Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society

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Political Alignment, Leadership and the
State in Pashtun Society

ki t10. i nfo Bern, Switzerland

© José Oberson ( 2002 / Institute for Ethnology, University of Berne

Khans and Warlords:
Political Alignment,
and the State in Pashtun

Anthropological Aspects
and the Warlordism Debate

Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
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PART 1................................................................................................................................................... 4

1 Introduction........................................................................................................................................ 4

2 A macro-perspective: The wider environmental and historical setting ........................................ 9
2.1 The geographical setting............................................................................................................. 11
2.2 Ethnonyms, identity and common history .................................................................................. 11
2.3 Tribal society and the state.......................................................................................................... 16
2.4 Socio-economic variability ......................................................................................................... 17
2.5 ‘Nang’ and ‘qalang’: two distinctive socio-economic categories ............................................... 19

3 Segmentary tribal organization and politics.................................................................................. 22
3.1 The Pashtun tribal system........................................................................................................... 23
3.2 Tribal affiliation and political matters: Does it matter? .............................................................. 26
3.3 Contractual alliance and the two-bloc system: Conceptual explanations ................................... 29
3.4 Tribes and politics: Critical and conclusive remarks .................................................................. 32

4 Pashtunwali: The tribal law............................................................................................................ 36
4.1 ‘Nang’, the concept of honour and shame .................................................................................. 37
4.2 ‘Badal’ and ‘tarboorwali’ (agnatic rivalry) ................................................................................. 40
4.3 ‘Melmastia’ ................................................................................................................................. 41
4.4 ‘Nanawatee’ ................................................................................................................................ 41
4.5 Jirga............................................................................................................................................. 42

5 Being Pashtun – oncepts of person and politics............................................................................. 43
5.1 ‘Turá’: the sword......................................................................................................................... 43
5.2 ‘Aql’: responsibility and the corrective of ‘turá’ ........................................................................ 44
5.3 Egalitarianism: ’har saray khan day’ – every man is a khan....................................................... 44
5.4 Pride and the primacy of emotional control ................................................................................ 46
5.5 The Pashtun Code, concepts of the ideal Pashtun person and their impact on leadership.......... 47

6 Forms of political leadership and the state .................................................................................... 51
6.1 Leadership: Traditional political elite......................................................................................... 52
6.2 Political leadership in nang society............................................................................................. 54
6.3 Political leadership in qalang society.......................................................................................... 55
6.4 Sources of authority .................................................................................................................... 57
6.5 Traditional religious elite............................................................................................................ 59

7 The theory of person-centred politics............................................................................................. 61

8 Critical remarks and contemporary contextualization................................................................. 65

Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
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PART 2................................................................................................................................................. 70
WARLORDISM AND THE PRIVATIZATION OF WAR............................................................ 70

9. The theoretical framework of the warlordism debate ................................................................. 72

10. Markets of violence ....................................................................................................................... 78
10.1 Preconditions and development ................................................................................................ 80
10.1.1 The weak state ................................................................................................................... 80
10.1.2 Ideological beginnings and the gradual economization..................................................... 85

11. Types of warlordism...................................................................................................................... 92
11.1 Violence from below................................................................................................................. 92
11.2 Violence from above................................................................................................................. 92
11.3 Local warlordism...................................................................................................................... 93
11.4 Frontier warlordism................................................................................................................... 93
11.5 Warlords of international crime ................................................................................................ 93
11.6 Client warlords.......................................................................................................................... 94
11.7 Partisans and liberation leaders................................................................................................. 94
11.8 Actors and commodities............................................................................................................ 95

12. Tribal fragmentation and warlordism: Somalia and Pashtun Afghanistan in comparison... 98
12.1 Somalia ..................................................................................................................................... 98
12.2 The comparison with Pashtun Afghanistan............................................................................... 99

13. Conclusive remarks: Khans are warlords are khans?............................................................. 100
References....................................................................................................................................... 105

Map 1: Pashtun area in Afghanistan and Pakistan................................................................................10

Figure 1: Pashtun putative genealogy……………................................................................................ 23
Figure 2: Segmentary opposition and the two-bloc system................................................................... 27
Figure 3: Auto-dynamics of the escalation in civil wars…................................................................... 86
Figure 4: Khans and warlords: Conditions and distinguishing features...............................................102

Table 1: Nang and Qalang: Socio-economic categories....................................................................... 19
Table 2: Nang and Qalang: Self-perception and perception of the other............................................. 20

Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
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1 Introduction

At the dawn of a new century, a human tragedy came about. A tragedy that provides sufficient impetus
to set off additional calamities in southern Central Asia. Furthermore, the disastrous event had the
power to promote an ordinary autumnal calendar date into a legendary lexical item with an epochal
meaning. In the aftermath of September 11 and the subsequent events, eloquent opinion from
commentators was mushrooming in the manner of plumes from laser-guided bombs in the wider
Hindukush region. Both at times missing their targets, notwithstanding their pretence of smartness.
The American led war against terror made the Afghan Pashtuns
to become a focus of worldwide
public attention, whereas previously the Pashtuns had been largely unknown in the general public.
However, in the minds of some interested contemporaries these people still evoke nostalgic ideas of a
nomadic and heroic people abiding in black tents. Some commentators reapplied an alternative picture
of a warring and even cruel people, their culture allegedly harbouring an inherent predisposition to
violence. In doing so, some see in such cultural harshness the unmistakable face of Islam and attribute
to them a lower stage of civilization, if not denying them any measure of cultural sophistication
whatsoever. All this seemingly in defence of another extremism and under the trustful auspices –and
quotations– of former political leaders of the western world:
The Pathan [i.e. Pashtun] 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 cited in Crossroads [n.y.])

