Pashto and Pashtuns: In the Light of Linguistic Perspective
By Prof. Mojawer Ahmad Zyar
Pashto is the language of Pashtuns. Pashtuns (Afghans) are the biggest majority ethno-linguistic tribe and the most long living residents of Afghanistan. The name of the country is links with the name of largest majority, the Pashtuns. From the point of view of history and geography Pashtuns belong to northeastern areas like Pamir and Balkh. The grandpas of Pashtuns were named as Sakas, Kasyan and Sakan, and the Pashto itself were the grandson of Saki language.
Other current Saki languages belong to Saka origins like: Osety (Caucasia) and 12 or 13 other Pamiri languages are considered close sisters. Sakas are considered the fifth Aryanian origin along with, Awesta-speaking Zartostrians, Partians, Madians and Parsians, which created big empires many centuries before Christ in the Middle East, Caucasia, to northern west India and Kashmir, and defended its main residential territory (Bacteria or Balkh and the area around Axos river) from Greek invaders led by Alexander the Great and later established its first Greeco- Bacter government.
From today 1965 years back some Sakas moved from north to south and named Halmand down area (Zarangia>Zaranj) with their name Sakistan, which later changed as Sistan. In second century AD when the empire of Sakistan collapsed, in the north the Saki origin Koshanians set the foundation of another empire, which controlled the north, west and south as well as the northwest of India and Kashmir.
Since then Pashtun Sakas established big and small feudal governments in the Ghor and Herat, the valleys of Helmand and Arghandab to Ghawara Margha -غوړه مرغه – (Arakoziya, current Arghistan), and to the skirt of Kasay the Solaiman Mountains which were later spread to Sindh, India and Kashmir. This way Pashto was affected by Indian Aryan languages and collected a lot to its skirt. For the first time, the name of Afghan as Apaga is found (252-6 B.C.) in Aechamenian eara, later Apakan as nickname of Sasanian king Shahpuhr the First (309-378). In ancient Indian books, in sixth century has been published it as Avagana by Indian astrologer, Aramihra, and O-po-kien in Chinese sources.The Avaganas are the todays’ Pashtuns which make the largest majority of Afghanistan.
In this point, let us quit the tales of the history, and let us discuss the current situation. Pashtuns suffer the historic tortures, even though Pashtuns traditional Jirga and meetings are good examples of democracy, but the nation could not experience the democracy with real meaning. To bring democracy and establish civil society in the war-shattered country, it was necessary that Pashtuns should have been educated, though, historically, Pashtuns have been used as a force of war, as the ruling sources used them to defend against the invaders and that is it. The largest tribe, with tribal values does not know anything about globalization or the real meaning of democracy.
Pashtuns have been pushed to war in the history because of some foreign movements who invaded Afghanistan time to time in the course of the history to gain control over the region through geopolitical position of the country. Simply like other free nations military, cultural and political interferes of foreign countries were considered as attack on the soil and the values. Currently their language fights with a cultural invasion and there is no policy within Afghan government to protect Pashto from foreign assaults, and such a bad condition. The Pashto language has almost been separated from official activities intentionally and Pashtuns think that internal and foreigners have launched conspiracies against their language and values.
Many Pashtun intellectuals and writers say if the society does not begin a peaceful cultural struggle to protect its language, does not protect it from negative affects of neighboring Persian language, and does not give hand together against the rivals. It is possible that Pashto will be separated completely from the political ground of the country.
In a society where there are not enough educated people, its members will be deprived from intellectual evolution in technological age. Pashtuns are so behind from the international movement due to involvement in the wars that it needs successive and a lot of efforts to integrate them. Military wars in their environment and civil war among Pashtuns have made it difficult for Pashtuns to get together to tackle hurdles against them, coordinately. Looking to the current military and political situation Pashtuns pay the biggest scarifications to survive their future role in the country’s politics, in other hand they appeared main victims of so-called war on terror in Afghanistan.
Taliban are fighting in Pashtun areas and international alliance and its Afghan collaborators non-Pashtun allies so-called Northern Alliance also searches their Pashtun enemies in Pashtun areas. This condition has given hope to those minorities who attempt to defame Pashtuns and would replace Pashtuns in political ground, as proxies of neighboring countries. Those who do not accept Pashto-Pashtuns and Afghans- Afghanistan, enjoy the current situation in Afghanistan, the struggles against Pashtuns.
They accept the articles of the constitution which have been set in the constitution by Iranian instructions to protect their separatism and sectionalist interests. For last 70 to 80 years newly created terminologies used by Iranian have also been used by these minorities. For instance, since king Amir Shir Ali Khan (1868-79) up to present all military and administrative terminologies were in Pashto among 47 Afghan linguistic groups and this should not be contradicted, but, they ignore the fact and say why it should not be in both languages. Even when some others do not have any other reasons they say that there has been no limit for these terminologies.
