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
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
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