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date: 25 June 2017


Abstract and Keywords

With an estimated thirty million or more in Pakistan, twelve million in Afghanistan, and perhaps a million or more in a global diaspora, Pashtuns or Pukhtuns comprise a complex ethno-linguistic population with a rich cultural tradition and literature, varied political and economic contexts, and diverse national and Islamic identities. Historic and literary references to communities that have been thought to identify “Afghans” date to the 10th century and, according to the source and scholar consulted, many centuries earlier. The assumption of any uniquely “Pashtun” identity as equivalent to the diverse “Afghan” cultural, religious, and ethnic identities that evolved over centuries has obfuscated a full understanding of the emergence of distinct regional Pashtun ethno-linguistic communities and the origins of frequently studied cultural idioms. Millions of Pashtuns have lived in close and daily contact with many other ethnic groups (Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Baluch, Punjabis, etc.), and color-coded maps of ethnic homelands in Afghanistan and Pakistan are best seen as guides to often complex social geographies rather than absolute markers of ethnically pure settlement areas.

For perhaps a thousand years, Pashtuns and regional forefathers have circulated within imperial and merchant networks connected by Silk Road pathways, Persian and north Indian trade routes, and Indian Ocean sea lanes. Pashtuns sought livelihoods as horse traders, military entrepreneurs, agrarian pioneers, and regional rulers in the northern, eastern, and Deccan regions of India. An Afghan state with variable territorial claims consolidated after 1747. Leading Pashtun clans from around Kandahar and the eastern districts took positions in the dynasties that soon ruled from Kabul and core provinces.

Pashtuns between the Oxus and Indus rivers adapted to, avoided, and served 18th- and 19th-century Russian and British imperial economic and political forces. In the high European “new imperialism” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Afghan territories were framed by treaty-negotiated boundaries. Never colonized, Afghanistan became economically dependent on British–India subsidies and linkages. Into the mid-20th century, Afghanistan’s Pashtun political dynasties and Islamic and political activists on both sides of the British-Indian Durand Line offered leadership and alternative visions of the future to anticolonial and Muslim nationalists, including those in British India.

In recent decades, core Pashtun homelands and diasporic communities have fully experienced the disruptions and violence that followed the partition of British India in 1947, postcolonial “national” consolidation, conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, Cold War alliances and conflict, the rise and fall of the Taliban, and civil war. Like others, Pashtun lives were shaped by the transnational dynamics of economic globalization, urbanization, migration, and the international crises that traumatized the world after September 11, 2001.

Keywords: Pashtuns, Afghanistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, British India, imperialism, nationalism, Islam, women, ethnicity, migration


Retrospective folklore, oral histories, and colonial scholarship have traced Pashtun origins to a lost tribe of Israel, the Bani Israeli, and to linguistically cognate communities and ethnic groups mentioned by Herodotus and other ancient and early sources. Other lineage narratives trace direct Afghan and Pashtun ties back to both ancient prophets and the founders of Islam. Speculative and ultimately inconclusive, such stories and studies have been used throughout history to support claims to authenticity, territory, and hierarchy. Different authors have collected, translated, and weighed these early-modern era lineage tales and their colonial interpreters.1

Though one modern Afghan scholar published a manuscript suggesting that the first Pashto language texts were composed centuries earlier, 16th-century manuscripts are considered the earliest authentic Pashto language sources.2 These texts may well have reflected a self-consciously Pashtun identity that evolved in the period as cultural responses to contemporary hegemonic imperial narratives, especially ones written at the Mughal courts in Delhi and Agra. There were centuries of contact across the region between Persian, Turkic, Central Asian, and South Asian imperialists, traders, pilgrims, and those drawn to dynamic urban centers. This meant that Pashtun ethno-linguistic communities that arose regionally from Kandahar to Kabul to the Peshawar valley and the highland border areas were less of a genetically pure “race” than a complex population of pastoralists, farmers, and local notables integrated into local and imperial hierarchies of political, social, and economic power and status. Over time, self-defined Pashtuns often emerged in these homelands as clan leaders, village heads, and land controllers who presided over Tajik (Persian/Dari speaking) and other non-Pashtun tenant farmers, village artisans, and market-town service populations.

By the mid-18th century, Pashtun communities had become a leading ethnic group in Afghanistan, with clan identities self-defined as situated within an elaborate genealogical narrative that related numerous Pashto-speaking lineages to a common ancestor, Qais, and to one of four major descent lines: the Durrani, the Ghilzais, the Gurghust, and the Karlanri. Pashtun identity included common descent links, the Pashto language, the Islamic religion, and obedience to Pashtunwali, a social code that valued honor, hospitality, sanctuary, and revenge. Other regional ethnic groups might have similar cultural values. Barfield discusses regional “tribal” ethnicity, with Uzbeks, Turkmen, Hazaras, and others varying from Pashtuns by history, language, sectarian identity, and cultural practices. Others, such as the “nontribal” Persian-speaking Tajiks, made “no claim of genealogical relationship among their members,” but held common identities often by “distinguishing themselves primarily by residence.”3

Anthropologists, often referencing Pashtun case studies, have discussed social dynamics and community origins in which common bonds of language, codes of behavior, and cultural practices emerged from processes of community interaction with, and differentiation from, other groups.4 The broadly recognized Pashtun identity would develop with regional variations of Pashto language dialect, economic livelihoods, and devotional practices. In precolonial northern India, Pashtun heritage militia and political leaders would recruit followers who, over time, might assimilate to a Pashtun “Rohilla” identity.5 Such perspectives suggest that if community ideals have endured in popular imagination as exclusive social boundaries, individual Pashtun identities have historically been more permeable and negotiated than fixed eternally by birth.


From the 16th to early 18th centuries, Mughal emperors based in northern India maintained a provincial capital in Kabul and recorded in personal and official memoirs details of interactions with Pashtuns across the range of possible imperial contacts and connections. The first Mughal ruler Babur took a Pashtun wife in diplomacy that secured access to key roads to the Indus and north India. Pashtun collaborators, including military elites and clans appointed guardians of important routes, received subsidies, became elites (mansabdars) in the Mughal aristocracy, and were settled on land grants around the empire.

Pashtuns and other regional figures alienated by political, economic, and cultural policies went into passive or active opposition to Mughal authority. The non-Pashtun Bayazid Ansari (c. 1525–1572/c. ah 931–979), an Urmeri religious scholar, recruited Pashtuns in the border hill country into the anti-Mughal Roshaniyya movement that endured for many years. At least one of his descendants received a Mughal land grant (jagir) requiring resettlement east of the Indus River. At the end of the 17th century Khushal Khan Khattak (1613–1689/ah 1022–1100), scion of a leading clan family rewarded for protecting the Mughal high road from Attock on the Indus River to the Khyber Pass, went into armed and literary opposition to the emperor Aurangzeb after the family subsidy was revised.

Persian language histories from the mid-17th century chronicled the complex political and social origins of the first Afghan state consolidated in 1747 in Kandahar under Ahmad Shah Durrani (r. 1747-1772/ah 1160–1186). For many, Ahmad Shah’s rule meant the origins of an enduring Afghan and Pashtun state under a series of Pashtun rulers. Yet the details of Ahmad Shah’s birth and service to Nadir Shah’s Persian state hint at the varied, contingent social and regional components of his imperial project.6

From the early 19th century onward, Pashtuns interacted with British Indian diplomats, administrators, and then soldiers, especially as East Indian Company officials ordered invasions and occupations of Kabul and parts of Afghanistan in 1839–1842 and 1878–1881. In 1809, Mountstuart Elphinstone led the first colonial mission to the Afghan court, staying for three months in Peshawar in attendance to the Afghan ruler Shah Shuja. His subsequent writings included early “ethnographic” details of Pashtun society. From 1809 onward, as turmoil and revolution disrupted the Afghan ruling class, Pashtuns in the Peshawar valley gradually lost direct political connections to Afghan rulers in Kabul.

