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Violent Conflict and Ethnic Identity: Reflections on Ethnic Relations among the Pukhtuns (Pashtuns) in Swat, Pakistan

Syed Wasif Azim


Published: 2022/03/01


Violent conflicts can have significant and complex relations with ethnic identities. In this context, the present study explores the impacts of violent conflict on ethnic identity in the case of Swat Valley in Pakistan. The article argues that conflict and violence have amplified the complexity of ethnic identity by impacting ethnic relations, a significant aspect of ethnic identity, in multiple forms, where ethnic identity neither hardens nor softens as discussed in the earlier literature. Ethnic identity is at the same time undermined and strengthened by violent conflict. This case study of Pukhtun ethnic identity in Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, elaborates that intra-ethnic divisions between the categories of Khanan and Gharibanan have been exploited by militants during the conflict in Swat, and inter-ethnic divisions between Pukhtuns and Punjabis have been ‘sharpened’. These developments have increased the complexity of Pukhtun ethnic identity. Theoretically and conceptually the work is based on a broader constructivist approach to ethnic identity and the discussion of ethnic relations of Fredrik Barth (1956, 1969, 1998) and Muhammad Ayub Jan (2010). Methodologically, the study is based on field work comprising unstructured interviews (individual discussions), focus group discussions, ethnographic observation and field notes arranged from November 2016 to May 2017 in Swat, northern Pakistan. Keywords: Ethnic identity, Ethnic relations, Conflict, Violence, Pukhtuns (Pashtuns)

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