Pashtuns and their origins
Pashtuns/ Pakhtuns/ Pathans/ Afghans
Between South Asia, Central Asia and the Iranian plateau of Sijistan lies a triangular shaped territory studded by bare and barren mountains covering an area of approximately 250,000 sq. miles. Starting from Dir in the north, this triangle runs along the Indus, takes a westward turn a few miles south of Dera Ismail Khan, and embracing within its fold Loralai, Sharigh, Degari, Harnai, Quetta, Pishin, Chaman and Qandahar extends up to Herat. From here it curves north-east and following the foothills of Hindu Kush comes back to Dir. This region includes the major portion of NWFP, a part of Quetta Division of Baluchistan and three-fourths of Afghanistan. In this triangular-shaped, hilly country divided between Afghanistan and Pakistan lives the world's largest group of tribesmen numbering over 30 million variously called Afghans, Pathans, Pashtuns or Pakhtuns.
Any attempt to delve deep into the history of these interesting peopIe and find out their origin would prove baffling. But strangely indeed their history has attracted the attention of an unusually large number of scholars. In the modern period more and more western historians and researchers are taking keen interest in the past of this region and its people. But the larger literature on the subject, the greater the difference of opinion and deeper the confusion.
The difficulty arises because of the fact that the area is inhabited by a large number of tribes each of which makes different claims about its origin. The confusion becomes worse confounded when it is found that these claims do not conform to historical evidence and do not agree with the conclusions arrived at by the researchers. In view of this peculiar situation, it is proposed to give only the consensus of opinion and to simpilify matters as far as possible. Many Pathans may not agree with what has been stated here; but unfortunately the nature of the subject is such that an agreement even on broad outlines seems difficult.
Let us first discuss the origin of the names Pathan and Afghan. The term Pakhtun or Pashtun, according to Raverty, is derived from the Persian word 'Pusht' meaning 'back'. Since the tribes lived on the back of the mountains, Persians called them Pashtun which is also pronounced Pakhtun. Some scholars think that the word Pashtun or Pakhtun comes from the old Iranian words parsava parsa meaning robust men, knights. In Indian Ianguages it was spelt as Pakhtana or Pathan. Herodotus and several other Greek and Roman historians have mentioned a people called 'Paktye' living on the eastern frontier of Iran. By the word Paktye they meant the people of the frontier. (According to the Encyclopaedia of Islam the word Pathan is from the Sanskrit word Pratisthana). Muslim historians from Al-Biruni onward called them Afghans, never using the word Pathan which expression was extensively employed by the Hindus. "No Afghan or speaker of Pashtu ever referred to himself as a Pathan and the word is an Indian usage." (The Pathans, by Sir Olaf Caroe)
"It is significant that neither Ibn Batuta nor Baber mention the word 'Pathan'. Baber gives the names of many east Afghanistan tribes, but nowhere does he mention Pathans, Pakhtuns or Pashtuns. He calls the people Afghans and their language, Afghani." (Afghan Immigration in the early Middle Ages, by K.S Lal)
As for the word Afghan, it appears in the inscriptions of Shahpur I at Naksh-e-Rustam which mentions a certain Goundifer Abgan Rismaund. According to Sprengler, a similar name 'Apakan' occurs as the designation of the later Sassanian Emperor Shahpur III. "The word Afghan, though of unknown origin, first appears in history in the Hudud-al-Alam, a work by an unknown Arab geographer who wrote in 982 A.D." (Afghanistan, by W.K Frazier Tytler). But according to the Encyclopaedia of Islam: "the first mention of the Afghans in written history is in the Chronicle of al-Utbi in Tarikh-e-Yamini and an almost contemporary mention by Al-Biruni. Utbi records that Sabuktagin enrolled Afghans in his army." Another version states that the earliest recorded use of the name Afghan is by the Indian astronomer, Varaha-Mihira of the 6th century A.D. in the form Avagana. (Encyclopaedia of Britannica).
"'The supposition that the Pathans are any different from the Afghans is not borne out either by the legendary accounts associated with the origin of this people or by historical or ethnological data." (Afghan Immigration in the Early Middle Ages, by K.S Lal). Both Bellew and Longworth Dames consider the two terms as appellation of a common people. There is no racial difference between the two. The two words are synonymous referring to one and the same people though a few writers try to make a distinction between Afghans and Pathans which is ephemeral.
