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Mullah, the Talib and Pashtun society – by Asad Munir

Originally Posted at: The Friday Times

Pashtuns are believed to be the largest segmentary lineage society in the world today. They have been living in their defined homeland areas since ages, in a social order loosely defined by the code of Pashtunwali.

They believe in the myth that they are children of one common ancestor, Qaise, who converted to Islam once he met the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). However, there is historical evidence that Pashtuns did not convert in mass and as late as 12th century there were non-Muslim Pashtuns residing in tribal areas.

Being a leaderless society, the tribal system does not usually develop institutionalized political power. They feel that all Pashtuns are born equal and individuals can change the existing social and economic inequality. Tribals lead a semi independent life as per their code of conduct, managing their social issues and disputes through a council of elders known as Jirga. Invaders passed through the lands of some of these tribes for thousand of years, but did not bring any significant change in their social system.

In the post-Soviet times, civil order, economy and security were restored faster in the areas where the tribal system was dominant or intact

These tribes, on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, were almost independent. The Sikhs administered these areas by maintaining strong forces at district level; but the tribes openly asserted their independence. The relations of the British with the tribes depended on the situation in Afghanistan. They did not make any serious effort to penetrate the area except for some punitive expeditions and defending the passes which led to Afghanistan. The Durand Line divided tribes on both sides, but the British provided them with easement rights for their back and forth movement. They used the tribal areas as the second buffer between them and Russia, the first being Afghanistan.

After the creation of Pakistan, a special status was granted to these areas. They were declared Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Tribals were used as non-state actors in both the Kashmir wars of 1947-48 and 1965.

Until the 1970s, about 70% of the tribal areas were administratively inaccessible. No Pakistani official was allowed to enter. In 1973, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto formulated a policy of opening up of the tribal areas through development. An industrial unit was established in each agency. Two new agencies, Bajaur and Orakzai, were formed. Electricity was provided to some of the areas and road infrastructure was developed. Some of the areas that were opened up had tactical importance during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Most of the remaining inaccessible areas like Tirah and Shawal were partially opened in the aftermath of 9/11.

In the Pashtun social system, the inhabitants of a village are normally divided into three segments, the Pashtuns, Mian or Mullah (religious functionaries) and Kasabgars (professionals, like barbers and carpenters). The influential class has always been the Pashtuns. The Kasabgars have seldom challenged the authority of Pashtuns; they have concentrated on earning their livelihood and providing education to their children. A number of them excelled in fields like medicine, engineering, education, armed forces and even in politics. But once they make a name for themselves, they want to be known as Pashtun, by aligning with the tribe in whose area they were born and brought up.

The roles of the Khan or Malik and the government officials posted in the area are well defined. They derive legitimacy from state laws. The Mullah is made to perform only some religious rituals. And he is not content with this limited role. He wants his role to be defined and expanded to make him part of the decision-making process in the Pashtun society. Religious people have led almost all the Pashtun uprisings against invaders in history. Followers of Ahmed Shah Barelvi (1863) rose against Sikhs and the British, Pir Roshan (16th century) against Akbar, Sartor Faqir (1897) against the British, Powinda Mullah (1893-1913) also against the British. Faqir of Ipi (1935-1947) was also a key resistance fighter. The leadership of these movements remained with the Mullah only for the duration of the Jihad. When the battles were over, the Khans and Maliks became leaders again.

In the Pashtun society, Rawaj (custom) has generally been more dominant than religion. Music, dance, non-observance of pardha within a tribe, women shaking hands with men, were commonly seen in Pashtuns. They would perform all rituals religiously, but would never force these on others, except for fasting, which is considered an act of Pashtun honor.

The Afghan Jihad did not bring any significant change in the life of the average Pashtun. The Pashtun society started changing once preachers started going to these areas. They were peaceful, polite, and non-coercive, and they were able to persuade older Pashtuns to lay down some restrictions on the younger ones. Music, which was a regular feature of hujras and weddings, was banned in some areas.

But the event that really changed the Pashtun way of life was the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Talib was a familiar character in each Pashtun village, known as Chinay in Pashto. Docile, well mannered, quite, friendly, not interfering, not preaching, just concerned with his own task, collecting food for the imam of the mosque. In November 1994, once the Taliban captured Kandahar, nobody, including the intelligence agencies, was sure who they were, and who was supporting them. They suspected it was the US.