The Pashtuns are regularly referred to in terms of feuding, warring, constant retaliatory efforts,
factionalism and physical brutality apparently beyond any standards:
The warlike Pathans form one of the world's largest tribal societies [...] and defend their territory
and honor against all invaders […and] have a passion for freedom and independence[…]. They are
fearless guerrilla fighters […and] no one has ever managed to subdue or unite them. To safeguard
his honor, or the honor of his family or clan, a Pathan will sacrifice everything, including his
money and his life. He will return even the slightest insult with interest. According to a Pathan
proverb, 'He is not a Pathan who does not give a blow for a pinch.' The Pathans are notorious for

This ethnic group living predominantly in Afghanistan and Pakistan is in the literature also denoted as Pukhtuns or Pathans,
the latter mostly referring to north-western Pakistani Pashtuns. In Afghanistan they are frequently referred to as Afghans from
other ethnic groups in the country since they are historically seen as the ethnic group representing the Afghan state (Rogg and
Schuster 1992: p. 306) .
Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
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the family feuds, often the result of disputes over zar, zan or zamin – gold, women or land.
(Crossroads sourcing to Shaw 1998: 394ff.)

Examples that display similar viciousness are countless. They usually report historical voices from the
period of British colonial wars during the 19
century. Indeed, Pashtuns appear to be a classic even in
the realm of scientific literature if addressing issues of conflict, feuding and warring (Orywal et al.
1996; Dupree 1984; Lindholm 1991). Who wonders then that contributions to reader’s letters pages
stand like a voice in the wilderness:

Your short history of Afghanistan’s Pashtun tribe might leave readers with the impression that its
history is one of unbroken war, feuding and violence that reaches back as far as Alexander the
Great […]. The public doesn’t know that an Islamic leader [i.e. Badshah Khan in the 1930s and
‘40s] took those same people to the pinnacle of their humanity, what Gandhi called the non-
violence of the brave. (Reed 2001: 7)

