7th JANUARY 2019
Answer questions in NOT MORE than 200 words each. Content of the answer is more important than its length.
Links are provided for reference. You can also use the Internet fruitfully to further enhance and strengthen your answers.
GS II: INTERNATIONAL
Q1. Discuss the genesis of the present day Pashtun nationalism in Afghanistan.
What has given added potency to the Taliban’s appeal is this: its ability to couch in religious terminology traditional Pashtun aspirations for dominance in Afghanistan as well as the aversion of Pashtun tribes to foreign interference in their land.
It is the combination of ultra-orthodox Islam, a product of Saudi involvement in the so-called Afghan “jihad”, with Pashtunwali, the traditional Pashtun social code, and opposition to foreign presence that provides strength to the Taliban. Most Pashtuns, who comprise over 40% of the population of Afghanistan, believe that they are the rightful rulers of the country. They base this on the history of the past 300 years when Pashtun dynasties ruled Afghanistan almost throughout. While the Persian-speaking Tajiks, who form around a quarter of the population, are more urban and educated than the Pashtun tribes and staffed a substantial portion of the Afghan bureaucracy, the ruling dynasties were invariably Pashtun. This situation changed with the American invasion in 2001. The emergence of the Pashtun Taliban from Kandahar in 1994 was in reaction partly to the fear of Tajik domination and partly to the mayhem and anarchy caused by the “mujahideen” factions fighting each other for control of the country. With Pakistan’s military help the predominantly Pashtun Taliban imposed a degree of order and ruled approximately three-quarters of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
Pashtun resentment against foreign intervention, which drove their opposition to the Soviet invasion and now fuels antipathy towards American military presence, also has a long history going back to their resistance to British intrusion during the 19th century. It was augmented by British success in dividing the Pashtun lands in eastern and southeastern Afghanistan and drawing the Durand Line that attached a large portion to British India, now Pakistan. This drastically reduced Pashtun demographic superiority in Afghanistan.
Traditionally, Pashtun nationalism in Afghanistan was based on ethnicity and tribal loyalties and not connected to religion, which explains their hostility toward predominantly Muslim Pakistan during the first three decades of its existence. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 fundamentally changed the nature of Pashtun nationalism. It led to American and Saudi support for the Afghan insurgency, with Pakistan acting as the conduit for American arms and Saudi financial support to the tribes fighting the Soviets and their proxy government in Kabul. It also led to the import of Saudi-Wahhabi ideology through madrasas set up with Saudi funding on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. These madrasas produced the first generation of the Taliban.
Although polls show that the majority of Afghans do not support the Taliban, the divided and infirm nature of the nominally ruling dispensation and its corruption and inefficiency have helped the Taliban gain renewed support among parts of the Pashtun population. Added to this is the vicarious satisfaction that many Pashtuns feel at the Taliban’s defiance of the Kabul government, making it a viable force in Afghanistan.
The resurgent Taliban is driven not so much by Islam as the quest for Pashtun dignity and revenge. While it is not in a position to rule over the entire country, and certainly not the urban areas, it does control large swathes of the rural areas in the predominantly Pashtun provinces of eastern and southeastern Afghanistan. In other words, it is in a position to make the country ungovernable and indefinitely continue the civil war especially because of its control of the drug trade that finances its activities. The withdrawal of American forces will provide it greater opportunity to expand its area of operation.
It is important that New Delhi takes this factor into account while fashioning its policy toward Afghanistan in anticipation of American withdrawal.