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Khul, Khel, Kaum and Tribes

The Pukhtoon society is individualistic despite the rigid behavior prescribed by clan membership. While Pashto speaking people constitute one cultural and social entity, Pukhtoon society is divided into tribes, based on genealogies. The tribes are sub-divided into Khels, which may be equated with clans. Within the Khels, the basic division is the expanded family group. The leader of each family group is called a Malik, and the most important of a group of Maliks is designated as the leading Malik of the Khel. The usual object of allegiance is the Malik, and in settled districts, a Khan. They gain their title by their ability to lead followers in public affairs. A Pukhtoon Malik is however no more than a first among equals, and acquires the status through personal merit and the ability to inspire fellow tribesmen. Primogeniture is not recognized, and leadership is accorded to the most capable.

The social structure in the settled districts has altered a great deal from the tribal order. The Khans have lost much of their original leadership role in the settled districts. Agriculture is a notable characteristic of the culture of both the settled and tribal areas. In the former, it is however more developed in terms of irrigation, cultivation of cash crops and utilization of modern technology. The literacy rate is higher in the settled districts, especially for women. The trend towards having nuclear rather than extended families is also more pronounced in the settled districts.

There are approximately 60 major Pashtun tribes, and more than 400 sub-clans. The Pashtuns in the tribal belt profit from trading, tracking, trucking and trafficking. Pakhtoon designates a person who speaks Pashto. Pathan is a Hindi term adopted for them by the British. The racial composition of the Pukhtoons is less than clear. The tribes who dwelled in the area in the days of the Greek historians are believed to be part of the great Aryan horde which had moved down from Central Asia a millennium earlier. Over the course of centuries, the Greek, Persian, Turk, and Mongol invaders who passed through the Frontier have added their blood.

Kul means family. It is usually used to indicate an enlarged family. Koranai and Tabar is used for smaller family. Sometimes Kul is used for a group of families closely related to each other. In this case kul may refer to khel as the pateh kul and Omar khan kul in Mangal tribe. Each family should obey its own natural head. Traditionally the household head has a strong hold and decision-making power for the whole family. The wives are traditionally submissive to their husbands and the likelihood of divorce or separation in the tribal society is negligible. If there is dislike and conflict between wife and husband, he will marry another girl if he is rich and also keep his old wife as well.

Pakhtuns are organized into segmentary clans (called khels), each named for a first migrant to their area to whom they trace their ancestry. Like all nomade tribes, they have long genealogies. They say themselves that they were anciently descended from one man. All the families of a Khel should obey a malik, and all be obedient to a khan, who leads the troops, and is answerable for the revenue, but should not act on important business without the sanction of a "jirga" or convocation of the elders of a tribe. Khel is an ethnographic unit forming the central point around which tribe moves. Khel is a unit of composed of kuls and koranai i. ie. families. The khel is a unit based on kinsship. In the southern tribes the term khel and in the western tribes, the term Zai are suffixed to the name indicating the basic ethnographic unit. It is the authority of the khel to admit someone into the tribe or refuse him. The decision on such matters will be taken in Jirgas in which the representive of each khel casts a predetermined number of votes.

Khel membership is tied to landownership as well as to descent. A person who loses his land is no longer treated as a full (adult) member of the community. He no longer may join or speak in the tribal jirga, or council of tribal leaders, at which issues of common interest are debated. But the amount of land owned has no bearing on the influence of the individual.

In the 19th Century, each of the tribes was divided into 'numerous Khels, and each Khel into a few families. Traditionally, the natural head of each family is implicitly obeyed ; the oldest by descent of these heads of families is usually, not always, the malik of the Khel, with a power but little obeyed. It was understood that the head of the senior Khel is chief of the tribe, and the king often granted him the title of khan. He dared not collect any income from his tribe, but lived on tho produce of his own lands ; and by appropriating by fraud part of the duties on infidels and merchandise, and in the obedient tribes, part of the royal taxes. Among the eastern tribes (who were always in rebellion, or rather, in a state of independence) he used his influence to head plundering expeditions and procure a good share in the spoil. His seniority in birth made the Afghans pay him the respect of an elder brother, but nothing more. If his character was disliked, he had not even that; the lowest of his tribe eat, drink, and smoke with him. In urgent danger the khan was often set aside, and a "Toelwashteo" or leader was chosen, and while the danger lasted he was pretty well obeyed.

Obscure genealogies, myths, historical alliances and conflicts, and folklore make it difficult make clear divisions. Pashtuns are divided into tribes, kaum or qabili, and sub-divided into Khel [sub-tribes or clans]. Tribes usually join a tribal confederation, a significant number are named after a legendary ancestor, to which the suffix khel (kin) or zai (son) is attached.

Qays Abd' al-Rashid Pathan is the ancestor of all Pashtuns. They also claim lineage from King Saul (first King of Israel). The three sons of al-Rashid Pathan are Sarban, Bitan, and Ghurghusht. Sarban's eldest son was Sharkhbun and his descendents are found in South Afghanistan. Sarban's other son, Kharshbun, has descendants in the Peshawar valley.

