..The Taliban is NOT an expression of Pushtun Nationalism

By Qudsia Siddiqi

One of the biggest lies that have been spun by our establishment, which is the arbiter of our national narrative, is that the Taliban are an expression of “Pushtun Nationalism”.  This lie has been repeated ad infinitum by reactionary politicians and Taliban apologists like Imran Khan and  biased academics like Tariq Ali and Rasul Baksh Rais.

The rich and diverse culture of the Pushtuns extends back to several millennia.  The cultural and anthropological influence of the Pushtuns extends from Iran to Bangladesh and even a cultural metropolis like Calcutta can boast of hosting Pushtuns and their way of life.  From Rehman Baba to Khushal Khan Khattak, poetry and moderate religious views have been a cornerstone of Pushtunwali.  The land of the Pushtuns is the land of Lord Gautum Buddha.  Even in Bollywood, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor are the sons of Peshawar and Shahrukh Khan is atleast a nephew of the same city.

In the socio-political domain, Pushtuns have proven their valour on the battle field and have also shown the rest of South Asia that when it comes to non-violent resistance, the Pushtuns are second to none.  Today, nothing comes closer to describing the political beliefs of Pushtuns than the political ideology of literacy and non-violence of the Frontier Gandhi, the late Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as Bacha Khan. Electorally, the Pushtuns on both sides of the Durand Line have always voted for secular, nationalist, center-left parties like the ANP in Pakistan.  Even the Pushtun vote for JUI is not predicated on Islamism but on a secular nationalism.  In this regard, in the seventies, the JUI was ostrasiced by Islamofascist parties like Jamaat Islami and the leadership of JUI under Mufti Mahmood was tagged as socialist deviants!

Then why is it that today, the establishment in Pakistan always views the Pushtuns and Taliban as two interchangeable entities?  This is because for the establishment, the Pushtun, like the rest of the country, simply serves as a laboratory for experimenting with violent Salafism in order to perpetuate an Oligarchic hold on power.  Since the time of Zia, the establishment has used State machinery to infuse the body politic with a virulent ideology that deculturalizes them and erodes an individual’s multiples identities of faith, ethnicity and regional influences.  In this regard, the establishment wants to squash the prospects of a pluralistic society and violently enforce a harsh, monolithic and artificial narrative whose genesis is based on the warped neurosis of Partition. It is the reaction of the dominant groups in Pakistan, the Punjabis and migrants, to the horrors of partition that shapes the national ideology of Pakistan: a “binery” vision that sees Pakistan as the “Un-India” and as a catidal of Islam where the country exists to serve the Jihadi adventures of assorted military dictators!

It is this false narrative which is the dominant discourse.  Therefore, the aspirations of ethnic nationalist minorities like the Sindhis, Balochis, Seriakis and Pushtuns and religious and sectarian minorities like the Brehlvis, Shias and Hindus are an anathema to this supremacist narrative that subsequently views these minorities as lesser Pakistanis!

Today, the establishment prefers to falsely project the Taliban as Pushtun militancy.  The fact that the secular and moderate Pushtun leadership and intelligentsia have taken a brave stance AGAINST the Taliban exposes this false narrative.  This exposure is dangerous on different levels.  The fact that the Pushtuns are a pacifist group that seeks to claim a genuine, proportional and fair stake in the country via a democratic setup is a big blow to those who wish to choke democracy and maintain an autocratic hold on power.

Similarly, the Taliban is a multi-ethnic force which is supported by extremist elements from not just Pakistan but violent Salafist mercenaries from all over the globe. From the East, the Uighirs are a substantial part of this force. It includes Tajiks and Uzbeks from Central Asia and Arabs from all over the Gulf. It even includes the odd Northern European and Bangladeshi.  In Pakistan, volunteers from violent Wahabi sectarian organizations are an equal, if not a greater part of the Taliban.  These sectarian organizations have their main headquarters in Punjab and their regional headquarters in Karachi, primarily in areas that are dominated by the ethno-mafiasos, the MQM.  Much of the financing for these Jihadi sectarian affiliates of the Taliban comes from the prosperous and recently radicalized Memon and Dehliwalla business communities.