For instance, some authors maintain that only those tribes living in southern Afghanistan, particularly between Herat and Qandhar and who speak Persian should be called Afghans while others living in the rest of Afghanistan, NWFP and Baluchistan speaking Pashtu language should be called Pathans. What they mean is that those who speak Pashtu are Pathans and those of them who speak Persian are Afghans. Sir Olaf Caroe makes a distinction between the Afghans and the Pathans on the basis of the hillsmen and plainsmen. He thinks that those living in the fertile plains of Qandhar, Herat, Kabul and Peshawar should be called Afghans and those living in the hills, Pathans. Lt. Gen. George McMunn divides Afghans into three groups: Abdalis, Ghilzais and Pathans (Afghanistan from Darius to Amanullah, by Lt. Gen. Dir George McMunn). But, as already stated, such distinctions are confusing and will lead nowhere. All should be called either Afghans, Pashtuns, Pakhtuns or Pathans.
There has, however, been no dispute over the name of the language they speak. It is called by one name only i.e., Pashtu. But its origin, again is disputed. Most of the authors are agreed that "it is both in origin and structure an Eastern Iranian language which has borrowed freely from the Indo-Aryan group." (The Pathans, by Sir Olaf Caroe). But one of the greatest authorities on the Pathans, Morgenstierne, on the other hand, feels that it is probably a Saka dialect from the north. The general opinion, however, is that Pashtu is a branch of the original Iranian language called Pahlawi.
CLAIMS ABOUT ORIGIN
The triangle between the Indus, Hindu Kush and the Sijistan plateau of Iran is populated by an assorted group of tribesmen some of them living in plains and valleys and others in mountains interspersed over the entire length and breadth of this triangle. As already stated this is the largest conglomeration of tribal people in the world.
We shall begin with the accounts of their origin as given by later Muslim historians. According to Niamatulla's Makhzan-i-Afghani and Hamdulla Mustaufi's Tarikh-i-Guzida: one of Prophet Ibrahim's descendents, Talut (or Saul) had two sons, one of whom was named Irmiya or Jeremia. Irmiya had a son named Afghan, who is supposed to have given the name to the Afghan people. Tareekh-e-Sher Shahi states that Bakht Nasr who invaded Jerusalem and destroyed it, expelled Jewish tribes, including sons of Afghan, from their homeland. During the days of the Babylonian captivity when the Jews were scattered, one of the tribes settled in the Hari Rud area of modern (south) Afghanistan. Pathan legend states that they accepted Islam during the time of the Prophet when a group of their kinsmen (Jews) living in Arabia sent word to them that the true Prophet of God as prophesied in their scriptures had appeared in Mecca. The Afghans, the story goes, sent a delegation to Arabia headed by one Imraul Qais who met the Prophet, embraced Islam, came back and converted the entire tribe to the new religion. The Prophet was so pleased with Qais that he gave him the name of Abdur Rashid, called him Malik (king) and Pehtan (keel or rudder of a ship) for showing his people the path of Islam.
The story proceeds: Qais Alias Abdur Rashid Alias Pehtan had three sons named Sarban, Batan and Ghurghust. Most of the present-day Pathan tribes claim descent from these three persons. Batan had a daughter named Bibi Matto. She fell in love with Hussain Shah, a prince of Turkish origin, and their intimacy reached a stage where her pregnancy could not be concealed. Marriage was the only course open, but the offspring, a boy, was given the name of Ghilzai, meaning in the Afghan language a son 'born of theft'. Bibi Matto's next son was Ibrahim who, because of his intelligence and wisdom, was addressed by Qais as Loi-dey (Lodi) i. e., Ibrahim is great. Two of Loi-dey's grandsons were Pranki and Ismail. BahIul Lodhi, the founder of the Afghan empire of Delhi, was eight generations from Pranki and was a member of the Sahukhel tribe of Lodhis. The Suris and Nuhanis are descended from Ismail's two sons Sur and Nuh. Thus the Ghilzais (Khiljis), Lodhis, Suris, Nuhanis, and their branches, the Sarwanis and Niazis are common descendants of Bibi Matto from her Turkish husband Hussain Shah.
