Afghanistan: Identity Vacuum and West’s Disinformation
A Review of Afghanistan’s Social Media Discussions
In the current climate of political stalemate and ongoing conflict the users of social and online media both inside and outside Afghanistan increasingly becoming active and engaging in maintaining discussions on daily and hot topics around country’s political, security and related phenomenon. A qualitative brief review can overtly indicate an interesting outlooks along the regional, linguistic and ethno-cultural zones; which usually shows a clear contrast with the other in respect of commonly held believes and preferences. The most striking pattern is two main fronts of thoughts and believes which crudely correlates with the current security and political spontaneous zonification reality on the ground. Noticeably on level of fierceness of grass-root anti-Taliban activism, level of Taliban influence and control and local population preferences on engagement of international forces; as well as the views on government’s honesty in regards to the western engagement, commitment to democratic process and treatment of Taliban.
An observer even from outside can easily work out the background reasons behind this striking contrast, not least get overtly and repeatedly mentioned by participants in social medias: the lingo-cultural and ethnic differences. The inhabitants from the South and Eastern regions bordering Pakistan, who are Pashtu speakers and known as Pashtuns more officially and Afghan unofficially as a distinct ethnic and cultural group, tend to be less critical of Taliban and their supporters in Pakistan and more critical of NATO and the indigenous Anti-Taliban political front. This trend is exactly opposite with media users from North-east, North, West and Central zones in relation to Taliban and NATO. The users from latter zones are usually Perso-Turkic in their roots but mainly Persian/Farsi speakers and mixed urban educated and non-tribal population.
As far as an open discussion is concerned about such regional differences, it is almost like an unannounced forbidden theme to talk in government circles and media as well as international media. Similarly these differences are least talked about and explored by international specialist on Afghanistan or international think tanks. Studying inter-regional dynamics and roots of these differences is fascinating and sounds as basic requirement in better understanding of the country’s and its population’s cultural and political history which so far has not been done in details and largely influenced by systematic ethno-political biases the Afghanistan successive governments managed to lead into studies even carried out apparently by foreign scientists, a frequent theme raised by media users.
King Babur, whose love of and rise from Kabul chose the city as his capital and land of eternal rest, regarded the city as the birthplace of an influential Khorasani empire in Central Asia and Indian subcontinent in 16th century. This empire and its vast legacy, known by the West and Indians as the Mughols, is probably a good example symbolizing the current beneath the surface tension and dilemma of national ego and unifying image vacuity the inhabitants of Afghanistan find themselves to cope with since late 19th- early 20th century, a theme increasingly being discussed in online and social media sites in Afghanistan.
There is a general agreement amongst country’s urban educated originating from vast Perso-Turkic population that such vacuum is increasingly the background for ethnic tensions with a potential to polarize further the current conflict along the ethnic lines as an awaiting reality. It is feared that such reality will threaten country’s integrity with more loss of lives while some regard this as an opportunity to detach more peaceful regions of theirs from war ravaged South and East even though partition as an option has never been demanded in principle by the so-called Mellyat Haie Mahroom or deprived ethnic groups political representatives so far.
Continuing on Babur Shah story, according to Western and Indian perspectives the relationship of Babur to Khorasan (also spelled Khurasan), which historically approximates to the land called Afghanistan and her population, the Khorasanis, barely goes beyond his love of and grave in Kabul. Therefore, outside Afghanistan the common concept taken hold i.e. that the emperor, who originated in Central Asian Farghana Valley, was culturally Persianized attributed mostly to today’s Iran including his army and generals despite them being natives of Kabulistan and Badakhshan, and Babur Shah founded an Indian empire in the Subcontinent.
This assertion is directly in conflict with popular view of Afghanistanis, both with the educated including historians and common literate man, not so much with the individuals from Pashtun background for ethno-nationalistic reasons. Most regard Babur Shah and his administration achievements as their pride and a manifestation of Khorasanis/Afghanistan’s population capability in need of recognition and respect. Often stated as if such capability is not sabotaged and better managed can help the masses to rediscover their much awaited and needed strengths in rebuilding and defending the country against Taliban’s armed campaign. It is widely believed that under Karzai’s decade leadership his close co-tribal aides, who managed to keep the real key power positions in roughly in a co-ethnic control, have been either less keen or actively against the recognition achievement of non-Pashtun Khorasani ethnicities. Some fear and argue that such denial is halting the potential opportunities and realistic strengths these groups can offer in resolving the current stalemate in defending the land against the infiltration of religious warriors from Pakistan.
