Afghanistani not Afghan
By Abdul Ali Faiq
The term “Afghan” means Pashtun and coupled with the Persian suffix “Stan”, which means land, thus makes it the land of the Pashtuns. Since, the majority of the population are not Afghans, it is very logical to describe all the citizens as Afghanistani. Ordinary people in Afghanistan still refer to the Pashtuns as “Awghans” or “Awghoo”. When we say “Afghan”, we mean Pashtun and vice-versa.
Rulers have imposed the word “Afghan” as a national identity for all citizens of this land since early nineteenth century. This process started with the British imposition of Amir Abdur Rahman Khan on the throne, and his centralization plans. The linguistic connotation of the word “Afghan” began to evolve. Based on a large number of available primary sources, such as Al-Biruni, Ferdwosi, Ibn Battuta, the word Afghan was used to describe the Pashtun inhabitants of the South Asia. Mainly, in the vicinity of the Suleiman mountain ranges.
Now, with the twentieth century Pasthun state oppression behind us, and pseudo wave of democracy implemented in Afghanistan, more people are openly displaying their dislike for the word Afghan and calling themselves Afghanistani. Afghanistan of today was part of the ‘Great Khorasan’. Khorasan comprised a geographic region that was spanning to northeastern Iran, central, northern and western Afghanistan, Tajikistan and parts of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The name "Khorasan" is derived from middle Persian Khor "sun” asan literally, which means arising from, therefore, it’s meaning is "the land where the sun rises from". The name of Khorasan was changed into Afghanistan in 1880 (1) by the British with the consent of the Russians. The British backed Amir - their appointed prince. This occurs during the height of the great game between Russia and the British. Also, to mitigate any Persian threat on the riches of India.
Afghanistan is a country of minorities, such as Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Aimaqs, Afghans (Awghans or Pashtuns), Turkmen, Baluchis, Qizilbash, and etc. The present name of the country is not a fair representation for the rest of these ethnicities. The Persians have lived in Central Asia for about 7,000 years of history and archeological excavations have supported their connection with this land. All historical evidence suggests that there is very limited link between the Afghan population and culture and the ancient Khorasani civilizations. British orientalists tied the history of the Pashtuns to the Aryans of Central Asia. This theory is highly flawed. For a more authoritative primary source on the origins of the Pashtuns, see Ni'mat Allah al-Harawi’s book, “Makhzan-i-Afghani.”
Afghans have had a nomadic lifestyle and the remaining nomads have often been in conflict over the use of land with the settled non-Afghan farmers, particularly in central regions. As a minority themselves, the Pashtoun wish to control and dominate the social, financial, political and military affairs. They impose their Afghani language (Pashto) on the non-Afghans (non-Pashtuns) and expect the majority to respect the imposed Pashto “national” anthem at a time when even they themselves cannot easily understand it. Persian is the inter-ethnic language in Afghanistan (lingua franca). It is also the language of commerce, education, science, government and administrations.
The “majority” myth
There has never been a transparent and scientific headcount in the country. Therefore, the Pashtun rulers created an imaginary, false and a highly politicized population figures to suit their supremacy claims. Sadly, some agencies, foreign diplomats, foreign media, etc are also often repeating these misleading figures and guess estimates. Latest credible source by the American military school, WestPoint, suggests about 38% Pashtuns in the country(2).
After changing the name of ‘Khorasan’ to Afghanistan, they relentlessly tried to promote the term ‘Afghan’ as a national identity for everyone. Afghanistan is not a nation. It is a country of minorities or more precisely a state without a nation. According to Ozkirimli (Contemporary Debates On Nationalism 2005, P. 15) “The definition of nations is a familiar one: ethnicity, language, religion, territory, common history, common descent or ancestry (kingship), or, more generically, common culture”(3). Do we have these commonalities? The answer would be no.
