Pakhtun, Afghan and Pathan
By: Sakhi Arsala Khan
The nomenclatures of Pakhtun/Pashtun, Afghan and Pathan, historically describe the same people but now political expediencies have distorted this well documented fact and therefore it has become necessary to find out the true and indigenous historical identity of a formidable Nation, which was fragmented into several geographical confines either by its adversaries or the quest for subsistence made its peoples migrated to the Middle East, Europe and America.
The historical truth reveals beyond any doubt that these people carried the aboriginal name of “Pakhtun” (or ‘Pashtun’ in the soft variant of their language), but was, later, called by different names by other races, which fate brought close to them in the course of history. They were called Avghans by the Armenians, Afghans by the Persians, Sulemanis by the Arabs, and Pathans by the Indians but they themselves prefer to be called Pakhtuns/Pashtuns.
“The appellation of “Pakhtun/Pashtun” is much older than the “Afghan”, recalls Habibullah Tagai in his booklet, “Pukhtana” and adds that the great Greek historian Herodotus has described Pakhtana as Paktuese and their country as Paktuike, Paktika or Paktikha (Pakhtunkhwa) in 400 BC”.
A noted Afghan historian Muhammad Hasan Kakar carries the roots beyond and observes that “We find the description of “Pakht” in the Vedic scriptures of 1500 BC, which is regarded by almost all the orientalists and anthropologists a root, from which the name, “Pakhtun” stems out. Another Afghan intellectual Mohammad Masoom Hotak also believes that the “Pakht” of Rigveda and the “Paktues” of Herodotus are undeniably the “Pakhtuns/Pashtuns” of today, who were called Afghans and Pathans by alien nations, but who call themselves “Pukhtana” and their language as “Pakhto or Pashto”.
It happened so in the course of the times that as Pakhtuns generally inhabited the mountainous terrains and highlands and as the “dwellers of the mountain” were called “Avghans” in the Armenian language and hence by the position of their abode, the Pakhtuns/Pashtuns were called by their Armenian neighbors as “Avghans”, later converted to “Afghans” by the Persians.
Kerarson, and Trump, the renowned orientalists and historiographers also confirm that these were the Persians who gave the name of “Afghans” to the Pakhtuns.
Prof. Emeritus AH Dani maintains that Herodotus explicitly giving the portrayal of the Pakhtuns mentioned, “The Paktues wore cloaks of skin and carried the bow of their country and the dagger”. The Persian suzerain Darius commanded his general Skylax to find out where the river Indus emptied itself into the Sea. According to the Father of the History, Herodotus, “he started from the city of “Kaspaturos” and the country of “Paktuike”. Dr. AH Dani further elaborates, “The word Afghan, Avghan or Abagan, which is found in all the Muslim accounts, has been traced only to the Sassanian inscription of the3rd century AD, and more clearly to Varahamihra’s Brihatsamhita of the 6th century. Right from the time of Ghaznavid sultans this word alone is used to denote these people whether they live in the West or in the East, the former called Afghan and the later Pathan by Muhammad Qasim Farishta in his “Twareekh-e-Farishta”.
European writer Morgenstierne sums up, “A distinction is sometimes made between Afghan and Pathan, the former being applied to the Durranis and allied tribes. But the difference is only in the nomenclature, the Persian designation “Afghan”(of unknown etymology) being applied to the western tribes, while Pathan, the Indianized form of the native name is used about the “Eastern ones”. Sir Thomas Holdick suggests, “It is difficult to account for the name Afghan. It has been said that it is but the Armenian word Avghan (mounteers).”
Pakhtuns consider the Indianized name “Pathan” as derogatory which was given to them by the estranged Indian tribes subdued by them. Some derive the name from the “Parthians”, who held great resemblance in body structure and physique to the pakhtuns, some describe it as a derivation from “Batan” a fairy-tale title of one of their ancestors, while some relate it to “Patna”, an Indian city which was inhabited by the migrated Pakhtuns, for the first time during Pakhtuns exodus to India.
The Persians, being the then custodians of the realm of literature and history, popularized their given name “Afghan” for the oldest form of Pakhtun/Pashtun so much that this name found practice even in the writings of the Pakhtun poets, writers and authors. The European orientalists also resorted to a general use of the name “Afghan” to denote the people who called themselves Pakhtuns.
Khushal Khan Khattak, Kazim Khan Shaida, Rahman Baba, Ashraf Khan Hijri, Pir Mohammad Kakar, Rowshanite poets, Akhun Darwaiza etc, have invariably used the nomenclature of Afghan for pakhtuns in their poetry. Some of them have used both “Pakhtun” and “Afghan” simultaneously for the same people. Similarly following the footsteps of the Persians who owned a rich literary heritage and who mastered the print media of the time, the European historians stamped the appellation of “Afghan” on the Pakhtuns in their story-telling. Alphinstone, Darmestrator, Alexander Burnes HW Bellew, Morgenstierne, Barnard Dorn, Waliam Jones, Gorge Rose, Moorcraft, Mason, Henry W. Raverty, Sir Olaf caroe etc, have adopted the name of “Afghan” to denote Pakhtuns in all their compositions and compilations.
Some famous verses of the celebrated Paktun Poets of the yester years may add taste to the truth of owning the name of Afghan for themselves;
· Da Afghan pa nang me otarala toora
Nangyale da zamane Khushal Khattak yam. (Khushal Baba
· Che kishwar Da Afghanano Mo’attar kree
Da har Bait Misra me zulfay da khuban kre. (Rahman Baba)
· Pa Hindi ada ye oray pa maa chaare
Za shaida pa zra saada da Roh Afghan yam. (Kazim Khan Shaida)
The court literati of the Safavid, Ghaznavid and Moghal empires put the name of “Afghan” in vogue in such a manner in their write-ups that it superceded the aboriginal name of the “Pakhtun/Pashtun”.
To compare further the antiquity of the two most popular names, Pakhtun and Afghan, the former is rooted deep in the history since 3500 years, while the later ages some 1700 years if we believe that the Sassanian emperor Shahpur-1 got it inscribed on a plaque in the 3rd century AD.
HW Bellew observes that the name of Afghanistan was suggested by the Persians in recent era. Afghanistan was not named so till the half of the 18th Century. Nadir shah Afshar was the first conqueror who called the northern territories of his domain, Faras as Afghanistan. A noted afghan Scholar Ahmad Ali kohzad also believes that Afghanistan was quiet a new name, having a root of only 150 years. Some people believe that Ahmad shah Abdali founded Afghanistan in 1747 AD, but he never used this name. His famous couplet remembering pakhtunkhwa while alighted on the majestic throne of Delhi is worth mentioning;
- Da Deeli Takht Herawoma che rayaad kram
- Zma da khukule pakhtunkhwa da ghro saroona
Last edited by sakhi_arsalakhan; 03-25-2007 at 07:04 PM.
What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family. Mother Theresa