These facts again puncture the dominant narrative that posits the Pushtuns as synonymous with the Taliban. It also dents the image of the MQM which wants to portray itself as a secular force for achieving its own dubious aims.  Internationally, because its leader chooses to reside in another country, and locally, so that it can continue to target the Pushtuns and not give them any stake in Karachi, where the latter are nearly a third of the population today.

In Pakistan, the political forces like the PPP and ANP that threaten the establishment are simply not tolerated. The PPP has been hounded by the press and by an Islamist judiciary.  Both parties have had their leaders and activists attacked and killed by the Taliban.  Today, it is not ANP which is taking out a rally for the Taliban heroine Aafia Siddiqui; that honour ironically rests with the MQM which claims to be anti-Taliban but dances to the whims of a Pro-Taliban military establishment.

The establishment cannot tolerate anything that exposes a carefully crafted narrative that aims to continuously fool people, both locally and internationally.  The Pushtuns have bravely opposed, not supported, the Taliban and have lost several of their elected leaders and representatives.  Their tribal leaders have been massacred by the Taliban after they were promised support by the establishment and then abandoned to the Taliban militias.  The Pushtuns, many of whom are under virtual siege by the Taliban/Al Qaeeda, welcome the drone attacks that have killed important Jihadi establishment assets.  Today, the worst enemy of the Taliban is the Pushtun who exposes them and the worse enemy of the Pushtuns is the Taliban who cannot bear to see them live and prosper.



Filed under Pakistan

30 responses to “..The Taliban is NOT an expression of Pushtun Nationalism

  1. Amjad Cheema

    I can not agree more
    Well done Qudsia exposing thse hypocrites like imran khan

  2. Just so you know most of the Taliban are concentrated in Pakhtun dominated regions.
    Not all pathans support the Taliban but many do and they are more then your “radicalized Memon and Dehliwalla business communities.”
    ANP, a party whose leaders thinks all muhajirs are “jutey khane wale” does not deserve to be called secular. Just listen to what Shahi Syed has to say.

  3. Khalid bihari

    The clash between MQM and ANP is not more than the mutual rift of Babar Ghauri and Shahi Sayyed on expensive plots in the posh area like N. Nazimabad. We the people of Karachi are caught between the rift of MQM and ANP,

  4. imran amjad

    why has all the media,deliberately chosen to ignore the case of the woman getting stoned to death,whose video was shown on monday night on just one of the news channels & that too late at night when not many would have watched it. It happened in pakistan
    & the ghairat brigade ought to have watched it,how the woman’s ghairat was restored by the rocks pummelling her to her death.
    i think PTH should have covered it.

  5. Raza Raja

    It is an overall a good attempt though at place I feel it is rheotric.
    This is nonsense that taliban are expression of Pukhtun nationalism. In fact they were created to subdue Pukhtun identity.
    I have heard this rubbish that taliban are in some way adopting a violent version of pukhtan wali. Pukhtun wali is a cultural trait whereas taliban repressent ideological mindset cultivated
    through militant Islam. And what explains Punjabi taliban if taliban are expression of pukhtun nationalism.
    Clearly as the writer points out correctly that taliban are multi ethnic and it is chauvanism to declare them as an expression of Pukhtun culture

  6. Kudos to the writer and the PTH editorial team for presenting the voice of dissent.
    PTH has a significant role in the blogsphere for its tendencies to promote voices from all the ethnic identities of Pakistan, though I feel references to the MQM are misplaced a bit. But its good to see meaningful criticism on the political discourses.
    Its unfortunate to see MQM adopting the populist tactics by opposing their self acclaimed version of feudalism and protesting for Dr. Aafia.
    I think they are evaluating their politics, by adopting the slogans of middle classes.

  7. ali hamdani

    It is necessary to destroy the Taliban before they ruin our nation youth. This mindset of extremism will take us no where but replicate more incidents such as Sialkot. Which is victory for the Taliban.

