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Pashtuns are an ethnic group based in both Afghanistan and
Pakistan, with exonyms such as Afghan, Pashtoon, Pushtoon,
Pathan, and Pukhtoon,1 also used for the group (A. S. Ahmed,
2013; Siddique, 2014). In Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
and Balochistan provinces, along with tribal areas on the
Afghanistan–Pakistan border, the Pashtuns make up the sec-
ond largest ethnic group, with 15% of the population, in the
country (“Ethnic Groups in Pakistan,” 2018; Hadid & Sattar,
2018). The tribal Pashtuns, based in the Afghanistan–
Pakistan border region in the north-west, have historically
been described as “warrior-like” and “savages,” with a ten-
dency of being violent, in colonial literature, with contempo-
rary literature describing them as “sympathisers of militants”
(see Afsar, Samples, & Wood, 2008; Beattie, 2011; Behuria,
2007; Caroe, 1958; Coughlin, 2013; Elphinstone, 1842;
Kilcullen, 2009; Nichols, 2008; Oliver, 1890; Wylly, 1912).
However, these stereotypes have resulted from Pashtuns
insurgencies against the British Raj in the Indian subconti-
nent, and more recently, because of the Pashtun Mujahedeen’s
role in the Afghan Soviet War (1979-1989) in Afghanistan
(Hanifi, 2016; Johansen, 1997).
In recent times, the emergence of the Pakistani Taliban,
especially in the tribal areas, and the strengthening of the
anti-U.S. Haqqani Network (Afghan Taliban) has further
propagated the violent image of the Pashtuns. However, the
loss of thousands of Pashtun lives in Pakistan’s Pashtun
tribal areas—along with targeted killings of tribal elders at
the hands of the militants—suggests that the Pashtuns in the
former-FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) region
have mostly been victims, rather than perpetrators of vio-
lence (Z. Ali, 2010; South Asia Terrorism Portal [SATP],
2017). Hence, due to the rise of militancy in the tribal areas,
Pakistani military operations, and the U.S. drone strikes, the
tribal Pashtuns have been both directly and indirectly
affected, losing lives and living in fear along with their prop-
erties being destroyed (Z. S. Ahmed, Yousaf, & Zeb, 2018;
Amnesty International, 2010; Siddique, 2008; Tahir, 2015;
Yousaf, 2017a). Therefore, this essay, while focusing on the
Pashtuns living in the former-FATA2 region of Pakistan,
seeks to discuss historical and contemporary “violent” repre-
sentation of the tribal Pashtuns. In addition, the essay briefly
discusses the Pashtun culture, along with situating the asso-
ciation of violence with Pashtunwali. The essay then dis-
cusses various peace initiatives taken by the tribal Pashtuns
toward peace and conflict resolution, and how these initia-
tives express the tribal Pashtuns’ desire for peace and con-
flict resolution in the region. In its final section, the essay
briefly discusses the recently evolved Pashtun Tahafuz
1The University of Newcastle, Australia, New South Wales, Australia
Farooq Yousaf, Faculty of Business and Law, The University of Newcastle,
Australia, New South Wales 2300, Australia.
Pakistan’s “Tribal” Pashtuns, Their
“Violent” Representation, and the
Pashtun Tahafuz Movement
The tribal Pashtuns of Pakistan, based in the Afghanistan–Pakistan border region, have historically been portrayed as “violent”
and “warrior-like,” both in the colonial and contemporary literature. However, a brief review of archival literature suggests
that oriental representation of tribal Pashtuns is based on various generalizations that were formed and propagated during
the British military expeditions against the tribal Pashtuns. Moreover, these generalizations and stereotypes against the
tribal Pashtuns have persisted since Pakistan’s independence in 1947. Recent developments in Pakistan’s Pashtun tribal belt,
with various tribes convening Jirga meetings, condemning and countering militant activities and protesting against the state’s
injustices explain the importance and desire for peace among the tribal Pashtuns. Finally, a brief analysis of the recently
started Pashtun Tahafuz (protection) movement (PTM), an indigenous peace and human rights movement involving both men
and women, and its nonviolent nature also reinforces the importance of peace for the tribal Pashtuns.
tribes, Pashtuns, Pashtunwali, Jirga, colonial-literature, ethnicity, peace and conflict
2 SAGE Open
(protection) movement (PTM), an indigenous nonviolent
human rights movement of young tribal Pashtuns, both men
and women, and argues how this movement further dispels
the violent representation of Pashtuns.