In 1823, the expanding Sikh kingdom under Ranjit Singh in Lahore occupied Peshawar, pushing out Afghan forces and allies. Although Afghan rulers still claimed that their natural territory ran east to the Indus, British colonial armies defeated the Sikhs in 1849. They occupied the Sikh-held territories west of the Indus, including the Peshawar Valley as well as other agrarian areas and lowlands settled by Pashtun clans.

By the end of the 19th century, Pashtun populations lived in politically fragmented and challenged homelands. The Afghan state was being ruthlessly centralized by Amir Abdur Rahman (r. 1880–1901). Pashtuns lived in administratively settled districts of the British-Indian Punjab province, in separate border “Tribal Agencies” organized by the British as a model of nominal sovereignty, and in highland polities north of the Peshawar Valley such as Dir and Swat.

In 1901, British Indian administrators divided the “settled” agrarian and taxed districts of the Punjab west of the Indus into a new North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). Several “Tribal Agencies” were indirectly ruled territories supervised by a colonial political agent. He managed locally recruited militias and deployed a codified “Frontier Crimes Regulation” that maintained authoritarian order through official versions of customary dispute resolution institutions and practices. Such colonial era control and policing structures survived into the 21st century as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and reformed Frontier Crimes Regulation of Pakistan.7

In the early 20th-century, anticolonial and nationalist activism emerged in Afghanistan and the NWFP in unique ways that highlighted Pashtun political consciousness and agency. In 1919, Amir Amanullah, ruling from Kabul, began the short Third Anglo-Afghan War (May 6, 1919–August 8, 1919) along the “Durand Line,” a mapped line agreed in 1893 to separate Afghan and British-Indian spheres of influence over border Pashtun communities. Amanullah (r. 1919–1929) not only mobilized the Afghan army but also rallied the support of border Pashtun clans to consolidate his new regime. The war forced the British to cede their control over Afghan foreign policy maintained since the Second Afghan War.8

The 1919–1922 Khilifat Movement of Muslim and Indian nationalist resistance to the post-World War I dismantling of the Ottoman Empire produced thousands of religiously motivated migrants, including borderland Pashtuns who left British-India for Afghanistan, often through Peshawar. Although the Khilafat Movement ultimately failed, Pashtun activists in this movement, including Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Bacha Khan), from a landlord family in the Peshawar Valley, developed links with other anticolonial activists, the Indian National Congress Party leadership, and Gandhi. Afghanistan would serve as a refuge for leftists, Islamists, and nationalists in exile from Indian provinces.

In 1929, Pashtuns were again involved in Afghan dynastic change as Amanullah, the ruler in Kabul, miscalculated the pace of his reform agendas and generated conservative and religious opposition. Specific reforms about women’s education, marriage, and veiling and the public role of Queen Soraya became issues that conservatives, religious leaders, and eastern and southern Pashtuns used to generate political opposition to Amanullah. He and his dynasty were overthrown. Muhammad Nadir Khan, an exiled Afghan former minister, ambassador, and military leader, mobilized eastern border Afghan Pashtun militias and marched with his brothers on Kabul from British India. They seized the court from a non-Pashtun claimant, Habibullah Kalakani (r. January–October, 1929) and installed a new dynasty, the Musahibans. Nadir Khan became Nadir Shah (r. October, 1929–November, 1933).

Political disruption soon appeared east of the Durand Line as the 1930 anticolonial civil disobedience movement of Gandhi and the Indian Congress emerged in the NWFP from within a Pashtun mobilization effort. Throughout the 1920s, Abdul Ghaffar Khan had organized the social reform Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) organization. It published a Pashto language paper, Pukhtun, ran Pashto medium schools, and pursued village-based change with a commitment to nonviolence. In 1930, Khudai Khidmatgar mass demonstrations generated province-wide, violent repression by colonial authorities. When events led Pashtun borderland communities to gather traditional militias, lashkars, and to surge into the Jamrud plains west of Peshawar to threaten the city, the British dispersed them with air attacks. The Khudai Khidmatgars, demonized by the British as “Red Shirts,” Soviet-inspired communists, remained nonviolent, even as thousands were arrested, hundreds were injured, and many deaths occurred.9

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s advocacy of Pashtun self-determination was social, cultural, and economic in nature. Beginning in 1937, Ghaffar Khan’s brother Khan Abdul Jaffar Khan (Khan Sahib) led the political side of Pashtun self-determination efforts within imperial legislatures as head of the Frontier Congress Party allied with the Indian National Congress. With partition looming in August 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s Muslim League party advocated a Pakistan that included the Pashtuns of the NWFP and Tribal Agencies. Ghaffar Khan’s calls for Pashtun autonomy were condemned by nationalist rivals as anti-Pakistan calls for an independent “Pakhtunistan” state. Pro-Pashtunistan statements from the government-controlled Afghan press in Kabul were also seen as efforts to sabotage the newborn Pakistan.

In early July 1947, a colonially initiated referendum was held to give NWFP voters a choice between joining Pakistan or India. Seen as a token vote to ensure confirmation of partition and the formation of Pakistan, the referendum was boycotted by Ghaffar Khan’s movement. No choice would be given for an alternative political structure offering some degree of Pashtun regional autonomy.10

British officials and post-1947 Pakistani authorities focused on the political implications of Pashtun-centric reform rhetoric, publications, and political parties. After Pakistan independence in August 1947, Chief Minister Abdul Jabbar Khan and his NWFP provincial government were dismissed by Muslim League opponents. Bacha Khan spent years in prisons under the British, then years in detention in independent Pakistan. At his death in January 1988 at the age of 98, he was buried at his request at his home in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

The politics of language use became crucial in such Pakistani national and Pashtun regional claims to authority. To what extent would English remain the language of administration, the courts, and elite access to higher education and international contacts? How quickly would Urdu instruction be established at a “national” level, including across schools in the Pashtun areas? Different administrations in the NWFP would make choices about teaching in the Pashto language for a few years to lower-level students, or making Pashto study an elective course. The content of Pashto language primary school textbooks would be adjusted to reflect such priorities.

Pashtun families with resources placed their children in English medium schools, including government “cadet colleges,” while state schools taught in the Urdu language suffered from lack of resources. Pashtuns in Pakistan might speak Pashto at home but never learn to read or write in their mother tongue. PhD candidates at the University of Peshawar struggled to write dissertations in English, their third language after Pashto and Urdu. Only in April 2010 would the colonial name for the North-West Frontier Province be replaced by its local name, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.11

After 1947, the Afghan dynasty in Kabul under Zahir Shah (r. 1933–1973) tried to centralize the power of the state and maintain established control over an economy weakened by World War II shortages of food, textiles, fuel, and commodity export markets. Kabul, striving to stay independent from Cold War competitors, accepted development aid from the Soviet Union and the United States and military hardware and officer training from the Soviets. Relations with the new state of Pakistan were fraught even as Pakistan controlled, and occasionally suspended, overland access for Afghan trade imports coming by rail and road from the port of Karachi.

