The Pashtun

When a new warrior is born in a Pashtun village, gunfire is the first sound that baby warrior hears. The Pathan, or Pashtun, are a race of proud warriors who primarily inhabit the area of Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are about 60 different tribes of Pathan’s and their loyalty to the tribe plays the biggest role in Pashtun culture. They see themselves first and foremost as Pashtun, second as Muslims and a distant third as either Afghani or Pakistani. Their origins are unclear, but most Anthropologists attribute their light skin and features to the ancient Aryan peoples along with intermingling among subsequent invaders, of which, there were many. These Pashtun people make up an extremely distinctive tribe, considered by many scholars to be the oldest in recorded history, bound by a common language and millenniums of marriage and blood.

Due to Kandahar’s geographical location the city and its inhabitants have known almost constant war, both from invaders and especially due to their continuous inter-tribal rivalries. The ancient city of Kandahar, (together with Quetta in Peshawar, Pakistan) servers as the principal city of the Pashtun people. Founded by Alexander of Macedonia, (also known as, The Great) in the 4th Century B.C. when he defeated the last ruler of the Persian Achaemenid dynasty, Kandahar was fought over immediately by the Indian Mauryan Empire and Persian Empire because of its strategic location on the trade routes of Central Asia. A point of value that is not forgotten to this day, as Pakistan, India, China, and Iran clearly show in their desire for a Government friendly to their respective governments so as to reap of the benefits of free trade.

In the 7th Century, the Arabs conquered the then area surrounding Afghanistan, which was predominately Buddhist and Brahman in belief. However, there were only a few converts to Islam and the Arabs were eventually driven out. The Turkic Ghaznavids from Uzbekistan then played their part as conquerors by taking the city of Kandahar in the 10th Century and were responsible converting almost 99% of the region to Islam. In the 12th Century, the city was sacked by Genghis Khan and kept as a trade route until the Mongol’s defeat by Tamerlane in 1383. The Mughal Empire took Kandahar in the 16th Century and later this was contested by the Persians and rulers that emerged from Afghanistan seeking independence, consequently making Kandahar the capitol from 1748 to 1773 of the newly independent kingdom. Kandahar saw British forces in the mid 1800’s. Afghanistan, which served as a buffer between the British and Russian Empires, was a monarchy until the coup of 1973 by Muhammad Daud, who established the Afghan Republic and proclaimed himself president. Then came the leftist coup and the Soviet invasion and the rest, (thanks to the Sept. 11th attacks and the successive interest in all things Afghanistan) is now common knowledge.

The Pashtun people have traditionally dominated Afghanistan both demographically and politically. Before 1978, they constituted roughly 47% of the ethnic population. However, as a result of the 1979 Soviet invasion the population distribution has changed. This was a primary goal of the Russian invaders, because the Pashtun were the real force behind the struggle against the Russians. It’s hard to get an accurate estimate, because all sides have an agenda, but it is thought that Pashtuns now make up about 38% of the population in Afghanistan.

The ritual of gunfire as the first sound a Pashtun baby hears was begun about 200 years ago when Pashtuns robbed dead British soldiers of their muskets. The police in the area who frown on this “barbaric” tradition are ignored: first a Pashtun, then a Muslim and a distant third, either Afghani or Pakistani. The Pashtun know only one law; Pashtu Wali, or Code of Life and it included the following: Melmastia (hospitality and protection to every guest); nanawati (the right of a fugitive to seek refuge, and acceptance of his bona fide offer of peace); badal (the right of blood feuds or revenge); tureh (bravery); sabat (steadfastness); imamdari (righteousness); ‘isteqamat (persistence); ghayrat (defense of property and honor); and mamus (defense of one’s women).

Such beliefs are why, say tribal elders such as Mr. Taizi, a tribal elder in Peshawar, Pakistan that the Taliban could never give into demands to hand over Mr. Bin Laden. Although recently there have been moves to hand Bin Laden over if evidence is provided or perhaps to another Muslim country for trial, only goes to show the dire straights that the Taliban find themselves in. Pashtun law is no different than any culture’s law; it is full of loopholes. It all depends on how well you can find a suitable and coherent way out.

Modern day Pashtun’s are as diverse as any people. Some live in mud-huts; others live in city apartments, some drive donkey carts; others drive Hondas. The educated Pashtuns know their history well and their prior dominance in political affairs. Although they’re not opposed to a post-Taliban, ethnically representative government, some do believe that within that new dispensation a leading role must be given to the Pashtun. In a country that has never had a census taken, it is certainly hard to tell how much of a majority the Pashtun really are.

Elders and historians concerning Pashtun culture believe that the Pashtun people will not accept the ethnic minorities that make up the fractious Northern Alliance. In fact, Pashtuns do not even consider those minorities to be their equals.

If the Northern Alliance is allowed to take Kabul, as they are currently standing by to do until the U.S. gives the ok, it maybe the beginnings of another war. In Pashtun law there is no alternative to war. If one village or clan wrongs another, then revenge must be taken. For the Pashtun’s, war is just another tradition.