The major tribes of Afghans named above, it must have been noted, should be of Turkish origin as they are descended from the Turkish prince Hussain Shah who married the Afghan girl Matto, daughter of Batan and grand-daughter of Qais Abdur Rashid. Thus, according to their own accounts there would be two groups of Afghans, one of Jewish (Semitic) origin and the other of Turkish origin.
There is a third group of Afghans called Hazaras living in the Hazarajat areas of Afghanistan. They are said to be descended from the remnants of the Mongol armies which had come along with Changez Khan or during later Mongol inroads. The origin of the Hazara Afghans, as such, is Mongol.
Regarding the large number of tribes living on both sides of Pak-Afghan border such as Shinwaris, Mohmands, Mahsuds, Khattaks, Afridis, Orakzais, Achakzais, Bannuchis, Waziris, Bangash, Yusufzais, etc., some trace their origin to Aryans, others to Greeks who had come with Alexander, some to the Jews and still others to the Caucasians. "The Kalnari tribes of today: the Waziris, Bannuchis, Khattaks, Bangash, Orakzais, Afridis and the rest are sprung from an indigenous stock not Pushtu-speaking and became fused with or overlaid by Pushtu and Pushtu-speaking peoples learning in the process the language of the dominant race. The Kalnaris are not Afghans in the true line and may be much older established." (The Pathans, by Sir Olaf Caroe)
"The original Afghans are a race of probably Jewish or Arab extraction; and they together with a tribe of Indian origin with which they have long been blended still distinguish themselves as the true Afghans, or since the rise of Ahmad Shah Durrani as Durranis, and class all non-Durrani Pushto speakers as Opra. But they have lately given their name to Afghanistan, the country formerly known as Khorasan.
"All inhabitants of Afghanistan are now in comon parlance known as Afghans, the races thus included being the Afghan proper, the Pathan proper, the Gilzai, the Tajik and the Hazara, besides tribes of less importance living in the confines of the country". (The Punjab Castes, by Denzil Ibbetson)
Of late, scholars in Afghanistan are seriously absorbed in research to prove that Afghans are neither of Jewish, nor Turkish nor Mongol nor Greek origin but of pure Aryan stock. They are taking pains to demonstrate original home of Aryans was Afghanistan by pointing out the similarity in the names of several places in their country with those mentioned in the Rig Veda.
Thus, the different tribes of Afghans/Pathans have different claims, racially as divergent as the Semitics and the Aryans, Greeks and the Turks, Mongols and the Caucasians. However, leaving aside the claims, there is another aspect of this issue which has great substance, weight and research behind it. This aspect is the conclusions arrived at recently by the Western scholars after a careful study of the historical and cultural developments of the region and its people. Based on the intormation obtained from latest excavations and the data collected in a specific manner, modern scholars have expressed certain views on the origin of the Afghans/Pathans which cannot be brushed aside lightly or treated flippantly. They aver that the origin of the Afghan/Pathan is something different. Let us briefly study their views.
ORIGIN AS TRACED BY MODERN SCHOLARS
They are of the view that there might have been some settlements of the Jews in the area in 800 B.C. or so; similarly, some remnants of the Aryans might have been left in the inaccessible mountains in days of yore; and that there did exist some Greek and Iranian colonies here and there. But from 1st century B.C. to 5th century A.D., during a span of 600 years, this area witnessed three immigrations from Central Asia of such gigantic magnitude --- those of the Sakas, Kushans, Huns and Gujjars --- that everything was swept before them, overwhelmed by them and submerged in them. In short, hardly any previous group whether Aryan, Jewish, Greek or Iranian could retain its identity.
Western scholars, therefore, maintain that an overwhelming majority of the Afghan/Pathan tribes are positively descended from the Sakas, Kushans, Huns and Gujjars. Some of the scholars point out the possibility of the word Abdali being another form of Epthalite by which name the White Huns (the ancestors of Rajputs) were known. Grierson finds a form of Paithan in use in the East Gangetic Valley to denote a Muslim Rajput. Bellew, one of the greatest authorities on Pathans, notes that several characteristics are common to both the Rajputs and Afghans and suggests that Sarban, one of the ancestors of the Afghans, was a corruption of the word Suryabans (solar race) from which many Rajputs claim descent (Bellew: Races of Afghanistan). The great Muslim historian Masudi writes that Qandahar was a separate kingdom with a non-Muslim ruler and states that 'it is a country of Rajputs'. It would be pertinent to mention here that at the time of Masudi most of the Afghans were concentrated in Qandahar and adjacent areas and had not expanded to the north. Therefore, it is highly significant that Masudi should call Qandahar a Rajput country.
