The Pashtun Question

The Unresolved Key to the Future of Pakistan and Afghanistan

May 2014 9781849042925 256pp
Temporarily out of stock


Most contemporary journalistic and scholarly accounts of the instability gripping Afghanistan and Pakistan have argued that violent Islamic extremism, including support for the Taliban and related groups, is either rooted in Pashtun history and culture, or finds willing hosts among their communities on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Abubakar Siddique sets out to demonstrate that the failure, or even unwillingness, of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to absorb the Pashtuns into their state structures and to incorporate them into the economic and political fabric is central to these dynamics, and a critical failure of nation- and state-building in both states.

In his book he argues that religious extremism is the product of these critical failures and that responsibility for the situation lies to some degree with the elites of both countries. Partly an eye-witness account and partly meticulously researched scholarship, The Pashtun Question describes a people whose destiny will shape the future of Pakistan and Afghanistan.


‘A thoroughly readable account of the Pashtuns.’ — The Economist

‘It is one of the best books on Pakistan and Afghanistan.’ — Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, Washington, DC

‘Westerners misunderstand Pashtun society in part because they are often fixated on romantic ideas about Pashtunwali – the tribal code that is said to prize honour, revenge and hospitality above all other virtues. Understandably irritated that British imperialists and today’s foreign correspondents have reduced his culture to an Orientalist fantasy, Siddique points out that, far from relishing the chance to murder one another, most Pashtuns, just like everyone else, would be very happy to live in peace.’ — London Review of Books

‘Abubakar has written a great book. A very elegant job in lining out what a solution will look like in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I have to commend Abubakar for a really impressive job of scholarship. This is seminal work. For anyone who has interest in South Asia, read this book.’ — Ryan Crocker, former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan and Afghanistan

The Pashtun Question looks carefully at the problem of growing extremism in Pakistan’s tribal region. By delving into the history and culture of the Pakhtuns on both sides of the Durand Line, Siddique explores reasons that compelled a peaceful tribal people, who had lived in relative isolation until five or six decades ago, to turn their borderlands into an incubator of extremism … Siddique’s work adds value because of his first-hand knowledge and well thought out analysis.’ — Dawn

The Pashtun Question informs readers of the complex political landscape of the Pashtun regions and explores the various hues of political players in an objective and insightful manner. … Siddique provides an insider’s perspective to a body of literature otherwise dominated by a handful of British colonial accounts.’ — Business Standard

The Pashtun Question is probably the most important work on the Pashtuns since Sir Olaf Caroe’s classic 1958 field study on the subject, The Pathans.’ — Brian Glyn Williams Terrorism Monitor, The Jamestown Foundation

‘…well written and comprehensive…’ — Foreign Policy

‘A well-researched and racy account of the Afghanistan jigsaw. … There is a difference between others’ books and The Pashtun Question. As a tribesman from the region, Siddique gives an insider’s perspective. Siddique skilfully breaks down the complexities of the region, taking the reader through the history of a resilient people.’ — Avalok Langer, Tehelka

‘…a timely portrait of the situation and its ground realities.’ — Foreign Policy

The Pashtun Question offers a comprehensive report of Pashtun history and present-day politics. Siddique’s storytelling skills as a journalist save the book from sinking under its evident scholarship, and by writing of his own people, he offers a genuine understanding that far too many commentators miss because they only focus on whatever political crisis brought them there.’ — Gulf News

‘Abubakar not only asks the Pashtun question, he also answers it, not only for the Pashtuns but also for Kabul and Islamabad.’ —

‘After years of dedicated scholarship and often-risky field research,  Abubakar Siddique makes an articulate and timely plea on behalf of the long-misunderstood Pashtun people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, while offering a timely road map to peace.  I have no doubt that The Pashtun Question will become an indispensable guide for those seeking solutions to the bitterly-intertwined conflicts of the region. A must-read.’ — Jon Lee Anderson, staff writer for the New Yorker, author of Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life

‘Nobody knows the Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan the way that Abubakar Siddique knows his own people. He combines his insider knowledge with decades of on-the-ground reporting and academic training. This book is the best available survey and analysis of the inter-relations of the wars on both side of the Afghan-Pakistan border.’ — Barnett Rubin, professor at New York University and author of The Fragmentation of Afghanistan: State Formation and Collapse in the International System

‘The difference between this book and all the others written on the troubled frontier regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan is that Abubakar Siddique is himself a tribesman from the region, has studied his people closely and offers us insights which are simply not available anywhere else. We are in the hands of a master of knowledge of his region and the wars that have taken such a terrible toll over the past decade. Siddique writes lucidly, provocatively and with enormous knowledge and insight. We know we are in the hands of a master social scientist and story teller from the first pages of this enlightened book.’ — Ahmed Rashid, journalist and author of Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan

‘This is the book to read for a comprehensive and definitive understanding of the Pashtuns of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and insight into the roots of Islamic militancy in their borderlands. Siddique’s scholarly yet highly readable study offers a much welcomed, often first-hand account of contemporary Pashtuns’ troubled history and society, driving ideologies, and radical progeny — the Taliban.’ — Marvin Weinbaum, Middle East Institute

‘This is a study of the cultural values and current political affairs of the Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand Line. Siddique, a native of Waziristan, offers a fascinating description not only of his own kinsmen, but of all Pashtuns whom he has visited in various times in their lands. He has has interviewed their key figures with the result that the work is rich in valuable information and insights that can not be found elsewhere. All this makes it an outstanding work of its kind. Its appearance at a time when the Pashtun heartland is the focus of special attention will be of great value for all, especially for those who have to deal with this fascinating and still largely misunderstood part of the world.’ — Mohammad Hassan Kakar, former professor of History at Kabul University

‘Aided by thorough field research in one of the most dangerous theatres of war in the world [The Pashtun Question] is a must read for scholars, policymakers and general readers of politics and history.’ — The Friday Times

‘At once history, analysis and policy prescription, [The Pashtun Question] reminds us of its subjects’ often forgotten humanity.’ — Neil Padukone, author of Beyond South Asia: India’s Strategic Evolution and the Reintegration of the Subcontinent

‘The Pashtun Question is a must read for those engaged in or interested in South Asia. More significantly, the Pashtuns, and more broadly, Pakistanis and Afghans, should read this book to stimulate a debate about their future.’ —

‘Siddique provides an intriguing picture of the interaction of local and global interests and their impact on the Pashtuns, an ethnic community that he identifies as “one of the world’s largest displaced populations” … The richness of information provided in sections of the book and the picture they paint of a complex web of relationships is the main strength of the book.’ — Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs

‘Siddique gives a highly readable but fully detailed account of the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and its effect on the society and governance of the Pashtuns … His account of the military takeover of the Swat Valley in 2008 is especially striking. … one can only hope that his arguments will be heeded.’ — Asian Affairs


Abubakar Siddique is a journalist with Radio Free Europe in Prague, specialising in coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has spent the past fifteen years researching and writing about security, political, humanitarian and cultural issues in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Pashtun heartland where he was born. In addition to his reporting, Siddique has spoken at Western thinktanks and has contributed articles, chapters and research papers to a range of publications.  

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