Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

Pashtun Ethno-Nationalism and the Collapse of Afghanistan

By Shivan Mahendrarajah

“‘Austria’s greatest achievement,’ an old joke goes, “is convincing the world that Beethoven was an Austrian and Hitler a German.” Likewise, credit must go to the Pashtun (Awghan) politicians who convinced gullible foreigners and “experts” that “Afghanistan” has always existed within its present boundaries and Pashtuns are the majority population. Therefore, they claim, Pashtuns have the “right” to rule Afghanistan.

The ethnonym Awghan is synonymous with Pashtun/Pathan. It appears in 10th-century Persian and Arabic geographies and histories. Awghan applied to peoples living in the Sulayman Mountains of western India (now modern Pakistan). Awghans were bandits and soldiers since medieval times. Mahmoud of Ghazni employed Awghans as mercenaries. Tamerlane found Awghans to be a nuisance and massacred them. The martial abilities of Awghans, and their penchant for violence and feuding, are well-known. William Dalrymple drolly described their practice of blood feuds as “almost a national pastime—the Afghan equivalent of county cricket in the English shires.”

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