Before the Peace Conference in German Königswinter, resulting in the Bonn agreement on December
in 2001 there was optimism over finding a political solution to the satisfaction of every involved
party “given the Afghan factionalism”(CDE 2002). Yet heavy clouds of scepticism overshadowed the
conference as it became apparent that there was little hope of uncovering an Afghan type of “magic
formula” in the face of political realism. Such realism has been well nourished by painful lessons of
the past. An Afghan past harking back to never-ending sequences of switching coalition groups and
so-called warlords: apparently fragile in their fabric, flexible in their orientation of alignment,
unpredictable in their dynamics and last but by no means least lethal in their consequences. During the
Mujahideen jostle for power in a fratricidal conflict between 1992 – 1994, roughly 45,000 Afghans
were killed (Matinuddin 1999: 10). In those clashes, Afghan factions with different ethnic or tribal
backgrounds were involved physically. They share, or more precisely claim nonetheless the same
religious legitimacy expressed in a strive for an Islamic state or emirate of Afghanistan. Almost a
dozen Islamic parties turned up during the Afghan Jihad against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, all
of them claiming the exclusive representation of the true Islam. The engaged parties belonged to
different ethnic and tribal groups. Islam and its mundane implementation in policies appeared to be
instrumental. Consequently, the religiously orientated political factions were distrustful of each other
(ibid. 1999: 7). The impression of an evident propensity for a continual factionalism paired with
manifestly violent practice entices authors to label the phenomenon as an Afghan commonplace. Even
more, they associate it with a distinctive cultural milieu: “Unfortunately, the negative side of the
Afghan character comes to the fore when an injury or an insult has to be avenged, even if it be the
proverbial cutting off of the nose to spite the face” (ibid. 1999: 9). Here, the social anthropologist’s
resistance both to cultural reductionism and a certain arbitrariness in applying terms of ethnic
implication is stimulated. First, we have to ask whether in such intense expressions of factionalism and
violence the ethnic factor is of chief importance. If so, we can close the chapter and open a new one,
Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
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as this paper deals with contemplations on topics of political anthropology and is largely neglectful of
addressing questions concerning inter-ethnic cleavages. Second, we must examine whether a cultural
factor accounts for the assertions made above. If this is at least partly the case, similar occurrences
must consequently be found within ethnic boundaries. Third, a critical expansion of the focus should
not be ignored, since Afghanistan and its wider region is (and never ceased to be during the last
centuries) still the object of geopolitical interests of alien powers. All those influences should be taken
into account, since the incursion of foreign ideas, funds and weaponry has had an impact on the
balance of internal power assemblage and on the means supporting political disputes. Thus, the
promotion of new political actors in the arena may change the structure of political organization. This
contribution ignores to a large extent conflicts set off by inter-ethnic tensions. When the Afghan
interim government led by Hamid Karzai has been trying to mobilize the cohesive elements among
dozens of diverse factions throughout the country, the fears spread by political commentators and
analysts turn out to be accurate anticipation. During the first quarter of 2002, the flare-up of several
violent tensions between competing local Pashtun groups mainly in the Eastern part of the country, the
Pashtun showcase speaks for a constantly recurring truism: Pashtun society and its deep-seated
tendency for factionalism and flexible modes of political alignment. Hence, such observation appears
to demonstrate the assumed endemic nature of factionalism that resides in Pashtun society. This has
brought up the cultural factor of such seemingly persistent modes of collective political action within
ethnic boundaries. The focus is hence directed towards an examination of such reproductive patterns
within the cultural apparatus of Pashtun society. Relating those kinds of actions with a cultural pattern
implies its reproductive character. Therefore, it requires justifications of cultural boundaries. Is it
permitted to speak of the Pashtun society? The first part is an attempt to display important components
which give sound reasons for a cultural coherence of Pashtun society at least to a certain degree.
Cultural practice and its implicit values may reappear most likely on an upper level of collective action
and function as a starting point for the very goal of this paper: a) to examine the common basis of
traditional manifestations of political organization, political alignment and mobilization of followers;
b) to illustrate the flexible nature of alliances and networks; c) to exemplify the role of kinship for
political alliances on the basis of the case of Swat Pashtuns in Pakistan; d) to give evidence for a
distinctive set of cultural features that contribute to collective political action; e) to examine crucial
personal qualities that draw from the idealized Pashtun person in connecting them to political
leadership and f) to reveal the underlying relational, material and non-material factors that have an
impact on power exertion of political leaders. With reference to Barth’s methodological individualism,
the observations are constantly linked to an actor-centred theory that favours the individual decision
process based on free choice as an analytical focus. This paper tries to account for the cultural
variability of the large Pashtun tribal society. Finally, a comprehensive concept that associates a theory
of leader-centred politics with wider socio-economic circumstances as well as with a critical
evaluation of the theoretical framework of a Barthian transactionalism. Apart from cultural variability
and being critical towards a structural-functionalist approach, the cultural variables are embedded in
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the wider spatial and temporal context. The external factors such as foreign interference in the context
of interest-driven geo-political strategies may have a considerable impact on domestic politics. We
might assume that selective foreign support for political groups in terms of money, logistics,
knowledge and weaponry together with the income from drug trafficking may affect heavily the
stability and functioning of domestic politics. Ultimately, under the sway of similar impacts of
modernization or in periods of lasting war and public violence, cultural elements are subject to change.
For instance, a new type of political leaders may supersede the traditional elite.
Currently, prominent political representatives are regularly referred to as warlords, while the same
articles suppose identical actors to be clan-chiefs. Uncritical and random labelling of political actors
does not help to disentangle the more refined and complex political realities in the region, nor does it
serve to modify the platitude of a martial Pashtun culture where the sword appears to replace any
corrective of social control and legal proceduralization. The second part of this paper therefore
addresses the academic debate over warlordism. Warlordism is considered as arising from a distinctive
political environment, in which a pattern of features may result in a violence-open area. The collapse
of a state or the partial dysfunctionality of a state may give rise to the lack of an effective monopoly of
violence of the state. Additionally, a violence-open area is regularly preceded by the deficiency of a
functional state administration as well as an ineffective system of law enforcement and governance.
Subsequently, the political vacuum is to be filled. Prominent political actors emerge. They secure their
power by the control and the use of force. The purchasable nature of violence is a typical characteristic
of emerging warlord systems. As a consequence, warlordism will be examined by applying theories of
the privatization of violence (cf. Elwert 1999; Eppler 2002; Bollig 2001 and others). Warlords secure
their allegiance through a combination of the control of force and a strongman position they had held
before the conflict broke out. Apart from the capability to control a privatized apparatus of violence,
the allegiance and the power of warlords largely draws either on a strong economic position as a result
of running a lucrative business or on a recent past in which they were incumbents in the military or
administrative organization of the state. Ahead of warlord systems, a variety of causes may be
responsible for the upsurge of a conflict. Besides mere economic intentions and power politics,
ideological, political, social or religious motives are often a starting point for violent conflicts.
However, in the course of the events political and ideological motives more and more serve as a an
instrument for mobilizing allegiance as well as for a justification for the existence of the violent
organization. But the organization may reach a stage of self-independization, where private violence is
primarily a means for securing the private business. A profitable business which is based on lucrative
commodities or illicit trade as well as on unlawful activities, such as kidnapping, traffic in human
beings, arms trade or extortion racket. Despite a certain degree of convergence, warlord-type conflicts
are far from being uniform. Rather, they differ in terms of causes, types of actors and structure of
political allegiance. For instance, both in Somalia and in the Pashtun-dominated parts in Afghanistan,
armed militias, non-state systems of law enforcement and social control have been based on tribal
regulations for a long time. Furthermore, the nation-state has rarely had the inclusive administrative
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form, which is applicable to standards of the western states. By raising similar objections, would it still
be appropriate to speak of warlords when addressing local power holders in both countries? If we can
nonetheless observe some degree of “warlordization”, what characteristics give substantiation for the
political circumstances to fit into the category of warlordism? The subsuequent digression on
warlordism serves as to tackle related questions. After all, it becomes apparent that warlord-type
conflicts are much more diverse. This is also a consequence of unlike historical, political and cultural
backgrounds of the conflict. Moreover, underlying biased assumptions relating to the administrative
arrangement of a state do infrequently not meet a political and cultural reality, all the more, if we deal
with functional tribal structures. Political circumstances and change should not be disregarded, either.
Likewise, in the course of floods of war refugees, a substantial drain of population may possibly have
an effect on local politics. Most observations described have been derived either from former (Barth’s
studies) or current academic material based on political anthropology and political science. The largest
amount of contribution provide articles that have been drawn from ethnographic research in the
Pashtun tribal areas in north-western frontier region in Pakistan. Both the classical monographs by
Frederik Barth on political leadership among Swat Pashtuns as well as Akbar Ahmed’s articles on the
neighbouring tribal districts provide the basis. They are completed with alternative contributions by
other anthropological authorities in the field, among them Pierre Centlivres and Micheline Centlivres,
Louis Dupree, David Edwards, Bernt Glatzer, Charles Lindholm, Nazif Shahrani and Nancy Tapper. It
must be conceded that the material about Southern and Eastern Pashtuns in Afghanistan is particularly
scarce. With regard to anthropological literature, many smaller marginalized communities are
represented in quite a considerable number compared to the large number of Pashtun agriculturalists
e.g. in the south. As a consequence, it is a disputable question whether observations and analogous
interpretations are transferable and thus applicable to a larger society which is confronted with
alternative socio-economic realities, other political characteristics, a variable degree and mode of state
integration as well as with unlike historical experience. For those reasons, many questions that are
tackled here turn out to be an uncertain venture. Nevertheless, current actualities and a fascinating
world one immediately discovers after entering the Pashtun cultural universe, are worth enduring a
certain degree of tension resulting from apparent uncertainty and contradiction.

