The myth of the unbeatable Pashtun

A question of superior force, superior tactics and resolve

Sushant Sareen’s piece on the psy-war in Afghanistan makes an important point:

Even more galling is the nonsense being peddled that this war is not winnable and that the Pashtun lands are the graveyards of empires past and present. Not only is this historically incorrect, it is also a self-created, self-serving and self perpetuated myth.

The fact is that the Pashtuns are eminently beatable and have been beaten plenty of times in the past. Alexander, Timur, Nadir Shah, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and the British, all have beaten the Pashtuns and established order in the Pashtun lands. Lest it be forgotten, the Sikhs followed by the British had defeated the Pashtuns so comprehensively that for almost 150 years now, relative peace and order has prevailed in the Pashtun lands.

True, the British suffered the occasional setback but they eventually managed to subdue the Pashtun tribes. Had the British wanted they would have also continued to rule Afghanistan, only they didn’t find it worth their while and preferred to let it remain a buffer between India and Russia. The Russians too would never have been defeated had the Soviet economy not collapsed (and it didn’t collapse because of the war in Afghanistan) and had the Americans not pumped in weapons and money to back the so-called Mujahideen.

No doubt the Pashtuns are a very turbulent race. Not only have they crafted treachery into a fine art form, they have also used it to great effect in the way they fight against their rivals. But while they are terrific warriors for whom warfare is a way of life, they have always succumbed to superior force and superior tactics, not to mention the lure of money. The Pashtuns have never been known to stand against a well-disciplined, well-equipped, motivated, and equally ruthless force.

But a set-piece army is only partially useful against the Pashtuns; it must be backed by highly mobile troops who can chase the guerrillas and hunt them down. [Rediff]

5 thoughts on “The myth of the unbeatable Pashtun”

  1. Pashtuns are a fiercely independent people. They might have lost a few wars, but they never agreed to succumb to a foreign invader. They value their freedom too much. The first lesson was learnt by Alexander who saw an entire tribe of people (including women and children) take up arms and die on the battlefield en-masse instead of accepting Greek control. This event was chronicled in vivid detail by Megasthenes.

    Another factor that helps the Pashtuns is the landscape which is virtually unconquerable. They have too many mountains (running higher than 5000 to 6000 metres), caverns and trenches that act as natural defence spots.

    This is the reason why USA finds it very difficult to isolate and capture Bin Laden. The only way this region can be pacified is when Pashtun nationalists take control.

    Pashtuns have a long tradition of egalitarianism and democracy. The tribal meetings called “Jirga”s serve as local democratic assemblies. These assemblies should be revived and supreme control (political and military) should be vested in them. Then the Taleban would be wiped out in no time.

    The fact is that the Pashtun nationalism has always been a very secular movement. The father of this movement, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, was a close ally of Mahatma Gandhi and pioneered non-violent resistance in these lands. We Indians washed our hands off after partition, and let these people go to dogs.

    Pakistan is ever scared of Pashtun nationalism because it means they will demand political independence or cede to Afghanistan, cutting Pakistani territory by half. (Baluchis would follow as soon as Pashtuns leave). So Pakistan has a strong strategic interest to ensure unstability in Pashtun lands and also in Afghanistan. The Taleban is essentially an artificial regime that was propped by the ISI, to create a friendly atmosphere in Afghanistan towards Islamabad. Taleban fighters have never been too strong and popular in the Afghan countryside. If not for the Pak Army which provided them with weapons, supervision and intelligence (aided also by the US army) they would have been incapable of forming the government.

    Even today, if the Taleban would be wiped out as soon as they are cut off from their lifeline with the Pak Army (yes, there are several rogue elements in Pak army which support Taleban, because they understand how important they are for Pak strategic interest). The terrorist attacks in Mumbai are a loosely disguised ploy by the Pak army to divert attention to the eastern border so that Taleban can be given a life-shot in the west. Recent days have seen significant losses for the Taleban in the popular support : local parliament elections were all won by the Awami National Party (founded on the principles of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan) and there have been billboards which advertised independent Pashtunistan on Nov 19. So the Pak army had to do something urgently to divert attention.

  2. Are you kidding me? When did the Hindus defeat Pashtuns? its the other way around? We were the soldiers of Mughal empire that ruled India over 9 centuries. Amazing how people alter history…. Please… do not lie about history… Pashtuns never lost! esp. when it comes to USSR, BRitish, and Hindus.

  3. I think this person needs to make a thorough research on Pashtun History…. The example of the war of Panipat aginst the tough Marathas is an inevitable example of this so called Myth… Ahmed Shah Abdali and Sher Shah Suri have plundered Indian sub-continent several times without loosing once… Even alexander in his own words have said when he was going through a war in Arachosia ( now Kandahar in Afghanistan ) called the people living here the lionines (loin like) … He said “My mother had a son named Alexander, but here every son can be called an Alexander.” So stop narrating such kind of bed time and vague stories without any justification about the Gallant Pashtuns without analysing the history…

  4. Pashtuns were defeated by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. They are be defeated by ruthless organized & motivated army. The Sikhs proved much superior to the Pashtuns. History is the proof.

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