The Pashtun

‘I read that my people, the Pashtuns, had persecuted and oppressed the Hazaras. It said the Hazaras had tried to rise against the Pashtuns in the nineteenth century but the Pashtuns had ‘quelled them with unspeakable violence.’

‘I remembered something Baba has said about Pashtuns once. “We may be hardhearted and I know we’re far too proud, but, in the hour of need, believe me that there’s no one you’d rather have at your side than a Pashtun.” ‘

After the formation of the Afghan state in 1747 by Ahmad Shah Durrani, Pashtuns dominated the country’s government. In 1893 Britain drew up the Durand Line, which demarcated the frontier between Afghanistan and British India. It meant that seven million Pashtuns live in what is now Pakistan. They are organised into tribes, ruled by jirgas (councils). By the mid 1970’s, Pashtuns occupied up to 70% of top and middle level positions in Afghanistan’s civil and military hierarchies.

When the Soviets invaded, 85% of the 6.2 million refugees that fled Afghanistan were Pashtuns. Since the fall of the Communist rule, 38% of these people have returned. Many Pashtuns still find it hard to reconcile themselves to not having a major role in government after some 250 years of dominance.

Warfare was always a part of life in Afghanistan even when the country was not at war, particularly among the Pashtun. One of their sayings was ‘Be tame in the city and rebellious in the mountains.’ In Afghanistan not only did their legends revolve around fighting but so did their hobbies. They had the obvious ones such as bird-fighting, cock-fighting and wrestling or buzkaski – the Afghan version of polo with a live goat (or sometimes the head of Russian prisoners) used as a ball.


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