Anti-Pashtun sentiment

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Anti-Pashtun sentiment refers to fear, dislike, or hostility towards Pashtun people or anything related to Pashtun culture in general. It can sometimes be broadly construed as a subcategory of anti-Pakistan sentiment or anti-Afghan sentiment as Pashtuns are the second largest ethnic group in Pakistan and the largest in Afghanistan. Anti-Pashtun sentiment has been present in South-Central Asia among different non-Pashtun groups for various political and historical reasons.


The traditional rivalry for power and influence between the Pashtun majority and the minority Persian (Dari)-speaking ethnic groups of Afghanistan such as the Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and Turkmen, has often stirred anti-Pashtun sentiments among the latter. In 1975, an uprising broke out in Panjsher Valley against the rule of Afghan prime minister and Pashtun nationalist Daoud Khan, which was believed to have been "sparked by anti-Pashtun frustrations."[1] The Settam-e-Melli, led by Uzbek activist Tahir Badakhshi, has been described as "an anti-Pashtun leftist mutation."[1] According to Nabi Misdaq, the Settem-e-Melli "had an internal programme of provoking minorities to armed resurrection to stand up to Pashtuns."[2] The Shalleh-ye Javiyd, a Maoist political party founded in the 1960s that predominantly drew support from Shi'a Muslims and Hazaras, was also similarly opposed to Pashtun rule in Afghanistan.[citation needed]

However, Misdaq notes that these anti-Pashtun stances were usually engraved more in a "Shi'a-versus-Sunni Afghan", "Dari-speaking-intellectuals-versus-Pashtun-rulers" and "majority-versus-minority" context rather than resentment on misrule or mistreatment by Pashtun kings and dynasties.[2] This could be because Afghan dynasties such as the Durrani Empire, although Pashtun by origin, had been considerably Persianised and had even adopted the Dari language over Pashto; this cultural assimilation made the Durranis culturally familiar to Dari-speaking non-Pashtuns and neutralised any ethnic hegemony.[citation needed]

The Rabanni government which ruled Afghanistan in the early and mid-1990s was viewed by the Taliban as corrupt, anti-Pashtun and responsible for civil war.[3]


Following independence, one of the factors of resentment among Pashtun population was the British-inherited name of the North-West Frontier Province, which did not represent Pashtuns as compared to other provinces e.g. Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan which were all named after their resident ethnic groups. Rajmohan Gandhi mentions that "persisting with the imperial name for a former empire's frontier province was nothing but anti-Pathan discrimination."[4]

On the issue of discrimination against Pashtuns in Pakistan, Dr. Sanaa Alimia, an author of a research paper, 'Street Politics, Moral Lives and Transnationalism: Afghan Refugees and Pakistani Citizens in Karachi and Peshawara' and a PhD holder from the Politics and International Studies Department at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), writes in her essay that:

In hegemonic Pakistani discourse, the conflation of “Pashtuns” with violence is particularly notable. For example, non-Pakistani Pashtun discourse frequently ignores the complexities of “Pashtun-ness” [I just outlined] and lumps Pashtuns, Afghans, and the “Mujahideen” in the 1980s or the “Taliban” from the 1990s onward – both Afghan and Pakistani – as being the same, or variations of each other. This acts as a mechanism that justifies the ways in which the Pakistani military has, particularly since the 1980s, used the areas bordering Afghanistan – Balochistan, KPK, and most intensely FATA, which sits outside of the Pakistani Constitution – and Afghanistan itself, as a playground for its own geopolitical agenda, which often dovetail with US imperial interests. This was seen first, during the Cold War context of the Soviet Afghan War, second, during the rise of the Afghan Taliban, and, third, post-2001 in the so-called Global War on Terror (GWOT).

She further explains that :

In addition, stereotypes of the violent Pashtun fail to recognize that since 2001 it is the people of KPK and FATA that been the direct victims of the consistent and ferocious violence of torture, abductions, murder, and bombs, and are increasing the case of psychological traumas in the region. Aside from the spectacular violence of the December 16 Army Public School (APS) attack in Peshawar, which received national and international media coverage, more often than not, numerous other cases of bombings in KPK and FATA have been reduced to passing headlines.[5].