  8. eraj danish

    The Taliban is a mindset man made by religious perverted leaders who aim to destroy the youth of Pakistan in greed of power.

  9. YLH

    We need a few historical corrections. Pushtun Nationalism has a deep connection with Taliban whether ANP supporters today conveniently want to deny it or not and call anyone who disagrees with them “establishment” and “biased”.

    1. Bacha Khan supported Faqir of Ipi who was the original insurgent from South Waziristan. Faqir of Ipi in his revolt against Pakistan. Faqir’s revolt was in the name of Islam. Faqir of Ipi’s grandson is today the leading light of Tehreek-e-Taliban.

    2. JUI-F of today is the erstwhile JUH of India (and not JUI of Usmani which was pro-Pakistan in 1947 – atleast not in composition) which was an ally of the Congress and of Bacha Khan. Maulana Mufti Mahmood was a close friend and a staunch ally of Bacha Khan and Mahatma Gandhi. In 1949 the Pakistani remnants of JUH merged with Usmani’s JUI. In 1956, Mufti Mahmood ousted the Usmani and Thanvi factions from the JUI altogether.

    3. Maulana Mufti Mahmood was allied with the NAP and Pushtun Nationalist elements against Bhutto throughout the 1970s and then in 1977 in the PNA’s Nizam-e-Mustafa movement of which Pushtun Nationalists were a part under Mufti’s leadership.

    4.Mufti Mahmood obviously can rightly be called the grandfather of the Taliban because his son is fondly called the father of the taliban.

    So while ANP and other Pushtun Nationalists now want to whitewash history facts remain that Tariq Ali is right about Taliban being a Pushtun Nationalist movement. Infact it is a potent mix of fanatical Islam and the tribalism that masquerades as Pushtun Nationalism (in reality there is no such thing as Pushtun Nationalism… there is Pushtun Tribalism).

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  11. 1. Bacha Khan never supported any violant faction, he even denied his son Ghani Khan, the great Pashtun poet, who formed a violant faction “Pakhtun Zalmay” but Bacha Khan has strong disagreement with him in this regard.

    2. Mufti Mehmood was anti separatist, and the JUI of him fought 70’s elections on a progressive agenda, called Socialist Mullahs by JI as well as a small faction of JUI ex-associates, even 113 molvis of Karachi and other cities had issued a Kufr Fatwa against JUI.
    3. You are right their is no Pashtun or any other nationalism as uttered by Jinnah in his speech at Dhaka, but the narrative is only for Rawalpindi Islamabad, Sindhi, Baloch and Pashtun nationalist can not be satisfied with such claims…long live Rawalpindi Islamabad.

  12. Happy to see you agreeing someone, Tariq Ali in Bughz E Muawia.
    Tauhid tou yeh hei k Khuda Hashr mey keh de
    yeh banda dou Aalam se khafa mere liye hei.

  13. Pingback: ..The Taliban is NOT an expression of Pushtun Nationalism | PROSPECTS

  14. Feroz Khan

    @ YLH

    Just wanted to add something to your post.

    Tribalism is a better term than nationalism to describe what is happening in Afghanistan, as you stated.

    Pushtun nationalism does exist and it is geared towards reclaiming the lost tribal power and position of importance, which the Pushtuns enjoyed in Afghanistan before the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.



  15. YLH


    1. Bacha Khan was a politician. His links with Faqir of Ipi’s uprising is well known.

    2. And your point is?

    3. If you apply the established theories of how nationalism works, you’ll realise that in this so called Pushtun nationalism all ingredients are missing, especially a bourgeoisie which is non-existent amongst the so called Pushtun nationalism. Asbiat is not necessarily nationalism you know.