Since the modern state of Afghanistan and the N.W.F.P. province of Pakistan were the main regions through which Central Asian tribes passed and in which they settled down, it is impossible that these areas should have remained uncolonised and the blood of their inhabitants unsullied. Therefore, it can be safely concluded that the present day Afghans/Pathans are mostly, notwithstanding their claims, the descendants of Central Asian tribes of Sakas, Kushans, Huns and Gujjars. It need hardly be pointed out that from them are also descended the major tribes of the Kashmir, Punjab, Sind and Baluchistan.
Just as the present-day Greeks are Slavs and not of the same race as Alexander and Aristotle, so also is the case with the present day Afghans and Pathans. According to the Encyclopaedia of Islam, the theory of the Jewish descent of Afghans is of later origin and may be traced back to Maghzan-e-Afghani compiled for Khan-e-Jehan Lodhi in the reign of Mughal Emperor Jehangir and does not seem to have been recorded before the end of the 16th century A.D. Prior to this period no other book mentions that Afghans are descended from Jewish tribes. The Jewish books also dont mention anywhere that Saul's son Jeremia had a son named Afghan from whom Afghans claim descent.
Similarly, the story of Qais Abdur Rashid having gone from Afghanistan to Arabia to meet the Prophet and after returning to his country having converted the Afghans to Islam also does not stand the scrutiny of history. Muslim historians Ibn Haukal, Utbi and Alberuni are unanimous in the view that uptill the time of Mahmud Ghaznavi i.e. almost four hundred years after the death of the Prophet, most of the Afghans were still non-Muslims. Mahmud Ghaznavi 'had to fight against the infidel Afghans in the Sulaiman mountains.' Even 200 years later in the encounter between Mohammad Ghori and Prithviraj in 1192 A.D., according to Farishta, Hindu/Buddhist/Animist/Pagan/Shamanist/Zoroastrian Afghans were fighting on the side of the Rajput Chief. The fact that the Afghans should have joined the Rajput confederacy of Prithviraj may also indicate some sort of kinship between them.
On this subject the views of the Russian scholar Yu V. Gankovsky are also interesting. He says: "My opinion is that the formation of the union of largely East-Iranian tribes which became the initial ethnic stratum of the Pashtun ethnogenesis dates from the middle of the first millennium AD and is connected with the dissolution of the Epthalite (White Huns) confederacy. In the areas north of the Hindu Kush some of the tribes of this confederacy participated in the formation of the nationalities who inhabit Middle Asia today, and, among other tribes, in the formation of the Turkmen and Uzbek nationalities. This is attested, among other things, in the records of genonimy which indicate that among the Turkmen and Uzbeks (as well as among the Lokai) there occurs the ethnonym Abdal descending from the name of an Epthalite tribal union (Abdals, Abdel). South of the Hindu Kush, another part of the Epthalite tribes lost their privileged status as the military stronghold of the ruling dynasty and was ousted into the thinly peopled areas of the Sulaiman mountains, areas where there were not enough water supplies and grazing grounds. There they became a tribal union which formed the basis of the Pashtun ethnogenesis.
"Of the contribution of the Epthalites (White Huns) to the ethnogenesis of the Pashtuns we find evidence in the ethnonym of the largest of the Pashtun tribe unions, the Abdali (Durrani after 1747) associated with the ethnic name of the Epthalites -- Abdal. The Siah-posh, the Kafirs of the Hindu Kush, called all Pashtuns by a general name of Abdal still at sing of the 19th century.
"It is not impossible that certain Kushan-Tokharian elements also took the formation of the Pashtun ethnic community. In this connection it is worthwhile to note the fact cited by G. Morgenstierne: among the Ormuri the Pashtuns are known under the ethnic names 'kas' i.e., Kushan. A number of Pakhtun tribes belong to the Ormuri group. They are Afridis, Orakzais, Khattaks, Khugiani, etc."
This treatise of Prof. Gankovsky forcefully puts forward the view that Afghans-Pakhtuns are the descendants of Epthalite (White Huns) and Kushans.