On the way to political stability, every society has to go through numerous periods of crisis one of which is the identity crisis. The journey to national unity, social harmony and political stability begins with solving a nation’s identity.
According to Émile Durkheim- a well-known French sociologist- the issue of identity crisis arises when a nation leaves all the set values of the past behind, and is unable to set new values and norms. As a result, the society and its culture are stranded in a crisis. This is when people start asking questions like; who were we? What were our roots? Why has this situation been created? How to be? Where to go? The way people and societies answer these questions defines their identity.
As a result of its geo-political location, our country has been facing many dangerous crises for a long time. These historical and cultural questions should have been solved by our political and national leaders in the past because as long as they remain unanswered, the road to prosperity and development of our country gets longer and longer. Identity is what introduces a man or his nation to others.
The word “Afghan” is presented as our common national identity all over the world. There have been a lot of discussions and debates over this word which according to us is pretty natural. This article will try to find the roots of this using only sources from Alam Sayed Jamaluddin Afghani, Ahmad Shah Abdali and Amir Abdul Rahman Khan. I won’t use any sources from Ghubar, Habib, Farhang and other scholars and historians.
Sayed Jamaluddin Afghani because he is a well-known and respected figure in our country, Ahmad Shah Abdali because of being the founder of this country and Abdul Rahman Khan because this country with the current borders was established during his reign.
According to history and language books, “Afghan” is a Persian word which means “to shout” or “to whine” and it has been referred to one of the original ethnic groups of our country. History shows that the word “Afghan” was referred to only one ethnic group not only before Ahmad Shah Abdali, but even during his kingdom. To prove this, we can refer to Ahmad Shah’s letter to Ottoman Emperor, Sultan Mustafa the third. The original letter is still preserved in Istanbul Archive and its contents were first published under the title “Ahmad Shah Baba’s letter to Mustafa the third” with notes from Ghulam Jilani Jalali (father of Ali Ahmad Jalali, Karzai’s former home minister) and an introductory note by Abdulhai Habibi in the year 1346. It was later republished in 1383 in Qisa Khwani bazzar, Peshawar by Danish Books.
In this letter, Ahmad Shah speaks about Nadir Afshar: “He has captured Khurasan, Iraq, Persia (Fars), Azerbaijan, all of Iran, India and Turkistan and he is oppressing the great Afghan tribe…”Pages 16 and 17. We can see that Ahmad Shah Baba has mentioned a great tribe called “Afghan”. These two words are also repeated again and again in this letter:” …leaders and heads of the great Afghan tribe have researched and conclude that the country of India is bigger than all other countries in the world.”
Just like in conversational language today, the word “Afghan” was used as opposed to “Tajik”, “Uzbek”, “Hazara”, and “Arab” at that time.
Another source that can be used to prove this point is a book called “تتمة البيان في تاريخ الأفغان” by Sayed Jamaluddin Afghani. Apart from many articles and letters, he’s written two books, one in Persian and one in Arabic. His Persian book is titled “نیچریه” or “Naturalism”. And the book mentioned above is in Arabic which was published in 1901 in Egypt. Its Pashtu translation was later published by “Pashtu Academy” in Quetta, Pakistan in 1979. It’s also available in the United States Congress library under the registration number (MLCSN 97/777 – DS).
Sayed Jamaluddin has discussed the origins and meaning of the word “Afghan” in the first chapter of his book. He says, :”Persians used to call them “Afghan” and the reason was because they were shouting and whining when they were captured by “Bakht Nasr”. In Persian, “Afghan” means to shout or to whine. Ordinary Persian (Farsiwans) call them “Awghan”, Indians call them “Pathan”, some pashtun tribes who live in Kandahar call themselves “Pashtun” or “Pashtan”… and Afghans who live in Khowst, Karam and Bajour call themselves “Pakhtu” or “Pakhtan”.
In the second chapter of his book, Jamaluddin Afghani writes:” …these people are a combination of different tribes which are “Ghiljai”, “Abdul”, “Kakar”, “Duzbri”, “Yousufzai”, “Mohmand”, “Afridi”, “Bangash” and other branches who call themselves after the place they live in, like “Khosti”, “Karami” and “Bajouri”.