  16. And what about about your “imagined identities theories”

  17. Political alliances (NAP and JUI) cannot be cited as basis for denying the existence of Pashtun nationalism or forcefully linking it to Islamic extremism. There have been alliances between groups with disparate ideologies when faced with common opposition, or in quest of getting into power somehow. ZAB’s PPP government faced an opposition which had a motley combination of all political ideologies. Both ANP and JUI have been allied with PPP, the liberal secular national party of Pakistan, and other mainstream parties, but does that prove that they are all the same? The Taliban have been supported and recongnized during PPP government. Lots of Taliban originally produced by JUI-F and JUI-S run madressahs, but while those two parties remain in the system, the Talibans are totally out of their control now. What Taliban represent is a mixture of militant Deobandi / Wahhabi Islam, and they draw members and sympathizers from all corners, particularly Punjab.

    That Taliban have worked to destroy many symbols and traditions of Pashtun culture is a well-known fact: jirgas, Pashto musical and poetic tradition, sufi saints etc. and punishment for women like lashing in public were unthinkable and have only been recent introductions from somewhere else.

  18. Then how do you explain the fact that TTP leaders belong to pashtun dominated areas.
    I never heard Baitullah Mehsud talking in urdu or sindhi. There is a reason he and other taliban leaders talk in pashto.

  19. YLH

    imagined identity is not nationalism. Nationalism denotes something wider than identity though identity might be one of the pillars of nationalism.

  20. Tilsim

    The clash between the MQM and ANP in Karachi has many layers. In the final analysis, it’s about control over power, land and money. Ideologies, rights and wrongs, differing value systems are secondary issues. The influx of arms after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan spearheaded the rapid march towards political violence.

    Karachi people, of all ethnicities, are in general middle of the road and struggling to make ends meet in a chaotic metropolis. The mindset is much more secular leaning than fundamentalist leaning but one has to admit the huge inroads of fundamentalist thought as we all now all over Pakistan. The Taliban are a relatively new factor and a common enemy of the MQM and ANP. It should be no surprise that the divide of the MQM and ANP presents a great opportunity to create chaos. The city hosts some reactionary madrassahs which do derive their funds from not only Islamist mohajirs but also punjabis and pathans – there is evidence of cooperation between these seminaries, religious parties and the taliban. The Jamaat Islami is also a part of this continuum.

    I have to admit too that I was taken aback by MQM’s jump on the Jamaat Islami’s favourite Aafia is a wronged angel bandwagon. The MQM is under a great deal of pressure in Karachi (and London) so perhaps that has something to do with it. It shows that defining these complex groups into neatly packaged ideological bundles will probably lead you away from a more representative analysis of the balance of power and ground realities. The Taliban are a creation of the ISI, feeding on a well of tribal conservatism and religious zeal found in n0n-urban Pathan culture. The Taliban movement has, for some time now, evolved into a hard core and jihadist version of Wahabi/Salafi doctrine and hence this rolling stone is gathering moss in small town Punjab and amongst communities sympathetic to political Islam in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and Islamabad. In it’s current guise, I fail to see that the taliban and pakhtun nationalism have deep connections. Certainly there are real politik based political alliances in certain constituencies; the parties have themselves admitted to that.

  21. @Tilsim
    Good point…agreed

  22. @up up and away

    You did not hear Usman Punjabi talking to Hamid Mir in an audio tape….???

  23. Qudsia Siddiqee

    Don’t waste your time with these fellows. Growing up in Karachi in the 1960s, it was common amongst the urban bourgeoisie to hold the Sindhis, Balochis and Pushtuns in contempt. Even my family which is from UP and Agra felt that the only group worth socializing with were the Punjabi families in Karachi as they represented the dominant group of Pakistan. In Karachi, Urdu speakers dominated the bureaucracy; it was our turf and no one else was welcome. We found our ways around the quota system and like the current CJ, used underhand tactics to get domiciles from interior Sind.

    After chasing the mirages of Imran “the Taliban Khan” and the “Independant” 22 grade bureacrat, Chaudhary Iftikhar, Yasser has stuck firm to the Gujrati Jinnah who was a Memon or a Khawaja. Punjabis like him have no one else left and after seeing the buffoons that is Altaf Hussain and the Sharif and Chaudhary Biradiran, such Punjabis are more comfortable being in the shadows of what they imagine Jinnah to be. The Neo Punjabi nationalism is all Tableeghi Jamaat with Imran and CJ as their folk heroes.