In the next few years, what the Taliban practiced was in contrast with Pashtun culture. Under the influence of Al Qaeda, they tried to implement Wahabi and Salafi culture. Inspired by them, the talibs of Pakistan also raised forces in Orakzai and North Waziristan. In the aftermath of 9/11 and NATO operations in Afghanistan, members of Al Qaeda, Pakistani Jihadis, secterian outfits, Uighur fighters from China, and groups from Central Asia took refuge in FATA and other parts of Pakistan. Jihadi organizations and some tribals supported them.

The state could not decide on the course of action to be taken against them. They had never seen such a situation in the past. The tribals suspected that state was supporting these elements, therefore they submitted to the Taliban, who used brute force against prominent tribal elders.









About the author

Farhad Jarral


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  • PASHTUNS descent from the Lost Tribes in 19th and 20th centuries.A book that corresponds to Pashtun historical records, Taaqati-Nasiri, states that in the 7th century a people called the Bani Israel settled in Ghor, southeast of Herat, Afghanistan, and then migrated south and east. These Bani Israel references are in line with the commonly held view by Pashtuns that when the twelve tribes of Israel were dispersed, the tribe of Joseph, among other Hebrew tribes, settled in the region. Hence the tribal name ‘Yusef Zai’ in Pashto translates to the ‘sons of Joseph’. This is also described extensively in great detail by Makhzan-i-Afghani, a historical work from the 17th Century by Nehamtullah, an official in the royal court of Mughal Emperor Jehangir. A similar story is told by Iranian historian Ferishta.
    Majority of PUKHTUNS ARE liberal and secular minded,you never heared if any church or anuyother minority group was tortured in Pakhtunkhwa but you hear about religious fanatics who are in Punjab just LIKE NAWAZ SHARIF who was Osama’s payroll,Punjabi Taliban is the group of individuals who mainly belong to sectarian groups and banned organisations that have Ideological coherence with Taliban,Punjab never accepted that Punajab is the HUB of Taliban. FATA and NWFP is battle ground for these Taliban out of 30,000 Taliban mostly are Punjabi Taliban. The share of Pukhtun is only 10%.The jihadists sponsored by the Pakistan Army must be eliminated. However, it is very unfortunate that Punjab and the Army are not willing to eliminate these terrorists. Still, they are not willing to admit that there are terrorists in the Punjab area as well.the Punjabi Taliban are actually the reall Jihadis who can be beome a big challenge for Pakistan. Southern Punjab is base of Punjabi Taliban and other Kashmiri groups. It is very pathetic that Punjab leadership is even not ready to admit the existence of militants in Punjab. it is said that most of Punjabi Taliban who had taken refuge in South Wazirsitan left the area following operation there.
    So,anyway,it is good article but just don’t point fingers at Pashtuns and label them as Taliban.

  • The Asad Munir ex ISI Brigadier lacks in true Picture and Knowledge of FATA and Pukhtunkwa Pashtun as it was not FATA , Poeple who Liberated Kashmir in war of 9 Sept 1947 to Ist Jan 1949 , Liberation of Kashmir when whole Kashmir was Physically Invaded by Pashtuns from Armies of Nawab of Dir and Ambh and Swat .

    The Nawab of Dir Pukhtunkwa was called , Shahjehan Khan whos was Imprisoned by Pakistan Army in 1971 and died in Captivity in Jail in Lahore as a Reward for This . Gen Ayub Khan had Enmity with this Nawab on personnel level

    The Nawab of Amb Hazara Pukhtunkwa , was remopved from His State and made just a common man in 1971 too and Turbela Dam was made on his Land making him a Poor Man .
    His sons are Just MNA,s and spend Unknown life and thier are no Yadgars or any Medals for those who achieved so much which cannot be Mimicked and done by Pakistan Army now . The Heros were turned to Zeros and Nawabs into beggers and Dams/ Water Reservoirs made on thier Soil

    The Swat Nawab was also made Land Less and Poor is now a common man victim of Same Punjabis Sikhs who came with Their British Officers in command from Mardan Punjab Regimental Centers , as these Gujars and Pirachas are now claiment to same lands of those Nawabs of Swat and Dir Nawab Shahjehan khan

    These People of Swat and Dir have been Empowered by ISI and Army of Punjabis to claim these Land of Pashtun Nawabs and Governors who followed King of Afghanistan the Durrani and Abdalis 1757-1857 who were Removed from Power by these same Taliban in Grab of War against Russian in 1979 after President Daud was Assassinated the last Durrani Leader of Afghanistan .