The author of this essay acknowledges various drawbacks
in the Pashtun culture, especially lack of basic rights afforded
to women, however, discussion of such critique is limited
due to the nature and scope of the essay. Also, the word
“tribal” is used in the essay to indicate the Pashtuns living in
the former-FATA region, and not used in its anthropological,
and sometimes negative, connotation (see Mafeje, 1971 for
negative connotations surrounding the word “tribal”).
Moreover, the essay does not intend to present new knowl-
edge, rather it analyzes the past and present knowledge on
the tribal Pashtuns and argues why there is a further need to
study Pashtuns and Pashtunwali to critically analyze and
deconstruct their “violent” representations. Finally, because
of its current and recent nature, the essay mostly relies on
newspaper stories and opinion articles, while discussing and
analyzing the PTM.
Does Pashtun Culture Promote
Pashtunwali, literally translated as the way of the Pashtuns, is
a set of customs, cultural codes, and values that regulate the
Pashtun society and its way of life and has been previously
discussed in detail by various authors (see Alley, 2012;
Benson & Siddiqui, 2014; Hawkins, 2009; P. Kakar, 2004;
Spain, 1972; Yousufzai & Gohar, 2005). Even with the advent
of globalization and economic development, studies show
that Pashtunwali still holds importance for Pashtuns living in
the tribal areas (Khayyam, Ullah, & Shah, 2018). Some of the
major Pashtun cultural codes include Badal (revenge and
reciprocity), Badragga (safe conduct), Hujrah (Pashtun com-
mon sitting place), Jirga (Pashtun tribal councils), Lashkar
(militias), Melmastya (hospitality), Nanawatay (law of ref-
uge/forgiveness), Nang (honor), and Tiga (truce), among oth-
ers. A major tenet of Pashtunwali, among these, worth noting
in the context of Pashtuns and peace is the Pashtun Jirga.
A Jirga, a council of elders (known as the masharan), is by
far the most important tenet of Pashtunwali, which focuses on
conflict resolution, negotiation, and mediation among the
Pashtun communities (Gohar, 2014; Yousufzai & Gohar,
2005). The term Jirga refers to an indigenous dispute resolu-
tion and deliberation mechanism followed by the Pashtun
tribes for centuries, and also adopted as a political institution
by Afghanistan (Z. S. Ahmed & Yousaf, 2018; Wardak, 2003).
It is said that the Jirga regulates the way of life for the tribal
Pashtuns where decisions range from smaller issues of mutual
conflict and interest to major issues pertaining to foreign
affairs and national politics (Oberson, 2002). A Jirga functions
when a conflict arises on local, tribal, or regional level, with
tribal elders coming together, sitting in a circle, and discussing
and deciding on the matter (Yousufzai & Gohar, 2005).
A Jirga can often sanction the formation of Lashkars
(tribal militia) for maintenance of law and order, self-defense,
along with the enforcement of the Jirga’s decisions. The
word Lashkar is roughly translated into troops, whereas it
has also been referred to as a raiding party or a militia (Taj,
2011). In terms of self-defense, a Lashkar can be defined as
an armed group organized by the Pashtun tribes to defend
their territory (Siddique, 2014). The purpose of a Lashkar,
traditionally, revolves around temporary formation of a force
that implements a Jirga decision against a tribe or an indi-
vidual (Taj, 2011). Hence, once a Lashkar fulfills its duties,
it instantly disbands. A Lashkar is headed by a subcom-
mander called the Mir, who is directly answerable to the
tribal Jirga. Even though a tenet of “force,” the tribal
Lashkars have played a major role in countering militants in
Pakistan’s Pashtun tribal areas along with defending their
territories since 2002.
Pashtunwali, even with aspects of hospitality and peace,
has come under criticism for a number of reasons. First and
foremost, because of the patriarchal and male-dominated
dynamics of the Pashtun tribal society in Pakistan, women
are given little or no representation in the decision-making
process (P. Kakar, 2004). This means that men in the society
hold more, and even unassailable rights, compared with
women (Ginsburg, 2011). In many cases, decisions of Jirga
are enforced upon women without their consent or will. In
this regard, in certain areas, according to the Pashtun tradi-
tion of Swara, women are given to the aggrieved party, as
property, to settle disputes and, therefore, result in forced
marriages (Naseer, 2016; Qadeer, 2014). In some cases, even
underage girls have been given under Swara to settle long-
term disputes between families and tribes (I. Ali, 2018).
Another aspect of gender rights violations in Pashtun culture
is witnessed through honor killings, where women, punished
by Jirgas, are almost never allowed to defend themselves
(I. Ali, 2018).
