Afghanistan is a multiethnic and mostly tribal society. The population of the country consists of numerous ethnolinguistic groups: Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Aimaq, Turkmen, Baloch, Pashai, Nuristani, Gujjar, Arab, Brahui, Qizilbash, Pamiri, Kyrgyz, Sadat and others. There are as many as 14 recognized ethnic groups in the country, with Pashtuns making up between 40 percent and 50 percent of the population. Tajiks account for about 25 percent, while Hazaras and Uzbeks are about 9 percent each.
The origins of the Pashtun are unclear. Pashtun tradition asserts that they are descended from Afghana, grandson of King Saul of Israel, though most scholars believe it more likely that they arose from an intermingling of ancient Aryans from the north or west with subsequent invaders. Several Pashtun tribes are known to have moved from Afghanistan to Pakistan between the 13th and 16th centuries. Each tribe, consisting of kinsmen who trace descent in the male bloodline from a common tribal ancestor, is divided into clans, sub-clans, and patriarchal families. Tribal genealogies establish rights of succession and inheritance and the right to use tribal lands and to speak in tribal council. Disputes over property, women, and personal injury often result in blood feuds between families and whole clans; these may be inherited unless settled by the intervention of clan chiefs or by tribal council.
There were estimated to be about 11 million Pashtun in Afghanistan and 25 million in Pakistan in the early 21st century. They comprise about 60 tribes of varying size and importance, each of which occupies a particular territory. In Afghanistan, where the Pashtun are the predominant ethnic group, the main tribes—or, more accurately, federations of tribes—are the Durrānī south of Kabul and the Ghilzay east of Kabul.
In Pakistan the Pashtun predominate north of Quetta between the Sulaiman Range and the Indus River. In the hill areas the main tribes are, from south to north, the Kākaṛ, Shērāni, and Ustarāna south of the Gumal River; the Maḥsūd, Darwēsh Khēl, Wazīrī, and Biṭanī between the Gumal River and Thal; the Tūrī, Bangash, Ōrakzay, Afrīdī, and Shinwārī from Thal to the Khyber Pass; and the Mahmand, Utmān Khēl, Tarklānī, and Yūsufzay north and northeast of the Khyber. In Pakistan the Pashtun predominate north of Quetta between the Sulaiman Range and the Indus River. In the hill areas the main tribes are, from south to north, the Kākaṛ, Shērāni, and Ustarāna south of the Gumal River; the Maḥsūd, Darwēsh Khēl, Wazīrī, and Biṭanī between the Gumal River and Thal; the Tūrī, Bangash, Ōrakzay, Afrīdī, and Shinwārī from Thal to the Khyber Pass; and the Mahmand, Utmān Khēl, Tarklānī, and Yūsufzay north and northeast of the Khyber. This explains massive loss of life and property by TTP (Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan) who started to take revenge of American war from Pakistan as Pakistan was the main sea/land route of supply to the USA/NATO forces. During this period more than 60,000 Pakistani men, women and children were killed by them. They were innocent civilians. Pashtuns had this dance of death everywhere in Pakistan and didn’t spare mosques, schools and shrines of famous saints even. Pakistan thus paid a very heavy price for the US war on Afghanistan. Pashtuns/Taliban were against Pakistan because it was the only country who provided land route to Afghanistan from its ports. During this suicide bombings and widespread killing by TTP also murdered a number of non Muslims in Pakistan and the world was quick to blame it on the Pakistani nation. In this case TTP was acting like a two edged sword.
Afghanistan has been the center of many powerful empires for the past 2,000 years. However, in the last 40 years the country has been in chaos due to major wars from the Soviet invasion of 1979 to their withdrawal in 1989 and from the rise of the Taliban in 1996 to the removal of the Taliban in power in 2001 and the ensuing American and NATO invasion which President Biden has promised will end in the withdrawal of all American troops till September 11, 2021. The Taliban still control parts of Afghanistan. Economically, Afghanistan is considered poor compared to many other nations of the world.
Afghanistan, as an independent kingdom, was founded by Ahmad Shah Durrani, a Pushtun prince, who was crowned in 1747. From that date until the coup in 1978, the country was governed by his direct or collateral descendants. The history of Afghanistan was influenced by several European countries during the 19th century. The modern boundaries of Afghanistan were established in the late 19th century in the context of a rivalry between imperial Britain and tsarist Russia that Rudyard Kipling termed the “Great Game.” Modern Afghanistan became a pawn in struggles over political ideology and commercial influence.
