Pashtunwali: Wikis


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Etymology · Pashtunwali
Language · Culture · Art
Tribes · Diaspora


Pashtunwali (Pashto: پښتونوالی) or Pakhtunwali refers to the traditional lifestyle of the Pashtun people[1], which is also regarded as an ancient honor code or a non-written law for its people.[2][3] Though Pashtunwali is believed to date back to pre-Islamic period, its usage or practice does not contravene basic Islamic principles.[4]

Paradise in Islam is acquired though [doing] Pashtu… the countless graces of Paradise come though [doing] Pashtu to the Pashtuns.[5]

Pashtunwali is practiced by Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including by members of the Pashtun diaspora around the world.[6]



Pashtunwali is an ancient "code of honor" that is practiced by the native Pashtuns of Afghanistan in Pakistan, including the Pashtun communities around the world. It is a set of rules guiding both individual and communal conduct. Pashtunwali is socially practiced by the majority.

Pashtuns embrace an ancient traditional, spiritual, and communal identity tied to a set of moral codes and rules of behavior, as well as to a linear record of history spanning over five thousand years. Pashtunwali promotes self-respect, independence, justice, hospitality, love, forgiveness, revenge and tolerance toward all (especially to strangers or guests).[4] It is considered a personal responsibility of every Pashtun to discover and rediscover Pashtunwali's essence and meaning.

The code of Pashtunwali

Pashtunwali is an unwritten law and ideology of the Pashtun society inherited from their forefathers. It is a dominant force of Pashtun culture and identity. Pashtunwali is conservative, oligarchic, centuries old but still a young phenomenon in the Pashtun culture and socio-economic structure.

It has been able to maintain a powerful dialectical balance of the Pashtun society. Pashtunwali, a complement of the Pashtun society, has undergone various legal, political, economic and cultural changes for its reform. It has developed into an accepted constitution.

Pashtunwali consists of qualifications such as Khpelwaki (self authority), Sialy (Equality), Jirga (Assembly), Mishertob (Elders), Ezaat (Respect of all people), Roogha (reconciliation or compromise), Badal (revenge), Barabari (equivalence), Teega/Nerkh (Law), Aziz/Azizwale (clan, clanship), Terbor/Terborwali (cousin and tribal rivalries), Nang (Honour), Ghairat (Pride), Oogha Warkawel ( to give a lift to persons in need), Nanawati Warkawel ( to offer asylum), Ashar (shared co-operative work), Zhamena (commitment), Melayter (patrons), Chegha (call for action), Soolah (truce), Nanawati (protection) and others.

Pashtunwali is an oligarchic structure emphasizing of Jirga, Sialy and Barabary. It is a defensive system in terms of Jirga, Chegha and Arbakai (system of village militias). It is a legal system in terms of Jirga, Teega/Nerkh, Pannah and Roogha. This system has managed all social and internal affairs of the Pashtun/Pakhtun society before and after Islam. It has created small and large local governments in Central and South Asia.

Pashtunwali embodies all the principles of a self-sufficient social group. Its two principles of Siali (Competition) and Mailmastia (Hospitality) embody two social principles that ensure a society’s progress through competition; and survival through co-operation. The elements of conflict and co-operation are evenly balanced in the make-up of Pashtunwali. Concepts like Nang (honour), Siali (competition) and Badal (retribution) are open to interpretation, as the social needs and the collective perception of the group change with time.