Moreover, under the Frontier Crimes Regulation
(FCR)3—the colonial set of laws that governed the former
FATA region until recently—the tribal women were also not
given access to state Jirgas conducted by the state-appointed
political agent, therefore, discriminating against women
(Tameez, 2014). In addition, even when the state of Pakistan
engaged with terrorists politically and negotiated peace deals
through tribal Jirgas, it completely ignored the role and
rights of women in the former FATA region (Shah, 2009).
Hence, the state has also been complicit in violation of basic
rights, especially women rights, through Pashtunwali in the
tribal areas (Naseer, 2018b).
Another criticism on the tenets of Pashtunwali is based on
Badal, or revenge. This tenet deals with both revenge as well
as reciprocity, and hence regarded as one of the tenets that
has resulted in the association of “violence” with Pashtuns. It
is argued that Badal was a major factor that prompted the
Pashtuns in Afghanistan to take up arms against the Soviet
Union during the Afghan Jihad (1979-1989), to avenge the
collateral damage caused by the Soviet army (R. G. Hussain,
2008). Moreover, under the customs of Melmastya (hospital-
ity) and Panah (refuge) some tribal Pashtuns, though in a
minority, have also given refuge to “guests” belonging to
local and foreign militant groups (Gul, 2012). Hence, even
with some positive customs, there are other customs that
suggest problems still exist when it comes to the Pashtun
culture and its compatibility with the modern world and uni-
versal human rights. This duality has also resulted in confu-
sions surrounding Pashtunwali for the outside world, and
has, therefore, contributed to the persistence of simplified
generalizations toward tribal Pashtuns.
In this regard, the following section discusses this repre-
sentation and generalization of Pashtun tribes both in colo-
nial archives as well as contemporary literature.
Why Are Tribal Pashtuns Generalized
It is argued that the “violent” representation of Pashtuns has
persisted mainly due to the absence of Pashtun voices in lit-
erature, and, therefore, limited or no counternarratives are
present on colonial representation of Pashtuns (Hanifi,
2016). Hanifi (2016), in this regard, argues that it was
Mountstuart Elphinstone and Louis Dupree, whose works
played a major role in persistence of the “Orientalist repre-
sentation” of the Pashtuns. Manchanda (2017, p. 173) also
believes that Elphinstone’s “high spirited republics [. . . ]
ready to defend their country against a tyrant” have since
become widely acknowledged as the basis of Afghan “tribal
culture.” Hanifi (2016), on why Elphinstone’s “colonial
knowledge” creation of Pashtuns was shaped in a certain
Colonial knowledge formations are geared for political utility.
Similar to other forms of knowledge, colonialism generated some
new and important lines of inquiry, in historical linguistics for
example. However, because of the political expediencies demanded
of colonialism, it tends to be built on simplifications and limited,
sometimes inconsistent and contradictory data. (p. 395)
Therefore, in colonial literature, Pashtuns have been simplis-
tically described as “warriors” or “semi savages,” with the
following accounts reflecting some of this discourse
One such account that creates an oriental picture of the
tribal Pashtuns, especially the Afridi tribes, is by Edward
Oliver (1890). According to him, the Afridi tribes on the bor-
der were the “most lawless and savage of Pathans (Pashtuns)”
(Oliver, 1890, p. 183). In another account, Warburton (1900)
also talking about the Afridi tribes says that they are “brought
up as kids to distrust all mankind” (p. 342). He further quotes
Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Mackeson saying that the
Afridis were the “most avaricious race desperately fond of
money” (Warburton, 1900, p. 342). He also quotes Lord
Lytton’s experience of dealing and relations with the Pashtun
tribes, calling them “Semi-savages” (Warburton, 1900,
pp. 7-8). Moreover, Warburton (1900) himself describes the
tribal Pashtuns as “savages of the independent hill” (p. 205).
Similarly, Sir Richard Temple, Secretary to the Chief
Commissioner of Punjab, in his communications with the
British government described the Pashtun tribes as “noble
savages. . . who were absolutely barbarian nevertheless”
(Wylly, 1912, pp. 5-6).