Voicing similar concerns, in an interview with DW, Saba Gul Khattak, a renowned Pakistani researcher and activist, states that the "ethnic profiling" of Pashtuns is a very dangerous trend for the country. She goes on to explain that:

[...] the profiling is being carried out mainly in Punjab province - and to some extent in the capital Islamabad [...] the police in Punjab and Islamabad began ethnic profiling of Pashtuns in low-income areas prior to these [terrorist] attacks, and there were reports that the authorities blocked the national identity cards of Pashtuns settled in Punjab. Khattak also notes that In short, this is not the first time systematic surveys targeting Pashtuns have been conducted. In tandem with profiling is the decision of the Punjab government (and often the central government as well) not to allow internally displaced Pashtuns to enter the province.[6].

In 2015, after the then government of Pakistan Muslim League decided to send back Afghan refugees as part of the national action plan, which had been instituted after deliberations with Pakistan's powerful military, the process of demolishing 'katchi Abaadis'(slums) began with Capital Development Authority taking the charge and started with evicting the Pashtuns from Katchi Abaadis (slums) in sectors I/11 and I/12 in peripheries of Islamabad - Pakistan's capital city in the foothills of Margalla hills. The issue was widely discussed on social media, however, it made no headlines in Pakistan's mainstream media, as noted by Ammar Rashid, a researcher and teacher at the Quaid-e-Azam University who works with the All Pakistan Kachi Abadi Alliance, “This is a clear case of the rampant demonization and dehumanization of an entire population on the basis of non-existent facts,” further adding that “Much of Islamabad now regards this slum as an ‘Afghan’ area, populated by terrorists that present a critical security threat to the Capital. The fact that the vast majority of people living here have Pakistani ID cards, birth certificates, B-Forms, etc, seems to have ceased to matter, [...] “The authorities have successfully recast a community of displaced and destitute people as aliens who are poised for a violent invasion of Islamabad,” He goes on argue that “This is calculated disenfranchisement and institutional racism [against Pashtuns].[7]

Over the growing concerns among Pashtuns in Pakistan about the blocking of their identity cards by National Database and Registration Authority, The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Asad Umar stated in Pakistan's National Assembly in March' 2018, that the profiling of Pashtuns is a serious issue. He said the complaints were increasing and it was his observation too, that the profiling of Pashtuns as terrorists was increasing in the country. He was quoted as saying that Recently, I went to the Nadra for the renewal of national Identity cards for two of my voters, the Punjabi voter got the card instantly but the Pashtun was sent for unnecessary verifications and procedures, despite the fact that he provided residency and nationality proofs and was in possession of a card earlier. He said likewise, to show a terrorist, media always show a Pathan. The PTI MNA said that the media too was perpetuating negative stereotypes about Pashtuns. He said that when a terrorist was shown in media, a Pashtun would be shown. A similar observation was made by PTI lawmakers from Khyber Pakhtunkwa, namely Shehryar Khan Afridi and Shahram Khan, have said in the parliament that the racial profiling has turned Pashtuns into an easy target for the military, paramilitary and every other law enforcement agency who pick them up without thinking about repercussions.[8].

Rise of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement [PTM]

Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), or Pashtun Protection Movement, came to prominence in early 2018 in Waziristan, a remote outpost along Pakistan’s rugged border with Afghanistan. Although the grievances PTM tapped into—discrimination against tribal people, violence by the Taliban, and military presence in the area—were long-standing, the trigger for the group’s recent explosion was the extrajudicial killing of an aspiring model and artist from Waziristan in the city of Karachi in January 2018. In February this year, for example, hundreds of young men and women marched in Lahore, the country’s second-largest city, to demand freedom of expression, respect for the country’s constitution, and civil rights. The name of their rally—Shehri Tahafuz March, or Citizen Protection March—was an homage to PTM. And in April, tens of thousands of people demonstrated under the PTM banner in the North Waziristan city of Miran Shah.

At these rallies, a popular slogan is “Ye jo dehshat gardi hai, es ke peche wardi hai,” or “the uniform is behind all the terrorism.”[9]. The PTM's four-point agenda was: the setup of a commission to inquire into Mehsud’s and other extra judicial killings around the country; an end to the arbitrary assault and harassment of their people; the return of “missing” individuals; and a removal of unexploded landmines strewn across the tribal belt. In the Swat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, protesters demanded the removal of unnecessary check posts, where they are unfairly questioned and harassed by security officials.[10].

Pakistani journalist Khurram Hussain has called their movement “The Pashtun Spring”. “What is particularly interesting about this movement is that it is spontaneous, and has an amorphous leadership drawn from a younger generation with no links to organised politics. What is dismaying to see is how their efforts have been ignored by the big mainstream political parties, as well as the mainstream media,” Khurram wrote in the Dawn.[11]

Michael Kugelman notes that hostile social-media campaigns have intensified, accusing the PTM of inciting violence and receiving foreign support since February 2018. Some analysts are comparing the PTM’s anti-state rhetoric to that of the Taliban. Most Pakistani television stations, likely because of pressure from the military, haven’t covered the protests, and newspapers are refusing to publish columns—even those by the country’s most prominent writers—on the movement. Officials in Lahore refused to give the PTM a permit for a protest in that city on April 22, though the group held the event anyway.