Beginning in 1947, Afghan government diplomacy and media propaganda promoted the creation of an independent Pashtunistan, a state composed of the heavily Pashtun populations and districts of Pakistan’s NWFP and Balochistan provinces.12 Afghanistan was the only country to initially vote against the entry of newly independent Pakistan into the United Nations. Pashtun borderland communities east of the Durand Line from the Khyber Pass to Waziristan were welcomed into Pakistan by leaders promising development aid and the withdrawal of military garrisons from colonial posts. Borderland Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand Line negotiated for advantage in the competition between the nation-states. Subsidies from Kabul encouraged Pashtunistan flag raisings and lashkar encampments of pro-Pashtunistan Pashtuns, especially in the Khyber Pass Afridi clan areas. Into the 1950s, occasional Pakistani air force strikes would target such armed groups, and outcries were raised in the Afghan press when border Pashtun villages suffered casualties.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the legitimacy and stability of the Afghan ruling court weakened. Economic development and political constitutional reform efforts were mismanaged and were never allowed to weaken the fundamental control by the dynasty over resources and institutions of power. New education policies had unintended effects; Kabul University nurtured activist parties of communists, Islamists, and anti-dynasty nationalists. Women took party and new public roles. Pashtun secular and religious leaders in the university faculty and student body joined different party organizations and factions that clashed among themselves as they demonstrated against the government. Several individuals from this period would remain politically engaged well into the 21st century.

In the 1960s in Pakistan, the crisis of governance that had led to Ayub Khan’s military takeover in 1958 continued to undermine democratic institutions and to produce inequities in economic growth. Pashtun nationalist political parties, allied with regional and leftist coalitions, were marginalized, and were repressed by authoritarian methods.13 A recipient of military aid from the west as a Cold War ally, Pakistan’s elites in the west would alienate East Pakistan Bengalis, and Bangladesh would become an independent country in 1971. In the 1970s, the Bhutto government in Pakistan campaigned with promises of revolutionary development in the border Tribal areas, but again, lesser resources were allocated or spent. Many border residents remained suspicious of road builders and resource surveyors. Tribal agency Pashtun clan leaders receiving subsidies often collaborated in maintaining support for colonial legacy political systems.

With the loss of East Pakistan and the western oil crisis and economic boom in the Middle East oil states after the 1973 Arab–Israeli war, Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfiqar Bhutto initiated a strategic shift in national diplomatic focus. The second meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference was held in Lahore in February 1974. Pakistanis, including a disproportionately high percentage of Pashtuns, began flowing to the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to work as doctors, engineers, businessmen, merchants, technicians, and laborers. After 2001, in any one year, hundreds of thousands of Pashtuns from Afghanistan and Pakistan worked in the Gulf oil states.

In 1975, Bhutto’s border authorities provided refuge for Islamists from Afghanistan who had failed in an armed revolt against the Kabul government. Bhutto tried to assert central control over the western provinces and deployed the military to repress Baloch political dissidents. In March 1976, Bhutto appointed a just retired army general, Naseerullah Babar, a Pashtun from the Peshawar Valley, as Governor of the NWFP. Earlier, border Frontier Corps Commandant Babar had supported the training of Afghan dissidents to weaken the Kabul government calling for Pashtunistan.14 In 1977, General Zia ul-Haq deposed Bhutto in a military coup. Zia had him executed in April 1979.

In 1978, cosmopolitan leftist Afghans, including many of Pashtun and borderland heritage, seized power in Kabul and introduced Soviet-modeled social and economic reform policies and political imagery that quickly generated resistance, murderous repression, a flow of refugees to Iran and Pakistan, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Pashtun communists, including many from borderland provinces, formed large numbers of the radical Khalq (People) faction of the communist party of Afghanistan (People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, formed in 1965) that took power under Presidents Nur Muhammad Taraki (r. April 30, 1978–September 14, 1979) and Hafizullah Amin (r. September 14–December 27, 1979).

A Pashtun born in Ghazni Province, Taraki worked in the 1930s in Bombay for the Pashtun Trading Company. In Bombay, he apparently met Abdul Ghaffar Khan. In 1952, he served for a few months in the Afghan Embassy in Washington, D.C. Amin, son of a Pashtun civil servant, was born in Paghman near Kabul and had an education that included a master’s degree from Columbia University. In 1979, the Soviet army replaced the Khalq-dominated government with one led by Babrak Karmal (r. December 27, 1979–May 4, 1986), leader of the more gradualist Parcham (Banner/Flag) faction of the PDPA.

In the Soviet–Afghan war (1979–1989), a country of perhaps fifteen million before the war may have suffered a million killed, 1.2 million disabled, three million maimed or wounded, and many lives lost or damaged by shortages and disease. Perhaps two million were internally displaced within Afghanistan. An estimated one to two million Afghans settled in Iran, three to four million fled to Pakistan, and hundreds of thousands left for the Middle East, India, Europe, and the United States.15 Afghan Pashtuns settled in hundreds of refugee camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and NWFP districts of western Pakistan. Such numbers were difficult to quantify or comprehend.

Most Afghan refugees to Pakistan were Pashtuns of the eastern and southern provinces. Pashtun traditions of hospitality and refuge eased such catastrophic disruption. Over several years, major refugee camps around Peshawar became official centers for Pakistani and international aid distribution and refugee access to available health care and education. Cold War politics and an anti-Soviet emphasis meant that billions of dollars of American- and Saudi Arabian-funded armaments, supplies, and training were funneled through Zia’s military and intelligence institutions to the Afghan resistance. Of the dozens of Afghan political interests represented in the Pakistan refugee camps, Zia ensured that only seven Islamist parties characterized in the war literature as having “traditional,” “moderate,” and “extremist” ideologies and policies received such support.16

With Zia’s Islamist agenda, the seven Afghan resistance parties were allowed to dominate major refugee camps to recruit fighters and madrasa students and marginalize alternative political voices. Western-supported and independent Afghan media efforts included the Afghan Information Center, which released periodic newsletters and reports. A Kabul University Dean and professor of philosophy and religion, Sayyid Bahauddin Majrooh, in exile in Peshawar after the Soviet invasion, released through the AIC the details of a poll of refugees from the camps in which more of those polled preferred the return of the former king, Zahir Shah, to rule in Kabul than any of the leaders of the seven so-called mujahideen (holy warrior) parties. In February 1988, Majrooh was assassinated at the gate of his home. Many blamed Islamist extremists, particularly Hekmatyar’s party.

The relationships established along the border between Pakistan authorities, Afghan Islamist groups, and international funders and volunteers continued informally and formally over the following decades. Hundreds of thousands of Pashtuns who settled in Karachi during the war were one large contingent of millions of Pashtuns who would continue to migrate to the city and would be entangled in the economic and political struggles that damaged the city from the 1980s into the second decade of the 21st century.17

Continuities of ideology, ethnicity, and region survived decades of conflict and regime change. As late as 2016, two of the original leaders from the seven anti–Soviet Peshawar–based “mujahideen” parties, A. Sayyaf and G. Hekmatyar, remained active in Afghan politics. With B. Rabbani, as early as 1969, they had been part of the Afghan Ikhwan al-Muslimin with links to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. One northern Uzbek militia leader and military general for the Afghan communist government, Abdul Rashid Dostum, would be elected Afghan Vice-President in the 2014 elections.

All Afghans suffered during the Soviet–Afghan war and after the Soviet army withdrew in February 1989 when fighting continued to overthrow the Afghan communist government in Kabul led by Dr. Najib (r. September 30, 1987–April 16, 1992). Born in 1947 in Kabul, with family from Gardez in Paktia Province, Najib joined the Parcham faction in 1965, earned a medical degree from Kabul University in 1975, headed the communist secret police (KHAD) organization, and replaced Babrak Karmal. The enduring value of a Pashtun heritage was shown when in the late and post-Soviet period Dr. Najib, pursuing national reconciliation policies, presented a fuller name, Najibullah Ahmadzai, to emphasize newly valued Islamic and Pashtun nationalist credentials. He took asylum in a UN office in Kabul after his government collapsed in 1992. Thinking he would be spared by fellow eastern Ghilzai Pashtuns, he refused to flee Kabul in 1996 as the Taliban approached the city. He and his brother were executed by the Taliban September 28, 1996.