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2 A macro-perspective: The wider environmental and historical setting

Before embarking on explanations that attempt to transcend traditional behaviours within a tribal
framework to political action on a state level, justifications that tackle questions of cultural boundaries
and identity are imperative. With 20 millions of members
or probably more, the Pashtuns are a
relatively large ethnic group (Rogg und Schuster 1992: 306). Furthermore, they live within different
national boundaries neighbouring on a variety of other ethnic groups and thus cultural influences.
Pashtun population is widely extended over an ecologically diverse area, it displays a great range of
economic and social forms and is penetrated by, and hence encapsulated in, centralized administration
to various degrees. Although assuming Pashtuns to constitute “a large, highly self-aware ethnic group
[…] organized in a segmentary, replicating system without centralized institutions” (Barth 1981: 103).
Cultural patterns require some types of mechanism in order to generate and maintain social
reproduction buttressing an ethnic identity across residential and tribal groups. Can we take a similar
replicating system for granted, given the fact of limited communication between distant communities
so as to maintain and reinforce a shared body of knowledge and cultural practice that is powerful
enough to activate inclusive ethnic identity, if required? More precisely, can we then tacitly assume a
cultural coherence and homogeneity that reproduce a similar web of meanings and consequently
comparable patterns of political behaviour across Pashtun tribes? Questions like these elicit
challenging issues of identity and call for further preparatory grounding. Consequently, the lines to
follow serve as a condensed presentation of cultural traits in Pashtun society that are deemed being
widespread, relevant and persistent. They address cultural attributes which are a matter of recurrent
record in classical scientific literature of major reputation among scholars. The relevant features aim at
laying emphasis on those components which are considered to have a significant effect on issues of
political organization, leadership and public conflicts. Before entering the cultural universe, I shall
briefly give some indispensable background facts such as the geographical spreading of Pashtun tribal
groups as well as a cursory synopsis on Pashtun collective identity and history. The latter subjects,
although unsatisfying in its offered depth, deserve an entry due to the suggestion that a common
history of conquest and the far-reaching societal and political implications of alike events may as a
minimum form a common identity if challenged by non-Pashtun forces. However, the degree of
fragmentation of Pashtun society, a long history of conquest and subsequently the membership to an
ethnic group that ranks prominently above subjugated non-tribal minorities has a deep impact on the
way Pashtun tribal members see themselves and their position within blurred boundaries of society. In
this sense, history and the function of Pashtun dominance may serve as a counterbalance against inter-
tribal crumbling and disintegration. On the other hand, it nourishes ideas and convictions of

There is a current dispute about the number of Pashtuns spread predominantly in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Some
reckon the number of tribal Pashtuns about 100 millions, whereas the number living in Afghanistan is alleged to exceed 20
millions. The political function of such popular manipulations of census should not be disregarded, either.

Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
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characteristic values and virtues, that centre around tribal membership, tribal law and institutions as
around a set of distinctive personal qualities that imply ideas of superiority and political pre-eminence.
Since those features are deeply rooted in Pashtun culture and hence largely seen as exclusively
Pashtun qualities by its members, they are likely to reinforce the consciousness of Pashtun ethnic
identity, despite a visible tendency for tribal fragmentation. Furthermore, today’s challenges to
Pashtun political dominance actualize the significance of similar questions. To sum up, the linkage of
research findings derived from a specific context to a generalized reference of Pashtun culture or
Pashtun society is a risky task and thus prone to over-simplification. Therefore, it is imperative to keep
in mind the high complexity and various contexts in which social groups who claim proudly to be
Pashtuns live and thrive. In spite of alike implications, there is evidence of particular cultural
universals within the complex Pashtun universe that are evidently able to cross international, tribal and
regional restrictions. In suggesting related “Pashtun universals”, I follow to a large extent David B.
Edwards, who draws similarities between Pashtun groups despite the international border from similar
linguistic forms and “[they] share the same genealogical and mythic charter, the same forms of
economic livelihood, religious beliefs, and ethos and understanding of life and death” (1998: 714). By
transcending a relevant set of evidence found within a restricted context, we may assume such cultural
traits to be applicable on a more abstract, higher and thus comparable level of analysis, too.