    Like my relatives who worship Altaf Bhai via satelite, Yasser worships Jinnah via the super natural mythical medium of the Nazariya-e-Pakistan! It does not matter what the Sindhis, Balochis and Pushtuns have to say about themselves; it is the Punjabi rulers of this country who will even decide the narratives and choices of the other nations in this country. The Punjabi generals and judges will always have the support of my people, the bhai log. Jinnah was old and sick and my people were the real architects of Partition. We needed our own turf where we could get cushy government jobs and do business without the competition from perfidious Hindus. The Punjabi provincials were a willing partner and we continue to rule this place.

    Like my friend who was an NSF leader in the late 1960’s very correctly stated: “The Muslims of India were divided into three parts and that too in the name of uniting them! Just so that a handful of senior civil servants like Musharraf’s dad could have a Hindu-free zone and rise to the top in a bake sale.”

    He was jailed by Ayub Khan and is in Canada these days. No matter what you and I write, it is Punjabis like Yasser who will decide what is the true and exclusive account of Pakistan’s sub-nationalities. For the Punjabis and their collaborators, my own bhai log, these poeple are just uncivilized rif raf!

  24. great

    Qudsia Siddiqee

    Well said!

  25. Prasad

    QS: Boss this is something I never read before on this site!!!

    Straight to the point. I cant draw any inference though.

  26. aliarqam

    You have not sufficient knowledge about Yasser, he does not believe in Nazaria Pakistan etc. He interprets it accordance with late Hamza Alavi writings about Partition.
    Though he supported Lawyers movement, but after the current mess, he wrote ter excellent articles regarding constitution, the basic structure theory and many others in the last few months are excellent pieces.
    Though he has problems with Bacha Khan, G M Sayyed, Bizenjo and others, but he has equal disgust for people like Mumtaz Doltana, Liaqat A Khan, Maudoodi and is PPP supporter from the core.

  27. Tilsim

    “Don’t waste your time with these fellows. Growing up in Karachi in the 1960s, it was common amongst the urban bourgeoisie to hold the Sindhis, Balochis and Pushtuns in contempt”

    It does n’t seem that the Karachi urban bourgeoisie had any monopoly in that regard. In Pakistan, such ethnic and religious prejudice was there wherever you went. The prejudice itself is worthy of condemnation not a particular group because of it.

  28. great

    October 2, 2010 at 3:36 am

    You are clueless about what QS wrote in the post above.

  29. Mohammad Naeem

    Kuddos to Qudsia Siddique for this excellent essay. It is no doubt that what are we seeing in the region is more an expression of overgrowth of Indian Muslim nationalisn. True Urdu-speakers were the original architect of this nationalism but later it was taken over by Punjabis and its geopolitical and strategic expression and expansion were planned and put into action by Punjabi military leaders like Gen Ziaul-Haq, General Akhtar Abdur Rahman, General Hamid, Gul, General Javed Nasir, etc.

    Mr Yasir, you are trying to build a case on flmisy ground my friend. How much do you know of the theories of nationalism?

  30. Mohammad Faraz

    Pakhtun Nationalism and Taliban are entirely separate thing. Faqir Api struggle is against Samraj. Secularism or left wing is not the name of eating pork, drink wine or criticize religion, but its an ideology. you can find left wing among religious class and found extremely right wing in “left one’s”. If secularism allows not the mixing of religion into politics then it must also allow respect for other nationalities. And it is not amazed that it was Jinnah who used terms like “Show boy” (Tough Abul kalam appreciated jinnah and his instance many times in his book India wins freedom), “Khotay Sikkay” in politics. and the one who dissolve two provincial assemblies of Sindh (Ayub Khoro) and Pakhtunkhwa (Dr. khan sahib)