Why is there no independent Pashtun nation?

Afghanistan - the second face

Sayed Asef Hossaini

is a PhD student at the "Willy Brandt School of Public Policy" in Erfurt. He studied philosophy and sociology at Kabul University and public policy at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. During his studies in Kabul he was politically active as chairman of a student movement.

The role of ethnic groups and tribes in Afghan state-building and politics dates back to the 18th century, when the country was established following a nine-day "jirga" (traditional tribal gathering). Today the Loja Jirga is a parallel organ to other institutions such as parliament and the Senate - and reduces their influence.

Men's round: More than 2000 tribal and regional leaders, politicians, military officials and others came together on November 17, 2011 in Kabul for the Loja Jirga. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)


Around 140,000 foreign troops are expected to have left Afghanistan by the end of 2014. After 13 years, political responsibility is passed to the Afghan government, which has been in power since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. This text is devoted to the question of successful state formation in Afghanistan, the role of the various ethnic groups in the process of nation-building and their interrelationship with the Afghan government. He also discusses the role of the tribes in the process of state formation.

In anthropology, a tribe is defined as "a symbolic social group based on subgroups and having temporary or permanent political protection. The groups have a tradition based on common ancestors, their language, culture and ideology." (Britannica 2012). Tribe describes a less complex form of social organization, the members of which are held together by an understanding of a common ancestry and mutual kinship relationships. Up until the middle of the 20th century, political science and ethnology contrasted this notion of a tribe with the higher-ranking structure of the state. In contrast, in ethnology, a definition of tribe that is based on self-identification as well as the cultural, religious and ethnic identity of the respective social group continues to be important.

The subgroups of the tribes are also known as clans. In this article, the role of the "clans" in the process of state building and nation building shall be briefly examined.

In ethnology and anthropology, a clan is a kinship group that refers to a common ancestor, but without being able to derive the descent completely. A more precise definition of clan, which has established itself in the English and German-language research literature, goes back to the American anthropologist George P. Murdock (1897–1985). Murdock refers to a family group who live together on a territory together as a clan. Spouses in marriage are included here, excluding those who marry away. The affiliation is determined by the patrilinearity. This definition also applies to Afghanistan.

An ethnic group is a group of people who are assigned a collective identity. Attribution criteria can be legends of origin, ancestry, history, culture, language, religion, the connection to a specific territory and a feeling of solidarity. [1]

The role of the ethnic groups and tribes in the formation of the Afghan state and politics goes back to a time when Afghanistan was founded in the 18th century following a nine-day "jirga" (traditional get-together) and the government of Ahmad Shah Abdali was constituted. The chronicler of Afghan history Mir Mohammad Ghobar writes that this "Jirga" was made up of Khans (tribal princes) of the Gheljaeis, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Baluch and Tajiks. [2]

Distribution of the different ethnic groups in Afghanistan (& copy REGIERUNGonline)
After the Pashtuns came to power, the role of other "ethnic groups" in Afghanistan's history became less important. The Pashtuns tried to shape the new state on their own. The German Afghanistan expert Conrad Schetter writes: "The ruling Pashtun family, which came to power through 'British India', favored Pashtun elements in their concept of 'state and nation' [...] The politics of the ruling family set their own ethnic patterns to bring public goods and administration under their control. "[3]

The non-Pashtun ethnic groups, i.e. the Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeken, gradually lost influence under pressure from the ruling ethnic group. The process of "state and nation building" was limited to actions and reactions between the central government in Kabul and Pashtun tribes. But there was constant fighting and political rivalries between the Pashtun tribes as well.

The Iranian sociologist Hossein Boshiria says: "The most important political tensions occurred among the Pashtun tribes themselves; there was always political rivalry, especially between Durranis and Barekzais." or inextricably linked to the role of the Pashtuns in relation to central government.