Mills (1897), while describing and classifying the Pashtun
tribes, writes that the tribes living on the Khyber-Kabul route
were the “most savage and warlike of the frontier tribesmen”
(p. 8). Even though such colonial and orientalist narratives in
literature were criticized by Enriquez (1921), he still com-
mitted a similar mistake by comparing tribal Pashtuns with
early English tribes arguing that they might still be living in
the “tenth century” (p. 94). Moreover, it was not only the
colonial writers, rather various British politicians and mili-
tary officers as well who informed their opinion on the
Pashtuns based on the colonial literature. For Winston
Churchill, the Pashtun tribes were “animal-like”; for George
Curzon, they were “child-like species of cat”; and for Denzil
Ibbetson, these tribes were “most barbaric of all races, blood-
thirsty, vindictive and bigoted” (Tahir, 2017, pp. 7-8). Such a
representation can be further attributed to over 100 British
military expeditions against the Pashtuns and the latter’s
reactions and resistance to such expeditions (Johansen,
1997). Hence, in that respect, Johansen (1997) argues,
In characterizing the Pashtuns as subhuman savages, uncivilized
brutes, and treacherous murderers, the British no doubt
expressed negative stereotypes commonplace in British imperial
thinking, overlooking both positive Pashtun qualities and the
likely causes of the pervasive violence. (p. 57)
Such negative stereotypes and dichotomies toward the
tribal Pashtuns in the colonial literature have been criticized
by Charles Lindholm, who believes that such narratives were
“a norm rather than an exception,” where the Pashtuns were
viewed in binaries such as “brave and honourable” or
“treacherous scoundrels” (Lindholm, 1980, p. 350).
Moreover, excessive reliance on colonial literature for under-
standing the tribal Pashtuns has resulted in these tribes being
lookup upon as conservative and inward (Zahab, 2016). In
this regard, Malik (2016, p. 29) argues that it was a major
“intellectual polarization” among the British colonial writers
that perceived Pashtuns “having propensity for violence.”
However, this “intellectual polarization” has existed, in some
way, even after the British Raj left the Indian subcontinent in
Since the U.S. war on terror began in Afghanistan in 2001,
various military strategists also focused on the colonial lit-
erature, while researching the Pashtun tribes. This, as Bashir
and Crews (2012) argue, further homogenized the Pashtuns,
who were considered as the “wild tribes” (p. 4). In doing so,
these researchers committed a similar mistake to that of the
orientalist writers under the British Raj. Such generalizations
4 SAGE Open
can also been observed in recent works on Pashtuns espe-
cially in one of the works by David Kilcullen (2009), who
describes the Pashtun tribes similar to how they were repre-
sented in the colonial literature. Furthermore, because
Pakistan’s Pashtun tribal areas have recently been a center of
militancy and violence, various works have used such his-
torical accounts to connect Pashtuns with violence (B. S.
Kakar, 2012). In one such instance, a news story, from 2001,
on Pakistan’s former-FATA region published in the Irish
Times, describes Pashtun tribes being “steeped in a political
culture of guns and violence” (“Meet the Pashtuns,” 2001).
In another instance, Kronstadt (2003), in a report for the U.S.
Congress in 2003, generalizes the whole FATA region, argu-
ing that “majority of the Pashtuns sympathised with the Al
Qaeda and the Taliban.”
However, it is not only the foreign academia and media
often persisting with these stereotypes. The state of Pakistan
has been no different in its colonial-like treatment of the
tribal Pashtuns, excluding the region from the country’s
mainstream and hence contributing toward growing extrem-
ism and instability in the region (Haroon, 2017; Yousaf,
2019). Even with the fact that the Afghan Jihad and militant
sanctuaries were based in the former-FATA region, it was not
only Pashtuns and Arabs, but also the Punjabi Taliban who
took part in violent activities. However, the Pakistani media
carefully omitted them in the national discourse on terrorism
(D. S. G. Khattak, 2017). In addition, the equation of Taliban
with Pashtun nationalism has also become far too common
among Western scholars and the Pakistani ruling establish-
ment (Saigol, 2012). Such discourses against the Pashtuns
and their likening to the Taliban have also been negated in
the past, when retired Pakistani military officers have admit-
ted to creating the Taliban in Afghanistan (Siddique, 2018b;
Taj, 2012). This is why Pashtun politicians and the tribal
elders from the FATA region, since 2001, have argued that
not only did they stand against various militant and terrorist
groups, but were also wrongly branded as “terrorists”
However, lack of counternarratives on Pashtuns has
resulted in persistence of these colonial stereotypes.
Therefore, the association of terrorism with tribal Pashtuns
and the Afghan refugees and their ethnic profiling in other
provinces of Pakistan still persists (D. S. G. Khattak, 2017;
Mir, 2018; Yousaf, 2017b). Dr. Saba Gul Khattak believes
that such profiling, in some cases resulting in blocking of
their National Identity cards, is also setting a dangerous trend
in the country and further isolating the tribal Pashtuns (D. S.
G. Khattak, 2017). Moreover, even though the tribal Pashtuns
were profiled in this manner, progressive Pashtuns and tribal
elders have historically stood against the Taliban and Al
Qaeda since their influx in the tribal areas, especially because
the radical Islamic values were not compatible with the
Pashtun culture (Ashraf, 2011). More recently, even though
the government has introduced reforms to mainstream the
tribal areas and merge them with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
province, the state machinery has not introduced concrete
measures to ensure national inclusion of the Pashtuns belong-
ing to erstwhile-FATA (Naseer, 2018a). Hence, where on one
hand, Pakistan’s state and media narrative has associated the
tribal Pashtuns with “violence,” on the other hand, the same
state has done little in introducing socioeconomic and legal
reforms afforded to the rest of the country.