The first movie shot in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in late 2001 was the story of a young girl who took the identity of a boy, Osama, so that she could work and support her family in Kabul under Taliban rule.18 The film illustrated in passing but striking visual imagery and linguistic contrast the cultural divide between an often Dari-speaking, ethnically composite urban Kabul population and the Taliban. The Taliban, clear occupiers of Kabul, were dominated by Pashto-speaking, Sunni Muslim, southern, eastern, rural Pashtun recruits. The city, which had survived intact until the fall of the communist government, had been badly damaged by factional fighting among the seven mujahideen parties and various ethnic and sectarian militias. Many of the Taliban were young men raised in borderland religious schools (madrasas) run by the Pakistan supported factions or by other Islamist groups. The film Osama illustrates ways in which Taliban interpretations of Islamic law and social norms were heavily informed by Pashtun customary social practices and patriarchal gender relations. It was no surprise that after the fall of the Taliban regime in November 2001, even under a new government, many women continued to wear the burka and remained subject to forced marriages, sexual abuse, and little education or health care.


In recent centuries, Pashtun communities have undergone the same processes of subtle and dramatic change that have transformed all world regions and communities. Pastoral nomadic and agrarian economies interacted and exchanged with market and urban areas. Individuals traveled and migrated for trade, land, employment, religious or secular education, and adventure. Many continued onward to great imperial centers in Persia, India, or Central Asia. The rise of European trading companies and then empires integrated Pashtuns into global economies as British Indian ports sent plantation laborers to the Indian Ocean, Fiji, and the Caribbean.

Western industrialized societies used new economic and military powers to assault and attempt to subordinate Pashtun territories. Pashtuns circulated within imperial networks across oceans and continents. Some were employed to handle steamship loads of camels carried from Karachi to Australia, where many stayed. Pashtuns fought in Basra, Iraq in World War I. They came home from deployments in World War II and joined Muslim League militias before partition. In the 1950s, a few came to America for education, while others traveled to the Soviet Union for technical and military training.19

At home or abroad, Pashtuns carried and adapted a culture that reflected familiar notions of personal and family honor, gender hierarchies, hospitality, and pride. They valued landed property, local language, martial skills, cuisine, clothing, and the ability to craft a poem or serve religion.20 Because the perceived honor of the male was so easily thought tarnished by the acts or abuse of vulnerable wives and daughters, seclusion (parda), veiling, and restrictions to the home and village limited the lives of women. In history, Pashtun women rose to fame for representing national honor, including Malalai, who in legend exhorted Afghan men on the 1880 battlefield of Maiwand.

As in all societies, women’s access to education, employment, and political power varied by economic class, social status, and family support. Political and social developments often challenged established practices and gender roles. Queen Soraya Tarzi took a public role in Amanullah’s 1920s reform efforts. She appeared in public, traveled with him to Europe, and appeared unveiled. Conservative voices targeted her for such symbolic gestures. In the late 1960s under state reforms and in the 1980s under Marxist governments, some urban women received educations and employment opportunities, including in government.

Malala Yousufzai, born July 12, 1997 and named after her Afghan predecessor, was an outspoken student in the Swat Valley, Pakistan. As early as spring 2009, she condemned the Taliban in a blog on the BBC Urdu service, and advocated education for girls. Malalai Yousufzai’s father was an educator who encouraged his daughter. Her fate, to be shot by the Pakistan Taliban then forced into exile, revealed conflicting ideals and assumptions about women in Pashtun communities.21 However, from the early 1990s, activist Pashtun women in Pakistan could be effective. Kwendo Kor (Sister’s Home) has worked for women rights and empowerment since 1993.22 Bushra Gohar from the Peshawar Valley, made a career as an activist for women, an internationally traveled development and policy expert, and a leader in the Awami National Party who served in the National Assembly.

In the post-Taliban government, another Malalai, a member of the Afghan National Assembly, Malalai Joya, elected in September 2005 to represent Farah Province, took a similarly fearless stance in May 2006. In a three-minute-long speech before the representatives, she condemned former militia and religious leaders now in the assembly as warlords and war criminals never held accountable for past abuses. Threatened and suspended from the parliament in May 2007, she remained outspoken. Pashtun customary social relations included assumptions by many of strict patriarchy and male control of all important decisions about women’s lives. Throughout Pashtun history, government initiatives regarding women could trigger cultural and partisan resistance. Other Afghan and regional cultures absorbed and mirrored such Pashtun gender assumptions. Activists on all sides recognized the implications if Pashtun women were allowed free choices.23

In distant lands and over decades, Pashto language and cultural elements might fade after a generation or two, but a Pashtun sensibility, including memories of specific clan villages and homelands, might endure for generations. Early British writers about India often thought that they were seeing populations that resembled their own preindustrial, prescientific society of many centuries earlier. They wrote about Pashtuns as “tribal” communities having little or distant connection to civilized, educated, urban, Christian nations. In 1815, Mountstuart Elphinstone compared highland Afghans to highland Scots of an earlier era. British-Indian colonial officials counted residents of Pashtun heritage as one of the constitutive Muslim identities of India, the “Pathan.”

After September 11, 2001, and the fall of the Taliban government in November 2001, foreign observers struggled to understand the resurgence over the next decade of armed resistance to the Afghan government. What explained a Taliban resurgence? What was the role of Pashtun culture and social organization? What was the role of Islam? What did “jihad” or “Islamist” or “Sharia” or “Sufism” mean in the context of Afghanistan? Foreign policy and foreign military analysts studied “tribes,” “Pashtunwali,” “terrorism,” and the fact that most of the violence in Afghanistan was in the heavily Pashtun districts of eastern and southern Afghanistan. Were the Taliban Pashtun nationalists? Ambassadors based in Islamabad funded the restoration of Sufi shrines to oppose “fundamentalist” Taliban theology.

Rather than try to “explain” Pashtun culture and society, it might prove more useful to examine earlier scholarship and ideas about Pashtun society and the role of Islam within it to understand something of the academic, political, and ideological sources of such knowledge. Precolonial and colonial era sources often had clear cultural assumptions and political agendas.

The first Western “ethnography” of Afghan and Pashtun society, one that remains relevant, was contained within the two volumes published by Mountstuart Elphinstone in 1815.24 Although in 1809 he never proceeded further west than Peshawar, Elphinstone and his officers collected an encyclopedic quantity of details about Afghan regions, populations, resources, and communities. On his return to Bombay, Elphinstone continued to interview Afghan informants, collection Pashto language material, and work to integrate this information into a resource useful for an expanding British Indian Empire.

Because he wrote from a distance, with information gathered from often second- and third-hand sources and informants, Elphinstone’s work was vulnerable to received bias, stereotyping, and inaccuracies. Still, as an articulate, thoughtful writer of narrative prose, Elphinstone’s An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul volumes carried great weight in subsequent studies. By the time Caroe and Barth published in the 1950s, well over a century had gone by, during which time few colonial or Western authors had devoted more time or intellectual effort to understanding Afghanistan and, particularly, its Pashtun communities. Elphinstone’s descriptions of Pashtun political and social organization were recycled and misinterpreted by following generations of narrative history writers and policy makers. This variety of Orientalism specific to Pashtuns became one focus of a London conference in 2015.25

Elphinstone wrote from a perspective of deep local knowledge and early imperial vulnerability when empathy and cultural insight served diplomacy. By the 1830s, and especially after the 1850s, growing British and western economic and military power saw colonial knowledge as less relevant to policy implementation than colonial will to impose changes on targeted regions and communities. Despite the losses suffered in the First and Second Afghan wars and along the Durand Line Tribal Areas into the 1930s, for many the only understanding that seemed to be needed about Afghans, Muslims, and Pashtuns was that they were binary opposites of Western civilization and its global extension through the British Empire. Defining Pashtuns as residents and sources of a permanently unstable “frontier,” excused the repression of local representation and agency.