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2.1 The geographical setting

Pashtun Area of Western Pakistan (settled/qalang & tribal/nang districts; Pakistan)

Swat Region in Pashtun settled/qalang-districts; Western Pakistan

MAP 1 PASHTUN AREA IN AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN: Sketch line encloses the approximate
extension of the territory predominantly inhabited by Pashtun population in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Sources: Centlivres and Centlivres-Demont (1988: 58) and Ahmed (1980 : 10).

2.2 Ethnonyms, identity and common history
To start with, Afghanistan is the epitome of the plasticity of ethnic terms (Centlivres and Centlivres-
Demont 1988: 33-38). On the one hand, this statement gives expression to the remarkable ethnic
diversity of the country. One the other hand, it demonstrates subtle social stratifications along ethnic
lines as a result of historical processes of territorial conquest, constellations of dominance and hence
ethnic marginalisation of other ethnic groups. In this context, the dialectical character of ethnic
identity becomes apparent in the background of a weak national identity, where “l’image de l’autre est
inséparable de l’image de soi, et dans le cas [afghan] qui nous occupe, la constitution de l’identité d’un
groupe ethnique donné se fait par référence aux autres groupes ethniques” (Centlivres and Centlivres-
Demont 1988: 34). For international public afghân refers to all citizens living in Afghanistan (or once
used to live there bearing in mind the enormous number of Afghan refugees). However, within
Afghan borders where the impact of ethnic variety is evident and the abstract idea of nationality is
largely unfamiliar, it is not quite so clear. Inside Afghanistan, being afghân means to belong to an
Afghan tribe, i.e. to a Pashtun tribe. Non-Pashtun inhabitants declare either to be tâjik, uzbek, balûc or
hâzâra. Local identity is even more pronounced among non-Pashtun groups. Thus, they are first and
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foremost herâti or kâbuli. Of course, according to the level of reference and disassociation compared
to an opposite group, the family, the region, the language or religion is more compelling for identity.
Orywal (1986: 80 – 85) offers a systematic discussion based on a concentric model of identification.
What appears to be a linguist’s clowning around for semantic amusement has far-reaching implication.
The Pashtuns are seen as the ethnic group representing the state. As such, it is the dominant ethnic
group whose members traditionally hold a large amount of functions of national or local authorities.
This is to a large extent a result of the historical process of Pashtunization in the 19
century that led
to the constant spread of Pashtun groups towards the north and west of Afghanistan. Those
circumstances explain why non-Pashtun Afghan inhabitants claim to be afghân within national borders
only if they hold a position as a public servant. Other reasons for adopting a virtual Pashtun-like
identity are a marked nationalistic attitude of politicians and an instrument for ethnic camouflage by
marginalized groups. The latter case again discloses the value-loaded instrument of ethnicity and
hence the supremacy of Pashtun identity in Afghan socio-political life (Centlivres and Centlivres-
Demont 1988: 35). The inter-ethnic cleavage is a function of unequal allocation of political power.
This again mirrors the historical process of conquest and the spread of Pashtun society during the last
centuries, which has enabled the construction of a mainly Pashtun directed state in Afghanistan
(Rasuly 1993: 30-35). Another legacy favouring the Pashtun supremacy in the region as well as within
state-run administrative authorities was their integration into the power structure of the Persian empire
as soldiers in the standing army. political as well as military functions. As a consequence, some
Pashtun tribes in the South and the West might have become familiar with political structure that had
been holding sway over a large territory. But the prior incorporation into the Persian empire and the
extent of its impact on Pashtun social organization and lineage-structure remains uncertain (Rasuly
1993: 34). However, according to Rubin the Persian Safavid Shas have imposed particular elements of
the Turco-Mongolian tribal structure onto the Pashtuns living in their territories. Thus, the major
division of the Pashtun tribes in two large and occasionally powerful federations (Ghilzai and Durrani)
is a result of Persion colonial efforts. The Persian Safavids created (or rather recognized) the ruling
lineages among each tribal confederation by appointing a ruling chief (khan) in their duty (Rubin
2002: 29 referring to Elphinstone 1972 (1815) and Caroe 1958). In early 18
century, Persian rulers
were driven out. Under Ghilzai rule, a Pashtun tribal association, a large part of Persian territory
including Isfahan was subjugated and as a consequence the Safavid reign collapsed (Rasuly 1993:
36). However, the Ghilzai rule survived only a short time. If not considered as a Pashtun peculiarity,
this episode (and comparable ones) might be exemplary for an inherent dilemma of tribal societies: A
regular pattern including diametrically opposed and incompatible conflicting tendencies. On the one
hand, kin-based mergers can be seen as a potential to form political corporate groups along ramified
lines of kinship. On the other hand, the quick dissolution of the tribal merger while it splits into ever
smaller factions of its segmentary constituents. It reveals an apparent and recurrent ineffectiveness of
political fusion based on tribal kinship pattern from which Ibn Khaldun derived his cyclical theory of
Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
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the state (14
AD). That is, members of tribal societies regularly succeed in seizing the central power,
but fall short in persevering with the control owing to a lack of tribal cohesion (Glatzer1995: 51).
In the year 1747, an inter-tribal jirga in Kandahar proclaimed Ahmad Khan the first Pashtun Shah
(King) ruling over today’s southern and western Afghanistan. Ahmed Shah was a tribal member of the
Abdali tribal confederation (later called Durrani) which dominated the south-western part with
Kandahar as the political centre. A jirga is a traditional assembly with consultation character
composed of various local elders, political or religious representatives or any involved person of
respect and functions as a council meeting Tapper, Nancy 1991: 32; cf. chapter 4.5). The procedure of
the proclamation itself is deeply rooted in a widely respected tribal institution. At that time, it
demonstrates the state to be not much more than a structural transformation of a traditional tribal
system. Furthermore, the process of formation of an inter-tribal power-sharing agreement was based
on traditional political institutions. Therefore, the compliance with traditional tribal values was crucial
