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The Economist surveys the luridly interesting moral code of the largest Afghan tribe:

As a reporter for the Daily Telegraph, attached to the Malakand Field Force, Winston Churchill wrote: “Their system of ethics, which regards treachery and violence as virtues rather than vices, has produced a code of honour so strange and inconsistent that it is incomprehensible to a logical mind.” …

“Any man who loses his honour must be completely ostracised,” said Sandaygul, a long-beard of the Mangal tribe in Afghanistan’s south-eastern Paktia province. “No one would congratulate him on the birth of child. No one would marry his daughter. No one would attend his funeral. His disgrace will endure for generations. He and his family must move away.” In Pushtu, to be disgraced means literally to be an outsider.

There are infinite ways to slight a Pushtun’s nang, but most involve zar, zan or zamin: gold, women or land. The search tactics of American troops in Afghanistan, five years after they invaded the country, tend to offend on all counts. By forcing entry into the mud-fortress home of a Pushtun, with its lofty buttresses and loopholes, they dishonour his property. By stomping through its female quarters, they dishonour his women. Worse, the search may end with the householder handcuffed and dragged off before his neighbours: his person disgraced. America and its allies face a complicated insurgency in Afghanistan, driven by many factors. But such tactics are among them.

His honour besmirched—and here’s the problem for the Americans—a Pushtun is obliged to have his revenge, or badal… According to a Pushtu saying: “A Pushtun waited 100 years, then took his revenge. It was quick work.”

In addition, the honourable Pushtun embraces two obligations. He will offer hospitality, malmastai, to anyone needing it. And he will give sanctuary, nanawatai, to whoever requests it. Stories of extreme generosity are common in Pushtun places. Near the village of Saidkhail, in the Zadran tribal area of eastern Khost province, a wandering Islamic student, or talib, killed a man with a knife, recounts Mohammed Omar Barakzai, the deputy minister for tribal affairs. The talib knocked on the nearest door and said to the woman who opened it: “I have killed a man. Shelter me.” She let him in. And sure enough, to trim an elegantly told tale, the murdered man was the woman’s son. “I am a Pushtun and have given this man refuge,” the woman told her blood-lusting husband and brothers. “Take him to safety.” [More]

And here are some wonderfully horrid Pushtun proverbs.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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  1. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    The Afghanistan situation isn’t so doomed as its painted. Judging by the Pathan proverbs, you’d think they would have been gunning for Americans like gangbusters since 2001.

    Also, its no surprise honor killings and restrictions on women continue in the afghan countryside, the benefit from the overthrow of the Taliban for Afghan women was that in urban areas like kabul, where old-school “Pasthunwali” isn’t their style, they no longer have the Taliban shoving it down their throats.

    As recently as January of last year though, Afghan reaction to the international coalition presence was remarkably positive. The situation has worsened a good bit since then, but it doesn’t appear we got some nationwide rising here that’s got unified Afghan or even Pathan support.

    For January 2006 info, see this link:

    For recent information, see below

    Misunderstanding Afghanistan

    By Craig Charney and Gary Langer
    Sunday, December 17, 2006; B07

    There is a note of panic in American views of Afghanistan today. “All the
    indicators for Afghanistan have headed south,” the Los Angeles Times
    editorialized. Outside Kabul, “much of the rest of Afghanistan appears to be
    failing again,” Newsweek reported. Sen. John Kerry warned: We are “losing
    These views reflect the belief that Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government
    is hemorrhaging support as the Taliban makes a comeback. Karzai is called the
    “mayor of Kabul,” his government lacking authority outside the capital and
    plagued by corruption. Western troops backing him are said to face widespread
    Yet the full picture in Afghanistan’s rugged terrain is more complex. A
    nationwide ABC News/BBC World Service survey of 1,036 Afghans last month found
    both good signs and bad.
    The Taliban, while active, lacks popular support. Though Karzai’s honeymoon is
    over, he retains majority backing. The Afghan state is relatively weak, but it
    is present — and popular — in most of the country. Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is
    a country where the populace favors the U.S. and allied military presence.
    There’s no upsurge of support for the Taliban. Just 10 percent of Afghans hold a
    favorable opinion of the Muslim extremists, almost unchanged from 2005 and 2004.
    Taliban supporters are concentrated in the southeast and east, conservative
    regions bordering ethnically similar parts of Pakistan, where the Taliban and
    its al-Qaeda allies have moved their camps and leaders.
    This year Taliban forces, flush with trainees, materiel, and bomb designs and
    tactics learned from al-Qaeda in Iraq, surged into nearby regions — the
    southwest, heart of the illegal opium trade; the center-east, which includes
    Kabul; and the warlord-ridden northwest. Today 64 percent of Afghans report some
    Taliban activity in their own area. While 58 percent still call security better
    now than before the Taliban’s ouster in 2001, this figure has fallen by 17
    points since last year.
    The Taliban’s reappearance is cause for grave concern — and not only to
    Americans. Afghans overwhelmingly prefer Karzai’s government to the Taliban, 88
    percent to 3 percent. But 57 percent call the Taliban the biggest danger facing
    the country — up sharply from 41 percent last year. Its growing presence is
    broadly unwanted.
    Weak state institutions are indeed a key Afghan problem. Where government
    agencies are strongest, 71 percent of Afghans say things are going in the right
    direction. Where they are weakest, only 39 percent do. As Gen. Karl Eikenberry,
    U.S. commander in Kabul, says, the main challenge is not the enemy’s strength
    but the state’s weakness.
    Yet, even after 33 years of coups and war, reports of the demise of the Afghan
    state are exaggerated. Seven in 10 Afghans say Karzai’s government has a strong
    presence where they live; even more say this of provincial governments and the
    While corruption is common — 55 percent call it a big problem — the state is
    functioning and appreciated in key respects. Big majorities trust it to provide
    security. Seven in 10 Afghans live within two miles of a school and a clinic.
    Three in five boys are in school, as are two in five girls.
    Despite criticism of police corruption and training, the police, too, are making
    an impact. The Taliban are reported present only half as often where the force
    is strong as where it is weak. Most Afghans say they’d report crimes to the
    The foreign soldiers supporting local police and troops are widely appreciated.
    Three Afghans in four are grateful for the American, British and Canadian troops
    in their country. An overwhelming majority (88 percent) say the U.S. invasion
    that overthrew the Taliban was a good thing. And three out of five Afghans want
    U.S. troops to stay until security is restored (though that’s down from 70
    percent last year). Approval for U.S. forces and Karzai has to be seen in the
    context of what came before: They may not be so great, but the Taliban were so
    bad. Nonetheless, the 77 percent U.S. approval rate in Afghanistan can hardly be
    described as flat-out failure.
    But the negatives cannot be minimized. Worsening security and a moribund economy
    have hammered the optimism that followed peace, reconstruction and Afghanistan’s
    first democratic elections, in 2004. Last year 77 percent said their country was
    headed in the right direction; now 55 percent do. Karzai’s approval rating has
    dropped from 83 percent to 68 percent. Reflecting painfully slow growth,
    acceptance of opium poppy cultivation jumped in the past year.
    Afghanistan’s problems are real and deepening. They demand major military,
    reconstruction and diplomatic efforts before dashed expectations turn into
    active discontent. But the situation is hardly catastrophic. Enough positives
    remain to serve as a foundation for success. If America is to succeed in
    Afghanistan, however, we will have to understand it first.
    Craig Charney is president of Charney Research, the polling firm that conducted
    the poll discussed here. Gary Langer is director of polling for ABC News.

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    © 2006 The Washington Post Company


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