Increasing Tensions Between Pashtuns and Punjabis in Pakistan 


Khost Province in southeastern Afghanistan, bordering Pakistan. Photo by @AADIL for ADN

By Kadeem Baloch

Deep and corrosive suspicion and animosity are running through Pakistan’s two of the largest ethnic groups–Punjabis and Pashtuns, creating a major flashpoint for a country already inundated with challenges.

Pashtuns, who number over 27 million in Pakistan, have realized that ever since the creation of Pakistan, the Punjabis have worked to divide them, by first sticking to the Durand Line as the border and then systematically degrading their dignity by keeping them on the margins of the society.

Pashtuns have for long viewed with great suspicion the alacrity with which Pakistan adopted the Durand Line. They suspected that the Line drawn by a coloniser kept the community divided. They are now articulating it in public. They now know that the Punjabi Pakistan hated Pashtuns, on both sides of Durand Line. The barbed wire fence being erected on the border was only to keep the Pashtun community divided forever.

The Punjabi Pakistanis have no love lost for Pashtuns as a community, living in Pakistan or Afghanistan. For decades, Pakistan has been manipulating the Pashtuns in Afghanistan into believing that they were friends while turning them into pawns of the so-called `strategic depth` policy. Even after Kabul was regained in 2021, Pakistan wanted to turn Afghanistan into a strategic backyard for their nefarious diplomatic games. The two superpowers, China and the US, have deep interest in the region for various reasons–China for geo-political and economic reasons and the US to keep Iran and its allies in check. Pakistan wanted to use this strategic need into a business venture, as in the past, by labelling Pashtuns as ‘wild people’ who only they can control and manage.

Even within Pakistan, Pashtuns are treated as second-class citizens. Those who have raised voice in protest against this duplicity treatment are being dubbed as enemies and hounded by security and intelligence agencies of Pakistan. Pashtuns who have been forcibly driven out of Punjab to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are being targeted by the local police on various counts.

At the time of collapse of the Afghan government in August 2021, Pakistanis were in celebration, not because they had freed Afghans but because they could now rule over Pashtuns. Pakistanis wanted a ruined Kabul. No sooner had the Pashtun regime taken charge of Kabul, Pakistan began pushing it around for taking action against terrorist groups which not long ago were supported by the Pakistan Army and its several proxies, including Punjab-based terrorist groups. The aim was to sow seeds of suspicion and hatred among Pashtuns. Scores of Pashtuns were killed in the name of counter-terrorism, on both sides of the Durand Line. Pashtuns living on the border have become the `new enemy`. Quite like the Baloch.

For Pashtuns on the Pakistan side of Durand Line, the colonial Punjabi state had been causing mass scale displacement since 2001. Pashtun villages and towns were pulverised in the name of counter-terrorist operations. Millions of Pashtuns were driven out of their homes, forced to find shelter in distant places in Karachi, Peshawar and other smaller towns. Millions were forced to stay in ramshackle tent colonies where Pashtun families were forced to live a humiliating life.

Hundreds of thousands of Pashtuns, from Afghanistan, were driven out of Pakistan last year in the name of security. The army was behind this diabolic act of throwing out infants, women and old Afghans who have been living in Pakistan for decades. They were shunted out, forcibly, as outsiders, the cruellest act Pashtuns have faced from people who called themselves as `friends`. They were treated worse than enemies.

There is more reason why the Pashtuns have lost the trust they had of the Pakistan Army when their homes were bombed en masse to help the Americans to kill Pashtuns in Afghanistan. It is the same story today with the Americans keen on finding a foothold in Afghanistan to counter Iran and China, and Russia. For that, they are willing to buy the Pakistan Army’s loyalty, to the great cost of Pashtuns who will face guns and bullets once again from their own army.

There is anger among the Pashtuns over the political redrawing of their land in Pakistan. Leaders and members of various tribal groups from Waziristan and Bajaur are gathering support among the community to protest against the merger of tribal areas. They are angry that the merger was carried out without consulting them and the promises made at the time of merge remain unfulfilled. Instead of developing the resources of the region for the welfare of the local communities, outsiders, mostly Punjabis, have ransacked the natural resources of the region for profiteering.

The anger and distrust among the Pashtuns towards Punjabi-dominated army and political parties have become so widespread that the divide now threatens the very foundation of Pakistan.

The author chooses a pseudonym. Kadeem Baloch is a freelance journalist based in Pakistan. 

Note: The contents of the article are of sole responsibility of the author. Afghan Diaspora Network will not be responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in the articles. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *