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Current Conflict and the Ensuing Debates about Identity among the Pakhtuns in Cultural and Virtual Spaces

By: Muhammad Ayub Jan

The participation of Pakhtuns1
in debates of identity during the current
conflict in Pakistan-Afghanistan borderland has received little attention from
the scholars of conflict studies on the region. These debates (held in cultural
and virtual spaces) represent a non-violent, dialogical and discursive
resistance put up by people who are often painted by media as perpetrators of
violence. This paper argues that, there is discernible change in Pakhtun region
and that one way to understand such a change is to study the debates and
deliberations that engage diverse people at inclusive and exclusive spaces of
engagement such as cyberspace (internet) and cultural spaces such as hujras,
jirgas, etc. The analysis in the paper are based on data collected from two
internet discussion forums as ‘Global Hujra’ hosted by Khyberwatch and
‘Pashtun Forums’ between 2007-2010. Besides these forums, insights were
taken from the fieldwork done by the author in district Malakand (Pakistan) to
reflect on debates in cultural spaces such as hujra, etc. The findings of the
paper suggest that the use of cyberspace among Pakhtuns itself is an evidence
of change that highlights the acceptance and engagement of new means of
communication (globalization agents) for the purpose to generate debate. The
way issues are initiated, deliberated and articulated on these forums
represents acumen, keenness, and dedication of the posters. The dialogical
skills demonstrated by the educated Pakhtun through these internet forums
represent a change from other wise traditional forums of deliberation such as
jirgas or hujras. Moreover, the debates and interaction on internet relate to the
dominant official discourse of Pakistani identity and the radical Islamic
discourse. In the relating process the deliberations constitute a discourse,
which manifest identity construction.
Key Words: Identity, Virtual Spaces, Pakhtuns, Conflict.