    That is why the same Gujar Punjabi Sepoys of British and Pirachas Punjabi of Swat are not Owner of Those Lands as Taliban and State Sponsored Terrorists .

    Pashtun who ruled India from 700 Ad to 1857 are now after divide and rule of quaid I azam and later Policies fo State like making FCR and FATA are turned into Un educated and Poor Labour and Soldier for Great game and Strategic Depth to Kill their own Brethren Pashtun across the Durand line .

    The Religion is used as Weapon for CIA and US interests with Pakistan Army as Implementor .

    Why In Pakistan Pashtun accept the FATA , PATA and FCR as Just rule is mind Boggling too may be because of their Lack of education .

    A Learned Pashtun Brigadier who has enough Education and reading and a Pashtun Like Asad Munir is not aware of Real History of His land is Both Eye Opening and Sad too.

    Although FATA men were part of this Kashmir force being trained in Kakul prade Ground in 1947 on Instruction of Quaid I azam and Gen Asghar Khan and his Brothers who were thier leaders and Since Asghar Khan belongs to Tirah valley Afridis and not hazara and is still alive , one can ask him how many Tribals too Part in this campaign and as lack of coordination made these Tribal a Volnurabilty and thier were report of Theft and rapes of women of Kashmir too .

    Although This is more attributed to CH Zafar Ullah Qadiani Forigen Minister of pakistan who was more control of Pakitan then Sick Quaid I Azam and Assinated Liaqat Ali Khan who were no More there when War ended in 1949 .

    The Army was busy Killing Pashtun in Qalat and Zhob and Baluchis in Qalat Campaign when Baluchistan was part of NWFP/ Pakhtunkwa

    This Dark role of Army and GHQ was Convienently Missed by Asad Munir .

    Some say Allegation of rape and Looting was made up by Qadiani running through a President Ghulam Muhammad ( Qadiani ) and CH Zafurullah FM ( Qadiani ) to make Pashtun force leave Kashmir and return to thier lands and Kashmir Problem was Deliberatively Created to Make India and Pakistan Enemies for Ever as Demonstrated in History with further wars in whihc Pakistan Always attacked First in 65, kargil and Furqan Brigade of Kohala Bridge in 1965

  • Asad Munir Sahib not to Foorget it was not Mullahs it were the Sardars like Ayub khan son of Sher Ali King of Afghanistan and Prince Akbar Khan of First and Second Afghan war against the briiths and Aman Ullah Khan in 1930 Againt a Mullah Bach Saqa ( Water carrier supported by Briiths from Deoband Madrissha of Peshawar ) , who fought british .

    Dont Spread Lies , Asad Munir that it was Mullah who spear headed Fights Against Imperialist and British and now US , in fact Mullah alway sat in laps of Brtitish Like Deobandi created in 1864 and then Qadiani march 23 1889, and Barelevi in 1940-41 , all in British raj days , all these Indian terrotory Madrissah never existed before 1857 and hence they had sepport Financial and Moral from Viceroy read Lord Cunningham Papers and that of Lord curzon who provides documented proof that Mullahs were on thier Pay role

    It was Kings and thier Armies who were Fighting for Independence and not Mullah who were conspirators

  • Salafi Saed Ahamd Sheehed barelevi was also supported against Sardar and Kings of Afghanistan and Peshwar and Swat at that time was ruled by Sardars cousin of Kings of Afghanistan and Saed ahmad Shaheed was working to weaken the Sardars although he apeared to Fight the Punjabi Sikhs of ranjeet Singh , he was conspirator with Salafi and Deobandi Aqeeda

  • Crushing of Nationalism with Religion through paid up Mullahs was Policy of Briiths raj and it continues to this day in Pakistan and Afghanistan with Pak Army help and in Mid east with Egyption and Iraqi and Turkish Army for the record and as correction to your false History sir Asad Munir

  • khurram yousafzai saab iam pakhtoon of sawabi and yousafzai,but app log pakhtoon logon ko patha nai kia samaty hain,aap logon baki log gadday nazer atay hain aur pakhtoon log baht bahadur aur nader aur islampasand nazer ati hy,pakhtoon log islam py nai pakhtoon wali per zyada fakher kerty hain.i am first of all muslim,then pakistani then pukhtoon,

  • and i hate afghani the ,in ko hm ny 25 saal sy panah de hy aur aap history per lain k jb hamaray incestors ny hijrat ki te to inhon ny un k sath kia kia ta

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