Monday, 6 March 2017

QK archives: Who are the Pakhtuns?

Who are the Pakhtuns?
Rahimullah Yusufzai

Date unknown

The unending debate on the origins of the Pakhtuns is as inconclusive and divisive as it ever was. The issue crops up at literary and political gatherings and is even discussed by village folks in their hujras. In fact, it is a fascinating topic with everyone from the layman to the scholar having a definite viewpoint as to the beginnings of this enigmatic and much misunderstood race.

The issue was debated once more but never concluded at the launch of Brigadier (Retd) Haroon Rashid's book, "History of the Pathans, Vol 1, The Sarabani Pathans," in Peshawar some time back. As usual, there were advocates of theories ranging from Pakhtuns having an Aryan, Jewish, Arab or mixed origin. None was convincing enough to carry the day. Disagreement was in the air the moment commentators started analyzing the voluminous book. Notoriously known for their disunity, the Pakhtuns have been unable even to agree on their origins.

NWFP Governor, Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Iftikhar Hussain Shah summed up the proceedings when he noted that the origin of the Pakhtuns was shrouded in mystery. Referring to the different theories in vogue, he reminded that author Naimatullah Harawi considered the Pakhtuns to be of Jewish extraction, the British felt they had mixed origin while Pakhtun writers thought their race was Aryan. He opined that DNA tests could help solve the riddle. Earlier, physician Dr Sher Mohammad Khan had strongly advocated DNA tests to establish the truth.

Scholars having failed to agree on the Pakhtun origins, it is certainly time to request scientists to do the job. It is possible that some people may not even accept the DNA findings if their own theories are demolished as a consequence of this exercise. However, most Pakhtuns would accept the DNA tests if their origins were conclusively established. Knowing a definite answer rather than subscribing to widely different theories would certainly be more appealing. This would also bring to an end the twisting and fascinating debate on the Pakhtun roots.

It may not matter much to other races as to how and where did they first originate. But it matters a lot to the Pakhtuns, who are obsessed about their glorious past and extremely proud of their code of honour and way of life. Many Pakhtuns believe they have inherited their chivalry and courage from the great Muslim general Khalid bin Walid, who earned the title Saifullah ("Sword of Allah") from Holy Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) on account of his exceptional bravery. They would be glad if it was established that they were somehow related to Khalid bin Walid through their putative ancestor Qais Abdur Rashid. This would also strengthen the theory that the Pakhtuns had an Arab origin.

The theory about the Aryan roots of the Pakhtuns is also popular. In particular, the Pakhtuns in Afghanistan advanced this argument and named a number of their institutions including the national airline as Aryana. The rise of Adolf Hitler's Germany also prompted many Afghan scholars to link the Afghans to the Aryans. Hitler's fall surely dampened most Afghans but the Aryan theory refused to go away.

The Jewish theory has been around for ages. Each and every Pakhtun is opposed to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, more so of Bait al-Maqdas, the third holiest Islamic city after Makkah and Madina. As such, most Pakhtuns don't like the Jewish connection. They are shy of conceding that their ancestors could be Jews. But there is no way one's past could be deleted from history. So it pops up again, gaining currency or losing relevance depending on the circumstances. However, some Pakhtuns don't mind being bracketed with the Jews. They would like to believe that the Pakhtuns are the lost tribe of the Jews, a theory that has found many supporters, including noted scholars, in Israel and some Western countries. In fact, a small number of Pakhtuns drew satisfaction from the fact that the Jewish state of Israel had time and again proved its military superiority over a host of Arab countries in its neighbourhood. For them it is affirmation of their own bravery as well as glorious past.

A strong case could be made for making use of the research done by Jewish scholars worldwide to trace the lost 13th tribe of the Jews because it could throw light on the origin of the Pakhtuns. There should be no harm in undertaking collaborative studies between Pakhtun and Jewish scholars to find out the truth. A Canadian film crew made a documentary some time back on the similarities between Jews and Pakhtuns and filmed glimpses of Pakhtun culture that resembled the Jewish way of life. The team also interviewed Pakhtun scholars in the NWFP and Afghan writers in Afghanistan as part of its project concerning the theory that Pakhtuns could be the lost tribe of the Jews.

Imagination can fly wild while discussing different theories concerning the origins of the Pakhtuns. British authors, mostly military men who served in the Pakhtun areas during the colonial period, reported these theories and added to the confusion. Some of them, such as Sir Winston Churchill, made slanderous and derogatory remarks against the Pakhtuns. Their ire was understandable because Pakhtun warriors resisted British rule and inflicted great losses on the imperial army. Other British writers reluctantly conceded the courage and chivalry of the Pakhtuns and described them as their most formidable foes. Books by Pakhtun writers Roshan Khan, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Qazi Attaullah and Pareshan Khattak about their own race also suffer from deficiencies. A definitive account of the Pakhtuns is yet to be written. Until then, we would have to live with the mystery of the Pakhtun origin.
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