One Tribe at a Time
pAShtunwAli And itS tActicAl ApplicAtionS
Pashtunwali is the code of honor the Pashtun tribes live by. Understanding it is crucial if one is going to learn about or become part of a Pashtun tribe.
t HE LAW, AS WE UNDERSTAND IT in the West, is not the basis for tribal societies. at function is performed by a code of honor. It has been my experience that many Western soldiers—ocers and NCOs alike—do not perceive or understand “honor” as an Afghan does. Most Americans view honor as a mixture of honesty, integ- rity, respect, fairness and loyalty to one’s country. In many ways the tribesmen I have dealt with think of honor in similar terms—as loyalty, courage, the ability to defend themselves, their families and their tribal communities.
But the tribesman is less concerned about “coun- try”—which for him is almost irrelevant—and more concerned about protecting the domain of his family, his customs, his tribal leadership, his warrior pride. He lives in a regional world where day-to-day military strength means the dierence between survival and being overrun by other tribal elements whoever they might be (the Taliban, other aggressive tribes, or the Russian army).
ere is no larger government force available to
intervene and protect him when his tribe is in danger.
“us, warlords and warriors ghting in Afghani- stan, Iraq and other tribal zones today are renowned for the value they place on upholding codes of honor and avoiding shameful humiliation. All want to gain honor for themselves and their lineage, clan and tribe. No one can aord to lose face, for that would reect badly not only on them as individuals but also their kin. If the word were in the dictionary, it might be said that tribes and clans are deeply honoritarian.” (Tribes First and Forever, Ronfeldt, p. 35)
A “warrior code” is the centerpiece of the majority of tribal men, young and old, that I have known on a personal level. is code and their conception of honor is the tribe’s collective center of gravity, as well as each individual’s.
Sitting Bull and I often spoke of warriors. ODA 316 and I had proved ourselves in combat to them. It was this ability and opportunity to prove our physi- cal courage to the tribesman that made them truly respect us.
e only other aspects of Pashtunwali I will men-
tion are revenge (badal) and hospitality (melmastia).
e revenge aspect of the tribe in Mangwel was a real
and tangible issue. It was interesting to me that this revenge aspect could be put into motion by the mere perception of challenging the tribe’s honor or name. When, at one point, members of Hezb-e Islami (HIG) accused Malik Noorafzhal of letting Christianity be spread in his village, we both knew and understood this was a lie. However, it was the issue of his tribe’s honor that caused our combined reaction of violence towards HIG.
“Principles of mutual respect, dignity, pride, and honor are so important in tribal societies that humili- ating insults may upset peace and order more than anything else. An insult to an individual is normally regarded as an insult to all who belong to that lineage.
en there are only two ways to alleviate the sense
of injury: compensation or revenge. And a call for compensation or revenge may apply not just to the oering individual but to his or her lineage. Respon- sibility is collective, and justice is less about inicting punishment for a crime than about gaining adequate