Transformation of Pashtun culture

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  • Through misrepresentation and biases

 

By: Taj Nabi Khan

 The cultural landscape of Pashtun society has undergone more drastic changes during the last few decades than ever before due to the fast changing geo-strategic, geo-political conditions and globalization in the region. The area has become the battle ground for world powers which has affected the overall social structure of the society.

Firstly, the collective centers of culture that held the Pashtuns strongly connected were targeted by the colonizers, the British Empire with peculiar oppressive laws when they were ruling over the sub-continent. Secondly, after independence, excessive religiosity of the typical mullahs has targeted the creative arts and healthy activities in the region.

Thirdly, under the Zia regime of Islamization and Afghan war had changed the entire landscape of the Pashtun culture   – replaced the Pashtu literature with Jehadi stuff of literature, pens with weapons, and musical instruments with loud speakers. Afterwards, the militant groups started targeting the artists (musicians and singers) and the art centers along with historical sites of heritage and tombs of saint poets.

The process has also dismantled the strongly enacted combined family system to nuclear families for adopting more urbanized lifestyle – some still searching from pillar to post to get peaceful and secure environment for their businesses in bigger cities

Islamization in the society was followed by ‘Talibanic version of Islam’ and their worldviews. Thus after radicalization of madrassah students with ‘Jehadi narrative’, their approach turned towards forceful assertion of religious teachings in public domains. Resultantly, the society was introduced to the kalashinkove culture. It has also witnessed imposition of Sharia law with extreme acts of violence. Likewise, media has also generalized and shaped the identity of the community more with the approach of racial profiling – militants wearing typical Pashtuns’ dress with turban. In the post-9/11 scenario, terrorists were identified and generalized with Pashtun and vice versa – almost all of the cultural peculiarities of Pashtuns were attached to the terrorists.

The community has suffered and still continues to suffer in reaction to Talibanization and terrorism – a number of military operations were launched to address the issue of rising militancy in the area has turned a large part of the community internally displaced. Consequently, their businesses destroyed, infrastructure dismantled, and their cultural institutions and entertainment activities have affected to a great deal.

The community sheltered in other areas for seeking livelihood. The process has also dismantled the strongly enacted combined family system to nuclear families for adopting more urbanized lifestyle – some still searching from pillar to post to get peaceful and secure environment for their businesses in bigger cities.

The commercial Pashto dramas, a cheap source of entertainment, had on one hand negatively misrepresented the Pashtun culture and way of life – most of the scenes reflect violence, drugs, weapons and abusive language. It has brought about negative effects on minds of the youngsters – with excessive display of 4-W’s (Women, Weapons, Wine and Wealth).

The poetry has also affected to a great deal – incorporated words from war, terror, blasts, and trauma. The songs too turned from rich thematic to surface meanings with noise and music in the background. The film industry could not survive at all – the cinema too targeted with bomb blasts.

The creative artists and musicians of the area were targeted and criticized along with their musical instruments. The concept of collective and social lifestyle with unique cultural institutions of the community: Hujra, Jirga, Nanawati, collective sense, celebrations, traditional and social events were also criticized both by the religious orthodox and modernists.

The religious seminaries whose number multiplied in the wake of the Afghan war in the Pashtun dominated areas were defended and supported by the leaders of religio-political parties who failed to understand the international game being played in their areas by the world powers.

However, throughout the nationalist progressive political parties remained loyal to the land and its people in their narrative against the foreign onslaughts on Pashtun culture. As a result, they had also suffered the brunt of terrorism more than others in the region.

The collective memories about the great Pashtun heroes and their deeds of bravery against the oppressors and colonizers have almost washed away along with the old generation. The Pashtun are actually different from the way they have been presented to the world – they are more misrepresented like Muslims in the western world.

 

The Author is Journalist based in Islamabad. Email: [email protected]