Due to its location, Afghanistan has been a hub of diverse cultures, prompting one historian to dub it the ‘roundabout of the ancient world’. Those who settled included the Persians, under Darius the Great (522-486 BCE); and the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE). Many present-day towns are built on Greek foundations. A Buddhist civilization flourished from the late first century CE, its kings reigning in Bamiyan until the end of the 10th century. An Arab raid on Kandahar in 699-700 brought Islam, strengthened as the Turks gained power in Iran, Afghanistan and India. The Mongolian Genghis Khan invaded in the 13th century. For the next few hundred years Afghanistan was fought over by various Indian and Persian empires. Finally, in the 18th century, a group of Pashtun tribes under Durrani (aka Ahmad Shah Abdali) defeated the Moghuls and the Persians and consolidated its own large but unstable empire.
Tall, forbidding mountains and dry deserts cover most of the landscape of Afghanistan. The jagged mountain peaks are treacherous, and are snow covered for most of the year. Many Afghans live in the fertile valleys between the mountains and grow their crops and tend to their animals. Most of Afghanistan is a rugged, inhospitable mountainous landscape. More than 50% of the total land area lies above 6,500 ft. (2,000 m).
If you combine the terrain and tribe/clan system of this country you have an answer to the question that why this country has never been completely conquered by foreign powers. The two decade long war by Americans has also resulted in the same manner as those rugged mountains, deep valleys and Afghani ability to live in an isolated cave has always made them very proud and severely independent people who can never be influenced by any other culture. American and NATO allied thought that like Iraq they will ‘introduce’ democracy in Afghanistan also but they were completely oblivious of the Afghan culture and nature. Taliban on their part had no roads, no institution like an assembly/senate or formal legislature in any form and no modern day courts and no modes of communication and/or entertainment. They kept on fighting with first Russians and then NATO/American forces continuously and have been victors on both occasions. For the world its an example of adherence to and believe in their code of living, no matter how lowly it is as compared to the fancy life style of Western world. Afghan is not ready to give his women the same liberty as are practiced in the Western culture. They and their women are content to live a very simple life without any TV or Cable, cinema, theatre, and other forms of entertainment facilities. They don’t even need our laws. They are very happy and content with their own code of conduct and for that they don’t even need a formal place. The elder’s council JIRGA (A jirga (originally jərga جرګه) is a traditional assembly of leaders that is supposed to make decisions by consensus and according to the teachings of Pashtunwali and their religion. It can convene in any open/close space and solve the most complicated of crimes sitting there for some hours and there is no appeal system. You are simply doomed if the JIRGA has given its verdict against you. Their code of conduct is called “PASHTUNWALI” or the code of Pashtun. Scholars believe it was there even in pre-Islamic days and it has gradually become the only code of conduct of the majority of Afghans living anywhere in the world.
The native Pashtun tribes, often described as fiercely independent people, have inhabited the region (eastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan) since at least the 1st millennium BC. During that period, much of their mountainous territory has remained outside government’s rule or control. Pashtun resistance to outside rule and the terrain they reside in is maybe why indigenous Pashtuns still follow Pashtunwali, which is a fundamental common law of the land or “code of life”.
Pashtunwali rules are accepted in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and also in some Pashtun communities around the world. Some non-Pashtun Afghans and others have also adopted its ideology or practices for their own benefit. Ideal Pukhtun behaviour approximates the features of Pukhtunwali, the code of the Pukhtuns, which includes the following traditional features: courage (tora), revenge (badal), hospitality (melmestia), and generosity Pashtunwali promotes self-respect, independence, justice, hospitality, love, forgiveness, revenge and reverence toward all (especially to strangers or guests). It is considered to be the personal responsibility of every Pashtun to discover and rediscover Pashtunwali’s essence and meaning. Pashtuns live by this code and it has nothing to do with their adopting Islam as a religion. The Pashtun tribes are always engaged in private or public war. Every man is a warrior, a politician and a theologian. Every large house is a real feudal fortress. Every family cultivates its vendetta; every clan, its feud. Nothing is ever forgotten and very few debts are left unpaid.
