57 am
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    Brilliant article! This is true and the world must be made aware of this that this is a War by neighbouring terrorists to terminate Pashtun culture by injecting foreign traits into our code of living.

    Inshallah, i hope and pray for a Pashtun awakening.

    Reply
  • September 16, 2012 at 2:46 pm
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    This is a powerfully enlightening article! Very intelligently written. I wish every single person would have the same understand of the world ‘ Afghan ‘ and to know the reality political war game which has been going on in Afghanistan for decades. May god bless you all.

    Reply
  • September 17, 2012 at 9:50 am
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    Doesn’t make sense. Counter insurgency is a multi pronged approach. Kinetic operations are required to ensure a facilitative environment to make soft power work. Psychological operations, perception management are parallel efforts supporting military endeavour in allowing them to be exercised. Next, shouldn’t the Pashtuns themselves have realised the true nature of Taliban. Afterall they have faced the brunt of their atrocities. Does it need to be further publicised. I think it is an academic analysis.

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    • September 17, 2012 at 3:32 pm
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      Ravi,
      You are very ingorant the fact what Pakistan plays and you dance to that tune.
      What planet are you from?

      Reply
    • September 21, 2012 at 2:33 pm
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      This is a one sided article, blaming Taliban for everything. The disaster in Afghanistan started with the mismanagement of the corrupt MOnarch and his family, followed by the Marxist regime and the Soviet Invasion. Subsequently, the MUjahideen emerged to fight the Russians.The Mujahideen were armed and trained by the same Pakistan that the author of this article blames for Taliban strength. If indeed the support of one country was so important, then there are 48 countries supporting Karzai; therefore based on that logic, Karzai’s government should control all of Afghanistan? Pashtuns are marginalized and targeted by the US-NATO invading forces and deprived from all aspects of modern life. Taliban emerged as a reaction to the larger game designed and played by the US from 1992 until the invasion in 2001.

      To the American audience that is ignorant of Afghan history, this article sounds brilliant, however, to an informed Afghan this is nothing but an exercise in one-sided bias views. The author has lived most of his childhood life in India and has roots to the corrupt monarchy, therefore, his judgement is flawed skewed and based on false history. Sincerely, Colonel Abdel Rashid Barakzai

      Reply
  • September 17, 2012 at 4:00 pm
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    I don’t believe Pashtun culture is being destroyed and if say it is, what about the non-Pashtun population of Afghanistan, which combined is greater in numbers than the Pashtuns; what are they doing to save their combined culture – are they very different from the Pashtuns? I would like the author to be more specific on exactly how the Pashtun culture is being destroyed and what parts. Secondly Pashtuns being secular??? they have never been secular in history, so not sure where the author is coming from there. And yes, neighboring countries are involved in Afghanistan, but it is now proven and obvious that this also includes China, Iran, Russia and India. The real problem is the destructive occupation by the US, which keeps killing innocent Afghans and then the terribly inept Government in Kabul that has no strategy or idea on how to take the country forward.

    Reply
    • September 18, 2012 at 1:05 am
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      An amazing concept; bluntly spells out the exact core of the problem — which is Pakistan and its flawed policy towards Afghanistan.
      This solution will make the Pashtuns to wake up and then nothing will stop them to gain their true thousand-years identity back.

      Reply
  • September 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm
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    Strange article and analysis. It does not mention american occupation effect.

    Reply
  • September 24, 2012 at 4:15 pm
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    That is an Indian perpectivee, got to understand that first. There are 17 million Pashtuns straddling the area between Pakistan and Afghanistan, they are dominant in the south, they control a lot of things in that county, besides trade politics, heroin smuggling which is the basis of all friction. It generates billion of dollars. That is the problem the distribution of this ill got wealth. Now they stock it too some 12 thousand tons of it. Mining is a slow tedious way of making money a poppy crop is much easier to convert into cash and do whatever the hell you want with it. Be a Taliban or be a minister depends where you are needed. The Paktoons are well, ever stronger then anytime in their checkered history. The marginalized are the Hazaras. Pakistan is a scape goat used both by the west and India, got to be there on the ground to understand the situation this flux of more then 30 years has created for Pakistan. Militancy, heroin addiction, 4 million refugees who have no plans to leave. Arms and a host of other issues.

    Reply
  • September 25, 2012 at 6:41 am
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    Dear NWSC Team,

    I am a young student in Europe of Pashtun descent. I’m originally from Peshawar, Pashtunistan. I read this article and was utterly pleased and proud. Thank you for writing a perfect article and especially for mentioning that Taliban do not represent Pashtuns. They reject Pashtun nationalism! Hopefully the world will read your article and understand the situation of innocent Pashtuns, most who are actually supporting secular ideas as of recently. I’m sick and tired of reading articles written by Americans, Europeans or non-Pashtun afghan about how all Pashtuns are Taliban and that Pashtunwali means using women in war-trades. Again, thank you for a wonderful article.
    You’ve won me over as a fan!
    Take Care!

