The Challenges Of Afghan National Identity
War not only brings human and material destruction but also damages the social fabric of a country, adversely affecting the idea of the nation itself in turn undermining national identity. Hence, the key element in post-war recovery is to bring social solidarity by promoting harmony and peace among people that have suffered from war. The process of state building and nation building should start parallel in order to ensure long lasting peace in any post-conflict country. Unfortunately, in Afghanistan, a multiethnic and multi-linguistic society, the state building process lacked the element of nation building. The already weak national identity undermined by over thirty years of war has received scant attention in the post-conflict phase in Afghanistan.
Historically, the country has never had a strong central government to pursue the national interests and bring solidarity among all different social groups. While Afghanistan has historically been a socially heterogeneous society and, therefore susceptible to many cleavages, ethnicity in particular has emerged as politically the most salient ones in recent times. Although in most discourses on the subject, the period (1880 to 1901) of Abdur Rahman Khan, dubbed as the ‘Iron Amir’, is seen as marking the highest point of ethnic discrimination by the state against non-Pashtun ethnicities; such assertions overlook the fact that he persecuted all those who posed a potential threat to his authority regardless of their ethnicities. Consider for instance the fact that he massacred three thousand Shinwari Pashtun tribesmen in the late 19th century.
The politicization of ethnicity, which in turn left a deep imprint on shaping the discourse of Afghan national identity, occurred in the period followed by the arrival of the mujahideen in 1992 and then the Taliban in 1996 respectively. In 1992, after the collapse of the government of Najibulla, Burhanuddin Rabbani became the second president of the Mujahideen-led government. During this period, the country fell into total chaos and each ethnic group, established during the Jihad in Pakistan and Iran, claimed for the power and fought with each other brutally while none of them could respond to the national interest. When the Taliban emerged in 1996, promising to bring order, they were welcomed by all Afghans who hoped to be delivered from anarchy under the warlords. However, their pre-dominantly Pashtun leadership and targeting of the minority Hazaras and scorched earth policy in the North of Kabul led many to regard the Taliban as a Pashtun nationalist force. However, this overlooks the fact that many Pashtuns in Eastern Afghanistan did not join the Taliban. Moreover, their interpretation of Islam ran contrary to many Pashtun traditions enshrined in the Pashtunwali code.
Unfortunately, the post 9/11 process to help Afghanistan in state and nation building did not succeed in developing neither a functioning state nor in addressing the problems of national unity among Afghans. Instead of having an inclusive peace-process which is necessary after post-war conflict-period,. The 2001 Bonn conference produced a flawed peace; excluding Taliban figures that could be rehabilitated, thereby were transformed into spoilers. More significantly, it attempted to create an inclusive government by distributing government positions along ethnic lines, largely amongst former warlords, many of whom stand accused of gross human rights violations. Intentionally or unintentionally, the issue has even been institutionalized, which damages the sense of solidarity and belongingness to a nation.
Presently, the foremost challenge of national identity is that almost each person relates himself or herself to an ethnic, and by implication, a political group or personality. The current young generation has not been left untouched by these historical events. The very saddening fact is that the educated young generation is also involved in the politics of ethnicity instead of promoting national identity. Thus, in Afghanistan politicization of ethnicity as a desire for getting power and weak central authority are the foremost causes of intensified ethnic clashes. Therefore, Afghanistan needs nation building parallel to the state building where all ethnic groups should be given equal rights. In addition, mutual respect, the culture of tolerance and non-discrimination need to be adopted. Wisely but not easily, Afghans must acknowledge and put behind their past recent history of ethnic clashes and look ahead, if they desire to build a new future in which everyone has an equal stake, first and foremost as Afghan nationals.
Bilquees Daud, specializes in non- profit organization management, public policy and research has recently published some articles in different website, including BBC Pashto. She aims to work on non-violent methods of peace building through peace education system in Afghanistan