Examining the historic account corroborate the claim Afghanistani Perso-Turkic population make i.e. after defeated by competing royal cousins and uncle in Transoxania Babur Shah crossed Amu Darya the Amu River with few bodyguards and settled in Badakhshan in Northern Khorasan (today’s Afghanistan) where he rose a local army made up of local Tajiks/Eastern Persians, including his prominent battlefield general for invasion of India Bairam Khan too was a native of Badakhshan. He managed to invade Kabul in 1504; Kabulistan and Khorasan community proved itself as a flourishing ground for Babur’s glory and expansion of his rule beyond Khorasani regions. In his memoires Baburnama he repeatedly calls and regards himself, his people and government as Khorasani (name given to inhabitants of Eastern Persia/ Iran before the name Afghanistan was adopted in late 19th early 20th century). His love of Kabul and Khorasan was a probable reason that he was reluctant to move his capital or be buried in neither the ever beautiful turquoise city of Samarkand, the target of his early military campaign, nor the heavenly Delhi but Kabul and Khorasan.
Other talked-about historic figures connected to the current identity battle are the ones with a global reach and legacy who remains traceable to the land of their nativity in current day Afghanistan is the influential Mawlana Jalaluddin Balkhi Rumi The Prophet of Love Dr Soroush whose Mathnavi The Book of Love was topped as best poet seller in USA over 1990s, UNESCO celebrated 800th anniversary of his birth and named 2007 as The Year of Rumi. As a native of Balkh in Northern Khorasan/Afghanistan there was sporadic and limited effort led by province’s government office to revive Rumi’s cause for Peace, Forgiveness, and Love for Humanity. Rumi’s massage as a potential booster of peace spirit, again most probably due to ethno-nationalistic reasons, has not attracted a deserved and much needed attention by war ravaged country’s leadership of central government in Kabul even on Rumi’s year. It was limited to hosting a conference where country’s president unlike Iranian President fell short of attending.
Similarly Avicenna of Balkh perhaps the most famous Muslim ancient physician and philosopher with outstanding scientific work placing his work at reference text book of science and medicine for European universities for about 4 centuries between 12th-16th, which had a fortune of being translated and published for 17 times only in Europe.
For varieties of reasons latter and similar figures from the land are not celebrated and sought after inside Afghanistan but claimed by Afghanistan neighbours mostly Iran for shared language etc.
Generally there is a sense of frustration that the country’s heritage is being allowed to be hijacked and claimed by neighbours and the land’s historic cultural wealth as a backbone of current existence is being sold out for ethno-political motives to facilitate the rise of a single ethnic identity and imposing their identity as a national one on others who makes as much as two thirds of country population inheriting the strong Persian Iranic civilization and language of Khorasan.
Current government not only does not facilitate an open and frank attitude to take on board and recognise such frustrations and clarify the issues, it rather complicates the problem e.g. by removing ethno-linguistic profiling of a national census data collection to protect the perception of Pashtun majority imposed by hegemonial governments in early 20th century.
This linguistic and inter-ethnic tension and rivalry has roots in more recent history of Afghanistan in late 19th and early 20th century while country was led to adapt its current name while the land find itself increasingly squeezed between powerful Ango-Russian empires eroding Khorasanis political and cultural influence specially in the Subcontinent including a ban of their Dari/Persian as official language and replacing it with English and Hindi as new official languages of British India. The latter although in one sense was a renaming of Urdu, the language of ruling Muslims in the subcontinent, in turn extracted mostly from Khorasani Persian language with Hindi components, still remains a widely spoken language in the subcontinent. Some scholars in Afghanistan B Sakhawarz view curbing of Persian as a conspiracy of colonial powers to limit and subsequently replace Khorasani Persian influence outside its natural base, most from territories to be added to new European colonial rule and influence zone. With the arrival of European influence and modernity into Afghanistan the new Afghan rulers.