Posted by: Christian | April 29, 2007

Pashtuns as Victims

April 29, 2007.

The history of the modern Afghan state has in part been defined by the dominance of the Pashtuns and by their demographic and political expansion into non-Pashtun areas within Afghanistan. In this process, known as Pashtunization, ethnic Pashtuns displaced Hazaras, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmen and others. During Pashtunization non-Pashtun land was confiscated, local leaders were “removed,” Pashtun settlers were moved in (forcibly or with incentives), excessive taxes were levied, minorities were denied a voice in government (as were many Ghilzai Pashtuns), Pashto was imposed on Dari and Uzbek speakers, some local communities were attacked and destroyed, etc…

Photo: Abdur Rahman Khan, the architect of Pashtunization.
Abdur Rahman

I’ll save the full story for another day and include all the sources. There are a few nationalists who claim that Pashtuns were the original inhabitants of all of Afghanistan and that Hazaras, Tajiks, Turkmen and Uzbeks are all relatively recent intruders. Literally every other scholar who has written on Afghanistan is lined up on the other side. But again, I’ll save that story for later.

Pashtunization came to an end in the 1970s. However, the issue never really died and was a source of resentment on the part of non-Pashtuns. In late 2001 and early 2002, when almost all authority collapsed in Northern Afghanistan, it was the Pashtuns who now became the victims. Revenge attacks, as well as purely opportunistic crimes, were perpetrated upon the Pashtuns by young Hazara, Uzbek and Tajik militiamen, as well as by ordinary villagers.

Human Rights Watch did a decent job of documenting the attacks in a report titled “Paying for the Taliban’s Crimes: Abuses Against Ethnic Pashtuns in Northern Afghanistan.” Numerous incidents of rape, looting, physical violence and murder are documented. While some of the Pashtuns had collaborated with the Taliban and used their presence to victimize their non-Pashtun neighbours, the vast majority seem to be innocent victims. As a result many Pashtuns fled to the south and abandoned their homes and land.

The Uzbek Junbesh leader Rashid Dostum and the Tajik Shura-yi Nazar affiliated commander “Ustad” Atta Mohammad eventually put a stop to the attacks against ethnic Pashtuns. For a variety of reasons, some obvious and some not, they both made an effort to end the anti-Pashtun pogrom (I’ll save this argument for another day as well).

I haven’t heard much about the situation of ethnic Pashtuns in the north of Afghanistan recently. I suppose most attention is focused on the south. Also, the current group of people who can claim to be victims in Afghanistan includes pretty much everybody. So get in line (the long one) with your grievances I guess.

Main source: Human Rights Watch. 2002. ‘Paying for the Taliban’s Crimes: Abuses Against Ethnic Pashtuns in Northern Afghanistan’, April 2002, Vol. 14, No. 2(C). Download in pdf here.


  1. […] mobilization strategies. There are, of course, legitimate grievances from both the past and present (on both sides). However, the level of hyperbole and the resulting dangers of ethnicizing politics need to be taken […]

  2. […] imagine. But as shown by Taliban attacks on and massacres of non-Pashtuns, followed by post-2001 opportunistic and revenge crimes by Hazaras, Uzbeks and Tajiks against Pashtun civilians in the north,  “you may not be looking for trouble, but trouble may be looking for […]

  3. […] […]


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