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The Pashtuns: A Contested History
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The Pashtuns: A Contested History

Post by RK News on Sunday, April 30, 2023

First slide

Tilak Devasher is a veteran Pakistan analyst who has written a trilogy on Pakistan. His fourth and current book The Pashtuns: A Contested History explores the history and origins of the Pashtuns that span between Pakistan and Afghanistan across the Durand Line. The fact that Pashtuns are spread across both sides of the line is part of the problem and this book fairly makes an attempt to answer why? Instead of talking about nation-states and their territoriality what writer has done is to put the people, the Pashtuns as the central theme of this book. In other words, this book is neither about Pakistan nor Afghanistan but about the Pashtuns.

Pashtuns are the largest ethnic tribe and inhibit a continuous stretch of land from the Hindu Kush to the Indus, across both sides of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The land of Pashtuns is divided across the controversial British-era Durand line. Although divided the Pashtuns share a common ethnic and cultural ancestry and share a common code of Pashtunwali. The author dissects the historical, cultural and ideological details of the Pashtuns and provides a comprehensive potryal of the Pashtun character.

The author interestingly talks about Pashtunwali in details which is basically the code that dictates the way of life of Pashtuns. He explains Pashtunwali as “the defining tribal code that distinguishes Pashtuns from other ethnic groups” the relationship of Pashtunwali with Islam and influence of Sufism and Barelvi practices on Pashtuns.

Does the book also delve into details on who are Pashtuns? Their origin and they're social and religious believes in relation to Islam. It also discusses on the century long contact between British and the Pashtuns and how the British split the Pashtuns by drawing the controversial Durand Line in 1983 and the subsequent demand for Pashtunistan. This book contextualizes the current geo-political challenges in South Asia, making it required reading for those who want to understand not only the Pashtuns but regional strategic and security dynamics. The structure of the book is well conceived, covering a large canvas for a deep understanding of the subject.

The most interesting part of this book is towards the end when the writer tries to gauge a future for the region (on both sides of the Durand Line) and notes that the Pashtun identity has been eroded because of the different historical evolution in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Pashtuns are consequently disunited today. In fact the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) a movement started by the Pashtuns in 2014 has gained lots of traction in Pakistan. Through this forum the Pashtuns talks about the issues faced by Pashtuns both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The onus of self-interest, peace and stability lies with the Pashtuns themselves. The recognition of the Durand Line remains a complex problem between Afghanistan and Pakistan and how the book emphasizes that the two neighbours are unlikely to settle the issue.

This book is a welcome addition to works by Indian policymakers on other parts of South Asia and will be of great interest to anyone interested in a deeper understanding of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Dr Zainab Akhtar

Geo Stratrgic analyst


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