The forthcoming section discusses various dynamics of
peace in the Pashtun culture along with major initiatives that
the tribal Pashtuns took to counter militants in the region.
Pashtuns and Their Efforts Toward
Unlike the colonial representation, Raj Wali Shah Khattak—a
Pashtun poet, critic, and scholar—believes that Pashtunwali’s
tenets of Melmastya, Nanawatay, Tiga, and Nang play a
major role toward maintaining peace among the Pashtuns
(R. W. S. Khattak, 2010). Even during the times of Anglo-
Afghan wars, when the anti-Pashtun literature was being
written on the tribal Pashtuns, Raj Wali Shah Khattak (2010)
argues that Pashtun poetry and folk literature reflected the
Pashtuns’ longing for peace. Also, recently, with the post-
9/11 situation in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, terrorism
and lack of peace have become the focus of contemporary
Pashto literature and longing for peace (Khalil, 2012).
Muqtader Shah, a poet from FATA’s Khyber Agency,
expresses his anger and frustration toward war and militancy
in the Pashtun areas in the following words in his poem:
(Enemies have set fire of jealousy and malice which burns my
brother of lower and upper regions . . . Though Kabul is in peace,
but the air is stinky with previous fire and fight) (translated by
Khalil, 2012, p. 53)
Another excerpt from a poem written by Pashtun poet Saif ur
Rehman Saleem, makes a direct reference to terrorism,
Taliban, and Osama bin Laden,
(Alas! My country, my homeland could welcome colors, flowers
and serene breeze of spring, and we could enjoy friendship and
company of each other without any worries and peace and
serenity could prevail throughout the country. . . O! Saleem be
quite your neighbour is not ignorant about the arrival of Osama
and the coming of the Taliban into being) (translated by Khalil,
2012, pp. 49-50)
In terms of taking concrete action and expressing their
rejection of militant groups in the region, the tribal Pashtuns,
through Jirga meetings, have tried countering these groups
in the region. The tribal elders have mostly cooperated with
the state in handing over militants, and therefore, playing a
major role toward peace in the region (Khayyam, 2016).
Hence, over the years, various Jirga meetings have been con-
vened by tribal elders not only to show their support toward
the state of Pakistan, but also form Lashkars to fight and
expel militants in their region (Yousaf & Poncian, 2018).
One might argue that Lashkars, or militias, might be looked
up as “a tool of violence,” however, this tool was mostly
used for self-defense or protection of their territory by the
tribal Pashtuns. In one of many such instances, in 2009, the
Stori Khel tribe from the Orakzai Agency, after the influx of
the Tehrik e Taliban (TTP), formed a tribal Lashkar to coun-
ter the armed Taliban militants in their region (Jan, 2010).
The Lashkar’s efforts and success later helped the Pakistani
army to deploy troops and target the militants with gunship
helicopters. The Stori Khel Lashkar’s efforts under the lead-
ership of Malik Waris Khan were recognized by the govern-
ment, as Waris Khan was conferred with the Tamgha e
Imtiaz, the fourth highest civilian award, by the Government
of Pakistan for his efforts toward peace (“TTP Claim Killing
of Decorated,” 2012).
In other examples, Salarzai tribe from the Bajaur Agency
of former-FATA, has convened various Jirga meetings to
form Lashkars against the militant groups in the region
(“Salarzai Tribe to Revive Qaumi Lashkar in Bajaur Agency,”
2015). When militancy was at its peak between 2006 and
2010, the tribes were also encouraged by the state to form
Lashkars to fight various groups in the area. However, the
locals also argued at the time that they were entangled in a
war by “the US, Pakistan, and the Taliban,” and the same
(Pakistani) government that had asked them to fight along-
side the “Mujahedeen” in the 1980s was now asking them to
fight against them (Wilkinson, 2008). However, even with
this confusion regarding the state policies toward various
militant groups, the Salarzai tribes successfully fought and
defended their region against local and foreign militant
groups (Taj, 2011). In Khyber Agency, various tribes, such as
the Mullagori, Zakakhel, and Kalakhel, have also formed
Lashkars against both local and transnational groups
(Samdani, 2011; Yusufzai, 2008). However, tribes from the
Agency also believe that their success, against militants, was
limited mainly due to the lack of state support and action
against the Lashkar e Islam (Army of Islam), a local militant
group, headed by Mangal Bagh (Taj, 2011).
