Are Pashtun a Tribe ?Tracing the meanings of the usage “Pashtun tribe by Shpoon Sial


Let me first discuss the colonial definition of tribal society which has mostly negative connotations. I will discuss the original definition in another post.
The colonial writers have defined tribal as follows.
1. Tribal society is “pre-literate”, which means that tribal societies are oral and they have not yet produced a written script and written literature.
2. Tribal society is at a lower evolutionary stage. that is they have evolved from “bands” into “tribes” but they have yet to evolve into “chiefdom” and then finally into the “state.”
3. Tribal societies have primitive mode of production. which means they are “pre-industrial”. that they do not produce or consume anything sophisticated. they only produce basic foods and basic tools to survive. there are no factories or any sophisticated production.
4. Tribal societies are “lawless” and “unstable.”
If points discussed above are the definition of tribal society then Pashtuns are not and have not been a tribal society for centuries.
Rebuttal to the colonial definition of “tribe/tribal.”
In the last post, I enumerated four features of colonial definition of tribe which I gleaned from various sources. So it does not mean that colonial scholars believed that in order to be a tribe all the definitions need to be fulfilled. But they must have some of the features outlined in the previous post.
My rebuttal to colonial definition:
1. So they say that tribes are “pre-literate”. well, we all know well that we have a Pashto language script for centuries and we have Pashtun authors that go way back in history. So Pashtuns cannot be defined as “pre-literate.”
2. They said that tribal society is at the lower stage and has to go through several stages in order to finally emerge as a state. Well, this is a stupid argument, to be frank. In philosophy, it is called “teleology” that is time moves toward a goal, in this case towards the state.
3. They said tribal societies are “pre-industrial” and have “primitive” mode of production. If that had been true then Pashtuns would have been eating Onion with bread and making only hunting tools. as pointed out by Akber S. Ahmed, go see the arms factories making sophisticated weapon in Darra Adam Kheil. no primitive mode of production can do that.
4. Colonial writers said tribal societies are “lawless”. My head explodes with anger when people say that. How come tribal societies are lawless. Pashtunwali and institutions like Jirga function as laws in tribal areas. if they had been lawless then as Hobbs said life would have been “nasty, brutish, and short” it was never like that. It is now thanks to our state policies, but this is not because of the internal mechanism of Pashtun tribal society.
I want to explain what we mean when we say Pashtuns are a tribe. Following are the defining features of Pashtun tribe.
1. tribes are kinship based group. which means that all Pashtuns consider themselves descendant of a common ancestor. For instance tracing back Pashtuns to Qais/Abdur Rashid or even way back to King Saul (yes, the same King Saul mentioned in the Bible and the Quran). Syeds are therefore not considered Pashtuns because they consider themselves direct descendants of the prophet
You can oppose “tribe” to “Ummah” which is not kinship based but is religious based or nation which is mostly defined territorially.
2. The kinship is patrilineal which means your father must be Pashtun. not necessary for all tribes but for Pashtuns it is.
3. Pashtuns are tribal because it is acephalous society which means that there is no chief or ruler. the society is organized and mediated by cultural institutions such as Jirga and so on. (Malik and Khan were the product of colonial interference. khans worked for the colonial government and were despised by ordinary tribal Pashtuns. Traditionally there was no khan, at least in the sense that we now have. Pashtuns who live under the state control such as in the so-called “settled areas” are strictly speaking not tribal because they live under the centralized authority of the state.
4. Tribal society has patron-client relationship. which means that Pashtuns do not accept a dominated position especially in their mode of production? They value independence and autonomy and control at least of their own household. that is why Pashtuns did not use to do business (especially, cloth merchants, or dukandari, which was left to Hindus and then to non-Pashtuns) because that would automatically put you in a client position, that is you persuade, cajole others to buy your stuff . Another example is Mulla, he is not considered Pashtun because he is a client rather than a patron that is he provides services rather than receiving services. He prays at funerals, leads prayers and so on. All of which are services, similarly, carpenter, weaver, cook, musician, all are considered non-Pashtuns because they serve others that provide services.

written by shpoon Sial



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The transformation of people of FATA from Noble Jihadi to terrorists for Pakistan did not take long?  FATA was mostly left to its own devices, used and discarded whenever needed.

