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Racism Against Pashtuns, A Colonial Hangover

The Pashtun people were significantly impacted by British colonial control in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and it is well known that British colonial officials harbored discriminatory and deeply racist views towards Pashtuns. The Pashtuns were more often than not regarded with contempt and scorn by the British because they were seen as "uncivilized" and "barbaric."

British colonial officials used disparaging words and stereotypes as one means of expressing their racism toward Pashtuns. They propagated prejudiced perceptions about Pashtuns being aggressive and barbaric by calling them "savages" and "wild tribesmen.”

The Pashtun people were likewise the target of British measures meant to dominate and conquer them. They subjected Pashtun tribes to high taxes, which caused poverty and economic marginalization. They also waged a number of ruthless military campaigns against Pashtun resistance and used force to enforce their dominance over Pashtun tribes.

Pashtuns' freedom of movement was also restricted by British colonial officials, who placed travel limits on them and so restricted their capacity for trade and interaction with other populations.

In addition, the British employed strategies to separate and conquer the Pashtun tribes by creating strife among them. To make the Pashtun tribes more manageable and less inclined to band together and rebel against colonial rule, British administrators encouraged the development of rivalries and enmities among the tribes.

So, essentially, the Pashtun people were significantly impacted by British colonial control in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and it is generally known that British colonial officials had discriminatory and racist views towards Pashtuns, something which became a colonial legacy and has persisted to even this day. The colonial rulers adopted policies meant to dominate and enslave the Pashtun people, which resulted in poverty, economic suffering, and restrictions on freedom of movement. They also frequently regarded Pashtuns with contempt and derision, using pejorative language and stereotypes, and those stereotypes are still used in Pakistan even after independence.

The relationship between the Pakistani state and the Pashtun people has been negatively impacted by the colonial legacy of British control in Pakistan. The British colonial policies, which were intended at enforcing control over and subjugating the Pashtun tribes, have led to the Pakistani state's pattern of hostility and bigotry towards Pashtuns.

The deployment of military force against Pashtun communities is one way this hostility and prejudice is displayed. Human rights have been violated, and Pashtun populations have been uprooted as a result of the Pakistani state's use of military action to quell the Pashtun rebellion and assert control over Pashtun territory. The Pakistani military targeted Pashtun populations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province during the 2014 operation Zarb-e-Azb, resulting in widespread displacement and abuses of human rights, and the people who resided in that area still haven’t recovered from the barbaric onslaught of the Pakistani military. Under the garb of conducting an operation against militant outfits, the state has only exploited the resources of Pashtuns, leaving them displaced and fending for their survival.

The Pakistani government has put in place measures that limit Pashtuns' freedom of movement, reducing their capacity for trade and social interaction, and it has imposed high taxes on Pashtun tribes, leading to poverty and economic disenfranchisement.

Further marginalization of Pashtun populations has been attributed to the Pakistani state's alleged failure to provide them with basic services like healthcare and education. Such marginalization is not privy to anyone who has seen both Punjab as well as KPK – the developmental differences are stark and they tell a larger story about the perennial exploitation of Pashtuns, firstly by British colonialism, and then by the Pakistani state, who have adopted similar methods to subjugate Pashtun people.

Additionally, the Pakistani government has come under fire for promoting negative perceptions about Pashtuns, portraying them as "savages" and "wild tribesmen," a colonial relic of the British administration. As a result, Pakistani society has a culture of prejudice and discrimination against Pashtuns.

Unfortunately, stereotypes, prejudice, and racism frequently characterize how Pashtuns are portrayed in Pakistani media. Pashtuns have received a bad rap for being primitive, violent, and backward, which has been used to justify racism and marginalization.

The portrayal of Pashtuns as "terrorists" or "militants" is one of the main ways that they are stereotyped in Pakistani media. The media frequently portrays Pashtuns as participating in acts of violence and terrorism, and this representation has been used to support military operations and other state-led initiatives aimed at policing and subjugating Pashtun communities. In addition to being inaccurate, this portrayal fosters fear and a poor perception of Pashtuns in the minds of the general population, which only exacerbates the already existing issue.

The media in Pakistan has also portrayed Pashtuns as being archaic and illiterate. This myth is used to rationalize the dearth of services and development in Pashtun communities as well as the underrepresentation of Pashtuns in the government and other important institutions.

Another way Pashtuns are stereotyped in Pakistani media is by how they are portrayed as being involved in smuggling and other illegal activities. This picture is often used to defend discriminatory behaviors and laws that limit Pashtuns' freedom of movement.

Some of the ways in which Pashtuns are depicted in Pakistani media are:

  1. The portrayal of Pashtuns as violent "terrorists" or "militants" who engage in terrorism.

  2. Characterization of Pashtuns as “primitive” and “illiterate,” is used to justify the absence of services and development in Pashtun areas.

  3. Showing Pashtuns as involved in illegal activities such as drug trafficking and smuggling, which is used to justify racist policies and practices that restrict the freedom of movement of Pashtuns and impose heavy taxes on Pashtun communities.

  4. Depiction of Pashtuns as being "primitive" and without any sense of humor.

  5. The portrayal of Pashtun women as "oppressed" and "subjugated," promotes dangerous stereotypes and undermines the agency and autonomy of Pashtun women.

  6. Characterizing Pashtuns as "backward," "uncivilized," and "violent," perpetuates harmful stereotypes and justifies discrimination and further marginalization of Pashtun communities.

  7. Depiction of Pashtuns as being responsible for the country's security issues and political instability.

  8. The portrayal of Pashtuns as being anti-Pakistan and pro-Afghanistan promotes a divisive and harmful narrative.

These are some examples of the racist depiction of Pashtuns in Pakistani media, but it's important to note that certain journalists and media outlets have also been calling attention to racism, stereotyping, and discrimination against Pashtuns.

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