Also, tribal Jirgas and Lashkars in the Kurram Agency, a
center of sectarian conflict for decades, have also played a
major role in establishing and maintaining peace between
Shia and Sunni tribes (Chaudhry & Wazir, 2012). Since 2007,
when conflict escalated in the region, tribal elders from both
the sects have maintained active communication through
Jirgas to discuss peace and conflict resolution. In 2008, elders
from both the sects signed the Murree Accord and agreed that
the situation in the region would be restored to that of pre-
2007 situation (N. Hussain, 2011; Siddique, 2014). The
accord could not be implemented in its true spirit because
various Sunni groups, such as the TTP and Haqqani network,
constantly attacked the Shia tribes. However, in 2011, elders
from both the sects held another major Jirga meeting and not
only vowed to fight against all militants in the region, but also
agreed that a “useless conflict” had resulted in deaths of thou-
sands of innocent lives over the years (Butt, 2011; Siddique,
2014, p. 103). This active communication between tribal
elders, through the Jirga, and their resolve to fight militants
was one of the major reasons that no militant group was able
to take full control of the Kurram Agency (Taj, 2011). In
recent months, as peace has been mostly restored in the
region, tribal elders have held regular Jirga meetings with the
military and the state to assure the state of their support for
durable peace in the region (Din, Mahsud, Mahsud, &
Because of such efforts toward peace and conflict resolu-
tion, the tribal Pashtuns and elders have also remained active
targets for militant attacks, in addition to becoming victims
to collateral damage in various military operations and air-
strikes (Khayyam, 2016). Even though the South Asia
Terrorism Portal reports that around 150 tribal elders have
been killed by the militants since 2005 in various attacks, this
number could be much higher due to the lack of media access
to the tribal areas (SATP, 2018). In one of many such attacks
in 2008, a suicide bomber attacked a Jirga gathering, which
was discussing the formation of a Lashkar to drive out mili-
tants from the Khyber Agency, killing 42 tribal elders and
injuring dozens (“Tribal Peace Jirga Attacked,” 2008).
Hence, even with peace somewhat achieved in the tribal
areas, lack of state protection for the Jirga and Lashkar
members still makes them vulnerable to militant attacks.
According to a recent security report, out of the total militant
attacks in 2017 in the tribal areas, around 5% (seven attacks)
targeted members of the tribal Lashkars (Din, Bukhari,
Mahsud, & Mahsud, 2018).
Voluntary formation of these Lashkars in the tribal areas
and convening of Jirga meetings also reflects the tribal
Pashtuns’ desire for long-lasting peace in the region
(Khayyam, 2016). However, the state’s limited support for
the tribes, along with questions raised on its counterterror
military operations in the region, has also resulted in discord
among the tribal Pashtuns against the army (Amnesty
International, 2010). These operations, the tribal Pashtuns
argue, have resulted in destruction of not only their proper-
ties, but also their “dignity” resulting from mass displace-
ment of the tribal Pashtuns and unfair treatment on military
checkpoints (D. Khattak, 2018; Kugelman, 2018). This treat-
ment of the tribal Pashtuns, at the hands of the state, espe-
cially the military, has recently resulted in the evolution of
the PTM; an indigenous peace and rights movement from the
tribal areas, comprising of young tribal Pashtuns, both men
How the PTM Affects FATA’s Future
Pashtuns from the former-FATA are currently witnessing a
watershed moment with the formation of the “secular” PTM
(Shams, 2018). Foundations for the formation of the PTM
were laid when a movement was started by tribal Pashtuns to
protest the extrajudicial murder of young resident from the
tribal areas, named Naqeebullah Mehsud, by the local police
in city of Karachi (Mirza, 2018). This protest also provided a
vent to the young tribal Pashtuns, both men and women, to
express the injustices that they had faced since 2001.
6 SAGE Open
Moreover, the murder of Naqeebullah became symbolic to
how the tribal Pashtuns had been treated by the state in recent
years. Mehsud had left FATA in 2008 after a military opera-
tion forced a mass exodus from the region. Mehsud, who ran
a small business and aspired to become a model, was picked
up on January 9, 2018, by the Counter Terrorism Department
(CTD) in Karachi, with his dead body later dumped with a
gun to portray him as a suspected terrorist (Mirza, 2018).
Naqeeb’s murder, and subsequent sharing of his social media
photos showing his aspirations to become a model, helped
unite the tribal Pashtuns against his extrajudicial killing
(Husain, 2018). To protest his murder, young Pashtuns from
the former-FATA region held a 10-day sit-in in Islamabad in
February 2018, demanding justice for Mehsud and for the
people of FATA on the whole (Siddique, 2018a).