Sayed also writes: “Each of the tribes mentioned here are divided into many smaller tribes. For example, “Ghiljai” tribe is divided into “Hotak”, “Tokhi” and “Oriakhel” branches… And then these smaller tribes are divided into even smaller branches and we don’t want to go into the details about them here. All these branches and tribes have only one root and origin which is “Pashtu” and “Pashtan”. He also writes in another place:” The language of the Afghans is called “Pashtu”.” Page 19.
The 4th chapter of the book”تتمة البيان في تاريخ الأفغان “ which focuses on characteristics and customs of our people starts with this phrase:” “Afghans” live in the south and southeastern parts of Afghanistan. “ This world famous scholar and social philosopher who had traveled many countries was very honest in his observations and writings. He has discussed characteristics and customs of all ethnicities and tribes in the country. He believed that we should know both positive and negative aspects of our society. Ignoring our flaws will only be an obstacle in the process of social prosperity. If he was with us today, he would surely be the subject of insult and blames by the fascist and chauvinist elements and maybe that’s why he couldn’t live in this society even then.
In Abdul Rahman’s political literature, “Afghani” is synonymous with “Pashtun” and “Pathan”. In his book (التواریخ تاج) he writes:” …I spoke with my companions in the “Afghani” language and told him to surround Mir Baba. “ page 186. Later on page 188 when he speaks about his battles with the Mirs of Badakhshan, he says:” …I told my servants in “Afghani” language that they should capture the front gate.” We can easily speculate what he meant by this language called “Afghani”. He later adds:” …This is the same “Afghani” whom you were insulting”
On page 264 of his book, Abdul Rahman speaks about his battles with the hazaras:” …they attacked on a group of the “Afghani” army.” On page 272 , he proudly writes about his battles with Nuristanis:” …this tribe was so barbaric that they exchanged their wives with cows from the “Afaghana”(plural of the word Afghan) tribes who lived nearby. “ On page 40 of this book, he writes:” Amir of Bukhara was willing to learn how the “Afghans” treated the people of Badakhshan.”
Abdul Rahman never mentions in his book about the “Afghanistan Nation”. He only mentions tribes called “tajik”, “Arab“ “Afghan” and “hazara” to refer to the people of this country.
Apart from the above sources, in an article posted on “sarnavisht” website in 2005, Mr. Fazl Rahman Fazil also proves that the words “Pashtun” and “Afghan” as well as the words “Pashtu” and “Afghani” are synonymous with each other. His references are documents from the different regimes of the past .
In Nadir Shah’s constitution, drafted in both Dari and Pashtu in 1310 (1931) in Kabul. The second page, article one which is devoted to (King’s rights) begins with this phrase:” For his services and sacrifices to Afghanistan’s independence, His Majesty Nadir Shah “Afghan” …” The Pashtu version of this article uses the word “Pashtun” in place of “Afghan” above. We can see that the Afghanistan government substitutes the word “Afghan” with “Pashtun” in its most important document.
In 1315 (1936) the last King of Afghanistan Mohammad Zahir Shah issued an order to his uncle and the then prime minister, Shah Wali Khan. The text of this order was later published in Kabul Almanac and also in government official newsletter (Eslah)in 1315. In this order, the then King says:” It’s obvious that the issue of language is very important in a nation’s unity and culture and special attention to this matter should be one of the priorities of a country. On one hand, Farsi e Dari is spoken largely in our country and on the other hand, a large part of our country speak in “Afghani” language. Governmental officials don’t speak Pashtu and as a result, they face many difficulties. Therefore, to solve this problem and ease official correspondence , we’ve decided to… efforts should be made to promote and revive the “Afghani” language. First of all, all government officials should learn this national language…you should order all ministries and provincial governments that all military and civilian officers must learn the “Afghani” language within three years and use it in conversation and written correspondence.”
We can see that in this order, the King speaks of a language called “Afghani”.
There is little doubt that a country named Afghanistan has existed only in the last two centuries. This country was sometimes called “Afghanistan and Turkistan” and at other times “Afghanistan and surrounding countries” (the term country was used for bigger provinces too at that time). This doesn’t mean that a tribe under this name hasn’t existed for a long time. The word “Afghan” existed centuries before the creation of a country named “Afghanistan”. The book (العالم حدود) which was written more than a thousand years ago and (Tarikh e Yamini), (Tarikh e Ferishta), Abu Raihan Al birono and Ibne Batota are all books and scholars that have mentioned a tribe called “Afghan”. In 1964 version of Encyclopedia Britannica (1st volume), the word “Afghan” is defined as following:” …Afghans are a number of tribes who live in the Sulaiman Mountains and they speak Pashtu.”