Meanwhile, General Bajwa, the DGISPR, has branded the PTM protests as “engineered” and a form of “hybrid warfare” to weaken the nation. He also warned that Pakistan must not let the PTM distract from the nation’s “true heroes”—an apparent reference to the thousands of soldiers who have lost their lives fighting terror.

According to Kugelman there are several other factors that help explain the backlash across Pakistani state and society.

First, Pashtuns in Pakistan are an easy target. They face widespread discrimination and are frequently labeled as terrorists or drug dealers. Last year, police in Punjab province were ordered to pay special attention to Pashtuns and to treat them as potential terror suspects. (Most members of the Pakistani Taliban, the deadliest terrorist organization in Pakistan over the last decade, are Pashtuns.) Additionally, Pakistan has hosted several million Afghan refugees, most of them Pashtuns, for several decades, and they frequently complain about police harassment and other forms of discrimination. Several months ago in Islamabad, I heard a senior Pakistani military official declare that the country’s terrorism problem would be solved once and for all if only every Afghan refugee were returned to Afghanistan.

Second, any kind of Pashtun activism is bound to trigger one of the Pakistani security establishment’s greatest fears: The specter of Pashtun nationalists calling for a separate country uniting Pashtuns along both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In reality, the PTM’s stated demands revolve around Pashtun rights, not separatist politics. But age-old anxieties die hard. Third, the PTM’s messaging undercuts an important narrative projected by the Pakistani military in recent months: The tribal areas, buffeted by conflict for many years, are returning to a state of normalcy, thanks to a robust counterterrorism offensive in North Waziristan that has degraded anti-state militants and resulted in a relative respite in terrorist attacks across the country. Last November, I visited Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan. Pakistani military officials there declared that terrorism had been eliminated; they claimed that there were no more no-go areas; and they showcased new roads, markets, and hospitals. While the military speaks of peace and development in the tribal belt, the PTM speaks of indignity and injustice.

Finally, some facts on the ground work to the advantage of PTM detractors and their arguments. Some Afghan parliamentarians, as well as President Ashraf Ghani, one of Afghanistan’s 13 million Pashtuns, have expressed full-throated support for the PTM—thereby giving ammunition to those that claim a foreign hand is behind the movement. Robust expressions of support from Afghanistan for the movement also sharpen the fears of those Pakistanis who believe that the PTM wants to unite Pashtuns on both sides of the border.[12].

During the 1980s, anti-Pashtun sentiments were present in Karachi among some sections of the Urdu-speaking Muhajir community.[13]. These sentiments became manifested in the form of anti-Pathan riots in Karachi in 1986 One of the factors which may have contributed to this was the growing economic influence of Pashtuns in the city, with the "blessing of the Zia regime."[14] According to Maya Chadda, increased Pashtun migration to Karachi, which included Pashtun migrants from neighbouring Afghanistan due to the Soviet war, disturbed Karachi's sensitive demographics and brought about an "increasingly violent competition for land, jobs, and economic control of the city."[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Arnold, Anthony (1983). Afghanistan's Two-Party Communism: Parcham and Khalq. Hoover Press. p. 39. ISBN 0-8179-7792-9.
  2. ^ a b Misdaq, Nabi (2006). Afghanistan: Political Frailty And External Interference. Routledge. pp. 105–106. ISBN 978-0-415-70205-8.
  3. ^ Katzman, Kenneth (2017). Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy (PDF). Congressional Research Service. p. 4.
  4. ^ Gandhi, Rajmohan (2008). Ghaffar Khan: nonviolent Badshah of the Pakhtuns. Penguin Books India. p. 243. ISBN 978-0143065197.
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  13. ^ Akmal Hussain (1990). "The Karachi Riots of December 1986". Mirrors of Violence: Communities, Riots and Survivors in South Asia (PDF). Delhi Oxford University Press.
  14. ^ Rais, Rasul Bux (1997). State, Society, and Democratic Change in Pakistan. Oxford University Press. p. 122.
  15. ^ Chadda, Maya (2000). Building Democracy in South Asia: India, Nepal, Pakistan. Lynne Rienner Publishers. p. 100. ISBN 978-1555878597.