Wikipedia Wars on Pashtun Topics

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Wikipedia Wars on Pashtun Topics, Omar Usman
Published in Khyber.ORG on Monday, August 27 2012 (http://www.khyber.org)


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Wikipedia Wars on Pashtun Topics

Omar Usman

Publishing Date: Monday, August 27 2012

When we want to find anything, we jump to google and make a search. From the available options, we opt to go for wikipedia because they are written in an easy to understand form. Recently, while looking up an article on Amir Kror Suri, I noticed an edit war. Edit war's are normal, and are usually sorted through mediations and a set of rules. However, this was not the first time I have witnessed an edit war on Pashtun pages.

Vandalism on wikipedia is normal. They are treated by editors who revert the page back to an original state. But the edit wars on Pashtun pages are not just by vandals, there are a few persistent and expert Tajik editors who are well versed in wikipedia rules and terminology. All you have to do is go to the Talk page and you will see Tajik and other Iranian origin editors who raise disputes on virtually each and every point. There are disputes from literary books, writers, all the way to famous personalities.

The editors are able to quote references on which they base their objections. Their references are usually written with a bias themselves, and are predominantly Tajik authors, or scholars of Iranic Studies who habitually put a question mark on any Pashtun source or writer. Their aim is to sabotage the article such that eventually it is locked and no further edits are possible. Either this, or let the article continue on condition that it is inclined towards their bias. Very few of them raise genuine objections. Perhaps I it may be too far-fetched to make this claim, but it does seem like a conspiracy to malign everything that has to do with Pashtuns. The article on Amir Kror at hand had the objection that since a reference was not available on the Internet, it was not acceptable.

A neutral approach would require the presence of the claim, as well as its refutation based on objections from sources, and then leave the rest to the reader. A reader, after all does not go to a wikipedia to form an opinion. He goes to get information. So the opinion-making must be left to the user.

Secondly, Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia and cannot be perfect. Even two established encyclopeadia's can contradict on a single point. Some historical claims can never be verified because contradictory claims exist in sources. The usual approach is to give weight-age to sources that have been written in the same time period as that of the claim. But still, that is easier said than done. With pashto history, this is a serious problem. Our history has seldom been documented by Pashtuns, and admittedly, the few available sources are not exactly 'scientific' in nature. There is a shortage of citations, and there is too much emphasis on prose, arts and religion. Of course, Pashtun bias is also evident in some writings.

Subsequently, our history has always been documented by outsiders, be it the Moghuls and Arabs, British, or the current day universities and study centers that are churning up work at a remarkable pace. Bias is natural and evident in all. But it would be very difficult for a normal reader to identify it. This leads to many stereotypes.

As a solution, we can take up the task of becoming wikipedia warriors ourselves and launch an editing campaign of a similar manner. But in current circumstances, this will do more harm than good. What needs to be done can be done by the various universities operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Institutes with a focus on Pashtun and Afghan studies need to be established. A few generalized institutes are already doing the same thing; for instance Area Study Center in Peshawar, and Academies of Pashto in Kabul and Peshawar. They have done some extensive research work, but it is not enough. They must become more open and accessible by extending their research work to the European and western audiences, using the internet of course. The website of Area Study Centre and other similar institutes leave much to desire for. Finding even the contact details of the institute can be a formidable task.

Much of the wealth these institutes possess are in their libraries. I have seen many physical manuscripts of some PhD thesis with some remarkable research. But I cannot find even a citation for them on the Internet, let alone a downloadable copy. Libraries must be strengthened, and their wealth should be digitized and made available on the Internet without any subscription or charges. Partnerships can be made with Google, or other foreign universities with similar interests. A tremendous example is the on-going digitization of the Kabul University library, most of which has already come online, although not easily searchable.

A second problem is that of mindset. Most of us want to become doctors and engineers because of financial interests. If we can't become any of that, we prefer to start a businesses for the same financial reasons. This is valid and I understand the situation of many families and students as I myself belong to an engineering field. But it can change. Many students are nowadays moving towards media and business studies because these areas have also developed financial attraction. Good policies can achieve a similar turn-around in our badly suffering literary and history sectors.

The third approach is the access of 'private' libraries. There exist some families and individuals who are the proud owner of private libraries. Some of these libraries contain thousands of books and records, maps, and other material. It was in a similar private library, that Abdul Hai Habibi found the oldest recorded manuscript written in Pashto in the year 1214 (btw, this has also been made controversial by our neighbours).

Sadly, access to these libraries is only possible to the immediate members of the family; most of whom are oblivious to the benefits of this treasure. These private librarians can easily be contacted, and I am sure their owners would be more than willing to cooperate in digitization of the rare books and records in their possession.

Once the institutes and government can do their part, Wikipedia warriors are just a click away.

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Wikipedia Wars on Pashtun Topics, Omar Usman
Published in Khyber.ORG on Monday, August 27 2012 (http://www.khyber.org)