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The Wandering Pashtuns




Moving from place to place is an attribute of Pashtun culture celebrated in “Kabuliwala”, a poem by Rabindranath Tagore. He has been recognized as one of those who won the Bengali poet a Nobel Prize for Literature, a rarity for a South Asian writer. It tells the story of a fruit merchant named Rehmat who leaves Kabul, his hometown, and travels to Calcutta every year to sell his produce. While in Bengal, he meets a young Bengali girl named Mini whom he begins to treat as his adopted daughter because she reminds him of the one he left in Kabul.

Rehmat has a secondary activity. He collects the loans granted by his Pashtun compatriots. He lands in prison for his practices. Several years later, he was pardoned and when he was released from prison, he went in search of Mini. When he manages to locate her, she does not remember him and does not recognize him. Rehmat is heartbroken. The theme of “Kabuliwala” focuses on some of the practices that have produced the Pashtuns’ envy to travel. The sale of fruit and the granting of loans brought the Pashtuns all over British India, especially in the areas that were to be part of Pakistan. Demographers have estimated the world’s Pashtuns at 60-70 million, the vast majority of whom now live in Pakistan. Of Afghanistan’s current population of 38 million, the Pashtuns represent less than a majority – 15 million – or 39 percent of the total. For half a century, the Pashtuns have once again traveled long distances. They went to the Middle East, building housing and infrastructure.

Another great wave of Pashtun migration was produced by the invasion of their country by the Soviet Union. Some 4 to 5 million refugees were initially accommodated in camps built with assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, which also helped manage what was to be temporary shelters. It didn’t work like that. Hundreds of thousands of people have slipped out of the camps and made their homes in the major cities of Pakistan. Karachi, which already had a large Pashtun settlement in Sohrab Goth, on the outskirts of Pakistan’s largest city, attracted thousands of newcomers. By all accounts, Karachi is now the largest Pashtun city in the world, having overtaken Kabul and Peshawar.

The United States, with its 20-year involvement in Afghanistan and the fact that tens of thousands of Afghans have worked in various capacities with the Americans, expects large numbers of people to settle in the country. A massive evacuation was carried out for two weeks between August 15, when the government led by President Ashraf Ghani collapsed, and July 30, when the last US military carrier left the country. Almost 100,000 Afghan citizens were withdrawn, tens of thousands who wanted to leave could not afford to leave. Afghans living abroad are trying to get their loved ones out. New York Times’ Mark Landler in a dispatch for his newspaper recounted how Summia Tora, the very first Rhodes Scholar for Afghanistan, managed to get her father and uncle out of Afghanistan. “She was able to use her connections at Oxford University and with a foundation funded by billionaire former Google CEO Eric Schmidt to secure seats for her father and uncle on a non-U.S. Military flight that took left Kabul on August 24. “

Getting people out is one side of the problem, fixing them is another. But the response in the United States, especially in cities such as the city of Phoenix, Arizona, has been encouraging. This is especially the case after former President Donald Trump made no secret of his opposition to the immigration to the country of people of color, especially those belonging to the Islamic faith. According to one account, across the United States, Americans from all political backgrounds are showing up to welcome the Afghans who aided the American war effort in one of the largest mass mobilizations since the end of the War of the United States. Vietnam.

Even though much of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan has been fenced, the fences are easy to cross and it has started to happen. At this point, it’s hard to say how the new arrival of the Taliban would affect Pakistan’s politics and economy. According to a newspaper report, in a Karachi park, Maulana Fazlur Rahman – who launched a campaign a few months ago to overthrow the government headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan – cited the Taliban victory across the border as a successful revolution to bring about political change. In Pakistan. According to Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies in Islamabad, “with the Taliban takeover, anti-Pakistani terrorist groups will be emboldened, but it does not end there. There could be an emergence of new narratives in the country, which will transform the ongoing debates about state and society and the role religion plays. Shortly after Khan’s election in 2018, an ultra-religious group called Tehreek-i-Labaik (TLP) fought police and rocked towns in Pakistan after a Christian woman was acquitted in a blasphemy. Protesters revolted again against French President Emmanuel Macron praising a French teacher beheaded by a radical Islamist. In April, Imran Khan banned the TLP and its leader, sparking a new wave of unrest.

Now that the Taliban have taken control of Kabul, they may not be able to establish a strong presence in the country’s capital unless they are prepared to work with groups in the country who believe differently. One of these questions is the role of women in society. The rapid and unexpected movements in Afghanistan on August 15, 2021 raised serious concerns about the future of women in the country. That day, as the Taliban advanced towards Kabul, President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, departing by helicopter and eventually landing in the United Arab Emirates. He was accompanied by a number of his relatives. The president and his colleagues saw what was coming: they saw the Taliban regaining control of the government as they had done in 1996. Ghani’s departure resulted in the dissolution of the armed forces of the country that the United States had. formed by spending billions of dollars bringing in new recruits and training and equipping them. On the day Ghani flew away, the Taliban entered the presidential palace and their leaders spoke at a press conference.

They promised to rule the country differently from what they had done in the five-year period when they were in charge. Then among the many changes they made was the treatment of women. They imposed on the country what they considered to be Islamic ways. Women were to be educated only in the Koran and the Sunnah. They could not leave their homes without being accompanied by male relatives. They could work outside their homes and had to cover themselves from head to toe. These policies attracted a lot of attention outside the country, but foreigners – even the most liberal Afghans – felt helpless. Would Afghanistan return to this period? Only time will tell.

Posted in The Express Tribune on September 13, 2021.

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