The Pashtun's of west Afghanistan are called the Durranis and are descended from Sharkhbun's son Abdalis. The Pashtun in Pakistan are descended from Kharshbun's son Yusufzay, and his descendents live north of Peshawar. The Shinwaris, Pashtun in the Jalalabad vicinity, are descended fron Kharshbun's son Kasi. Bitan had a daughter, Bibi Mato who married a foreigner named Husayn Ghur. She conceived an illegitimate son before they were wed and the Ghaljis tribe is descended from them. This accounts for the lower status of the Ghaljis among the Pashto tribes. Pathan's third son was Ghurghusht and two tribes are descended from him; the Kakars and the Safis.

The two main tribal confederations in Afghanistan are the Durranis and the Ghaljis, while a third, the Mohmand confederation, spans both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The fourth branch of the Pashto are found throughout western Pakistan. They are descendants of Karran, who was either Pathan's fourth son, or was adopted by Pathan. The tribes claiming Karran as an ancestor are the; Afridis, Bangash (Shi'a), Khataks, Mahsuds, Mangals, and the Waziris.

Thus there are five major Pashtun tribal groups: the Durrani, Ghilzai, Karlanri, Sarbani, and Ghurghusht, of which the Durrani and the Ghilzai are the most influential.

  • Durrani tribal confederation, mostly concentrated in Southeast Afghanistan, has traditionally provided leadership in Pashtun areas since Ahmad Shah Durrani founded a monarchy in 1747. Afghans regard Ahmad Shah as the founder of modern Afghanistan because he united the factional tribes. The current president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, is a Durrani. The Durrani are the most powerful and influential tribal confederation in Afghanistan. The King of Afghanistan has always been a Durrani. The Durrani are divided into two branches; the Zirak and the Panjpao. Tribes within the Zirak branch include the Popolzai (east of Kandahar and west of the Helmand River), the Alkozai (east of Kandahar and north of Helmand), the Barakzai (southwest of Kandahar in the Arghestan River Valley), and the Atsakzai (Zamindawar region and along the Kohdaman Ridge). Tribes within the Panjpaobranch include the Nurzai (southwest and western Afghanistan), the Alizai (Zamindawar and Helmand), and the Ishaqzai (west of Kandahar, Farah region, and in Seistan). The Saddozai is the senior tribe of Popalzai, and therefore of the Abdalis, who themselves are the elder branch of the offspring of Saraban, the eldest son of Kais Abdul Eashid, descended from Saul, Abraham, and Adam. This genealogy, however absurd, has procured the head of the Saddozais great respect.
  • Ghilzai tribal group is concentrated mostly in eastern Afghanistan and has historically been the arch-rival of the Durranis. Some of the primary Taliban leaders, notably Mullah Omar, are Ghilzais. The Ghilzais are part of the Bitani tribal confederation. The Ghalji confederacy is divided into two groups, the Turan (western) and the Burhan (eastern). The Turan include the Nasir, Kharaoci, Hotaki, and Tokhi (Qalat-I Ghilzai) tribes. The Burhan includes the Sulaymen Khel (southeast of Kabal to Jalalabad), the Ali Khel(Mukur region), and the Tarakkis (Mukur) tribes. In the 18th Century, the Ghalji led a seriesof revolts against the Persian Safavid Empire. The Ghilzis had kings also when they were conquering Persia, and were not taxed for their support.
  • Karlanris, or "hill tribes," are the third largest group of Pashtuns. They straddle the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan in Waziristan, Kurram, Peshawar, Khost, Paktia, and Paktika.
  • Sarbanis consist of two major geographically separated groups. The larger group, located north of Peshawar, includes tribes such as the Mohmands, Yusufzais, and Shinwaris, while the smaller segment consists of Sheranis and Tarins scattered in northern Balochistan. This faction comprises the traditional aristocracy of the Pashtun.
  • Ghurghushts are found mostly in northern Balochistan and include tribes such as the Kakars, Mandokhels, Panars, and Musa Khel. Some of the groups' sub-tribes, like the Gaduns and Safis, are found in the NWFP.

The Pashtun peoples belong to three tribal groups. The two most prominent groups, the Durranis and the Ghilzais, being tribal confederations which can be subdivided into tribes, clans and lineages. The third major Pashtun group comprises those tribes in the mountainous areas straddling the eastern border shared by Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in the Pakistan lowlands descending east towards the Indus River. Among these Eastern Pashtun tribes pashtunwali is still very strong, and recognition of central governance (and "national" borders) is very weak.

The Pukhtoon society comprises both the people of the tribal areas and the settled districts of NWFP. The tribal society has been the focus of many studies as it has kept alive the true Pukhtoon ethos. The Pukhtoon of the settled districts have however been subject to external influence and have moderated some of the more traditional aspects of their culture and customs. The Yousafzai, Muhammadzai and Khalil tribes belong to the settled districts and have limited links in the tribal areas. All other Pukhtoon tribes of the settled districts have extensive affections and consanguninal ties with the tribal Pukhtoons.

Self identity for nearly all people in Afghanistan is primarily driven by affiliation with one or more qawm, not with broad ethnic groupings or even (in general) with a tribe or confederation of tribes. The one sustained historic deviation from this is the Durrani Pashtun, whose self-identity as an ethnic tribal confederation was driven by their close political relationship to the central government. Pashto identity has historically not been tied to a macro-ethnicity, rather to a restricted social group - qawm - which practices pashtunwali.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:03:40 ZULU