The words “Afghan”, “Pashtun” and “Pathan” have also been used synonymously by poets of the past like Afghan Ludi, Abdulhai Habibi and Ferdousi. There is an area in Kabul city called “Deh Afghanan” which means “The village of Afghans”. A place in Faizabad, Badakhshan is called “Guzar e Afghani” and there are other locations and places throughout the country with similar names. This wouldn’t have happened and would be meaningless in a country where all the citizens considered themselves to be “Afghan”.
Linking the name of a governing tribe or family to a country or nation is not a new phenomenon. Iranians were called “Medes” at the time of the Median Empire, “Parsi” during the Sasanid and Achaemenian Empires and “Parth” at the time of Parthian Empire. Arabs also called the people of Iran “Farsi” (Persian) and their country “Fars” (Persia). Persians did the same and called all Arabs “Tazi”. This name was originally referred to Arab tribes who lived next to Iranians since the Sasanid Empire.
According to above and tens of other sources, the word “Afghan” has historically been referred to some specific tribes who live mostly in the south and southeast of our country. There is no doubt that these people are brave, noble and one of the original inhabitants of this country. They have played a significant part in our country’s history and should be proud of it. But it is also true that no one can impose the identity of a tribe on others by political or military force. Neither is it possible by faking and stubbornness. At the age of identity outbursts, self awareness and national states, there is no place for forced identities.
As a result of this vague identity, some believe that the marching of tens of thousands of Pakistani nationals from NWFP during Taliban regime were not seen as an foreign invasion by our ordinary people and thus they remained mostly calm despite all the atrocities they committed in Shamali, Mazar, Hazarajat, Herat, Takhar, Jalalabad …
Changing the name of the country may not sound like a priority at this time, but if this name remains an excuse for political monopoly, threatening other people’s identity, cutting our people down from the glorious and ancient history and civilizations and finally imposing the identity and customs of one ethnic group on all other inhabitants of our country. Then it should be a priority for all those who believe in social justice and human rights, regardless of their ethnicity or race. Furthermore, choosing or changing the name of a country is every nation’s right. Specially if this name was chosen by others (Afghanistan as a name of our country was first used in 1801 in a treaty between the British and Persian governments referring to the then Durrani Empire. Before that, it was mentioned as a region where “Afghans” lived by (Saifi Hirawi) in his book “Tarikh e Herat” (History of Herat) for the first time. He was referring to south and southeastern areas of today’s Afghanistan as well as NWFP in Pakistan. The name of the country is surely not something divine which the people shouldn’t have any right to change.
Those who use the word “Afghanistani” in place of “Afghani” are neither making a mistake nor committing a crime. It’s not a mistake because they want to use a word to which all our people can relate to and their position is based on historical and social facts. And it’s not a crime because no one has asked for the separation of our beloved country yet. Invitation to separate, killings, slavery, helping foreign invasions, creating divisions and claiming superiority to others is treason , but ignoring and rejecting other people their identity and melting them in one ethnicity and tribe is a huge crime.
The purpose of this article is not to discriminate or promote it. It’s an effort to unveil a reality. A reality some people with certain agendas don’t want to hear or know about. We believe that all our countrymen are brothers and sisters who have lived together for centuries and will do so till eternity. These people have joined hands and fought together to defend their freedom and independence against foreign invasions many times in the past. They share the same memories and past glory. But, when we want to build a nation and have national unity and national identity, it should be based on facts not fantasy and fiction. Unfortunately, some writers who want to defend their own interests and identity lie to us and fake history. Some others deliberately act ignorant. These dear brothers should understand that there is a fundamental problem regarding our national identity that needs to be solved through mutual respect, good will and in the right spirit based on historic facts and correct political principles.
National unity cannot be created by ignoring reality, imposing, stubbornness, insults, division, false accusations and disregarding historical facts. Our leaders, politicians and scholars should have thought about solving this issue a long time ago, but they haven’t done that. If anything, they made it even more complicated and as a result we are left with a vague and indefinable identity. Our incorrect identity needs some serious fixing. For that, the answer to this questions is very important and crucial