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What Is In The Pashtun Genes?

Recent stories in the Israeli and Western media report that an Indian researcher is studying blood samples from a Pashtun migrant community in northern India to see whether the Pashtuns of today's Afghanistan and Pakistan are linked to the lost tribes of Israel, who were scattered after an Assyrian conquest 2,700 years ago.

Various historians have sought to establish such links over the years, although most of them have been heavily contested.

It was a 17th century historian in the Mughal court who first established a link between Pashtuns and their possible Jewish ancestry. But modern-day Afghan scholars have rejected his writings as biased, as at the time the Mughals and Pashtuns were bitter rivals. (Zahir ud-din Muhammad Babur, the founder of the Mughal empire in India, snatched his kingdom from a Pashtun king Ibrahim Khan Lodhi in 1526.)

One of the consequences of the Mughal writings on the Pashtuns' origins, was a Pashtun counterhistory in the 20th century, which emphasized their connection to Aryan tribes. Other scholars have argued that Pashtuns are the Aborigines of Afghanistan, reinforcing the notion that as a people they have mostly lived in the regions they populate today.

Regardless, evaluating Pashtuns' ethnic heritage is a minefield -- in all of their complicated history, the Pashtun people have lived in and around the Hindu Kush and Sulaiman mountains and have fought and absorbed legions of invaders and migrants.

For war-weary Pashtuns today, such genetic research is of little consequence. What they would really like today are concerted efforts to establish peace and bring development to their ravaged homeland in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

They're more worried about preserving their cultural values of egalitarianism, individuality, and independence, and not being seen as perpetrators of extremist violence, especially when as a people they themselves have endured so much.

-- Abubakar Siddique

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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