From the 1830s onward in the West, hundreds of stories, films, and books were written and continue to be written about wars in Afghanistan and, often, why the people themselves were the problem. At worst, Pashtuns, to writers from Kipling to Churchill were barbarians, religious fanatics, thieves, moral deviants, and perpetual children requiring authoritarian tutelage. With even Tagore drawing upon violent stereotype, too often postcolonial-era state-builders in Islamabad, Kabul, Moscow, and Washington defaulted from the serious study of the Afghan and Pashtun contexts to select imagery confirming their own perspectives and actions.26

Other observers studied non-Western societies more systematically. In post-World War II academia, one early study of the social and political anthropology of the Swat Valley generated responses by other scholars that framed important disciplinary and theoretical debates about individual agency that motivated other anthropologists to study other Pashtun communities and regions.27 If Pashtuns in Swat state in the 1950s lived in different circumstances than Pashtuns in the Mohmand Agency, or the settled districts of the NWFP, or of eastern Afghanistan, or of the borderlands during the Soviet war, what exactly were the enduring or changing roles of customary laws, Islam, state systems, or modern economic forces?28 What was the psychological impact of Pashtun social norms and expectations?29 What lives did Afghan or Pashtun women lead in all of this?30 Pashtun regional anthropological and ethnographic studies seemed to illuminate complex socio-cultural dynamics and caution observers to avoid broad statements and conclusions.

However, outside of academia, many later writers simply repeated in rote paragraphs that Pashtuns had an essential “tribal” code, Pashtunwali that valued revenge, hospitality, and sanctuary. Many writing for a popular audience quickly mixed in earlier tropes of violence, anarchy, and fanaticism, and quotes from Kipling and Churchill. More sophisticated writing on the region maintained the Western focus on dramatic historical narrative and compelling characters.31 After September 11, 2001, few Western policy makers read much of the earlier anthropology or were able to draw insight from it. Lineage loyalties were important in Afghan provinces in the south and east.32 Yet military Human Terrain initiatives mapping “tribal” Pashtun names, territories, and personalities were approaches that did not address basic strategic problems of Pakistan state elements colluding with the Taliban, endemic corruption in Afghan state ministries and institutions, and an unfocused, wasteful international security and development effort. Excellent regional and policy related studies continued to be produced under difficult circumstances.33

In recent decades, the social context of regional devotional practices has continued as a topic of analysis in Western scholarship. During the Soviet–Afghan War, academic literature examined the historic and contemporary roles in Pashtun areas of village prayer leaders (mullas), Sufi lineages and leaders (pirs), and the theological and political differences between Afghan village based “traditionalists” and educated Islamic “fundamentalists” tied to the Middle East. Pakistani Islamic political parties and affiliated madrasa networks, especially those patronized by officials, received attention. Recent studies and reporting have further explored complex relationships influencing and interconnecting state authorities, Pashtun clan leadership, and religious identities.34


Pashto, Persian, and Arabic language histories tell how in the early generations after the life of the prophet Muhammad the Islamic religion and Muslim political models and cultural influences displaced pre-Islamic devotional practices and practices in Pashtun communities. During and after the 16th century, what had been diverse oral genealogical narratives were consolidated into written manuscripts that placed all Pashtun clans in lineage relation to each other while at the same time outlining direct ties to the ancient pre-Christian prophets and to the 7th-century Arabian founders of Islam. From the 11th century onward, polemical texts portrayed and debated the role of Islam in motivating the expansionary campaigns of the Ghorid and Ghaznavid dynasties. Later stories claimed Pashtuns accompanied Mahmud of Ghazni into India, while orthodox religious figures adapted genealogical stories into didactic lessons about proper Islamic prayer, social order, and family relations.

While mainly Sunni Muslims, there have historically been Shia enclaves among the Turi and Bangash Pashtun communities of the Afghanistan–Pakistan border regions. Villages and towns often had and still have small Hindu, Sikh, and later, Christian merchant and service populations. Before the 19th century, dynasties and state-builders claimed degrees of sponsorship and direction over religious leadership and authority. For many centuries, multiple Sufi networks connecting the Middle East, Central Asia, and India spread influence in Pashtun communities as individuals from a specific chain (silsila) of teacher-student (pirmuridi) relationships settled in villages and regions as moral and spiritual exemplars. Forthcoming scholarship will continue to trace the social, intellectual, and religious dynamics of regional Sufi connections.35

Beginning in the 19th century, state-builders in Afghanistan and British India tried to subordinate Pashtun religious identities and institutions to state influence and policies. As in the Mughal period, resistance to the state often originated with or was mobilized around figures who variously claimed Islamic, Sufi, spiritual, and moral differences with state authorities. British colonial authorities, denying the legitimacy of political voices, often characterized opposition by Pashtuns to their expansionary imperial efforts as coming from an inherently violent, “fanatical” society where archaic “jihad” was led by irrational “mad mullahs.”

Before 1947, Islamic leaders were divided over whether or not an independent state for Muslims, Pakistan, served or subverted the idea of one united religious community (umma). After 1947, Islamic leaders pressured the constitutional state to recognize, codify, and institutionalize Islamic identity and Islamic law. Pashtun secularists, leftists, and nationalists competed with Islamist party and sectarian voices. After the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, thousands of madrasas were built not only along the borderlands but also around Pakistan, teaching selected Islamist curriculums supported by national and international funders.

In Pakistan, especially during and after the 1970s, socially conservative religious figures influencing Pashtun communities led a variety of social reform movements and political parties intended to shape provincial and national attitudes and policy choices. Beginning in 1970, Maulana Mufti Mehmud (1919–1980), then later his son, Fazal-ur-Rehman (b. 1953), led the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam political party. Qazi Hussain Ahmad (1938–2013) represented the Jamaat-e-Islami party. Engaging with representative electoral practices, these politically active clerics and others participated in election campaigns and coalitions, and in national debates about Sharia law, women’s rights, and policies about Afghanistan and Kashmir. Personal, political, and theological differences ensured that no universal “Islamic” consensus emerged on any particular issue. Such parties typically attracted small vote percentages, but party leaders often used positions in coalition governments or in the “loyal opposition” to maintain public influence.

In the post-2001 period, Pashtun personal and region connections to Islamic figures, institutions, and international sponsors became central concerns of those involved in the fighting in Afghanistan and in an apparent open ended confrontation with “terrorism.” The diversity of borderland communities and religious practices continued to be researched, though less often recognized.36 After 2001, polemics in Pashtun areas, as in many world regions continued to use and misuse religiously framed rhetoric and imagery in service of political agendas.

Discussion of the Literature

From the 16th century onward, local Pashtun and regional imperial narratives shaped a consciousness of difference between a broad Pashtun identity and Persian and Mughal imperial subjectivities and power structures. The earliest surviving manuscript incorporating Pashto language prose, as well as Persian and Arabic, was Khair-ul-bayan, written by Bayazid Ansari (1525–1581/1585). Born in India, raised in an Urmari religious family in Waziristan, he rejected Mughal authority and allied religious figures and led the militant Roshaniyya (Enlightened) resistance movement. Akhund Darweza (d. 1638), his religious opponent, who typically wrote religious tracts in Persian, also wrote a Pashto language text, Makhzan al-Islam, to connect directly with local populations. Other religious and historical manuscripts and the collected verse (diwans) of Pashto poets are discussed in this essay.

