“‘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.”
Pre-modern geographers and historians never referred to the regions of modern Afghanistan as “Afghanistan.” They employed micro-level toponyms; for example, Bamiyan, Balkh, Farah, Ghur, Kabul, Panjshir. If a macro-level toponym had to be employed, it would be Iran (or its equivalents, Iranshahr or Iranzamin), Hind, Sindh, Khurasan, Sistan, Turkistan, or Mawarannahar (Arabic for Transoxiana). Cities and regions like Balkh, Bust (Hilmand), Farah, Herat, Kabul, Marw, etc. were integral to Iran (see, e.g., Touraj Daryaee, Šahrestānīhā i Ērānšahr, 17–21; Anon./Minorsky, Hudud al-ʿAlam, §§ 23–24).
The first known mention of the toponym “Afghanistan” is by Sayf al-Harawi in his History of Herat (written by c.1322). Here, however, Afghanistan refers to a narrow tract, from Qandahar to Ghazni, and east to the Sulayman Mountains. This disposition reflects the westward migrations of Awghans from India into Iran. Where Awghans had primarily lived in Indian territories, they were now encroaching on Iranian lands. Qandahar, for example, was part of Iran. However, Ghazni once belonged to India (see, e.g., Anon./Minorsky, Hudud al-ʿAlam, § 24, ¶ 9). Pre-modern geographies and histories make clear that the majority of Afghanistan’s regions were populated by non-Awghan peoples. They were known by their ethnonyms or nisbas (adjectives of domicile or birthplace); for example, Harawi (Herat), Panjshiri, Balkhi, Tajik, or Badakhshani. Awghan (Pashtun) still referred to Indian peoples who spoke Pashtu, an Indo-Iranian language, and whose heartlands were in India.
This changed in the 19th-century. British imperialists based in India installed as the emir of Afghanistan an anti-Shiʿa and xenophobic Pashtun, Abdur al-Rahman, and supplied him with cash and modern weapons. The Emir was instructed to secure the borders against possible Iranian and Russian encroachments. This he did by committing genocide against the Hazara peoples, who are dominantly Shiʿa; and colonizing non-Pashtun districts in the north, northeast, west, and center. His successors, down to Muhammad Daud (ousted in the 1978 Marxist coup d’état), were abject failures at state-building, but they initiated processes to impose Pashtu and Pashtun hegemony on Afghanistan’s multifarious peoples.
The boundaries of modern Afghanistan were demarcated by British imperialists and Joseph Stalin. The appellation “Afghanistan” was imposed on this artificial country. Soon, oblivious Westerners, including “Afghanistan experts,” were referring to Baluchis, Hazaras, Panjshiris, Uzbeks, and others as “Afghans.” Given the horrendous history of abuse, slavery, torture, and genocide that is associated with Pashtuns, the appellation Awghan/Pashtun is avoided by non-Pashtuns much the way an American would avoid the label “child molester.”
Afghanistan is a country not a nation. The majority of Afghanistan’s land is Iranian; a part is Indian. Afghanistan’s culture is Perso-Islamic: this is the culture that produced Rumi, Hafiz, Rudaki, Khayyam, al-Ghazzali, al-Biruni, Avincenna, Nizam al-Mulk, Nasir al-Din Tusi, et al.; and the superlative arts on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Epic Iran exhibition. The majority language of Afghanistan is Persian (Farsi). Imperial Britain imposed Indian peoples on Farsiwan (Persian-speakers) of Khurasan, Bamiyan, and Sistan. Pashtuns, as far as Farsiwan are concerned, speak gibberish. Pashtun rulers had to acquire Farsi to communicate with their subjects (or victims); hence the development of a Persian dialect, Dari (= court: language of the court). “Afghanistan,” in short, is a Fakeistan. Pashtuns know this. Pashtuns have no equivalents to 5,000 years of Persian history and culture. This is why Pashtuns insist on “Pashtunization”: elimination or subordination of other linguistic and social identities, cultures, and languages. The Pashtunization campaigns have parallels to the “Russification” campaigns inflicted on Central Asian Muslims by tsars and commissars.
Fast forward to 9/11 and the American-led invasion of Afghanistan. American allies were all non-Pashtuns: Uzbeks, Panjshiris, and Harawis. Pashtuns in the United States and European Union were horrified to see Panjshiris controlling Kabul; and Uzbeks, Hazaras, and Harawis ruling their homelands. Even as bombs were falling on Afghanistan, Pashtun ethno-nationalists Ashraf Ghani and Zalmay Khalilzad were plotting a Pashtun return to the status quo ante bellum. They were aided and abetted by so-called experts, and the UN special envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi (a loathsome little man as Zahir Shah, the late king of Afghanistan, keenly observed).