The utility of FATA and its people for Pakistan state can be traced back to Kashmir jihad of 1948, when the slogan of Islam was used by the state. . Afghanistan jihad of 1979 further sealed FATA status as Jihad producing factory. World capitalists power engaged in their ideological battle with Soviet Union and Pakistan military state played the role of big fat ring leader to the crimes committed in the name of jihad. From providing human fodder to drugs factories, Jihadi madrasa all were produced, operated and executed with the blessing of Pakistan state. Afghan jihad was the seal of authority which stamped FATA and its people as Noble Jihadi for Pakistan.  . When  the  time span of jihad as military option  in Afghanistan  expired with the disintegration of soviet union , the exalted  status of FATA was lost on our state, however  it continued to keep FATA under laws introduced by British 1901,basically as a  part of Pakistan but isolated politically ,socially and economically . Pakistan military and state continued to patronize, more than 15,000 Arabs, Uzbek and Chechen who were repatriated to and settled in FATA to fight holy war against the Soviets and to be further used for future projects.

The break from romance of Noble jihadi savages to Terrorists came when 9/11 happened. American war against AL Qaeda and its consequences for Pakistan in result of suicide bombing in settled areas and, ultimate operations of Pakistan army. During Afghan War nearly 1,000 or so unregistered madrassas which were established primarily in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), many of which preached jihad against infidels begun to preach the same jihad against its mentor.

.Pakistan Military has launched twelve major operations since 2002 against Taliban, Al-Qaida and minor operations trying to cleanse FATA from terrorists and or give back its exalted status of producing for decades now only the noble jihadi or the good Taliban ( strategic assets ).

One  such operation started on December 18 when a suicide bomb attacked an army checkpoint in North Waziristan, a stronghold for al Qaeda-linked Taliban militants on Pakistan’s mountainous border with Afghanistan.

“From the first day of the attack until now 70 civilians have been killed,” said a tribal elder in Mir Ali village who declined to be identified for fear of state reprisals. Residents said bodies were left in the open in the villages of Mosaki and Hasukhel as terrified villagers fled the area.

“We are moving our families to keep them safe but the army’s mortars and shells are following us,” said Asad Sher of Mir Ali. “Please tell us where is safe. The army is demolishing our homes and bazaars

More than 70 civilian has lost life in this game between the military and  the bad Taliban although our army spokesman has denied the civilian casualty and claimed to have killed terrorists (now) and mostly foreigner like Uzbek and Chechen. The drone supporter will now   have enough to talk about and discuss.      The liberals of our media has welcome the operation, mostly citing the reasons that Taliban were not ready for peace talks and declaring the civilian casualty of women and children as collateral damage.

While the military has denied that it’s a prelude to a military operation “This is not, and I repeat, not the beginning of a larger military operation in North Waziristan,” said Major General Bajwa of the ISPR.

The military sympathetic journalists with better access to military mind-set has described it breaking of the code by the villagers, citing one article  the writer  says this is what happens when you break the code. The agreement with [Taliban commander] Gul Bahadur has been standing since 2006. It clearly stipulates upon the locals that either they take care of the foreigners, or we do. That’s why it’s reasonable for army to deploy just one division [with roughly 10,000 men] in an area where there are over 20,000 hardened fighters…because there’s a code.”

The article further citing his source continued: “Our deployment is enough for us to establish a writ. Without a go-ahead from the civilian government for a final mop-up operation, we are in a ‘holding position’: not doing too much and not doing too little. But the foreigners have exploited that agreement. They’ve settled here. And now, they’ve broken the code.

Under the Collective responsibility  of FCR (FRONTIER CRIME REGULATIONS), not only those harbouring the terrorists who dared to attack the army contingent but the whole village and area is responsible for the crime committed against the state, so everybody from children to women are responsible and must bear the brunt of army shelling, cobra gunship helicopters and mortars.

The most liberating and humanistic response came from Dharna performing politician of Pakistan Imran khan of PTI , who values anti  drones  campaign very highly and has a narrative which has convinced half of Pakistan population that is ” Drones produces militants”. Although why drones happens he is not too bothered but he sells it successfully to the urban Pakistan.” Jihadi savage Pukhtun brothers has revolted against Drones”.

In an official statement on Saturday, Imran repeated his condemnation of the attack against the military personnel in NWA which led to the martyrdom of five soldiers.

He said civilians – especially women and children – were already the victims of drone attacks and now a military action was causing more suffering to those, who were not responsible for this war.