Nile Green has surveyed and discussed indigenous Afghan historical writing. His Introduction and edited collection place into context the range of scholars and regional voices that have written to detail local events and, often, to counter established narratives.37

From the early 19th century onward, printed European and colonial studies of Pashtun society produced a body of language grammars and dictionaries and a Pashto translation of the New Testament, published in 1818 by the Serampore Mission Press in Bengal. Bernhard Dorn of the Russian Imperial Academy of Sciences, printed his study of the Pashto language, including selections from Pashto poetry, in 1847. Ernest Trumpp’s Pashto grammar appeared in London in 1873. James Darmesteter’s Chants populaires des Afghans was printed in Paris, 1888–1890. H. G. Raverty published a dictionary, a grammar, and, in the Gulshan-i roh (London, 1860), selections from Pashto prose and poetry. A lithographic press was set up in Kabul in 1871, though the ruler Abdur Rahman claimed to have established the first printing press in 1880.38

After the first Anglo-Afghan War (1839–1842), British writers produced many fictional and nonfiction narratives about clashing empires and extreme personalities that situated Pashtuns within familiar stereotypes. If they were worthy “martial race” opponents, their “tribal” political and social orders represented essential differences and required paternal, coercive management. Caroe, one of the last colonial governors of the NWFP, in The Pathans (1958) wrote the summary English narrative of Pashtun history through a British imperial gloss. He later wrote post-partition Cold War analyses that reinscribed borderland Pashtuns as partisans of the colonial successor nation-state of Pakistan and defenders of a new “frontier” against communism.

The Pashtun homelands in Afghanistan and Pakistan were devastated during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979–1989), the post–Soviet civil war in Afghanistan (1989–1996), the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan (1996–2001), and the conflicts continuing well into the second decade of the 21st century. Writers of political science, international relations, journalism, and popular literature often ignored or selectively drew from accumulated scholarly understandings of Pashtun society. Residents of Pashtun homelands often failed to recognize themselves in the descriptions of them produced by outsiders. Robert Crews has shown that important non-English language Western sources and scholarship, especially in Russian and German, are available and necessary for the broadest perspectives.39

Pashto language prose and poetry reflecting notable voices and figures from the margins of Pashtun political and social history have been collected in manuscripts in the Pashto Academy of the University of Peshawar. Afghan-related journals (Afghanistan, Kabul; Afghanistan Journal, Graz) produced before the Soviet war contain Dari, French, German, and English language studies of continuing interest. Scholars working from primary sources in Pashto have continued to illuminate 20th-century and post-2001 histories previously studied from non-Pashto language sources and non-Pashtun perspectives.40

Primary Sources

Many precolonial historical and literary Persian-language manuscripts relevant to the study of Pashtun communities, dynasties, and important individuals were written by scribes in imperial courts in Persia and northern India. Educated Pashtuns also wrote Persian verse and prose. Diverse manuscripts are available in European, especially British, libraries and archives.41 Others may be found in holdings in Kabul, Iran, New Delhi, Lahore, Peshawar, and the Rampur Raza Library in India. Some of the Persian language Muslim and Mughal imperial court-related literature from India has been translated and some is available online.42 The collections of the National Archives and National Library in Kabul are being surveyed. Robert McChesney and New York University have begun to collect, digitize, and make available all printed books (Persian/Dari, Pashto, etc.) published in Afghanistan between the years 1871–1930 (see link in “Digital materials and references” section).

Urdu language sources created in the century after the British Indian occupation of the territories west of the Indus River, include the Tarikh-e-Peshawar (History of Peshawar) by Gopal Das, a colonial survey officer from Lahore. He created a hybrid text that incorporated details from simultaneously compiled British land settlement reports. He also incorporated into his volume drawings and descriptions of Peshawar valley social practices and material culture of peoples he differentiated into Afghan, Muslim, and Hindu communities. Post-1947 regional authors have written histories and Pashtun related studies in Urdu, the Pakistani national language. Many have drawn upon Pashto-language primary sources, while some have relied heavily on English language sources and even colonial era interpretations of some events.

A range of English-language colonial era administrative, court, and political files exists in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial archives in Peshawar. Different files from Peshawar District Deputy Commissioners, Peshawar Division Commissioners, Tribal Cell officers, and NWFP officials also survive in copies and records in Lahore, New Delhi, and London, depending on the years and issues. British Library holdings of East India Company documents, British India files, and the personal papers of company officials remain key resources. The National Archives in Kew Gardens have scanned and posted many records online.

By 1905, sixty “Pushtu Manuscripts” had been collected, carried back, and donated to the British Museum. Blumhardt’s Catalogue divided them into texts of Religion, History, Lexicography, Poetry, Tales and Fables, and Proverbs. Some discussion of the authors and documents provided context. Entries included lines of Pashto language verse and text.43 The University of Pennsylvania Van Pelt Library collection of Pashto language and Pashtun-related texts is searchable through their online Franklin Catalog. Wilma Heston donated her collection of chapbooks and cassette recordings to the Penn library.44

The University of Arizona and the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University have collaborated to compile and scan extensive archival holdings, including books, newspapers (Anis and Kabul Times), and government and non-government documents that are available at the ACKU in Kabul and through the “Afghanistan Digital Collections” website. The University of Nebraska, Omaha, holds the Arthur Paul Afghanistan Collection of books, documents, and newspapers, many in Pashto, and has scanned and made many sources, including issues of the English-language Kabul Times, searchable and available online. The Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford University hold a variety of Dari and Pashto language publications in their “Afghan partisan serials collection 1968–2009.”

As mentioned, a large collection of Pashto language sources exists in the Pashto Academy library at the University of Peshawar. The poetry of Khushal Khan Khattak is there as well as the works of several of his descendants. Khushal Khan’s grandson, Afzal Khan (b. c. 1666) exemplified how Pashtun writers could project community identity into larger narratives. His history, Tarikh-i-murassa:

“contains a Pushtu translation of the Makhzan-i-Afghani, otherwise called Tarakh-i-khanjahani, a Persian history of the Afghans written by Ni‘mat Allah in A.H. 1020 (A.D. 1611) described in the Persian Catalogue, p. 210a, et seq. Afzal Khan has added to his translation of this work a special account of the Yusufzais, and an extensive history of the Khatak family, more particularly of his renowned grandfather Khushhal Khan.”45

Pashto Academy texts include regional histories, poetry collections, and religious texts. Some are in manuscript form, and some have been edited and printed by the Pashto Academy. Multiple bookstores in Peshawar, including the University Book Agency in Khyber Bazaar, sell a variety of publications, including chapbooks, school texts, and Islamic literature. Contemporary Pashtun writers, educators, and activists have published their own critical works on Pashto language and literature.46 Western scholars have also translated the verse of important regional poets such as Rahman Baba.47

Some of the most original recent scholarship has come from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa researchers able to collect oral histories and access English, Urdu, and Pashto language manuscripts, files, and scholarship.48 Pashtun popular culture endures in new venues and media, including Pashto films dating to the 1970s, such as Topak Zama Qanoon (My Law the Gun); singers, from Nashenas to Hamayoon Khan; and traditional folk songs, such as Larsha Pekhawar Ta (Go to Peshawar). All of these examples may be found in YouTube clips.

