Pakhtunkhwa Times

Pakhtun Culture and Talibanization: Soiling the Esteemed Tradition, Psychoanalysis and the Crossroad

Posted in 1 by ppfcanada on April 7, 2009

By Farhat Taj

Taliban are a group of mix groups of different ethnicities- Pakhtun, Punjabi, Uzbek, Tajik, Chechens, Arab etc. Together they have unleashed death and destruction on Afghanistan and Pakistan, especially on the Pakhtun areas of both counties, in collaboration with Al-Qaida. They are all involved in acts of utmost savagery and barbaric torture, like beheading, throwing the dead bodies of the perceived enemies in ditches or in the wild to be eaten up by wild animals, using children in suicide bombing, kidnapping of children for jihadi purposes, assaults in public on women, kidnapping of women, threats to women, bomb attacks on jirgas and funeral ceremonies etc. Pakhtun Taliban are very much part and parcel of such savage acts of cruelty.
By involving themselves in beastly acts of torture, assault on women and humiliation of dead corps of the perceived enemies, the Pakhtun Taliban are insulting an important tradition in the history of armed conflicts conducted by the Pakhtun, i.e. the Pakhtun code of honor. The code of honor dictates this: no attack on women, children, the old and the weak, no attacks on innocent people, no attack on the enemy when in prayers, no attack on the enemy in jirga, no attack on the enemy when there are cultural celebrations like marriage, funeral, Eid, no attack on places of worship like mosque and places where a jirga is taking place, no disrespect to dead bodies and graves of the enemy etc.

I do not rule out the possibility of individual Pakhtun violating the code for personal reasons. There could have been such people in the past and there could be more in the future. But as far as I know of the history, the Pakhtun by and large have followed the code in their intra and inter tribal feuds and in their armed conflicts with the foreigners, like the Moghal, the British etc.

Once I asked Frank Leeson, the former British Khassadar Officer who worked in Waziristan in 1940’s, whether he could remember any events in Waziristan of that time where the tribesmen had used children in their hostilities. Frank Leeson answered: ‘children in Waziristan were children- just playing around, having care free time. I do not know of any event in which the Waziristan tribesmen had used children in the armed conflicts among themselves or in their hostilities towards the British’. The Taliban,on the other hand, kidnapp children for jihad and brainwash or force them to be suicide bombers. I also asked Frank Leeson whether he heard or saw any attacks on, kidnapping of or threats to women in Waziristan. He said as far as he can remember he never saw or heard women being attacked, kidnapped or threatened in the tribal feuds or in conflicts with the British in Waziristan.

Frank Leeson describes in his book, the Frontier Legion, that Miss Ellis, the daughter of a British staff officer in Kohat was kidnapped by five Afridi tribesmen and taken towards Tirah valley of the Khyber agency. The kidnapers knew that the ‘whole countryside would be against them for Pathan chivalry towards women is a by word and they traveled only by night’, writes Leeson. The girl was recovered with help of other Pakhun, including a mullah, and the kidnappers fled to Afghanistan ‘with an avenging party of their own indignant tribesmen hard on their heels’, narrates Leeson. This worldview of the Pakhtun looks very different from the worldview of the Taliban Pukhtun, who have publicly assaulted, murdered and kidnapped women.
The Taliban have attacked at least three tribal jirgas, one each on Darra Adam Khel, Orakzai agency and Bajur agency, a funeral ceremony in Swat and Eid celebrations, including the celebration in the guesthouse of the ANP leader, Asfandyar Wali Khan. The Taliban have been extremely brutal with the perceived enemies they captured, i.e. soldiers, both Pakhtun and non Pakhtun, of Pakistan army, police officers, civilians (alleged US spies) mostly all Pakhtun. The Taliban have been utmost disrespectful with the dead bodies of their perceived enemies. They put their mutilated bodies on public display to spread fear among the besieged Pakhtun population.

The present generation of the Pakhtun, in my view, is unfortunate in the sense that it is in their life time that their centuries old and respected tradition got insulted at the hands of ‘their own Pakhtun brothers‘and they cannot do much to stop the insult. The balance of the lethal power is so drastically in favor of the Taliban and their non Pakhtun ‘Mujahid brothers’ that the non Taliban Pakhtun cannot help the situation, much as they would like to do. In this context, the Salarzai tribe of Bajaur agency is showing great courage. The tribe has stood up against the brutalities of the Taliban. Similarly, some other Pakhtun in some other areas of NWFP and FATA have done the same, despite their negligible resources in terms of weapons and money vis-à-vis the Taliban. Their courage is commendable and they are the heroes. But the savage determination of the Taliban knows no bounds and their resources (weapons, finances etc) seem to be unlimited. Therefore, despite the utmost courage of the Salarzais and other Pakhtun the Taliban continue to brutally insult the Pakhtun code of honor.

What does that insult to the code of honor mean in terms of posterity? Does it have any implications for the future generations? In my view it does. Future generation of the Pakhtun will hang their heads in shame for the Taliban’s atrocities. In a sense the situation will be like the present generation of the Germans. I have seen Germans becoming uneasy at the mention of the Nazis. They are embarrassed by the fact that their elders- the Nazi Germans- committed so much brutality against the Jews, gypsies and other Europeans.


The Pakhtun are under attack- their lives, livelihoods, culture, tradition and history. There are dead bodies, injured people, crippled human beings, widows and childhoods lost. The situation across the border in Afghanistan is even worst. Still there are people who do not appreciate the full scale of this devastation for the sake of their interpretation of Islam. Once I had a heated argument with a non Pakhtun Norwegian-Pakistani couple. The argument was: should Usma Bin Laden be handed over by the Afghans to the Americans or not. I said he should be. They said never. I said look at the death and devastation in Afghanistan. Is Usama worth it? They said yes. Such people prefer to live in the comforts of the West and are always all too ready to sacrify the Pakhtun for their understanding of the religion. There are plenty of people of this kind in Pakistan as well, politicians, journalists, media commentators and folk among the masses at large. For them foreign jihadis are ‘guests’, there should be negotiations with Taliban-Al Qaida without the writ of the state being restored, root cause of the problem is the US, 9/11 was fabricated by the Jews, Usama is innocent and so on. Such people would not even like to experience the atrocities befallen on the Pakhtun in their nightmares. They seem to condone the atrocities in the name of their interpretation of Islam as long they (the atrocities) do not touch them.

In my view such people need a deep psychoanalysis undertaken by a good team of psychoanalysts. No sane human being can be so insensitive to such a scale of devastation in the name of any religion. They must be sick. What is in their mind? The Psychoanalysts should find out.

The Crossroad

The present generations of the Pakhtun have to do a lot. They have to get rid of the foreign jihadi mercenaries; they have to deal with the home grown Taliban; they have to take care of the families destroyed in the jihad of the Taliban-Al Qaida; they have to rebuild their economy, their educational and health institutions sabotaged by the jihadis; they have to reach out to the world to ensure the world of their aversion of religious extremism and so on. They stand at a crossroad. If they succumbed to Talibanization, they will be pushed centuries backward. If they overcome Talibanization, they will emerge as stronger people, more in tune with modernity and more active in give-and-take with the wider world. This will also earn them the respect of their future generations, who will view them as courageous people who subdued the evil of Talibanization. Thus the present generation of the Pakhtun must succeed. Because failure is no option and there is no middle way.

Farhat Taj is a femal Pashtun researcher based in Norway. She wrote a series of articles for Khybernews on different aspects of Pashtuns and Talibanization. This piece is the last of a series of four articles.

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