South Asia Case Studies
Submitted by: Mohammed Rashid
POLITICAL DYNAMICS OF ETHNIC NATIONALISM IN PAKISTAN
· A CASE STUDY OF PASHTUNS
Pashtun, Pakhtun or Pathan (can be used interchangeably) are the people living in the southern parts of Afghanistan and northern parts of Pakistan, divided by British-imposed Durand Line of 1893. Whereas in Pakistan they are only about 14 percent of the total population, in Afghanistan they constitute an ethnic majority.
In an oft-quoted incident in the late 1980s Khan Abdul Wali Khan (head of the Awami National Party), was asked by a journalist whether he was a Pashtun first, a Pakistani first or a Muslim first. He famously replied that, “he had been a Pashtun for 3000 years and a Pakistani for 25 years.”[endnoteRef:2] [2: Rubina Saigal, “The Multiple Self: Interface between Pashtun Nationalist and Religious Conflict on the Frontier”, In Tanweer Fazal, ed. Minority Nationalism in South Asia (New Delhi: Taylor and Francis, 2012), p.56.]
Pakistan is a highly diverse or plural society in terms of its ethnic, linguistic and religious composition. In this context Stephen Cohen aptly remarks that “Pakistan is one of the world’s most ethnically and linguistically complex states’.[endnoteRef:3] In terms of ethnic composition, Pakistan comprised six major ethnic groups at the time of its emergence. There were Bengali’s, Punjabi’s, Pathan’s, Sindhi’s, Baluch’, and Muhajir’s (Muslim migrants from India). [3: Stephen P Cohen, the Idea of Pakistan, (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006), p.205.]
The paper will try to examine the nature of ethnic nationalism with a focus on Pashtuns in Pakistan. If there exist an entity called ‘Pashtun nationalism’ or if like most other nationalism, it is an imagined and mythical construct that defies definition. It will examine the portrayal of Pashtuns as martial race and the notion of Pashtuns as revengeful, savage, uncivilized people. Furthr this paper will highlight the important political phenomena linked between Pashtun identity, Islam and Talibanization. The focus will be only upon the nationalism of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) (Now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) of Pakistan.
Ethnicities in Pakistan
During the first decade after partition, the Urdu-speaking Muhajir along with the Punjabis had come to occupy a dominant position in Pakistan’s political and bureaucratic arena. According to Mahendra Singh ‘For these centrist political elite (Punjabi Muhajir) Urdu as a national language and Islamic identity became the foundation for engineering a common national outlook within this multinational state’.[endnoteRef:4] A classic divide between the ‘centrists’(Punjabi-Muhajir elite) and the ‘autonomy-seekers’ who belong to the remaining four provinces, has existed since the time the Pakistan movement began to look like a reality. They have rapidly stressed on a doctrinaire uniformity whose basis is the conformity to the principle of ‘one nation (Pakistan), one...