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Pashtunwali (Pashto: پښتونوالی‎) or Pakhtunwali is a non-written ethical code and traditional lifestyle which the indigenous Pashtun people follow.[1][2] It is a system of law and governance that began during prehistoric times and is preserved and still in use today, mostly in the rural tribal areas.[3] Its meaning may also be interpreted as "the way of the Pashtuns" or "the code of life".[4] Pashtunwali dates back to ancient pre-Islamic times and is widely practiced among Pashtuns,[5] especially among the non-urbanized Pashtuns in the countryside. In addition to being practiced by members of the Pashtun diaspora, it has been adopted by some non-Pashtun Afghans and Pakistanis that live in the Pashtun regions or close to the Pashtuns, who have gradually become Pashtunized over time.[4] During the Pashtun-dominated Taliban regime, Pashtunwali was practiced throughout the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in conjunction with the Taliban's interpretation of Deobandi Islam.[6][7][8]


  • Overview 1
    • Main principles 1.1
  • See also 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


The native Pashtun tribes, often described as fiercely independent people,[9] have inhabited the Pashtunistan region (eastern Afghanistan and north western Pakistan) since at least the 1st millennium BC.[10][11][12] During that period, much of their mountainous territory has remained outside government rule or control. This is perhaps the main reason why indigenous Pashtuns still follow Pashtunwali, which is a basic common law of the land or "code of life".

"Although it pre-dates Islam the two have become inseparable for many Pashtuns, even though in practice Pashtunwali codes often contradict the Qur’an. Such is the case with the Pashtun practice of dividing inheritances equally among sons, even though the Quran clearly states that women are to receive a share."[13]

Pashtunwali rules are accepted in Afghanistan and Pakistan (mainly in and around the Pashtunistan region), and also in some Pashtun communities around the world. Some non-Pashtun Afghans and others have also adopted its ideology or practices for their own benefit. Conversely, many urbanized Pashtuns tend to ignore the rules of Pashtunwali. Passed on from generation to generation, Pashtunwali guides both individual and communal conduct. Practiced by the majority of Pashtuns, it helps to promote Pashtunization.[4]
Ideal Pukhtun behaviour approximates the features Pukhtunwali, the code of the Pukhtuns, which includes the following traditional features: courage (tora), revenge (badal), hospitality (melmestia), generosity to a defeated...[14]
— Maliha Zulfacar, 1999

Pashtuns embrace an ancient traditional, spiritual, and communal identity tied to a set of moral codes and rules of behaviour, as well as to a record of history spanning some seventeen hundred years.[15]

Pashtunwali promotes revenge and tolerance toward all (especially to strangers or guests).[16] It is considered to be the personal responsibility of every Pashtun to discover and rediscover Pashtunwali's essence and meaning.
It is the way of the Pathans. We have melmestia, being a good host, nanawatai, giving asylum, and badal, vengeance. Pashtuns live by these things.[17]
— Abdur, A character in Morgen's War
The Pathan tribes are always engaged in private or public war. Every man is a warrior, a politician and a theologian. Every large house is a real feudal fortress....Every family cultivates its vendetta; every clan, its feud.... Nothing is ever forgotten and very few debts are left unpaid.
Winston Churchill (My Early Life - Chapter 11: The Mahmund Valley)

Main principles

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 first regional Jirga to talk about peace, prosperity and the rehabilitation of Afghanistan.
Hamid Karzai appointed as President of the Afghan Transitional Administration at the July 2002 Loya Jirga in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Although not exclusive, the following eleven principles form the major components of Pashtunwali. They are headed with the words of the Pashto language that signify individual or collective Pashtun tribal functions.

  1. Melmastia (hospitality) - Showing hospitality and profound respect to all visitors, regardless of race, religion, national affiliation or economic status and doing so without any hope of remuneration or favour. Pashtuns will go to great lengths to show their hospitality.[4][18][19]
  2. Marcus Luttrell, the sole survivor of a US Navy SEAL team ambushed by Taliban fighters. Wounded, he evaded the enemy and was aided by members of the Sabray tribe who took him to their village. The tribal chief protected him, fending off attacking tribes until word was sent to nearby US forces.
  3. Nyaw aw Badal (justice and revenge) - To seek justice or take revenge against the wrongdoer. No time limit restricts the period in which revenge can be taken. Justice in Pashtun lore needs elaborating: even a mere taunt (or "Peghor/پېغور") counts as an insult which usually can only be redressed by shedding the taunter's blood. If he is out of reach, his closest male relation must suffer the penalty instead. Badal may lead to blood feuds that can last generations and involve whole tribes with the loss of hundreds of lives. Normally blood feuds in this male-dominated society are settled in a number of ways.[4]
  4. Turah (bravery) - A Pashtun must defend his land, property, and family from incursions. He should always stand bravely against tyranny and be able to defend the honour of his name. Death can follow if anyone offends this principle.[4]
  5. Sabat (loyalty) - Pashtuns owe loyalty to their family, friends and tribe members. Pashtuns can never become disloyal as this would be a matter of shame for their families and themselves.
  6. Khegaṛa / Shegaṛa (righteousness) - A Pashtun must always strive for good in thought, word, and deed. Pashtuns must behave respectfully to people, to animals, and to the environment around them. Pollution of the environment or its destruction is against the Pashtunwali.[4]
  7. Groh (faith) - contains wider notion of Trust or Faith in God (known as "Allah" in Arabic and "Khudai" in Pashto).[4] The notion of trusting in one Creator generally comports to the Islamic idea of belief in only one God (tawheed).
  8. Pat / Wyaar aw Meṛaana (respect, pride and courage) - Pashtuns must demonstrate courage [ مېړانه ]. Their pride [ وياړ ] , has great importance in Pashtun society and must be preserved. They 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. If one does not have these qualities they are not considered worthy of being a Pashtun.[4]
  9. Naamus (protection of women) - A Pashtun must defend the honour of women at all costs and must protect them from vocal and physical harm.[4]
  10. Nang (honour) - a Pashtun must defend the weak around him.
  11. Hewaad (country) - a Pashtun is obliged to protect the land of the Pashtuns. Defence of nation means the defence of Pashtun culture or "hasob" [هڅوب], countrymen or "hewaadwaal" [هيوادوال], and of the self or "zaan" [ځان]. This principle is also interconnected to another principle denoting the attachment a Pashtun feels with his land or zmaka [ځمکه].[20]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ The Dawn: Ahwalay Riyasatay (Tarikhi wa Maashrati Pusmanzar). Archived September 27, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k
  5. ^
  6. ^ Rashid, Taliban (2000)
  7. ^
  8. ^ Deobandi Islam: The Religion of the Taliban U. S. Navy Chaplain Corps, 15 October 2001
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Leonard Schonberg, Morgen's War (2005) p. 218.
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^

External links

  • Pashtunwali by Wahid Momand
  • Special report on Pashtunwali by U.S. Army Major, John H. Cathell
  • Harvard Law School - Tribal Law of Pashtunwali and Women’s Legislative Authority
  • The Pashtunwali's Relevance as a Tool for Solving the Afghan Crisis by Craig C. Naumann
  • The Economist - The Pushtuns' tribal code
  • Pashto Language & Identity Formation in Pakistan
  • Afghan Wiki
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