The Pathans are noted as fierce fighters, and throughout history they have offered strong resistance to invaders. The British attempted to subdue the Pathans in a series of punitive expeditions in the late 19th and early 20th cent. but were finally forced to offer them a semiautonomous area (see North-West Frontier Province) between the border of British India and that of Afghanistan.
After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the new nation annexed the Pathan border regions, and a Pathan independence movement, called the Redshirts, was born. In the early 1950s, Afghanistan supported Pathan ambitions for the creation of an independent Pushtunistan (also called Pakhtunistan or Pakhtoonistan) in the border areas of West Pakistan. Several border clashes and ruptures of diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan ensued. In the early 1970s thousands of armed Pathan tribespeople pressed for increased autonomy within Pakistan, even demanding independence after the secession of Bangladesh (East Pakistan). The Pathans remain a potentially destabilizing force in NW Pakistan, where the Pathan-based Taliban movement of Afghanistan has many sympathizers.
See O. K. Caroe, The Pathans, 550 B.C.-A.D. 1957 (1958, repr. 1965); J. W. Spain, People of the Khyber (1963), The Pathan Borderland (1963), and The Way of the Pathans (2d ed. 1973).