There Are No Pashtuns Here

by Joshua Foust on 4/1/2008 · 9 comments

Haji Hashem, the “chairman” of the Zabul “provincial council” (his exact role in which provincial-level shura isn’t stated)* says this about the insurgents in Afghanistan:

“We suffer from these Taliban guy’s actions,” Mr. Hashem said. “They were beheading people. They were torturing people. They were coming for lunch and dinner [to people’s homes] asking for food.”

Those terrorizing Zabul are not a faceless gang to their victims. Mr. Hashem named three of the top Taliban leaders responsible for the carnage here: Qari Mohammad Nur, Mullah Abdul Bari and Haji Talib.

Most of the fighters are foreign, Mr. Hashem explained. “They are Chechen, Arab, Punjab from Pakistan.”

Did you know there were no Pashtuns amongst the Taliban streaming from the refugee camps in the western regions of Pakistan, because of the Chechens and Punjab? That is certainly news to me (and the Punjab lie is even newer than the Chechen lie). But think about the incentive Hashem has for saying this: if the fighters are Pashtuns with local ties, then the question of providing them aid and security is a much more complicated one. In other words, even as a friendly government official, he has a pretty strong incentive to downplay the local aspects of the Taliban resurgence—and Zabul has seen a big resurgence in the last few years.

Unfortunately, it’s a safe bet Hashem’s maxim (i.e. blame the Chechens/Pakistanis) will be repeated without skepticism in other reports and blogs. Alas.

* I misread this to say Mr. Hashem was involved in one of the shuras, not the official provincial council. This is my failing, and not that of the news story. Many thanks to P. Franz Seitz at the Zabul PRT for pointing this out.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Herschel Smith April 1, 2008 at 11:40 am

How absurd and unthinking and stolid of you to link my post and claim that I made any claims whatsoever concerning the blame on foreigners rather than locals. My discussion had entirely to do with the nature of operations, not the makeup of the insurgency. I have many more posts on that that go into the complexity of the insurgency and who comprises it.

At the very least, when writing your own posts you owe your readers an accurate rendition of your sources. In other words.

You can do better than this.

Joshua Foust April 1, 2008 at 11:46 am

Herschel, I’m sorry, then, for misunderstanding the point of your post (for the record, you and I agree on a great number of things, including the necessity of an increased force and the dangers of the Taliban’s new focus on NATO’s supply lines). I thought by including the line from Hashem about the foreign fighters, you were highlighting the argument that the insurgents are largely foreign in origin, which is one many Pashtuns in positions of power try to make to remove from them the challenge and responsibility to clean up their own neighborhoods.

Aside from that, I would still question how Hashem knows the cellular structure of the Taliban, if all they are is scattered foreign fighters. Chechens, Punjabis, and Arabs rarely speak Pashto, and few speak Dari. How would he know, if they aren’t mostly Pashtun?

Regardless, I apologize for the misunderstanding.

Herschel Smith April 1, 2008 at 4:07 pm

Well, then sorry to have jumped on you. An especially bad day, anyway. The structure of the Taliban as given in the report I cited seems to me to agree with previous reports – some of which I have linked – which show that the Taliban are hidden, scattered, and disconnected from centralized command. These are the characteristics of distributed operations, a tactic that Hezbollah used against Israel in the last war. The point I am making, I suppose, is that the continual claims that NATO forces are doing just great in Afghanistan because they win most of the high profile kinetic engagements is irrelevant. The point is that the Taliban are not primarily using the high profile kinetic engagements to conduct their strategy.

Again, in the comment I should have simply pointed out that I was not agreeing with the report on the makeup of the Taliban rather than jumping at you. My bad.

P. Franz Seitz April 1, 2008 at 9:19 pm

I’m the U.S. Department of State Political Officer at the Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team, so I know the Chairman of the Zabul Provincial Council, Hajji Hashem. I won’t comment on the central thread of this discussion; I would just like to clarify a point concerning Hajji Hashem’s status as an elected official (as this seems to be in question judging from Mr. Foust’s April 1 post). Here is a relevant citation from the IRoA Constitution:

“Article One Hundred and thirty eight
Ch. 8. Art. 3

In every province a provincial council is to be formed.

Members of the provincial council are elected in proportion to the population by free, direct, secret ballot, and general elections by the residents of the province for a period of four years in accordance with the law.

The provincial council elects one of its members as Chairman.”

Zabul’s Provincial Council has eight members, and Hajji Hashem was elected by them as its chairperson. Two of the members are women.

Joshua Foust April 1, 2008 at 9:26 pm

Mr. Seitz,

Thanks for the comment. I had misread the news story to say Mr. Hashem was the head of a shura, not the official council. That is my fault, and I apologize. These are sometimes written in haste, and not edited very well, if at all—the downside of blogging, I suppose.

Herschel, no worries—we all have those days.

Askar-Guraiz April 2, 2008 at 5:24 pm


This must be an April fool’s post.

I think you can do better than questioning the presence of Punjabis amongst the Taliban. (I am not saying they are the majority, or that there are no Pushtoons in the insurgency.) Try to see where most of the outlawed militant outfits fighting in Kashmir–yes they used to be lawful or at least borderline–came from and where they are today. You will find some sobering details. Dig here and you find a bit at least:

Otherwise, Ahmad Rashid’s book is always there to enlighten. If there is a strong connection at the outset that is ample evidence to suggest there is connectivity. Unless you have a compelling logic that proves there was a break.

So once proven that there are Punjabis within the Taliban movement, next thing to prove would be why they fight in Afghanistan. Because they don’t want to fight the Pakistan army. That simple. Hassan Abbass can enlighten on this:

Joshua Foust April 2, 2008 at 6:15 pm


I’m afraid I don’t understand what you’re arguing. The ICGA post mentions Punjabs only in terms of an ethnic conflict masquerading as a government/tribal conflict (i.e. Punjab Army vs. Pashtun militants). The letter he posts is from a religious minority pushing the idea that the conflict there is motivated, essentially, by the Sunni-Shi’a split—and not that the Punjab are a majority portion of the Taliban. Otherwise, “Punjab” is not really mentioned in the text.

The Abbas piece mentions Punjabi militants in the context of Kashmir, but their role in the Neo-Taliban insurgency in Pakistan (and, more important to this discussion, Afghanistan) is left assumed or unstated.

So, no, it’s not an April Fool’s joke… I just would need more evidence than that to think the Punjab are behind the attacks in Zabul.

Fateh Mohammad April 5, 2008 at 11:52 pm

Mr. Jaushwa wouldn’t like to be enlightened. Pashtuns seem to be too much on his mind…

Joshua Foust April 6, 2008 at 12:31 pm


That’s not quite it. I have no doubt Punjabs trained in the extremist madrassas are causing trouble in Kashmir; that’s why they were trained. Similarly, I have no doubt there are Arabs and even maybe some Uzbeks amongst the Taliban—given the relationship of the IMU to al-Qaeda, it would make sense.

I do doubt, however, that Punjabs (or Chechens) are actively fighting in Afghanistan. Without proof beyond a single reporter (and an author who claims Uzbek eat their own young), it is a tough sell.

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