The codes

From left to right: Jamaluddin Badar, Nuristan governor, Fazlullah Wahidi, Kunar governor, Gul Agha Sherzai, Nangarhar governor, and Lutfullah Mashal, Langhman governor, listen to speakers during the the first regional Jirga to talk about peace, prosperity and the rehabilitation of Afghanistan.
  • Faith - trust in God (known as "Allah" in Arabic and "Khudai" in Pashto). The notion of trusting in the one creator generally comports to Islamic idea of belief in only one god (tawheed).
  • Behaviour - Pashtuns must behave respectfully towards all creations including people, animals and the environment around them. Pollution of the environment and/or its destruction is against the Pashtunwali.
  • Unity - above the languages they speak, above the blood they keep, above the amount of money they make, Pashtunwali unites the Pashtuns as one people across the world. Where there is true unity, every effort to disunite them will only serve to strengthen the unity they have. What happens to one - happens to all.
  • Equality - Every man is equal. It is this concept which has necessitated the development amongst Pashtuns of a Jirga system, whereby decision making takes place with the participation of all members of the Pashtun society. Every man wants a say in his future and he will fight for his right to have his opinions heard. All people must therefore deal with each other, with the proper civility or respect and no one may impose their will on to another.
  • Freedom and independence - the belief that freedom in physical, mental, religious, spiritual, political and economic realms is for all to pursue, male and female, so long as it is done without bringing harm to others. The free have nothing to gain of freedom without discipline.
  • Proselytizing Pahtunwali says that no individual has the right to place demand upon others who are not their children regarding what to believe.
  • Hospitality and sanctuary - Being hospitable to all mankind, especially to guests, even the most hostile of enemies may (if asked for) be provided sanctuary, asylum or protection as well as food and other aid.
  • Justice and forgiveness - If one intentionally wrongs another, the victim has the right, even an obligation, to avenge this injustice in equal proportion. If one has intentionally wronged you, and you did not seek justice nor did the wrongdoer ask you for his/her forgiveness, then a debt, is owed to you by him/her, which can only be fulfilled once justice (through an act of revenge or the decision of the Jirga council) has been provided to recompense the wrong done.
  • Brotherhood and trust - the belief that fellow Pashtun brothers or sisters should be trusted and assisted to the greatest extent possible.
  • Honour - Pashtuns must maintain their independence and human dignity. Honour has great importance in Pushtun society and most other edicts and codes of life are aimed towards the preservation of one's honour or pride.
  • Self respect - Individuals must respect themselves and others in order to be able to do so, especially those they do not know. Respect begins at home, among family members and relatives.
  • Compassion and cooperation - The poor and the weak must be supported.
  • Family - The family must be glorified under a sacred conviction of responsibility and duty with respect for wives, daughters, elders, parents, sons, and husbands.
  • We are one family - Fellow Pashtun must be cared for. There may be hundreds of tribes, but they have one destiny in union with each other.
  • Knowledge - Pashtuns seek objective knowledge in life, art, science, and culture, which are considered fruits granted by God.
  • Pashtun history - Great value is placed in Pashtun history, with all its depth and pluralism, tragedies and victories. It teaches Pashtuns "to keep the mind open, to continue the search for the truth, much of which has vanished under history itself".
  • Fight evil - Evil is at constant war with good. Evil must be fought and good must prevail over evil. It is a Pashtun's duty to fight evil when he/she comes face to face with it.
  • Honesty and Promise - A pashtun is known for keeping their promises and being honest at all situations and times. A true Pashtun will never break their promise.
  • Hospitality- Pashtuns treat all guests and people who enter their houses with great respect and always go by one saying. "Mailma de khudai milgareh deh" (A guest is God's friend...) So making your guest happy correlates to making God happy.

Primary concepts

Some useful words that signify individual or collective Pashtun tribal functions are given below in Pushto language. The first four form the major components of Pashtunwali.

