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Taliban’s Little Known Pashtunwali Code Of Ethics – OpEd

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‘Kabuliwala’ for most in India, has been a point of reference for conversations about Afghans, their characteristics and their historical ties with India. ‘Kabuliwala’ is a story about a Pathan fruit seller from Kabul, who visits Calcutta each year to sell dry fruits. There he ends up befriending a little, Bengali girl called Mini who reminds him of the daughter he left behind in Afghanistan. The story is about their unique bond and friendship.

Going back to the memory lane of Pathans and thinking of their known characteristics, I am lost about where those Pathans vanished who possessed those qualities? Pathans are known to follow Pashtunwali, “a flexible unwritten code and traditional life style.” It is an ancient system of law and governance that is still in use today, mostly in the rural and tribal areas of KP province and FATA.The codes of the Pashtunwali promotes courage, self-respect, independence, justice, hospitality, love, forgiveness, revenge, and tolerance toward all especially to strangers .It is believed that  Pashtunwali cannot be taught in a classroom or a madrassah. It has to be imbibed by living along with the people in the countryside.“Calling himself a Pathan or Pashtun is a marketing gimmick that Imran Khan has used for a very long time…He uses the word Khan as a suffix, which means maybe hundreds of years ago someone from his family migrated from the Central Asian Afghan heartland, but that does not make him a Pashtun,” says Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistan expert at the University of London.Imran Khan  was born in  Lahore, does not speak Pashto or follow Pashtun traditions.

Pashtuns are also known as Pushtans, Paktuns or Pathans and are the predominant ethnic group in Afghanistan who comprise a major portion of the population.Pashtuns are mostly Sunni Muslims however, there are Shia Pashtuns in eastern Afghanistan. There are also a large number of Pashtuns in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which shares a border with Afghanistan. They were separated from those in Afghanistan by the ‘Durand Line’, which divided the region between British India and Afghanistan in the late 19th century but the Afghan Pashtuns  do not recognise this border with Pakistan.

The Khudai khidmatgar movement was largely a Pashtun (Pathan) movement. now largely forgotten.The  movement flourished in the NWFP (popularly termed as The Wild West) from 1930 until 1947. This anticolonial movement against the British drew on the manly Pashtun virtues of ‘Honour and Courage’ to face the enemy armies.  This also resurrected a Pashtun identity which was last seen in the revolt against the Mughal Empire. Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan (also known as Sarhadi or Frontier Gandhi) and his colleagues, started a movement of self-reform which included cleanliness drives in every village, the setting up Azad schools which delivered primary education and the picketing of liquor shops.He dressed like a fakir but had the leadership of a Badshah and  gave the Pathans back their self-respect.

The Khudai khidmatgars showed that the best way of serving Khuda was through khidmat, humble service towards one’s own people. An inner jihad, a jihad-i-akbar, the inner struggle of an individual to develop a true commitment to Islam and cultivate the spiritual qualities which the Q’uran cherishes, was a harder but more worthwhile struggle than a jihad-i-asghar which relates to legitimate military struggle and “holy war” againist injustice.They however, have been branded “traitors” in the new nation of Pakistan for having opposed partitioning of the sub-continent. 

The geostrategic importance of Afghanistan tempted the Russians and the Imperialist British into Afghanistan which finally resulted into what popularly is known as the ‘Great Game’.  Afghanistan in the 1980s saw the invasion of the USSR which lasted for approxiately 9 years. The persistent armed resistance of the Afgan ultimately led to the withdrawal of the Soviet  forces under the ‘Afghan Accord’ signed on 1st June 1988 under the UN.

The word Taliban comes from tālib (student, seeker of knowledge) from Arabic. The movement began amongst Afghani refugees in Pakistan in the mid-1990s. The faction largely consisted of members, trained in madrasahs  that had been established for Afghan refugees in the 1980s in northern Pakistan.Since its inception the movement has always been Pashtun-led and Pashtun dominated including the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban and having links to the Afghan militants. Earlier non-Pashtuns posed stiff resistance and Taliban suffered heavy losses at the hands of forces loyal to Ahmad Shah Masoud, Abdul Rashid Dostum and Hazaras of Afghanistan. The non-Pashtun forces (Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras) were as fierce as Taliban and  gave quite a tough time to Taliban. The Pakistani and Saudi regimes also favoured Taliban and supported them financially and logistically. The only objection the Saudis had with Taliban was the presence of Saudi dissident Bin Laden. The Taliban has been condemned around the world for the support it’s given to terrorist groups and the brutality with which it has treated many people, particularly Muslim women. The Taliban is the most brutal fundamentalist religious group.

Mullah Omar and Mullah Mohammad Hassan Rehmani led the Taliban in the mid-1990s following the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the collapse of the Afghanistan’s communist regime. By late 1996, support for the Taliban among southern Pashtun ethnic groups, as well as assistance from conservative Islamic elements abroad, had enabled them to capture and control the country. However, non-Pashtun ethnic groups—namely, the Tajik, the Uzbek, and the Hazara—in the north, west, and central parts of the country continued their resistance against what they considered the extension of the Pashtun hegemony. It is ironic that the West handed over Afghanistan to the Taliban under the Doha accord and let them become the de-facto government of Afghanistan. 

Pathan or Pashtun conversion to Taliban due to some faultlines of circumstances and forgeting their ethic code of Pashtunwali could to some extent be attributed to :Talibs are the off springs of Afghan refugees, who were brought up in madrassahs and camps in Pakistan with the aim of fighting the Americans and foreign invaders in their words. They studied at Deobandi sect madrassahs, where they were taught a very narrow and distorted version of Islam. Pashtunwali code is not part of Islam, but Islam was adopted  and it became a part of their culture. The line between Pashtunwali and Sharia law has always been blurred for the Pashtuns. Pashtunwali code appears to have been distorted and wonder to what extent it is being followed. The treatment of women in the hands of Taliban was nothing unusual for them as it was part of the Deobandi-Salafi traditions. The Taliban has banned women from most paid jobs outside of teaching and healthcare. The heart bleeds to see the images of Afghan women being treated by the Taliban during protests and routine checks. Ultimately it appears that the Pathan virtues have been the victim of these long avoidable Afghan wars.

Sources:

Unarmed Pathans : by Mukulika Banerjee 

Understanding Taliban through the prism of Pashtunwali Code: By Dr Farhan Zahid

*Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army. Possess unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Regular writer on matters military in professional journals. The veteran is a keen mountaineer and a trekker. 

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