Thursday, December 04, 2008

Long Live Pashtunistan

Earlier in my blog, I offered my respect to the Kashmiri people and to their right to unity and self-determination. In today's post, I would like to pay my respects to another brave people who also suffered a lot - the Pashtuns.

The history of Pashtuns is written in valor and heroism. Their fierce independence and love for freedom were mentioned in the most ancient texts, including the Rig Veda and the Mahabharata. Never surrendering to any empire or army, these people always maintained independent tribal republics. Even the mighty Alexander could not annex their lands. As chronicled by Megasthenes, his army fought a fierce battle with the Assakenoi (Ashvaganas / Afghans). Instead of accepting defeat, entire tribes (including women) took to arms and sacrificed their lives. Their feat is as stirring as that of the 300 Spartan warriors of Leonidas. One of the reasons why Alexander didn't cross the Indus river is because of the fear these warriors put into the hearts of the Greek soldiers.

Coming to modern times, even the greatest empire in history - the British empire could not succeed in occupying the Afghan lands. Afghanistan remained a sovereign state since the early 1700s, making it the most ancient sovereign state in this region of the world.

Pashtuns, with their love for freedom and their gratitude to loyalty and honesty, are an inspiration to people everywhere in the world. A few of these valiant people settled in India, called Pathans, always known for their big generous hearts.

Pashtuns love music, and a lot of famous singers and artists in the Indian subcontinent come from this region. Several ancient Indian / Iranian mathematicians and scientists originated from Gandhara (Kandahar) and Balkh.

All this history stands in stark contrast to the way media portrays Pashtuns today - as medieval tribal warriors. This portrayal comes in handy for two souces - the NATO forces fighting them in Kandahar and the Pakistani forces fighting them in Waziristan. Why did Pashtuns get dragged into this warfare is a sad story.

It begins with a betrayal. And it is we Indians (precisely Nehru) who have to suffer the blame of backstabbing Pashtuns.

Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan (fondly known as Bacha Khan) was the most inspiring freedom fighter from the Pashtun region. A devout Muslim, and also a staunch Gandhian who abrogated violence, he inspired the entire Pashtun community to stand up to the British. He said, "I am going to give you such a weapon that the police and the army will not be able to stand against it. It is the weapon of the Prophet, but you are not aware of it. That weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on earth can stand against it." He was known as the frontier Gandhi and his followers were known as the Khudai-khidmatgars (servants of God).

As the idea of partitioning India was picking up steam, Bacha Khan firmly opposed it and remained staunchly secular. He didn't want Pashtun provinces to become part of an Islamic Pakistan. At the urgency of independence, and at the threat of religious violence between Hindus and Muslims, Gandhi and Nehru have forced Bacha Khan to agree to the merger with Pakistan. Bacha Khan moaned to Gandhi, "You have thrown us to the wolves". After the merger, Bacha Khan was labeled an enemy of Islam and imprisoned several times. His followers were carefully decimated by the opponents with support from Islamabad. Military generals such as Zia-ul-Haq have taken advantage of the illiteracy and backwardness of the region, and appointed religious fundamentalists as leaders.

The second part of the story began with the attack of Afghanistan by the Soviet troops. Seeing their brothers dying across the border, many Pashtuns took to arms. Taking advantage of the situation, USA and Pakistan funded this war and supplied them with weapons and missiles. As the superpowers played their colonial chess games, ordinary Pashtuns died in large numbers. War and violence have further eroded the spirit of Pashtuns. Illiteracy and economic backwardness became rife.

The third and final part of the story was the infiltration of the Pashtun lands with Arab fighters. First arrived to fight the Soviets, these militants then started to use the lands of their hosts against new enemies - the USA. The stationing of US troops on Saudi soil, became the reason of hatred for one Osama bin Laden. He abused the hospitality of his hosts by using Afghanistan to hatch terrorist plots, which serve the purpose of no Afghan citizen. After the 9-11, the USA started bombing the Afghan lands killing Pashtuns in large numbers, but still unable to locate the main culprit.

The spirit of Bacha Khan seems so far away, and we are left to wonder what happened to the Khudai-khidmatgars ! The brave Pashtun people are left with no strong leader and are being made to fight foreign wars - against India and against USA, by cowardly people behind the scenes. This has to stop. Indians have to reaffirm their love and respect for the Pashtun people. The Americans should attempt to understand their fierce love for freedom, and stop a war which they can never win.

When will Pashtuns stop fighting foreign wars, funded by cowardly people from the back ? When will Pashtuns see a return to peace and prosperity ?

I wish the Pashtuns the same thing I wished for the Kashmiris - an affirmation of their self-respect and dignity, an end to the murder of their race, and a tearing down of the artificial walls which seperate brothers.


Robert said...

I read your comments on Acorn Blog and here.

It would be great to have you write an essay (your thoughts) on the Pashtuns (from an Indian perspective) for the Pashtun Peace Forum. Your recommendations, etc...from an Indian perspective would be great to reach a focused audience.

Would be happy to put you in touch with them - they are seeking article submissions.

Ray Lightning said...

Thank you Robert :) I can write an essay, but I am currently bogged down in work (I am a research student).

I can attempt one in the next couple of weeks or later. Tell my wishes to your friends at the pashtun peace forum.