Soldiers of the Pashtun dominated Durrani Empire.
  • Melmastia (hospitality) - Showing hospitality and profound respect to all visitors, regardless of distinctions of race, religion, national affiliation as well as economic status and doing so without any hope of remuneration or favour. Pushtuns are widely considered to be the most hospitable people in the world and a pushtun will go to great extents to show his hospitality, so much so, that in very many recorded cases it has been observed that a pushtuns have even provided enemies with sanctuary.
  • Badal (justice/revenge) - to seek justice over time or over space to avenge a wrong. This applies to injustices committed yesterday or 1000 years ago if the wrongdoer still exists. Justice in Pashtun lore needs elaborating: even a mere taunt (or "Paighor") is regarded as an insult - which can only usually be redressed by shedding of the taunter's blood (and if he isn't available, then his next closest male relation). This in turn leads to a blood feud that can last generations and involve whole tribes with the loss of hundreds of lives. Normally blood feuds in this all male dominated setup are then settled in a number of ways.
  • Nanawateh (asylum) - derived from the verb meaning to go in, this is used for protection given to a person who requests protection against his/her enemies. The person is protected at all costs. It can also be used when the vanquished party is prepared to go in to the house of the victors and ask for their forgiveness. (Is a peculiar form of "chivalrous" surrender, in which an enemy seeks "sanctuary" at his enemies house). A more famous example of this code is of Navy Petty Officer First Class (PO1) Marcus Luttrell, the sole surviving member of a US Navy SEAL team that was ambushed by Taliban fighters. PO1 Luttrell evaded the enemy for days before stumbling upon members of the Sabray tribe who realized the wounded SEAL needed assistance. He was taken to the village and protected by the tribal chief, who even sent word to nearby US forces of PO1 Luttrell's location.
  • Zemaka (land/earth) - A Pashtun must defend his land/property from incursions wherever he or she might reside.
  • Nang (honour) - the various points below that a tribesman must observe to ensure his honour, and that of his family, is upheld. The preservation of honour entails the defence of one's family and one's independence, while upholding cultural and religious requirements.
  • Namus (Honor of women) - A Pushtun must defend the honor of Pashtun women at all costs and must protect them from vocal and physical harm.
  • Hewad (nation) - Love for one's nation in Pashtun culture isn't just important, it's essential. A Pashtun is always indebted to their nation and must strive to perfect and improve it. A Pushtun considers it his obligation to defend his country Pakhtara ("Pakhtun-khwa" in modern colloquial Pashto) against any type of foreign incursion. Defence of nation means defence of honor, values, culture, tradition, countrymen and self.
  • Dod-pasbani (Protecting Pashtun culture) - It is obligatory for a Pashtun to protect Pashtun culture from dilution and disintegration. Pashtunwali advises that in order to successfully accomplish this, a Pashtun must retain the Pashto language since Pashto is the prime source of Pashtun culture and its understanding isn't just important but essential. Not being able to speak Pashto is often translated by Pashtun society as the inability to understand Pashtun culture, values, ethics, history and community.
  • Tokhm-pasbani (Protecting the Pashtun race) - Pashtuns with their distinct Afghan features are often immediately recognizable. Pashtuns must take another Pashtun as a marriage partner. This stems from the general belief that 'half-Pashtuns' do not retain Pashtun language, culture, and physical features.
  • De Pashtunwali Perawano (Adhering to Pashtunwali) - In order to keep one's descendants from becoming "durvand" (Non-Pashtuns), a Pashtun must adhere to the Pashtunwali principles of culture, kin and pedigree. Those who do not will ultimately face revulsion and expulsion from Pashtun society.

Secondary concepts

Hamid Karzai appointed as President of the Afghan Transitional Administration at the July 2002 Loya Jirga in Kabul, Afghanistan.
  • Lashkar - The tribal army. It implements the decisions of the jirga.
  • Jirga or Loya Jirga - an assembly of tribal elders called for various purposes whether waging war or composing peace, tribal or inter-tribal.
  • Tsalweshti (څلويښتی) - derived from the word for forty, this refers to the tribal force that would implement the decision of a jirga. Every fortieth man of the tribe would be a member. A shalgoon is a force derived from the number twenty.
  • Badragga - a tribal escort composed of members of that tribe through which the travelers are passing. If a badragga is violated a tribal feud will follow.
  • Hamsaya - a non-Pashtun dependent group who attaches themselves to a Pashtun group, usually for protection. The Pashtun protector group is called a naik. Any attack on a hamsaya is considered an attack on the protector.
  • Mlatar (ملاتړ) - literally, tying the back or "support". This refers to those members of the tribe who will actually fight on behalf of their leaders.
  • Nagha - a tribal fine decided by the council of elders and imposed upon the wrongdoer.
  • Rogha - settlement of a dispute between warring factions.
  • Hujra - a common sitting or sleeping place for males in the village. Visitors and unmarried young men sleep in the hujra.
  • Lokhay Warkawal - Literally means 'giving of pot'. The idea that the tribe will do everything to protect an individual from an enemy.

See also


  1. ^ Pashtunwali by Wahid Momand
  2. ^ Pashto Language & Identity Formation: Contemporary South Asia, July 1995, Vol 4, Issue 2, p151,20
  3. ^ The Dawn: Ahwalay Riyasatay (Tarikhi wa Maashrati Pusmanzar)
  4. ^ a b The Sharīʻa in the Constitutions of Afghanistan, Iran, and Egypt. By Nadjma Yassari, pg. 49.
  5. ^ Asta Olesen, Islam and Politics in Afghanistan (Surrey: Curzon Press, 1995), 34.
  6. ^ Shabbir Hasan Khan Josh, Yadon ki Barat [Urdu: The Wedding Procession of Memories] (Lahore: Maktaba Sher-o-Adab, 1964), p 341, passim.

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