This sit-in then morphed into a nationwide movement for
Pashtuns now known as the PTM, asking the state to afford
basic human rights to tribal Pashtuns and release “missing
persons” who were illegally arrested or detained by the secu-
rity forces in the tribal areas during various military opera-
tions (Siddique, 2018a). It is argued that the peaceful nature
of the PTM has helped in bringing tribal Pashtun grievances,
especially forced disappearances, to the national and global
focus (Yousafzai, 2018). The movement has also asked the
state to take stringent measures against the “Pakistani
Taliban,” operating under the garb of “peace committees,”
along with demanding an end to a series of curfews in the
tribal areas (Hayat, 2018). Manzoor Pashteen, the move-
ment’s young leader, also accuses the military of destroying
the tribal areas, in various military operations, and is, there-
fore, demanding justice for the locals (Hadid & Sattar, 2018).
The leaders of the movement have repeatedly underscored
that neither is the PTM carrying an antistate agenda, nor
would it let us violent means to have its demands accepted.
This was highlighted in one of the rallies of the PTM where
the leadership said, “All our demands and activities are in
accordance with the philosophy on non-violence. We have so
far not disturbed the lives and occupations of ordinary citi-
zens during all our previous rallies” (Shinwari, 2018, para 5).
Ali Wazir, another leader of the PTM, has said that the PTM
“wants the state to recognize us as equal citizens and grant us
everything that goes with that” (Siddique, 2018a, para 13).
However, both Wazir and Manzoor Pashteen have been criti-
cized for giving strong antimilitary statements that could
incite violence against the state and the Pakistani army (Gul,
2018). These statements have resulted in strong criticism
against Pashteen and the PTM, especially in the Punjab prov-
ince. Therefore, in June 2018, after meeting with various
provincial government representatives from Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa, the PTM assured that they would avoid rais-
ing antiarmy slogans (Farooq, 2018).
However, because of the validity of the demands and the
nonviolent nature of the protests, a significant section of the
civil society in Pakistan, including both Pashtuns and non-
Pashtuns, have supported the PTM demands (Hadid & Sattar,
2018). However, the Pakistani state apparatus has treated the
PTM with suspicion, similar to how tribal Pashtuns have been
perceived or portrayed in the past. The state and military dis-
course on the movement is that the PTM is allegedly funded
and supported by “foreign” powers, who seek to destabilize
Pakistan (Kapoor, 2018). Moreover, a retired military officer
in the Swat region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was also accused
of organizing an anti-PTM rally in April 2018, under the slo-
gan of Pakistan Zindabad (Long Live Pakistan) Movement,
where the participants delivered anti-PTM speeches and
called PTM members “foreign agents” (D. Khattak, 2018).
Then in June 2018, a PTM rally was attacked by a “Peace
Committee,” who were allegedly the Pakistani Taliban, kill-
ing three PTM members (Khan, 2018). On the contrary, the
military has also been accused of using coercive measures by
arresting PTM members and barring them from attending
university talks in the country, and hence trying to discredit
the movement (Ramachandran, Hariharan, & Mehta, 2018).
There has also been a countrywide ban on electronic
media coverage of PTM activities. In one such instance,
when, on April 8, 2018, thousands of Pashtuns gathered to
hold a peaceful rally in city of Peshawar, none of the major
electronic media networks gave coverage to the event (Hayat,
2018). Moreover, later, the military chief implied that the
PTM was a “suspicious movement” (“Gen Qamar Questions
Motive Behind,” 2018). The military’s spokesperson has
also said that the popularity of PTM in Afghanistan “was
problematic,” casting further doubt over the agenda of the
PTM and attempting to indirectly malign it (Siddique,
2018a). These suspicions were fuelled because the move-
ment has attracted support especially from Afghanistan, and
therefore, Pakistan, being a “praetorian” security state, sees
such support “suspicious” (Rizvi, 2005). More recently, the
current Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf (PTI) government in the
Punjab province also tried to discredit not only the PTM but
also Manzoor Pashteen. Pashteen’s face was used in Punjab
government’s–sponsored public service advertisement,
where it was implied that Pashteen was a “symbol of hate
speech and sectarianism” (Niazi, 2018; Rehman, 2018).
However, after strong social media backlash, the advertise-
ment was later retracted by the government (Niazi, 2018).
