he roots of Pashtun-led Afghanisation can be traced to the Durrani Pashtun Empire (1747–1880), which pursued predatory policies of waging war against weakened Turkic empires in northern Afghanistan. British weapons, political support and annual cash subsidies underwrote the reign of the ‘Iron Amir’ Abdur Rahman Khan (r. 1880– 1901), during which the official boundaries of Afghanistan were established. Abdur Rahman’s association with the British undermined his anti-colonial credentials, which encouraged northern communities to reject his rule. Many rebellions broke out in the north in the early 1880s, which Abdur Rahman suppressed through direct force and through administrative, linguistic and cultural violence.
Abdur Rahman’s mistrust of northern, non-Pashtun communities drove his policy of Pashtun-centred Afghanisation. Communities of Pashtuns were moved from the south, especially to the north-western regions of the old Turkistan province – today’s Faryab, Jawzjan, Balkh, Saripul and Samangan provinces. Thousands of Abdur Rahman’s Durrani Pashtun maldar (mobile herder) supporters were relocated from Kandahar to Turkistan, Qataghan and Badakhshan, where they were awarded prime pasture and farmland. He also forcibly moved many Ghilzai Pashtun Kuchi nomadic herders and farmers from the Eastern province of Mashreqi who had rebelled against him.
King Amanullah (r. 1919–1929), the grandson of Amir Abdur Rahman, reclaimed the country’s independence from the British Raj in 1919. But he paid a great cost in terms of lost subsidies, which hamstrung his ability to implement his reformist projects. A civil war ultimately forced the king’s abdication in 1929. Amanullah and his father-in-law, Mahmood Tarzi, were the architects of Pashtun- centred Afghan nationalism. They initiated demographic and cultural hegemony in Turkistan, Qataghan and Badakhshan.
The peoples of these regions were systematically disarmed in 1921, while in 1923 Amanullah’s government issued its Nizamnamayee Naqileen ba Samti Qataghan edict. This provided for Pashtuns from across the country to resettle in Qataghan province, offering eight jeribs (half an acre) or four acres of irrigated land for every male and female member of the family above seven years of age for a nominal fee along with preferential tax benefits. This process continued through the 1930s to the 1950s, under the direction of Wazir Gul Mohammad Khan Momand as Minister of Interior and roving special envoy of the state in the north. He is credited with the destruction of non- Pashtun historic monuments and historical manuscripts, and with changing local vernacular names.
The most significant ‘administrative violence’ against the peoples of northern Afghanistan was perpetrated by the 1964 liberal constitution, which, ironically, was modified to become the new post-Taliban Constitution of Afghanistan in 2004. In the eyes of many non-Pashtuns in northern Afghanistan, the drafters of the 1964 constitution deployed something akin to Joseph Stalin’s infamous ‘Nationalities Policies’. The Afghan provinces of Turkistan, Qataghan and Badakhshan were divided into nine new administrative units, Faryab, Jawzjan, Saripul, Balkh, Samangan, Kunduz, Baghlan, Takhar and Badakhshan, effectively destroying common Turkistani and Qataghani identities. Up to the 1978 Communist coup, programmes of Afghanisation continued with large numbers of southern Pashtuns being resettled across northern provinces (Naqileen). In the 1990s, these resettled Pashtun ‘pockets’ in the north became the backbone of Taliban support in re-conquering the region.
The decline of central government control in peripheral parts of the country during the 1980s left Pashtun communities in the north vulnerable to revenge by local Uzbek, Turkmen, Aimaq and Tajik communities when they became armed and organised as jihadi groups to resist Soviet occupation. Many Naqileen left for the safety of Pakistan. The larger Pashtun enclaves in Kunduz, Baghlan and Balkh provinces, however, organised and armed themselves with help from Pakistan-based jihadi parties, both to resist the Communists and to protect their own communities against threats from non-Pashtuns. Land in parts of Takhar and Badakhshan provinces that had been left behind by Pashtuns who resettled was appropriated by their Tajik and Uzbek neighbours.
Following the re-conquest of the north by the Taliban after 1997, Pashtun refugees returned from Pakistan, along with new Taliban soldiers from the south and from Pakistan. The non-Pashtuns who fiercely resisted the Taliban re- conquest of their territories, which they had liberated from the Soviets and Kabul regimes, were also subjected to violent reprisals. The Taliban, however, had collaborators and sympathisers among local mullahs trained in Pakistani madrasas. This ultimately created tensions within the non- Pashtun communities. The Taliban’s initial routing from Mazar-i Sharif and subsequent triumphant recapture of the city also resulted in mutual acts of revenge, especially among the Hazaras, further aggravating tension in northern and central Afghanistan.