When Persian speaking Afghans write a texts and needs to write Afghan terminology then they do not write them in the way it is written in Pashto, as instead of Pashto (څ=ts) they would write Arabic (س) or instead of Pashto (ښ=ş) they would write Arabic( ش) and such others. Even though such issues look ordinary to many people, but this type of official activities made many Pashtuns upset and have distanced from government officials.
Dari is a dialect of Persian, as Tajiki Persian, and was forcefully added to Afghan constitution in 1964 as Dari language. They think, if Dari owns its original Persian linguistic name, then its origin should be recognized as southwestern Aryanian languages, not northeast Bakhtari group. Historian Muhiuddin Mehdi discovered the Surkh Kotal in 1956 and later in 1993 Rubatak, provided historic information from inscriptions about 200 to 300 other scattered discove- ries has picked up information from Professor Hinning to the current alive Sims Williams (SOAS, Lodon) as a famous Aryasnist (Iranist) and has selected the position of Pashto and Pamiri (as of Yadghi and Monji) and also Soghdi, Bactri, Parti and Khawarezmi.
This best historic-geographic position and long and prosper activities and literature of Pashto has attracted the attention of many Aryanists since18th century and have undertaken significant academic researches. Following French expert J Darmesteter and German W. Geigar, distinguished Pashto language’s scholar, Professor George Morgenstierne devoted 60 years of his life on new linguistic knowledge about Pashto and the related languages.
He was always saying that the Landay (special type of Pashto popular poems), and Khushal Khan Khatak (1613-1689), the great Pasho poet, were enough for me to get special interest and involvement with all Aryan and then Aryanian languages, in particular the Pashto. As Pashtuns have spent over 2500 years in defense and invasive wars due to its geographical location, they could not find time to nourish Pashto, and in new Aryanian era.
On the other words, in the beginning of Islam, Pashtuns were in need or were pushed to use and utilize the south-western Persian as second Islamic language. This requirement and motivation forced a famous king Sekander Ludi to use and send Persian language letters to India instead of his native language Pashto, and then pave way to Sory rulers and Turk- Mongol rulers to use Persian and at the end from Kabul to Dakan, the Indian city, Persian became the language of majesty courts and offices.
Hotaks with the support of fourth Hotak king Shah Hussian (1729-38) started to accommodate Pashto language, but storm came on them from west of the country. Ahmad Shah Baba also designed a map to support Pashto, but his successor ignored it, particularly when King Teemor Shah chose Kabul as the capital with the consultation of Turk-Mongol colonizers, which thrown all hopes and efforts to Kabul River.
It was a big cause, since then the culturist and developed minded Amir Shir Ali Khan attempted to restore the position of Pashto Language, but his successors up to present could not help stand Pashto as equal rival to Persian. Very unfortunately at the present, the Pashtuns and Afghanistan are confronted ethnic groups, anti-national unity filthy alliance and foreign military occupation which challenge the war torn Pashtuns and their war shattered position.
And much rudely with provocation and support of Iranian leaders implement the tripartite Persian states concept, that has been initiated by Raza Shah pehlavi in 1936, (you will read more about this in the upcoming chapters). Afghanistan ministry of information and culture expressed concern over the use of Iranian terminology in medi.
An origin Pashtun, the former minister of information and culture Karim Khuram viewed concerns over the Iranian increasing influence. He went a step ahead and made efforts to encourage media to use national terminologies, but, no one heard his voices, instead, following his comment, Iranian cultural sources in Kabul criticized him.
Afghan experts say, if the international community wants peace in Afghanistan, they should pave way for the establishment of Pashto research centers and development of the language. Pashtuns will consider it good news, and this way international community will attract majority Pashtuns to support foreign efforts in Afghanistan.
Note about the author: Prof Mojawer Ahmad Zyar is an Afghan linguist, a former Kabul University professor, from 1984 to 1986, Professor Zyar taught as a guest professor at Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany. From 1994 to 1996, he taught as a visiting professor at the University of Peshawar in Pashto language department.
Hanan Habibzai, an investigative journalist with more than ten years of experience in global journalism has covered the US invasion of Afghanistan, the fall of the Taliban regime, and post-Taliban developments, including the rise of militancy in the country.
MA in global journalism from Coventry University, Hanan writes on the conflict in Afghanistan and the regional politics, his work has been published by the BBC Afghan Stream, Pajhwok Afghan News, Reuter’s news agency, the Washington Post, Veterans Today, several local and the global media agencies, Including contribution in a journalism book Afghanistan War and the Media: Deadline and Frontline (2010), edited by R, Keeble & J, Mair, Hanan’s academic work is published around the world.
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