However, even with such measures, for some, the PTM
and its leader Manzoor Pashteen have been likened to Abdul
Gaffar Khan’s (commonly known as Bacha Khan) Khudai
Khidmatgar (Servant of God) movement against the British
Raj in the Indian subcontinent (Mir, 2018). Khan organized a
nonviolent army of young Pashtuns to engage in civil resis-
tance against the British rule in Indian subcontinent (Kurtz,
2011). The PTM is somewhat similar to Khan’s movement as
not only has it mobilized young Pashtuns, both men and
women, but is also using nonviolent means and demanding
rights for the tribal Pashtuns (I. Ahmed, 2018). It is also
argued that it was due to this mobilization and the pressure
exerted by the PTM that the state and the military had to
“expedite” the FATA reforms process, abolishing the FCR
and allowing for FATA’s merger with the Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa province (Jamal, 2018). Moreover, many
young tribal Pashtuns, after living in the urban cities of the
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and getting access to the basic health
and education facilities, are now, through the PTM, asking
the state for similar facilities to be introduced in the tribal
areas (Akins, 2018). These demands suggested why the
Pashtuns from the tribal areas were more open to “change
and development” (Khayyam et al., 2018), unlike what the
historical narrative against them suggested. In addition, the
increasing role of women in the movement was also chal-
lenging the centuries-old patriarchal nature of the Pashtun
tribal society, and therefore, challenging the maliks who
were part of the state-backed status quo in the region.
The evolution and the nonviolent nature of the PTM, along
with other initiatives discussed above, dispels some stereotypes
on the violent representation of the tribal Pashtuns. Moreover,
the PTM has also played a major role in not only questioning
the role of the state, especially the military, in the Pashtun tribal
areas and its “securitising,” but also highlighted how the state
narrative has unfairly associated the tribal Pashtuns with terror-
ists (Mir, 2018). However, with the limited scope of this essay,
there is a further need for analysis of Pashtun culture and in
what ways it promotes peace and reconciliation. Without such
analyses, scholars of Pashtun culture risk falling into the trap of
“Orientalist discourse” that stereotypes the tribal Pashtuns as
brutal and violent (Bala, 2013).
As discussed in the first half of the essay above, the tribal
Pashtuns have historically carried a negative perception, both
in colonial and contemporary literature. This perception is not
to be blamed on the activities of the Pashtun militant group
and jihadi fighters alone, rather is a culmination of a number
of factors, mainly the British occupation of the Pashtun tribal
frontier, Pakistan’s use of former-FATA for the anti-Soviet
Jihad, and some sections of tribal Pashtuns joining militant
organizations. As discussed above, various major tenets of
Pashtunwali are based on peace, conciliation, and protection
of guests, and thus an overrepresentation of tenets related to
war have further added to the negative stereotypes of tribal
Pashtuns. However, with the Pashtun tribal elders convening
various Jirga meetings and forming antimilitant Lashkars sug-
gests that a majority of these Pashtuns were against militant
activities in their region. More recently, the evolution of the
nonviolent PTM highlights that such stereotypes, against the
tribal Pashtuns, are based on persistence of colonial represen-
tations and generalizations. Therefore, the study of Pashtuns
and their quest for peace also warrants further research, espe-
cially how the Pashtun cultural tenets played a role toward
peace and conflict resolution in the former-FATA region.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect
to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, author-
ship, and/or publication of this article.
1. For ease of understanding, this essay will use the term
“Pashtun” when talking about the ethnic Pashtun people in
Afghanistan and Pakistan. Also, the essay predominantly
focuses on Pashtuns in Pakistan, especially those based in
the former-Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
Therefore, the scope of this essay is mainly limited to Pashtuns
in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
2. The FATA region was a semiautonomous Pashtun tribal region,
composed of seven tribal agencies and six frontier regions
(FRs). The region was carved out by the British Raj, through
the Durand Line, to separate urban “civilised” Pashtun from
the rural “savage” Pashtuns. After Pakistan’s independence in
1947, the Pakistani state kept the FATA region in its colo-
nial form, governing it under a colonial-era Frontier Crimes
Regulation (FCR) until May 24, 2018. After the Constitution
(Twenty-fifth Amendment) Act, 2018, [formerly Constitution
(Thirty-first Amendment) Act, 2018], was passed on May
24, 2018, the FATA region was merged with the Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa province, resulting in the “Tribal Agencies” and
“Frontier Regions” renamed as “Tribal Districts” (see Yousaf,
Rashid, & Gul, 2018).
3. For a detailed account on the FCR, see Nichols (2013).
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Farooq Yousaf is a PhD (Politics) Candiate (2015-2019) at the
University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia. He has previoulsy com-
pleted his masters in Public Policy from the Willy Brandt School of
Public Policy, University of Erfurt, Germany. His PhD focuses on
Pashtuns in Pakistan’s “tribal” areas, postcolonialism, militancy
and indigenous conflict resolution.