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Pashtuns

The Pashtun are not at peace unless they are at war.
Pashtun proverb

Pakistan contains an estimated 25 million ethnic Pashtuns. The estimated total population of Pakistan (167,762,040) in the CIA World Factbook, and 15.42 percent of Pakistan's population claim Pashto as their mother tongue. Pashtuns also represent 42 percent or 13.75 million (the majority) of Afghanistan's population.

The North-West Frontier Province is closely identified with Pashtuns [aka Pashtoons or Pakhtuns, also called Pathans], one of the largest tribal groups in the world. The Pakhtuns predominate in Balochistan and are also the major group in southern Afghanistan. The West has long been fascinated with the Pakhtuns, one of the few peoples able to defeat the advances of British imperialism. Authors as diverse as Rudyard Kipling and contemporary Pakistani anthropologist Akbar S. Ahmed wrote about them. More is written about Pakhtun norms, values, and social organization than any other ethnic group in Pakistan.

The vast majority are Muslims of the Hanafi Sunni tradition. A tiny minority of Pashtuns are Shiites, principally clustered in the Kurram river valley in Kurram Agency of the FATA. Virtually all members of the Turi tribe of the Karlanri Pashtuns in that valley are Shiites, as are some Bangash, Chamkanni, and Orakzai clans.

Most Pakhtuns are pious Sunni Muslims, and effective religious leaders often acquire a substantial following. However, there is a basic ambivalence on the whole toward mullahs, who have a formal role in leading prayers and in taking care of the mosque.

As one observer noted "By and large the Pukhtoons are deeply religious. The land of these highlanders has experienced the influence of religious leaders for a long time, who, after making their way into the mountains aroused the religious sentiments of the local people and rallied them under the banner of Islam against the enemies of their religion. Besides less known divines, who occasionally sprang up and played their short but spectacular part on the stormy stage of the Frontier, the names of Akhund of Swat, Hadda Mullah, Haji Sahib of Turangzai, Mullah Powindah, Faqeer of Ipi, Mullah Syed Akbar or Aka Khel Mullah, Gud Mullah, Lewaney (mad) Mullah, Karbogha Mullah, Faqir of Alingar and Chaknawar Mullah also figure prominently in the religio-political history of the Frontier. Saints and divines exercised immense spiritual and political influence over their minds and it was on account of their religious zeal and fervour that they proclaimed a holy war (Jehad) against infidels. They fought a number of battles against the Sikhs under the leadership of Syed Ahmed Barelvi Shaheed and Syed Ismael Shaheed and later under the influence of the above noted religious divines and stalwarts... Sometimes lunatics and impostors are also mistaken for saintly persons."

A country Afghan only approved of a king provided he never raises taxes or interferes with feuds. The whole people look on resistance to taxes not as a crime but as a virtue, to be admired and imitated if possible, like the sympathy the lower orders in England had with poachers and highwaymen.

Because brothers divide property among themselves, rivalry builds among the children of brothers who may have to subdivide increasingly unequal portions of an original estate. Hence, a man's greatest rival for women, money, and land (zan, zar, and zamin, respectively) is his first cousin -- his father's brother's son -- even though the same man may be his staunchest ally in the event of attack from the outside. Lineages themselves have a notable tendency to fragment; this tendency has contributed to the existence of a number of well-established clans among the Pakhtuns. At every level of Pakhtun social organization, groups are split into a complex and shifting pattern of alliance and enmity.

An intensely egalitarian ethos exists among Pakhtun men in a clan; the tribal leader is considered the first among equals. No man willingly admits himself less than any other's equal. Nor will he, unless driven by the most dire circumstances, put himself in a position of subservience or admit dependency on another. This sense of equality is evident in the structure of the men's council, composed of lineage elders who deal with matters ranging from disputes between local lineage sections to relations with other tribes or with the national government. Although the council can make and enforce binding decisions, within the body itself all are considered equals. To attempt or to appear to coerce another is to give grave insult and to risk initiating a feud.

In the mid-19th Century the people of the country, always with matchlocks across their shoulders, pursued their agricultural avocations. It spoke volumes for the state of a country, when men at the plough are armed to the teeth and ready for a fight. A Lashkar is a body of tribesmen raised or collected at the respons of drum beat to combat a large scale offensive. Its purpose is invariably to deal with a particular incident. The term is applied to dozen of men going to a nearby village for family feud and also to the fiftty thousand who poured into Kashmir in 1947-48. Since the Pathans are a warrior race, the lashkar is an inseparable part of thier life. The best English equivalent of the Pashto Lashkar is probably War panrty as was found among the Red Indians of America.

The millions of tribesmen who live within this system have no desire to have a new, alien system imposed on them by outsiders. Furthermore, Pashtuns are generally convinced that their system of social order produces men superior to those of the Western model.




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