A call to build bridges between the non-Pashto-speaking Pashtuns and Pashto-speaking Pashtuns

by Ali Khan

There is an old saying in Pashto, “A Pashtun is always a Pashtun.”

Unfortunately, there are some Paktho-speaking Pakhtoons out there who like to indulge themselves into the arrogance of being the ‘Real’ Pakhtoons and therefore out-casting and rendering all the non-Pashto speaking Pashtuns as non-Pashtuns, just because 1). they claim to speak Pashto and 2). they claim that the ‘Real’ Pakhtoons supposed to have European features or somewhat lighter skin. They even insist, whine and rant on the basis of semantics that only ‘Pakhtoon’ or ‘Pashtun’ should be used and ‘Pathan’ should be discarded altogether despite the fact that their favorite European or British Historians – to whom they admire, love and quote more than the native Pakhtoon historians – used ‘Pathan’ to describe their history. In their mind, only the Pashto-speaking Pakhtoons with European features or lighter skin can be the ‘Real’ Pashtuns, which doesn’t only go against the logic and common sense but also the ancient history of Afghanistan by itself where most of the Pashtuns claim to be hailed from.

These naive Pashto-speaking ‘REAL’ Pashtuns don’t pay attention to the fact that there are plenty of Pashto-speaking Punjabis, Hindkos and Sikh .etc living in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and even in Afghanistan and YET they are NOT and can never be Pashtuns as they don’t have lineage, blood-line nor they are the descendants of Baba Qais / Qais Abdul Rashid, the legendary founding father and progenitor of the Pashtun nation. Interestingly enough, the offspring of these Pashto-speaking ‘Real’ Pakhtoons, once settled in the West or elsewhere, also stop speaking Pakhto in couple of generations. And as far as having the European features or lighter skin is concerned, all one needs to do is to visit Southeastern Afghanistan or Southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and witness that how many darker-or-brown-skinned Pakhtoons exist in that region whose skin is even darker or brownish than let’s say Kashmiris or Syeds. Furthermore, they conveniently ignore the historical fact that most of the Afghan/Pashtun conquerors and aristocrats used to speak Persian instead of Paktho as in their time that was the language which was considered ‘elitist’, ‘civilized’ or ‘official’ just like nowadays everybody wants to speak English.

In other words, speaking Pashto or having European features or lighter skin has NOTHING to do with being a Pakhtoon for the mere fact that one’s language can be changed by settling somewhere where that language is not spoken but being a Pakhtoon, an ethnicity (in which all the Pashtun/Pakhtun tribes/clans/khels claim to be the descendants of Baba Qais / Qais Abdul Rashid), cannot.

Mahmud Ghaznavi and Shahabuddin Ghauri were both Turkic and so some of the other Afghan/Pashtun conquerors. (See I haven’t even mentioned the other non- Pashto-speaking Pakhtoons such as Ghulam Muhammad, Ayub Khan, Jahangir Khan, Imran Khan, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Dilip Kumar .etc).

Ironically, these Pashto-Speaking ‘Real’ Pashtuns love to own the tales of bravery of Mahmud Ghaznavi and Shahabuddin Ghauri .etc as their Afghan/Pashtun heritage despite the fact that both, Mahmud Ghaznavi and Shahabuddin Ghauri, were Turkic and yet they have got the audacity to deny the same rights to some of non-Pashto speaking Pashtuns.

Can these Pashto-speaking ‘Real’ Pashtuns deny the contributions of Mahmud Ghaznavi and Shahabuddin Ghauri to Pashtuns’ history?

Should they do then they inevitably deny their own history and thereby the tales of their bravery, truthfulness .etc that Pashtuns are famous for.

One needs to study the ancient history of Afghanistan and Indian-subcontinent, not only under the light of books and census reports written by the European or British orientalists (i.e. Olaf Caroe, Denzil Ibbetson, Horace A. Rose, Edward Douglas Maclagan) and travelers but also by the native authors (i.e. Pir Moazzam Shah, Muhammad Hayat Khan, Khan Roshan Khan), to learn about the true history, background, circumstances, tribulations and suffering of various non-Pashto speaking Pashtun tribes/clans/khels who migrated and later on settled in non-Pashto speaking areas.

Just to give you an example, here is what Denzil Ibbetson, who was Deputy Superintendent for the 1881 census operation in Punjab and North-West Frontier Province had written in his 1883 Report on the exercise that “Our ignorance of the customs and beliefs of the people among whom we dwell is surely in some respects a reproach to us; for not only does that ignorance deprive European science of material which it greatly needs, but it also involves a distinct loss of administrative power to ourselves.”

Having confessed that he wrote in lieu of description of the Pathans on Page 219 of “A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province – L-Z – Volume 3” that “The true Pathan is perhaps the most barbaric of all the races with which we are brought into contact in the Punjab. His life is not so primitive as that of the gypsy tribes. But he is bloodthirsty, cruel, and vindictive in the highest degree; he does not know that truth or faith is, insomuch that the saying Afghan be iman has passed into a proverb among his neighbors; and though he is not without courage of a sort and is often curiously reckless of his life, he would scorn to face an enemy who he could stab from behind, or to meet him on equal terms if it were possible to take advantage of him, however meanly.”

With this type of bias towards the Pashtuns, Denzil Ibbetson and some of his colleagues twisted and tweaked their books, material and census reports to reward and punish their favorite and not-so-favorite tribes and castes and thus gave rise to a new form of scientific racism using the ‘stick and carrot’ and ‘divide and conquer strategy’ to serve the British Imperial agenda. It took several decades for some tribes to get their history and ethnicity corrected in the Government documents but the damage had been done, albeit, these tribes stick to their guns and insisted on their Pashtun heritage throughout the ordeal of stigmatization and deliberate miscateogorization by the then British authorities.

Therefore, these so called Pashto-speaking ‘REAL’ Pakhtoons need to stop being discriminatory and stop using their hypocritical double-standard by picking, choosing and owning the accomplishments of non- Pashto-speaking Pashtuns as per their discretion and snap out of their ecstasy of arrogance of being ‘The Real’ solely upon their ability to speak Pashto or on the basis of one’s skin color.

They must also appreciate the fact that it wasn’t the fault of current non-Pashto speaking descendants whose Pashto-speaking ancestors migrated – for whatever reason – to non-Pashto-speaking areas which caused their descendants to lose the connection to their ancestors’ culture and language. Instead of discriminating against them on the basis of language and skin color, these non-Pashto-speaking Pashtuns should be given credit for remembering and keeping near and dear to their hearts and minds the memory of their Pashtun ancestry and heritage despite being settled in non-Pashtun areas for decades or even centuries.

Thus, it is about time that the Pashto-speaking Pashtuns should demonstrate and follow some of the basic principles of Pashtunwali [specially Melmastia (hospitality), Imandari (righteousness) and Nang (Honor)] and open their mind, heart, arms and embrace and welcome the non-Pashto-speaking Pashtuns (regardless whether they have lighter skin or not or whether they speak Punjabi, Saraiki, Sindhi, Hindko, Balochi or any other language but Pashto) as their own for the sake of “Unity is Strength” and start building bridges and working together as ONE towards the betterment, development and progress of the overall Pashtun society, culture, nation and its future by reminding themselves that “a Pashtun is always a Pashtun.” As they say, “It is never too late.”

© عؔلی خان – Ali Khan – www.AliKhan.org/book.pdf

Ali Khan writes poetry in Urdu and articles in English and based in California, United States.