Although his humanistic approach never allows him to question the military establishment

“Why are these tribal  kept as jihadi   or more importantly why is this area kept under political social and economic isolation and deliberately kept militarised?

If military claims that they had to take out foreigner to perform their sting operation then please ask the  military why is this area still hosting remnants of Afghan jihad?

And when the jihadi  challenged the military might, only than military had to under take an operation against them  and in the process punish the whole of population indiscriminately? In plain words Army held the whole civilian population including women and children to take care of   jihadi remnant  of Afghan War.

If drone kill militants along with local populations than do accept the fact that not only drones but these state gone wrong proxies and Pakistan army  is equally responsible for the murder, displacement and misery of the people of FATA. The other mainstream political parties like ANP and PPP has made feeble attempt to call for an inquiry into civilian deaths.While  Defa-i-Pakistan Council (DPC) has termed the attack as US ploy to sabotage the dialogue process and urged the government to end military operation in the tribal areas ,an expected response by  crying  hoarse over drones, peace dialogue gone wrong by the far right.

The liberals can cheer the operation but it’s not an operation which will bring peace to the rest of Pakistan if the rest of Pakistan include other than Punjab.  It might even help in the recruitment drive of the Taliban exploiting the already bruised emotions of the civilian, as we are already  seeing  video’s and pictures being circulated on social media of civilian deaths and internal displacements . .

The  unfortunate reality of the day however  is that this indiscriminate killing will be hushed, when  the  system of  corrupt Malik and political agent providing few thousand rupees as compensation  will be given to the extremely improvised population for their dead  . Once again another story regarding FATA misery which had hit headlines of Pakistan newspaper will die down.

The golden goose called FATA for Pakistan establishment, military, TTP, and other vested interest will continue to play the role which it has been playing since 1948 Kashmir jihad. We will continue to have places in our villages called sheedano danda (our martyrs burial ground). The question is for how long the piecemeal solutions and, the special status of FATA will  prevail with urban Pakistan ?

Work Cited  .Noreen Naseer , Federally Administered Tribal Areas:  Conflict and Militarisation paper read at JNU .



drone pic

When we talk about FATA (federally administered tribal areas) the emotions which it stirs in urban Pakistan mainly are only related to anti-drones attack causing civilian casualties, fuelling terrorism and violation of our sovereignty. We have recently seen a popular political party raising the issue of Drones and performing dharna and ultimately closing   NATO Supply lines going through Peshawar Torkam border. Going through newspaper and  reading the comments  of supporters of anti-drone policy, I initially felt   that finally the romance  of urban  Pakistan with FATA ,and the narrative of  portraying  people from FATA  as  warriors race was over   . The urban Pakistan living under 1973 constitution which provides them fundamentals rights like right to fair trial, right to freedom of speech, right to access to information, liberty, dignity, equal protection under law, privacy of the home, so on and so forth has finally recognised that People of FATA are vulnerable and, they are ready to own people of this region.

Of course my delusion was not for long.  The most important question which has failed to capture the mind and discourse of our literate Pakistani” why is that region   kept under deliberates political and social isolation. Why is the outrage over Drone debate not linked to FATA reforms and immediate streamlining into Pakistani society?  For urban Pakistan FATA is their Achilles heel because it is the hub of all terrorism and how   drone fuels terrorism.  So drones must stop. Beyond that debate FATA is not exciting enough. I apologise for trying to question the moral indignation of the urban Pakistan over the drone debate. It is  however not important for urban dharna participating crowd that   FATA which comprises of seven political agencies along with FR  areas   remains Pakistan   most  poorest region, with 3.1 million population which according to unofficial estimate has reached over  seven million . Nearly 66 % of the population lives below the poverty line.   The region continues to be directly governed by Pakistan’s federal government through a special set of laws called the Frontier Crimes Regulations, a body of law based on six chapters, 64 sections three schedules.  Article 247 of the 1973 constitution of Pakistan grants a special status to FATA, whereby no act of Parliament or the jurisdiction of the High /Supreme Judiciary is extendable to the region.  A  Body of rules FCR which guarantees no dignity of life and personal freedom to the people in the region. Literacy rate of FATA is only 17.42 %, compared to the national average of 40 %. Among women, it is 3 %, compared to the national average of 32 %. Per capita income is roughly $250, half the national average of $500 with a growth rate of 2.19 % only. With hardly 3% land holdings, FATA’s 50% population is dependent on trade activities with Afghan brethren on the other side of Durand line. FATA’s forbidding terrain further isolates tribal communities from markets, health and education services, and many outside positive influences. The above statistics places FATA in the Fourth world of the South. The tribal nature of the people portrayed in a manner, and  its geography being deliberately used to keep the region militarised. Defending the honour of Pakistan state the tribal were encouraged to fight jihad in Kashmir 1948, since the fortress of Islam that is Pakistan was in danger .The people of FATA Trigger happy cavemen were the ideal character for providing human fodder from 1948 onwards to the current war on terror..   The biggest war theatre in FATA was enacted by our military establishment   to fight the Islamic jihad in Afghanistan with petro dollars against the infidels of USSR   . In 1979 FATA assumed special importance for our state when Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.  Massive scale of jihad operation from human fodder recruitment to drugs factories started operating in the region conveniently. During Afghan War, more than 15,000 Arabs, Uzbek and Chechens were repatriated to and settled in FATA to fight holy war against the Soviets.


