Pakistan Table of Contents
The North-West Frontier Province is closely identified with Pakhtuns, 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.
Central to identity as a Pakhtun is adherence to the malecentered code of conduct, the pakhtunwali. Foremost in this code is the notion of honor, nang, which is articulated in a starkly black-and-white, all-or-nothing manner. Without honor, life for a Pakhtun is not worth living. Honor demands the maintenance of sexual propriety. Complete chastity among female relatives is of the essence; only with the purity and good repute of his mother, daughters, sisters, and wife (or wives) does a man ensure his honor. Thus women are restricted to private, family compounds in much of the province. Census takers, invariably male, are constrained not to ask about the women in another man's home, and the number of men in a household is often overstated because sons and brothers are a source of strength. Accurate enumeration of the population hence is not possible.
Closely related to the notion of honor is the principle of revenge, or badal. Offenses to one's honor must be avenged, or there is no honor. Although minor problems may be settled by negotiation, murder demands blood revenge, and partners in illicit sexual liaisons are killed if discovered. Even making lewd innuendos or, in the case of women, having one's reputation maligned may mean death. The men involved sometimes escape to other regions, where they may well be tracked down by the woman's kin. When a woman is killed, the assailant is, almost without exception, a close male relative. Killings associated with sexual misconduct are the only ones that do not demand revenge. Even the courts are accustomed to dealing leniently in such cases. Vendettas and feuds are an endemic feature of social relations and an index of individual and group identity.
Another major dimension of pakhtunwali is hospitality, or melmastia. Commensalism is a means of showing respect, friendship, and alliance. A complex etiquette surrounds the serving of guests, in which the host or his sons, when serving, refuse to sit with those they entertain as a mark of courtesy. Closely related to melmastia is the requirement of giving refuge to anyone, even one's enemy, for as long as the person is within the precincts of one's home. These codes, too, are related to the concept of honor, for the host gains honor by serving his guest, and the person who places himself under another's protection is weak, a supplicant. Refuge must extend to the point of being willing to sacrifice one's own life to defend one's guest, but a person who demeans himself so much as to plead for mercy should be spared.
Observers credit the relatively minimal tension that initially existed between Pakistani Pakhtuns and the large number of Pakhtun refugees from Afghanistan to the deeply felt obligation of Pakhtuns to obey the customary dictates of hospitality. However, Pakistani Pakhtuns' frustration with the refugees escalated after the Soviet army withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. Many Pakistani Pakhtuns were upset that the internecine violence resulting from warring clans in conflict in Afghanistan was overflowing into Pakistan. In 1994 Pakistani Pakhtuns were as eager as other Pakistanis to see the refugees return to Afghanistan.
Pakhtuns are organized into segmentary clans (called khels), each named for a first migrant to their area to whom they trace their ancestry. 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 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.
Most Pakhtuns are pious Sunni (see Glossary) 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.
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.
To facilitate relations with Pakhtuns, the British appointed maliks, or minor chiefs. Agreements in which Pakhtuns have acceded to an external authority--whether the British or the Pakistani government--have been tenuous. The British resorted to a "divide and conquer" policy of playing various feuding factions against one another. British hegemony was frequently precarious: in 1937 Pakhtuns wiped out an entire British brigade. Throughout the 1930s, there were more troops stationed in Waziristan (homeland of the Wazirs, among the most independent of Pakhtun tribes) in the southern part of the North-West Frontier Province than in the rest of the subcontinent.
In tribal areas, where the level of wealth is generally limited, perennial feuding acts as a leveler. The killing, pillaging, and destruction keep any one lineage from amassing too much more than any other. In settled areas, the intensity of feuds has declined, although everyone continues to be loyal to the ideals. Government control only erratically contains violence--depending on whether a given government official has any relationship to the disputants. The proliferation of guns-- including clones of Uzis, and Kalashnikovs--has exacerbated much of the violence.
Since the 1980s, many Pakhtuns have entered the police force, civil service, and military and have virtually taken over the country's transportation network. A former president of Pakistan, Ghulam Ishaq Khan (1988-93), is a Pakhtun, as are many highranking military officers. The government of Pakistan has established numerous schools in the North-West Frontier Province- -including ones devoted exclusively to girls--in an effort to imbue Pakhtuns with a sense of Pakistani nationalism.
A growing number of development projects in the North-West Frontier Province have provided diverse employment opportunities for Pakhtuns. Notably, the government has set up comprehensive projects like building roads and schools as a substitution for cultivating opium poppies. Incentives for industrial investment have also been provided. However, the government lost much credibility when it proposed in 1991 (a proposal soon withdrawn) to build up the local infrastructure in the Gadoon-Amazai area of the North-West Frontier Province and to encourage it as a target for tax-free investment. Observers attributed the government's withdrawal of the incentive package to local unrest.
Data as of April 1994
Pakistan Table of Contents