Further Reading

Ahmad, Aisha. Pashtun Tales from the Pakistan-Afghan Frontier. London: Saqi, 2003.Find this resource:

Caron, James. “Ambiguities of Orality and Literacy, Territory and Border Crossings: Public Activism and Pashto Literature in Afghanistan, 1930–2010.” In Afghanistan in Ink: Literature Between Diaspora and Nation. Edited by Nile Green and Nushin Arbabzadah. London: Hurst, 2013.Find this resource:

Kakar, Hasan. Government and Society in Afghanistan. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979.Find this resource:

Khan, Khan Abdul Ghaffar. Zma Zhwand aw Jadd-o-Jahd (My Life and Struggle). Peshawar: Da Afghanistan da Kulturi Wade Tolana, 2008.Find this resource:

Kushev, V. V.Afganskaja rukopisnaja kniga: Ocherki afganskoj pis ’mennoj kultury. Afghan handwritten book: Essays on the Afghan written tradition. Moscow: Nauka, 1980.Find this resource:

Loewen, Arley, and Josette McMichael, eds. Images of Afghanistan: Exploring Afghan Culture through Art and Literature. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Majrouh, Sayd Bahodine, ed. Translated by Andre Velter and Marjolijn de Jager. Songs of Love and War: Afghan Women’s Poetry. New York: Other Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Marsden, Magnus, and Benjamin Hopkins, eds. Beyond Swat: History, Society and Economy Along the Afghanistan-Pakistan Frontier. London: Hurst, 2012.Find this resource:

McChesney, R. D., and M. M. Khorrami, eds. Translated by R. D. Chesney and M. M. Khorrami. The History of Afghanistan, Fayz Muhammad Katib Hazarah’s Siraj al-tawarik. 6 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2013.Find this resource:

Nichols, Robert. A History of Pashtun Migration, 1775–2006. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Noelle, Christine. State and Tribe in Nineteenth-Century Afghanistan: The Reign of Amir Dost Muhammad Khan (1826–1863). Surrey: Curzon, 1997.Find this resource:

Pelevin, M. “Plemennaja khronika khatakov: tekst i avtor” (The Khataks’ tribal chronicle: the text and the author). In Commentationes Iranicae. Collection of papers in honor of 90th anniversary of V. A. Livshits. Edited by S. R. Tokhtasjev, P. B. Lurye, 552–564. Saint-Petersburg: Nestor-Istoria, 2013.Find this resource:

Pelevin, M. “The Khataks’ Tribal Chronicle (XVII-XVIII): Extraliterary Text Functions.” Iran and the Caucasus 18.3 (2014): 201–212.Find this resource:

Shaheen, Salma, ed. Rohi Sandarai. 2 vols. Peshawar: Pashto Academy, 1984.Find this resource:

Siddique, Abubakar. The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key to the Future of Pakistan and Afghanistan. London: Hurst, 2014.Find this resource:

Titus, Paul. “Honor the Baloch, Buy the Pushtun: Stereotypes, Social Organization and History in Western Pakistan.” Modern Asian Studies 32.3 (1998): 657–687.Find this resource:

Weinreich, Matthias. We are Here to Stay: Pashtun Migrants in the Northern Areas of Pakistan. Berlin: Klaus Schwarz, 2009.Find this resource:

Ziad, W. “Jeo Sahib Peshawari: How Durrani Peshawar Helped Revive Bukhara’s Sanctity.” In Sufism and Islam in Central Asia. Edited by J.-A. Gross and D. DeWeese. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, forthcoming.Find this resource:

Ziad, W. “From Yarkand to Sind via Kabul: The Rise of Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi Sufi Networks in the 18th-19th Century Durrani Empire.” In The Persianate World: Towards a Conceptual Framework. Edited by A. Amanat. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, forthcoming.Find this resource:


(1.) Caroe narrates an accessible summary of such histories, see Olaf Caroe, The Pathans (London: Macmillan, 1958).

(2.) Abdul Hai Habibi, Afghan historian and Pashto literature scholar claimed the 1944 discovery of a 1729 manuscript of an anthology of Pashto poetry, Pata Khazana. David Neil MacKenzie has discredited the authenticity of the manuscript on technical grounds in D. MacKenzie, “The Development of the Pashto Script” and in Shirin Akiner, ed., Languages and Scripts of Central Asia (London: University of London, 1997), 142. See Muhammad Hotak, Pata Khazana (Lanham: University Press of America, c. 1997).

(3.) Thomas Barfield, Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), 22. For a useful discussion of regional identity and ethnicity, see his “Chapter One, People and Places,” 17–65. Barfield noted that “Historically, ‘Afghan’ was so synonymous with ‘Pashtun’ that Afghanistan could be equally glossed not only as the ‘land of the Afghans’ but the ‘land of the Pashtuns’ as well.” Any such “national” claims are now fully disputed. Barfield, Afghanistan, 24.

(4.) Fredrik Barth, Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Cultural Difference (Boston: Little, Brown, 1969).

(5.) Jos Gommans, The Rise of the IndoAfghan Empire, 1710–1780 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1995).

(6.) Ganda Singh, Ahmad Shah Durrani, Father of Modern Afghanistan (Bombay: Asia Pub. House, 1959). For details and related bibliographic sources in multiple languages see Ganda Singh’s book and Robert Nichols, “Ahmad Shah Durrani,” in Encyclopedia of Islam Three (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015).

(7.) Robert Nichols, The Frontier Crimes Regulation: A History in Documents (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2013); Benjamin D. Hopkins, “The Frontier Crimes Regulation and Frontier Governmentality,” The Journal of Asian Studies 74.2 (May 2015): 369–90.

(8.) For Amanullah’s overall reform agenda, see Barfield, Afghanistan, 181–8.

(9.) Mukulika Banerjee, The Pathan Unarmed (London: James Curry, 2001).

(10.) Sayed Wiqar Ali Shah. Ethnicity, Islam and Nationalism: Muslim Politics in the North-west Frontier Province, 1937–47 (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2000).

(11.) While he has written distinguished linguistics studies on the languages of Pakistan, Tariq Rahman has also recognized the problem of “languages of power” in the country. See Tariq Rahman, Languages and Politics in Pakistan (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1996).

(12.) A. Pazhwak, Pakhtunistan: The Khyber Pass as the Focus of the New State of Pakhtunistan (London, 1953).

(13.) See discussion of the National Awami Party in Kamran Asdar Ali, Surkh Salam: Communist Politics and Class Activism in Pakistan 1947–1972 (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2015). Also, see Himayatullah Yaqubi, Pakistan National Awami Party, unpublished PhD History dissertation, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan, 2015.

(14.) In 1977, Babar joined Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party. As national Minister for Internal Security, 1993–96, for Benazir Bhutto’s PPP led government, Babar would support the early rise of the Taliban movement.

(15.) Soviet war casualty and refugee estimates are from Jennifer Heath and Ashraf Zahedi, eds., Land of the Unconquerable, The Lives of Contemporary Afghan Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), Introduction, 1. See the Introduction’s footnote 1 for sources for estimates and for select civilian casualty estimates for 2007–2010.

(16.) Many sources list and describe the seven “mujahideen” Islamist resistance organizations. Six of the seven were heavily Pashtun in ethnic composition. Two were formed around Sufi order (tariqah) leaders: S. Mojaddedi (Naqshbandi) and Ahmed Gailani (Qadiriyya). Two were led by so-called “moderate” or “traditionalist” regional Islamic personalities: Y. Khalis (Hezb-i-Islami, Khalis) and M. N. Mohammadi (Harakat-i-Inqilab-i-Islami). Three were led by Kabul University connected Islamists of transnational, so-called “fundamentalist” ideologies: G. Hekmatyar (Hezb-i-Islami, Gulbudin); B. Rabbani (Jamiat-i-Islami); A. Sayyaf (Ittehad-al-Islami). The only mainly ethnic Tajik party of the seven (Jamiat-i-Islami) received little military aid from Pakistani channels. See Olivier Roy, Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

(17.) See Oskar Verkaaik, Migrants and Militants: Fun and Urban Violence in Pakistan (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004).