Also nearly 1,000 or so unregistered madrassas were established primarily in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), many of which preached jihad against infidels.  The continuation of FCR by the Pakistan state made their various adventures possible in the region from 1948 militarisation to the ultimate disintegration of the Soviet Union to the current War on terror.    There are roughly 21 left over Jihadi groups of 1979   and 39 sectarian groups operating in FATA. These jihadi now turned Taliban with different interest manipulate and control the local population .However thirteen peace agreements were signed between Taliban and government of Pakistan between the periods of 2007-9 without involving the local population at large. Normally in all these peace agreements signed with militant Taliban, people those sitting at Islamabad were taken on board and most of them lack understanding of local problems while dealing with these former jihadi now turned militants.To counter former jihadi    military operation   was  initiated by state of Pakistan   against the rouge Taliban .Pakistan Military has launched twelve major operations since 2002 against Taliban, Al-Qaida. These military operations have completely militarized/destroyed the social and economic life of FATA people. Presently military operations in tribal belt have led to the displacement of more than 3 million people. The largest displacement is from South Waziristan Agency where around 428,000 people are displaced. In summer of 2013, Pakistan military launched an operation in Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency which resulted into huge exodus of more than 80,000 people. The military operations, Taliban take over have played havoc with already most improvised area of the region. Agriculture, forests .water resources and lakes have been ruined. More than 32% of the education institutions in the tribal areas of Pakistan have been destroyed in militancy.   Along with education sector bombing of schools by Taliban, health sector has had major setback by targeting polio workers in the region. FATA has 41 hospitals for its seven million populations.

The whole debate on this war on terror has been dominated by very parochial, false and superficial discourse. All parties’ conference held by the Nawaz Sharif govt, which had participant from all major political parties in Pakistan, was a further disappointment.  The conference called the tribal people as our own people but called for no immediate and drastic reforms in the region not even by those who championed the anti-drone policy.  Urban Pakistan imagination is only caught up with one thing that how drones fuel insurgency and kill innocent people and it’s the cause of all terrorism.   Let’s assume these leftover jihadi did not exist in the tribal region before drones, or are not responsible for the killing of more than 15 hundred tribal elders (Malik’s) killing, murder and rape of local people. Or maybe 1979 radicalisation of the area never happened.  And we can deny that there are no Arabs Chechen Uzbek militants enjoying Pakistan state tattered sovereignty.   Or maybe I keep on forgetting they are sitting in Alaqa ghair (territory which is outside the domain of civil PAKISTAN)


The debate can be bought off by someone who is trying not to see the whole picture. Maybe if   Press and Media is allowed into the region we will get half of the ugly picture.  But no press and media is allowed and under FCR the draconian laws no tribal can participate in national or international debate.  We see No outrage on the poverty, inhumane laws operating in FATA  let alone the deliberate militarisation under the pretext of Americanised jihad  . If Pakistan is trying to own FATA  by drones protests only  than I regret to inform that there is more to FATA  than just drones. Protesting against Drones can be good for one’s moral soul because it does causes civilian killing  along with the likes of high profile terrorists but it won’t make the people of FATA Pakistanis.


Work cited


1. Noreen Naseer, FATA, militarization & conflict. Living in War Zone, December 2013, JNU Delhi,



2 .




4. FATA Seminar Series, FCR Amendments: A way forward or hurdle for Peace and Development in FATA, March


Seminar Report April 2012, Islamabad