The western media is also unknowingly repeating the fabricated notion of “Pashtun majority versus minorities”. The 20th century researchers who went to Afghanistan were directed by the Afghan officials even during the 40-year autocratic rule of King Zahir and then five years rule of President Daud Khan, knowing that this would prove their "majority" or even the "largest-ethnic-group" myth wrong. Had the Pashtuns been the majority group, the Afghan rulers would have conducted dozens of censuses by now to prove their “majority” claim. They are no more than a third of the population and adding arbitrary and ambiguous figures for Pashtun nomads will not change the realities. Pashtun nomadic lifestyle has seen a sharp decline since 1950s according Hashmat Ghani Ahmadzai who claims to be head of the nomads. A large number of the nomads were settled along the US-funded gigantic Arghandab-Helmand Valley irrigation projects since 1950s. Three decades of wars, droughts and short-life expectancy have effectively brought the nomadic lifestyle to an end in Afghanistan. There could be as much as some 50,000 nomads still roaming in southeastern Afghanistan. The rulers are sometimes intentionally orchestrating disputes between the remnants of the nomads and Hazaras to portray that a large number of the Pashtuns cannot be counted. With this, they hope to make the water muddy and cling on to their majority or “largest-group” claim. There are also some Pakistani Pashtun nomads whom the Afghan rulers tend to include into Afghanistan population statistics to inflate their share. According to Fateh Sami, former senior official of Afghanistan Central Statistics Office, now lecturer in Australia, entitled “Exaggerated Registration Counts: Election Scandal” to see how rulers have time and again manipulated statistics to justify their supremacy and lion share of power in governments. (4)
The only somewhat credible census was conducted in June 1979, by the communist regime. That put the Afghan (Pashtun) population at 38%. All sources, such as the UN, USAID and the CIA, would quote this figure until the CIA Factbook (5) arbitrarily increased the Afghan figure to 42% in 2002 (when Karzai became president). This was an attempt to justify the lion share of power that the USA was planning to give to this group, which was seen as the epicenter of US politics in the region.
Persian has historically been the language of learning, courts, education and communication between all ethnic groups in Khorasan and the surrounding regions. It is the dominant language and lingua franca in Afghanistan. All Tajiks, Hazara, Aimaqs and even many urban Pashtuns use Persian as their first language – making it the biggest linguistic group in the country. Despites Persian’s historical dominance and wealth, the country’s national anthem was imposed in Pashto language by the 2004 Constitution to the great majority’s dismay. Pakistan's adopted Persian language for its national anthem is an acknowledgement of Persian’s richness and historical importance in this region.
For this reason, we urge all western authors, to avoid repeating the "majority myth" in the future. This land is a mosaic of minorities, all of whom can live in peace and harmony with each other, and with the rest of the world, except with the Afghan (Pashtun) bullies who have deprived everyone from enjoying freedom, progress and development over the last couple of centuries in this land. Two-third of the populations in this land are sedentary enough to understand the benefit of peace and understand with whom and where their true interests lie. The unfortunate thing is that because of the Afghan (Pashtun) religious radicals, terrorists, and un-enlightened minority… everyone in this land is being seen by the world as xenophobic, drug smuggler, fanatic, suicide bomber and uncivilized - not knowing that this region/land, known as Khorasan until late 1800s, has been home to many renowned poets, philosophers, theologians, physicians, astronomer, logician, mathematicians and polymaths, such as Rumi, Khayyam, Avicenna, Razi (Rhases), Al-biruni and so on. Under the Pashtun rule, this land has now become home to xenophobic Taliban fanatics, serial killers, women oppressors, drug lords, warlords, mafia and pedophiles. These are some of the reasons why the rest of the population are distancing themselves from the “Afghan” identity.
The nationalist and ethno-centric Afghan (Pashtun) political elites, such as Afghan Milat, Khaliqi, Hezb-e Islami, have historically misled the uneducated Pashtuns into believing that they are the majority in this country. This has created a sense of entitlement and supremacy among the Pashtuns and has made it difficult for them to reconcile with non-Afghans, who make up some two-third of the population, easily. Their expectations are needed to be lowered and a true census organized under international supervision if Afghanistan is to see the stability this war-torn country in 21st century.
The word "Afghanistani" to be preferred over the word "Afghan" given that both of them come from the same root: i.e. Afghan. It is because this geographical land, at the moment, is known as Afghanistan and to not cause any confusion we can provisionally say Afghanistani (those from Afghanistan irrespective of their ethnicity and tribe: Tajiks, Uzbeks, Harazars, Pashtuns, Noristani etc.) The Afghanistani word is a bit neutral than the word "Afghan" which is more loaded. The long-term preference is the old name, Khorasan, can serve as an umbrella term for all the ethnic minorities of the country. Historically, in Khorasan all ethnic groups were residing and it can represent all of them much better and fairer.
(1) Rahimi, M.R. (2008) 'The Impact of Constitutional Framework on Democratic Consolidation and Conflict Management in Divided Societies" P.95.
(3) Ozkirimli.U (2005). Contemporary Debates On Nationalism (A Critical Engagement) 1st Edition (Palgrave Macmillan).