for reaching a political consensus and in order to avoid animosities. A comprehensive inter-tribal
legitimacy was required (a) to respect the liberal spirit (i.e. the “ethos of egalitarianism”; cf. chapter
5.3) of the Pashtuns. Accordingly, an overly powerful tribal leader was out of consideration; (b) a
Pashtun leader was dependent on the legitimation for his decisions and actions on the basis of the
jirga; (c) genealogical descent and charisma constituted two important features that enhance political
legitimacy of traditional Pashtun leadership (Rasuly 1993: 36). However, such mergers of political
factions should not obscure the fact of tribal fragmentations. Conversely, the claims of tribal interests
and the concerns of the central state were in a state of permanent conflict and often diametrically
opposed. Rulers could only maintain an enduring counterbalance if taking into account expectations of
tribal loyalty. The traditional Afghan state in those days and throughout the following centuries was
characterized by a precarious coexistence of state-like structures and tribal autonomy. In addition, the
ruling dynasty itself was shaken by internal conflicts due to succession. Moreover, the ruling party
tried to dominate the tribes and to incorporate them at least partially into its political system. In
contrast, the governing dynasty was dependent on the faithfulness of their followers. They secured
tribal loyalty by means of traditional instruments: marriage exchanges and clientelistic relationships of
various kinds were powerful in creating reliable social bonds that bore political functionality (Rasuly
1997: 22ff.). More than a century later, Abdurrahman Khan (1880-1901), a Durrani Pashtun with his
absolutist politics was responsible for the extension of the national administration and hence for the
curtailment of above-mentioned traditional instruments as well as for the influence of tribal
representatives hitherto indispensable as a tribal participation for a national rule. As a consequence,
the significance of jirga-based decisions on the state-level was eliminated to a large extent. Civil and
military administration expanded drastically (ibid.). Likewise, Abdurrahman’s nationalistic and
centralist politics restrained the autonomy and privileges of Islamic clergy. Those reforms weakened
the authority of the segmentary tribal system and consolidated central power and thus led to a
widening gap between state-authorities and the rest of a rural, decentralized society (ibid: 25). In this
era, the centralist politics attempted to break up the political structure of non-Pashtun groups, although
Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
- 14 -
the political elite of Pashtun tribes successfully kept the most part of their power owing to a policy of
non-intervention in terms of local, tribal politics (ibid: 105). It was also during this period, when the
process of Pashtunization came to the fore. After the Pashtun conquest of the Afghan northern part,
many Pashtun nâqelin (resettled) groups were settled in the midst of non-Pashtun ethnic groups. The
Pashtunization served a couple of purposes: unruly Pashtun groups from the southeast were deported
with the intention of preventing further detrimental effects, such as dissidence, on political stability.
On the other hand, it extended the sphere of Pashtun influence. The latter had also the effect to abate
alternative tribal units since the dispersion of tribal segments averted the concentration of opposing
and power-competing forces, but it also supported the strive for a Pashtunization in a nationalistic
sense (Centlivres and Centlivres-Demont 1988: 232-233). The Afghan national version of
Pashtunization includes the will to equate the complex social and political makeup of the country with
a Pashtun administrative system. This comprises the endorsement of Pashtun life-style and values, the
political and ideological integration of fragmented Pashtun groups as well as the active promotion of
Pashtu as lingua franca. In a broader sense, Pashtunization attempts used to embrace the incorporation
of Pashtun tribal land in its totality, i.e. the integration of tribal areas set apart by the international
frontiers between Afghanistan and Pakistan into an own state: Pashtunistan. When Daoud Khan, head
of the Afghan government 1953-1963, had boosted again excessive Pashtunistan ambitions, a deep
crisis in foreign and economic policy was the consequence. Still today, the Pashtunistan issue appears
to be latent. Afghan Pashtun tribal leaders still cite Pashtunistan as an unresolved problem. Small
Pashtun parties on the Pakistan side of the border, such as the Pashtun National People's Party, call for
the creation of a Pashtun homeland. Besides, Pakistan is suspected of supporting Islamic extremism in
order to keep the Pashtunistan issue suppressed. In doing so, another collective identity than an ethnic
one is attracted. The support of groups aimed at strengthening Muslim community means to de-
emphasize state borders.
To sum up, the previous outline addressed questions of ethnic identity expressed in ethnic terms,
which bear implications of inter-ethnic relations. Not only in today’s Afghanistan, but also in the tribal
areas of north-western Pakistan, inter-ethnic relations reflect relations of mainly Pashtun domination
and subordination of non-Pashtun groups in the Pashtun heartland. This vertical cleavage is a result of
historical processes that included Pashtun favouritism within the Persian empire in the region and the
subsequent Pashtun politics of conquest and subjugation of non-Pashtun groups as well as a selective
settlement practice. In addition, the penetration of society by Pashtun-dominated public administration
as well as the consolidation of a tribal dynasty mainly by members of the Pashtun Durrani ensured
their tribal pre-eminence. As a reinforcing effect for Pashtun control, this process had far-reaching
practical consequences: social mobility of non-Pashtuns was complicated or precluded, since most
relevant administrative positions both on state and local level were held by Pashtun tribal members.
Select historical events serve as to display two counterbalancing dynamics in Pashtun social and
political fabric: (a) a political decision-making on an inter-tribal level based on traditional tribal
institutions. Its effectiveness as an integrative force enables a persistent continuation for Pashtun
Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
- 15 -
domination, more often than not under the dynastic rule of Durrani tribes; (b) conversely, the
autonomy among the various tribal segments of Pashtun society is a paramount value. At all times the
leaders on a state or inter-tribal level had to consider carefully the need for tribal sovereignty and
political participation to ensure a stable allegiance. Such a quandary is a manifestation of traditional
tribal values with key significance in a tribal society. Centlivres and Centlivres-Demont emphasize the
importance of traditional values and institutions now and then:

Les homes de l’Afghanistan professent un ideal d’égalité et d’autonomie, souvent affirmé dans les
institutions tribales: les assemblées qui réunissent les homes adultes, et dont la forme circulaire
symbolise les droits égaux des participants, en sont un exemple; l’exigence d’autonomie,
l’insistance sur la fierté et l’honneur de l’homme libre, sur les rapports entre pairs en sont un autre.
Pourtant la société afghane apparaît à l’observateur comme fondamentalement inégale. […] Cette
égalité suppose la liberté de prendre part aux conseils tribaux et locaux, ou jirga. […] C’est une
jirga des tribus durrani qui, au XVIIIe siècle, a mis Ahmad Shah sur le trône et a été le point de
départ de la dynastie qui est à l’origine de l’Etat afghan. Les Pachtouns ou Afghans étant
dominants en Afghanistan, les collectivités pachtounes, du moins quand elles sont loin des grands
centres, bénéficient d’une certaine autonomie interne ; les représentants de l’Etat ne se distinguent
pas toujours des notables tribaux, même si la bureaucratie et les fonctionnaires tendent à s’imposer
toujours plus comme instances d’arbitrage. (1988: 22-23)

An analysis of types and dynamics of political alliances and decisions of political actors must
consequently be sourced to the complex fabric of cultural meanings and practices of Pashtun society.
Even more, besides a shared set of cultural values and institutions a common history can also
contribute to latent cultural coherence, since it creates a collective identity by disassociating the
ethnically different. This coherence may be functional and manifest in collective actions in periods of
crisis or if common political achievements are threatened. In a practical sense, a positive connotation
of a particular ethnic membership helps to achieve individual advantages and consequently adds to a
persistence of cultural traits as a distinguished set of ethnic characteristics. Based on the assumption
that being a Pashtun and hence a member of a widely dictating collective, the adoption of attributes
attached to tribal affiliation is significant. One postulation in order to prove tribal –if only putative–
membership to benefit from collective primacy should consequently require an outstanding and visible
set of cultural characteristics that are publicly exposed in practice and discourse. Besides, structural
features such as patrilineal descent are overt cultural attributes that are put on display and referred to
explicitly in a concept of doing Pashto, if applied. As a basis, Pashtun emic self-ascription of ethnic
identity covers some crucial traits necessarily associated with being a Pashtun:
(a) Pashtun language,
(b) Islam,
(c) Patrilineal descent,
(d) Pashtunwali, the Pashtun tribal law based on
(e) Pashtun custom and values, a widely coherent and accepted set of cultural attributes (Barth 1981:

Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
- 16 -
As with most segmentary Islamic societies, religious belonging goes hand in hand with genealogies.
Descent, religious leaders and a distinctive body of customs are important components that contribute
to the dynamics of political affiliation. Accordingly, such inter-tribal similarities will be discussed in
full explanation after having drawn concisely a more discriminating picture including socio-economic
differences. Such variation may be functional for an analysis of political matters.