(18.) Osama (2003), directed by Siddiq Barmak. Marina Golbahari, the young actor in the title role, went into exile in France in late 2015 after she was photographed abroad at a film festival unveiled and received death threats.

(19.) In 1907, Zarif Khan, Pashtun or not, from Bara near Peshawar, came to the American west coast by steam ship. He worked and traveled his way to Sheridan, Wyoming, became quite successful, visited Pakistan in the 1950s, and married a wife from the Hazara district. His descendants remain in Wyoming. See Kathryn Schulz, “Citizen Khan,” New Yorker, June 6 & 13, 2016, 78–89.

(20.) The hard “Pukhtu” of northern and eastern Pashtuns (e.g., the Yusufzai), the “Pashto” of the southern and western homelands, and variation in Waziristan have attracted linguistic study. With more enthusiasm than success, colonial scholars looked for Pashto language origins in ties to ancient languages to the west. Transcriptions into English have varied. Sultan-i-Rome, from Swat, wrote, “We have adopted the spelling ‘Pukhtunkhwa’ instead of ‘Pakhtunkhwa’ because the Pukhtuns pronounce it so and it sounds technically correct. There are two main variants of Pukhtu or Pashto, i.e. hard and soft-in the former the alphabet ‘khen’ is used and in the later ‘shen’. In the ‘hard’ for the ‘Pathans’ in Pukhtu the singular is ‘Pukhtun’ and ‘Pukhtan’ and the plural ‘Pukhtanah’ whereas in the soft the singular is ‘Pushtun’ and ‘Pashtun’ and the plural ‘Pashtanah’ and ‘Pushtanah’. All those, save the Afridis and Bangashs, who use and speak the ‘khen’ variant, pronounce the name ‘Pukhtunkhwa’ and ‘Pukhtankhwa’ and not ‘Pakhtunkhwa’. Therefore, ‘Pakhtunkhwa’ is not technically or dialectically sound. Going by the soft variant the word ‘Pashtunkhwa’ sounds technically and dialectically correct.” Sultan-i-Rome, Land and Forest Governance in Swat, Transition from Tribal System to State to Pakistan (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2016), 6, fn. 1.

(21.) Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb, I Am Malala (Boston: Little, Brown, 2013).

(23.) Shireen Khan Burki, “The Politics of Zan from Amanullah to Karzai,” in Heath and Zahedi, eds., Land of the Unconquerable, 45–59.

(24.) Mountstuart Elphinstone, An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul and its dependencies in Persia, Tartary, and India; comprising a view of the Afghaun nation and a history of the Dooraunee monarchy, 2 vols. (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown and J. Murray, 1815).

(25.) “Mountstuart Elphinstone and the Historical Foundations of Afghanistan Studies: Reframing Colonial Knowledge of the Indo-Persian World in the Post-Colonial Era,” School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and the British Library, November 6–7, 2015. Edited volume forthcoming. See B. D. Hopkins, The Making of Modern Afghanistan (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 14–33, for his discussion of an “Elphinstone episteme.”

(26.) Rabindranath Tagore, “Kabuliwalla” (1892). This short story about an Afghan dried fruit seller in Calcutta became a 1961 India film directed by Hemen Gupta.

(27.) Fredrik Barth, Political Leadership among Swat Pathans (London: Athlone Press, 1959). Talal Asad’s response, “Market Model, Class Structure, and Consent: A Reconsideration of Swat Political Organization.” Man 7.1 (1972): 74–89.

(28.) Akbar Ahmad, Pukhtun Economy and Society: Traditional Structure and Economic Development in a Tribal Society (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980); Jon Anderson, “There are No Khans Anymore: Economic Development and Social Change in Tribal Afghanistan,” Middle East Journal, 32.2 (Spring, 1978): 167–183; David Edwards, Heroes of the Age: Moral Fault Lines of the Afghan Frontier (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).

(29.) Charles Lindholm, Generosity and jealousy: the Swat Pukhtun of northern Pakistan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982).

(30.) Tapper, Nancy, Bartered Brides: Politic, Gender, and Marriage in an Afghan Tribal Society (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Benedicte Grima, The Performance of Emotion among Paxtun Women: “The Misfortunes which have Befallen Me” (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992); Amineh Ahmed, Sorrow and Joy among Muslim Women: the Pukhtuns of Northern Pakistan (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

(31.) William Dalrymple, The Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan (London: Bloomsbury, 2012).

(32.) Sarah Chayes, The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan after the Taliban (New York: Penguin, 2006); Christina Lamb, Farewell Kabul: from Afghanistan to a More Dangerous World (London: William Collins, 2015).

(33.) See the important collective work of the Afghan Analysts Network researchers (web link listed) and the several books written and edited by Antonio Giustozzi, including Empires of Mud: Wars and Warlords of Afghanistan (London: Hurst, 2009).

(34.) Sana Haroon, Frontier of Faith: Islam in the Indo-Afghan Borderland (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007). Nile Green, “Tribe, Diaspora and Sainthood in Afghan History,” Journal of Asian Studies 67.1 (2008): 171–211.

(35.) See the works of Waleed Ziad listed in the bibliography.

(36.) Magnus Marsden, Living Islam: Muslim religious experience in Pakistan’s North West Frontier (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

(37.) See the Introduction and chapters in Nile Green, Afghan History Through Afghan Eyes (London: Hurst, 2015).

(38.) Bernhard Dorn, A Chrestomathy of the Pushtu or Afghan Language (St. Petersburg, 1847). From 1855 to 1857, he taught the first classes on Pashto in Europe. See his biography in the online Encyclopaedia Iranica. For fuller discussion of early printed materials in the Pashto language see “Matba‘a,” Encyclopedia of Islam, New Edition, vol. VI, Fascicules 111–112 Masrah Mawlid, edited by C. E. Bosworth, et al. (1989), 806–807.

(39.) Robert Crews, Afghan Modern (2015).

(40.) James Caron, “Sufism and liberation across the Indo-Afghan border: 1880–1928,” in South Asian History and Culture, Vol. 7 (2016), No. 2, 135–154; Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, Poetry of the Taliban (London: Hurst, 2012); A. Strick van Linschoten and F. Kuehn, An Enemy We Created, The Myth of the Taliban-Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan (London: Hurst, 2011).

(41.) See the late 19th-century and early 20th century Pashto publications held in the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.

(42.) PHI Persian Literature in Translation:

(43.) J. F. Blumhardt, Catalogue of the Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Assamese, Oriya, Pushtu, and Sindhi Manuscripts in the Library of the British Museum (London: British Museum, 1905).

(44.) See William L. Hanaway and Wilma Heston, eds., Studies in Pakistani Popular Culture (Lahore: Sang-e-Meel, 1996).

(45.) Blumhardt, Catalogue, “Pushtu Manuscripts,” “II. History,” 8. Catalogue available on Google Books.

(46.) Qalandar Momand (1930–2003), a journalist, educator, poet, and activist spent ten years writing the dictionary Daryab: Pushto lughat (Peshawar: Peshawar Textbook Board, 1994).

(47.) Rahman Baba, The Nightingale of Peshawar, trans. by Jens Enevoldsen (Peshawar: Interlit, 1993).

(48.) Sultan-i-Rome, Swat State (1915–1969) from Genesis to Merger (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2008); Altaf Qadir, Sayyid Ahmad Barailvi: His Movement and Legacy from the Pukhtun Perspective (Delhi: SAGE, 2016).