A few months ago MuslimSkeptic published an article regarding how Arab nationalists weaponize Wikipedia within the information war of our era.
But Arab nationalists certainly aren’t alone here.
When it comes to this sort of manipulation, Hindu nationalists are heavily involved in it too. In fact, Hindu nationalists are actually far more active in this regard than Arab nationalists, and this is highly correlated with both India’s high population rate and the unemployment rate among its youth.
What we’ll be examining here is how Hindu nationalists use Wikipedia to propagate their notion of Akhand Bharat or “Greater India.”
Were Pashtuns-Afghans Ever Hindus? And Why Does It Even Matter?
Those of you who live outside of South Asia have likely at least heard of Pashtuns or Afghans due to the Taliban, as they make up the towering majority of the group.
It is crucial that we specify that “Pashtun” and “Afghan” in pre-modern times were synonymous. It is only with the rise of the modern nation-state of Afghanistan that being “Afghan” was extended to the non-Pashtun ethnic groups such as the Hazaras, the Uzbeks or the Tajiks. In theory it would technically be more accurate to class these other groups as “Afghanistanis” (citizens of Afghanistan) rather than “Afghans.”
Pashtuns or Afghans (an Iranic group) number approximately 60 million. Around 45 million of that number are in Pakistan and there are around 15 million in Afghanistan. Despite their prominence in the country’s politics, they make up less than half of the population in Afghanistan.
While outsiders may link them with the Taliban, South Asians generally view them simply as a “Muslim ethnic group” par excellence.
Similar to Malays in South-East Asia or Fulanis in Sub-Saharan Africa, Pashtuns/Afghans are an ethnic group defined completely by Islam. They are renowned for their significant contributions to the expansion of Islam. Many of the Muslim kings-rulers of South Asia were of ethnic Pasthun-Afghan descent.
Sher Shah Suri for example, whose rule during the 16th century witnessed the establishment of systems of administration and economics, which in turn also helped to facilitate the future authority and rule of the Muslims.
Then you have the great Pashtun-Afghan king from the 18th-century; the warrior, Ahmed Shah Abdali. He was affectionally referred to as Ahmed Shah Baba as he was basically the founder of what is modern Afghanistan. He is also the one who was invited by Shah Waliyyullah al-Dihlawi to fight against the Marathas (those revivalist Hindu militants). Abdali is responsible for preventing their dream of a “united Hindu empire” from being realized.
We could list numerous such examples of Pashtuns/Afghans who have served Islam.
And what is perplexing is that their ethnogenesis (anthropological jargon to denote the origins of an ethnicity) is linked with Islam. Some tried linking them back to White Huns and others tried linking them back to Scythians, but there is nothing conclusive either way.
Even their religious history remains mysterious. Were they Zoroastrians like other Iranic populations? Or were they some form of Buddhists like in Gandhara?
It’s as if their very history begins with their conversion to Islam, and Pashtuns/Afghans themselves trace it to Qais Abdur Rashid, who met the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
There are very few ethnic groups which are so strongly linked to Islam as the Pashtuns/Afghans are… that is, until Hindu nationalists discovered Wikipedia.
Until a few years ago, anyone who had gone onto the Wikipedia page dedicated to Pashtuns/Afghans would have seen “Islam” under the religion category. This may then have been broken down into “Sunni majority” and “Shi’ah minority.”
Even the mere inclusion of Shi’ah would in and of itself be pretty odd since it’s a minuscule minority found mainly within the Parachinar city of Pakistan. And this is in no way sufficient for defining an entire ethnicity.
The Hindu nationalists though, went a step further and amazingly “unearthed” Hindus among the Pashtuns/Afghans.
We don’t exactly need to be anthropologists to know that there’s no cultural trace of Hinduism among them, at all. This is as opposed to some of their Indic neighbors for example, who may retain a form of the Hindu caste system, even if it’s less forceful.
But with Pashtuns-Afghans, there’s nothing. There’s absolutely nothing in their language, behavior, and so on which even remotely indicates ancestral Hinduism.
It is also thus no wonder then that the quoted Wikipedia “sources” don’t have any real evidence.
For instance, they speak of Hindus and Sikhs who self-identify as Pashtuns/Afghans because they speak the language (Pashto). But how is that any different from a French citizen of Russian origins. They may be a French citizen (due to having citizenship) but that wouldn’t make them ethnically French.
And it is a well-known fact that non-Pashtun Hindus identify as ethnic Pashtuns/Afghans simply because they either speak Pashto or come from Pashtun-dominated areas. One famous case, which became a meme due to how utterly ridiculous it is, is that of Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor. Kapoor is a self-styled “Pathan” despite his family name “Kapoor” betraying him and revealing his Punjabi origins (this would be equivalent to someone named “Kumar” claiming to be an ethnic Italian because he speaks Italian and lives in Italy).
Besides self-identity, another supposed “proof” is the existence of some tribes like “Kakar.”
But Kakar is one of the few names that is shared by both Pashtun-Afghan and Punjabi peoples. The existence of a Hindu (or Sikh for that matter) “Kakar” doesn’t mean that Pashtuns/Afghans are Hindus. It only means that two different ethnic groups happen to share a family name. The Punjabi Kakar’s self-identification as a Pashtun-Afghan is based entirely upon the reasoning highlighted earlier (culture and language); not ethnicity.
Hindu nationalists would be hard-pressed in trying to find Hindus among more exclusive Pashtun-Afghan clans and tribes such as the Khattaks, the Durranis, etc.
This is the reason behind what the Wikipedia folks refer to as “edit wars.”
Hindu nationalists kept throwing up the Hindu reference, and the Pashtuns kept removing it. The Hindu nationalists ultimately win (“locking” the page so it’s not easily editable) based on their sheer numbers alone.
The question that arises is:
Why are Hindu nationalists so desperate to push their absurd narrative regarding the supposed Hindu roots of the Pashtuns/Afghans?
The answer is actually pretty straightforward. As we all know, Hindu nationalists embrace the fantasy of Akhand Bharat or “Greater India.”
The objective is simple. Invent a Hindu genealogy for all ethnic groups (especially “the most Muslim ethnic group”) as a strategy to “reclaim” their lands:
“Your forefathers were Hindus, so these are all Hindu lands.”
This is all thus a basic psy-op designed to promote both cultural Hinduism (which, within in the region, is the best way towards liberalization and secularization) and also more concrete Hindu territorial expansionism.