It is a fact on record that the Taliban, the rulers of Afghanistan, after the 9/11 tragedy repeatedly asked US government to make Osama bin Laden appear in a court of law and if sentenced, they will hand him over to Americans. We must also remember the fact that one of the code of Pashtunwali is to safeguard your guest at all costs and Osama bin Laden was a guest of Taliban. They could (and did) die for keeping him safe. They needed a valid reason to hand him over to Americans but the USA failed to understand the reality and seriousness of their demands. They even offered to hold a court for Osama bin Laden inside Afghanistan but USA was hell bent to destroy Taliban/ Afghanistan/ and Osama. So they attacked Afghanistan, charged with the feelings of grandeur and their swollen ego. They used the latest and most sophisticated killing machines to subjugate Taliban but they failed utterly. For almost 20 years they and their NATO allies tried to conquer this backward country but the spirit of an Afghan is perhaps unconquerable. The world in general and the Americans in particular forgot one basic fact of Afghan life, that they, in the tribes and clans are always fighting with each other and that is integral part of their lives. Even at the individual level war and arms are not alien to them. They grow up in the shadows of guns and when they grow up they are too familiar with the sounds and havocs of fighting and war. It is high time that the USA and other powers realize these important facts of Afghan life and let the region regain its peace which is very essential not only for Pakistan, USA, China, Russia but the world at large. Recently it was strange to observe the statement of American foreign office that Afghan peace is essential for USA, Pakistan and India. It is a fact that India doesn’t have any borders with Afghanistan so its only interest in that country is to prepare anti Pakistan sentiment and people who can pursue killings, destruction and terrorism in Pakistan.
Today is May 1st, 2021 and news channels are broadcasting news (but no images) of the start of pull out of American forces from Afghanistan. The puppet Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani has ‘offered’ piece of his power to Taliban. They in turn didn’t bother to answer even as they know that within a very short span of time they will be the real rulers of Afghanistan once again as there is no clan/tribe or organized group to challenge them. So the most likely scenario is that we will be in pre 2001 scenario of this country when Americans invaded it and destroyed it without even touching the resolve and determination of Pashtuns (Taliban). Very recently a segment of American press has cautioned that they are ‘concerned’ about the status of women in Afghanistan once the Americans leave that country, but I feel that the West need not worry about them as a vast majority of them are content with their role in the society and don’t see any big change in that role. The new rulers, Taliban also don’t want any change of role of women in Afghan society so even if there is a very small percentage of educated women in that society (confined to big cities), majority don’t want to change the status quo.
In the current scenario when Taliban has started their offensive against USA/NATO forces as they failed to leave Afghanistan according to the Qatar accord, its writing on the wall that it will not take a lot of time when these Taliban will be ruling Afghanistan once again. They have won a 20 years war and they are celebrating their victory.
UPDATE May 8th, 2021. Escalation of killings:
Today a blast near a girl’s school in Kabul (Afghan capital) killed 40+ and injured dozens more. This is one of the series of the latest killings which is mainly the Taliban but numerous other armed groups including ISIS are responsible for this series of killings.
Taliban & Insurgent groups like ISIS have escalated their target killings of men and women and children, specially those who are associated with TV announcement, music industry, cultural presentation, work in judiciary, teachers, music artists and some religious minorities. Recent attacks have killed at least five women, mostly journalists and media workers, and seven factory workers from the minority Hazara community.
A recent surge in targeted killings appear intended to drive women away from public life and spread terror among minority communities,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director. Unidentified attackers have also gone after journalists, civil society activists, and professionals, killing many, driving some from the country, and leaving the rest to live in fear.
UPDATE June 22, 2021.
Taliban gain control of most of the country after Joe Biden said he will call back all American troops by 9/11/21. Aljazeerah TV reports on June 22, 2021 that more than 50% of Afghanistan is now in Taliban’s hands.
“Those districts that have been taken surround provincial capitals, suggesting that the Taliban are positioning themselves to try and take these capitals once foreign forces are fully withdrawn,” the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons told the UN Security Council.
Earlier Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has replaced two top ministers charged with managing the country’s faltering security, as the Taliban presses on with their campaign to capture new territory in fierce battles with government forces.
The shake-up of the defense and interior ministry portfolios comes as violence surges and peace talks remain deadlocked, with the Taliban claiming to have seized more than 50 districts (there are about 400 such districts in Afghanistan). The newly fallen districts are located in Takhar, Faryab, Jawzjan, Samangan, Farah and Paktia provinces.
The author of this blog maintains that the Taliban or any other extreme right cleric group will once again rule Afghanistan after the threat from USA and NATO is over.