    Reply
  • September 25, 2012 at 6:53 am
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    Many thanks for this dazzling article, which I immediately noticed. it make an extremely important point, which has been completely ignored. The Taliban are not the real champions of the Pashtuns, although, unfortunately, they have become the de facto vehicle of Pashtun resistance to the foreign rape of Afghanistan, of which the Pashtuns are the custodians and guardians. And that is why simply turning the country over to the Taliban is the greatest possible mistake.

    Reply
  • September 26, 2012 at 2:25 am
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    Taliban are the problem for whole pashtoons(are 75million)…………
    Taliban are few

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  • September 28, 2012 at 11:00 pm
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    Great article to read, but according to my perception, just reading n writing isn’t enough,most of the people use facebook in which v read, write, laugh n mourn, but that’s not the solution, now most of AFGHAN know well that who is enemy n who is friend, now its time for some practical actions,so please come forward n accept the challenge…. Thanx.

    Reply
  • September 29, 2012 at 2:45 am
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    brilliant and stunning artical but american role,its intentions of occupying this country also needs to be analysed.was it realy for only to counter terrorism?the policies are unfortunately not reflecting so

    Reply
  • September 30, 2012 at 4:00 pm
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    Its a great analysis.

    But author also needs to keep other aspects which may not let this thing happen, especially by indigenous Afghans….They will not see empowering of Pashtun tribes, so they can fear another massacre …. Early 20th Century Afghan king used brutalities against non-pashtuns and it continued until recently……

    Better solution will be more socialization process between Pashtun and non-pashtun groups as a state-building process…..The idea of pashtunization will bring more destruction than ever someone imagined……

    Afghanistan needs better harmonious structure between all ethnicities, in contrast, if focusing one ethnic group and letting other to become militarize will not be answer to troubles in Afghanistan…..If we ignore this dimension then it will be easy seeing Iran or Central Asian states will inflict their influence against Pashtuns and it will become a vicious cycle…..

    Pashtun Awakening may lead splitting Afghanistan and possibly Pashtun from Pakistan to create a more troubled landlocked state for Pashtuns………

    Reply
    • October 1, 2012 at 2:37 pm
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      What about american and Russia role in shaping Afghanistan ,what it is today.
      watch this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A__vw5Vuwp0 .

      dont blame pakistan , after doing all the secrifies for afghans , what pakistan get 4 million refuges , Kalashnikov culture, drugs , Tehrek-e-talban Pakistan who killing pakistani services and civilians as well.

      and author is missing the point that ,ethnic based movements never done well.

      Reply
    • October 1, 2012 at 2:39 pm
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      Khapulwak , very well said , really like your reply.

      Reply
  • October 2, 2012 at 9:41 am
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    This article is a revelation for someone like Jack, for whom everything since sliced bread appears to be breaking news. Three main points of the article are; one, Pashtun society is getting radicalised by deliberate destruction of their traditional culture; two, coalition operations are creating more converts to the Taliban cause due to collateral damage; three, Pashtuns need to be made aware of the sinister design of the Taliban in destroying their way of life by a publicity campaign. So, what is the narrative change in this? It is the established modus operandi of fundamentalist movements and organisations to dominate the human space by either converting a majority to their cause or coerce the majority to tow the line with superior combative power based on deliberate cruelty and wanton destruction. The success of this is apparent in Iran, Afghanistan and progressively evident in Pakistan. The first step in this methodology is the destruction of state run schools of primary and secondary education and existing secular/ moderate societal practices. Once seminaries become the only outlets of basic education, they have the power to influence young minds and get an unending stream of recruits to the cause. Destroying a way of life to force a more radical agenda is seen in the targeting of Pakhtunwali in Aghanistan, Kashmiriyat in Kashmir and Sufism in Pakistan. Now, is the Pashtun population not aware of this? Obviously they are, but are powerless to resist. The perpetrators and the target group are from the same ethnic mix, remember? A programme of de-radicalistaion as suggested in the article will only work if it is allowed to run. It requires creating alternate institutes and emboldening the moderates and fence sitters in the target society. For this to happen, the combative power of the insurgents needs to be eroded. Thus the simultaneous need for effective military operations. Obviously surgical and precision strikes with no collateral damage helps.

    Reply
  • October 2, 2012 at 9:32 pm
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    Surprisingly there is some mumbo Jumbo rhetoric in the air!
    There are those have grasped the concept of De-Pasteurization, there are those who don’t have a clue, and there are those who waste people’s time by having them read their pumped ISi’s oratory.
    But overall, majority is in full agreement that the article is a stunning and brilliant concept for Pasthuns to reclaim their true identity that Pakistan snatched from them.
    Time for Pashtuns to unite under one cause! “Pashtun Identity Reclamation”

    Reply

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