The push by nationalists for a return to Afghanistan’s pre-war status, when only Pashtuns led the country, resulted in the installation of Hamid Karzai as interim president. “Experts” lamented about the “fragmentation of Afghanistan,” and how Afghanistan could splinter into several countries like Yugoslavia. Ghani and Khalilzad encouraged this line of thinking. Concentration of power in one political office, the presidency, was the prescribed antidote to the imaginary disease of “Balkanization.”
Leaders of non-Pashtun communities were labeled “warlords” and human rights “violators.” Ahmad Rashid advanced Pakistani ISI’s goal of marginalizing non-Pashtuns political and military leaders by blackening non-Pashtun leaders as warlords at virtually every TV interview. Moreover, certain non-Pashtun leaders practiced their Islamic faith. They were branded “Islamists” and “radicals,” and ostracized by representatives of the USA, EU, and UN, who preferred communicating and working with Westernized Pashtuns. Imported “secular democrats” and “technocrats” (e.g., Ashraf Ghani) were in vogue. Ghani claimed to be a genius at fixing failed states, and even wrote a book about it!
Real experts argued that leaders of Afghanistan’s diverse ethnic clusters were like poker players: they wanted to divide the chips not the poker table. Furthermore, fragmentation was Afghanistan’s natural state: the land’s ethno-linguistic and topographical diversities are positives that should have been embraced through de-centralization. Federalization thrives in Australia, Germany, Switzerland, and the United States because inherent diversities are harnessed. The real experts were ignored. Khalilzad, Ghani, Karzai, Brahimi, et al. imposed their will at the 2003 Constitutional Loya Jirga. The constitution ratified on 4 January 2004 concentrated power in the presidency, thereby creating a “winner take all” system that was intended to crush non-Pashtun political aspirations. William Maley, an Australian legal scholar, submitted written advice to the UN group opposing this model. It was ignored. Instead of recognizing the intrinsic regional, ethnic, and linguistic diversities of Fakeistan, foreigners helped impose an unworkable centralized administrative system.
The Bonn Agreement (5 December 2001) called for “a census of the population of Afghanistan” (¶ 3 (ii)) before elections. This was not done because Pashtuns claim majority status and a census would disprove them. If one were to include Pakistan’s Pashtuns, this may yield a majority; but then, one could add millions of Iranians and Tajikistanis to Tajik rolls, and Uzbekistanis to Uzbek rolls. Flawed and fraudulent elections cemented Pashtun hegemony and sealed Afghanistan’s fate. Pashtuns spent the last twenty years using the presidency, every organ of government, and non-governmental agencies, as vehicles not for state-building but for the imposition of Pashtun ethno-nationalist policies. An example is the biometric identity card. Ghani and his gang insisted that every national, irrespective of ethnicity, be identified as Awghan. This stoked bitter and unnecessary divisions.
Another instance of harms inflicted by Pashtun ethno-nationalism is the National Solidarity Program (NSP). Afghanistan was not ungoverned before foreigners parachuted in to introduce democracy and government to the benighted. Autochthonous mechanisms of governance, taxation, law, and order had flourished since ancient times. Village councils and Shuras administered their regions and resolved disputes. The Supervisory Council of the North, instituted and led by Ahmad Shah Massoud, delivered education for boys and girls, administration, and justice in zones under its aegis. Rather than developing existing legal and administrative institutions, Kabul insisted on creating new institutions through NSP. The NSP’s main objective was to destroy autochthonous institutions and thereby deny non- Pashtuns administrative and political power. This directly contributed to failures by Kabul to deliver governmental services, and fueled the Taliban-led insurgency.
In the 1996–2001 period when the Taliban ruled, Pashtun ethno-nationalists in the west expressed satisfaction that non-Pashtun communities and regions had been defeated (except for Panjshir) and marginalized. They were proud of their “Pashtun brothers.” They changed their public tone after 9/11 but not their tune. Pashtuns opposed power-sharing accords because it would allow non-Pashtuns—and marginalized Pashtuns, who flocked to Taliban—a share of political power and budgetary funds. Ethno-nationalists would rather the Taliban rule than share power with Tajiks, Turks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras.
This is just what they did in late July and early August 2021. Pashtun provincial and district governors appointed by Ghani handed provinces to their “Pashtun brothers.” The Afghan National Army had been stocked with Pashtun officers. They, like Pashtun governors, surrendered to their Pashtun brothers (for cash and prizes to be paid once the Taliban secured access to state coffers). In Herat, by way of illustration, Tajik and Harawi officers and enlistees wanted to fight but were ordered to surrender to the Taliban. They preferred to flee to Iran with their weapons and equipment.
The only true friends the United States had were among non-Pashtun communities, especially Hazaras and Panjshiris. They loathe the Taliban and would have fought if they had been supported by the U.S. with armaments, intelligence, and air support, especially drones. Instead, the U.S. Government, from Bush to Biden, bet the farm on Pashtuns.