2.3 Tribal society and the state
In countries such as Afghanistan or western Pakistan with a large proportion of people with tribal
membership, the relationship between tribal society and the state is critical. In Afghanistan as well as
in Pakistan, the penetration of state administration such as law enforcement institutions is restricted in
some areas. Again, the issue of Pashtunistan represents a subject matter of some political delicacy for
governmental decision-makers. It has dominated the political agenda of political actors for more than a
decade around the seventies of the last century. The vision of uniting all Pashtun tribes under one
administrative umbrella exhibited the complexity of counteracting dynamics in Pashtun political
affairs. This displays a strong effect of group inclusion owing to Pashtun identity if faced with an
external threat. Ethnic cohesion among Pashtuns may increase if a curtailment of tribal autonomy is
feared. The fear of loss of autonomy turns out to be a Pashtun constant. Analogous tendencies were
mobilised against foreign intruders and world powers such as the British empire a century ago.
Similarly, it rallied support in order to oust the Soviet invaders. Afghan pro-soviet government under
Daoud Khan, who was a Cousin of former King Mohamed Zahir Shah and also responsible for
abolishing Pashtun monarchy led by Durrani-Muhamadzai, revived Afghanistan’s campaign for
Pashtunistan in 1976. Such ethnic nationalism prompted the concern of Pakistan that was in turn eager
to support any source of counterpressure against the revival of the Pashtunistan issue. Some Pashtun
parties on the Pakistan side called for the creation of a Pashtun homeland (Rubin 2002: 100). The
following sequence of reactions again revealed the flip side of the double-edged coin, on which
Pashtun ethnic politics is engraved. With the objective to keep the Pashtunistan issue suppressed,
Pakistan supported Islamist protagonists and welcomed Islamist exiles and consistently favoured the
Pashtuns among them. “Pakistan covertly organized and supported the attempted uprising by the
Islamists in 1975, which, together with pressure from the shah, had the desired effect of bringing
Daoud to the bargaining table over his support for Pashtun and Baluch separatism in Pakistan and
other regional issues”(ibid.). Accordingly, some prominent Pashtun politicians like Gulbuddin
Hikmatyar and others probably de-emphasized state borders with the purpose of uniting the Muslim
umma. This enabled them not only to disband the overriding significance of ethnic or tribal
membership, but also to expand their political influence beyond such collective restrictions. Islam
seems to increase plausibility of political endeavours and most likely strengthens the legitimacy of
leaders. Political actors regularly draw on religion that serves as an alternative instrument to
strengthen collective identity of the rallied supporters. In doing so, they apply a successful strategy by
Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
- 17 -
circumventing inter-tribal loyalties and thus precluding an indispensable political and symbolic
resource that provides a component for fostering ethnic nationalism. For Nazif Shahrani, an Afghan
fieldwork-experienced social anthropologist, a similar perspective provides a partial explanation for
the rise of the Taliban during the 90ies of the last century. In his view, the religiously motivated
martial movement was systematically taking advantage of the manipulation of the Muslim identity of
believers for political objectives, “to re-define, and even to determine not only the basis for political
legitimacy and exercise of authority, but also to proclaim what ought to constitute Muslim religious
orthodoxy/orthopraxy” (Shahrani 2000). Hence, both the Pashtunistan issue as well as far-reaching
forms of religious extremism such as the Taliban phenomenon offer exemplary occurrences. They
illustrate convincingly the complex situation and multidirectional dynamics, engendered in a context
of societal fractures at the crossroads, where tribal, state, religious impacts and external strategic
interests collide. Comparable events that have been addressed previously suggest also alternative
explanatory models. The cohesive power of supra-ethnic identity, such as religion, displays its partial
political success, but it also evokes alternative compelling questions. Not to tackle them would be
neglectful of an obvious constant throughout Pashtun history of politics: The often quoted
fragmentation of Pashtun political constituents. Whether the imperfect success of religious politics and
the failure of Pashtun national politics are due to a balanced product of either their conceptual
weakness or strength, respectively, is an open question. But the contribution of disjointing forces that
result in an impression of deep-seated propensity for political and societal fragmentation may even
account more for political events than other factors. My suggestion will be to demonstrate that
political fragmentation is at least to a certain degree endemic in Pashtun political organization. It is
structurally sponsored and sustained by structural conditions, cultural tradition and a distinctive set of
features. The persistency of political fragmentation will subsequently also be associated with active
elements of Pashtun culture. Accordingly, traditional tribal institutions, customs and values need to be
be found to back up an appropriate social anthropological model that reveals systematic processes of
political action. Accounts for political fragmentation, but also for cohesive countertendencies, will be

2.4 Socio-economic variability

Unlike one might imply, owing to the previous explanations of cultural and ethnic consistency, the
Pashtun society is far from being homogeneous. On the contrary, it comprises a wide variation of
socio-economic life styles. But does such a diversity of lifestyle impair significantly Pashtuns’ “self-
image as a characteristic and distinctive ethnic unit with unambiguous social and distributional
boundaries”, as Barth assumes (1981: 105)? In areas of East Afghanistan and in the Pakistan north-
western frontier region which are included in the particular examples of Swat and the neighbouring
Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
- 18 -
tribal territories, a great range of socio-economic variety can be found depending on forms of
(1) Barren hills: mixed agriculture
Villages of mixed agriculturalists can be found in ecologically less favoured conditions like barren
hills. Their social organization is based on egalitarian patrilineal descent segments with an acephalous
political form (Barth 1981: 104).
(2) Ecologically privileged regions: intensive agriculture
In the broader valley regions and in favoured localities in the mountains, more intensive agriculture
based on artificial irrigation, dominates as economic practice. Pashtuns in these area are landowners or
owner-cultivators. In the south and the west of the focused area, a large part of the village population
consists of tenant Tajiks and other ethnic groups. The political organization is centred around the
segmentary order of Pashtun descent groups. Some are incorporated in bureaucratic administration.
Quasi-feudal systems as well as acephalous systems with less perceptible political hierarchy can be
found (ibid 1981: 104-105).
(3) Other sectors: administrators and craftsmen
Mainly in the towns of Afghanistan and Pakistan, administrators, traders, craftsmen or labourers
dominate (ibid: 105). Provided that tribal membership is associated with estate property, most
Pashtuns are landowners within agriculturally used areas. However, as a result of land selling,
migration or other occasions, many Pashtuns have followed alternative options of livelihood.
(4) Pastoral nomadic life
Pastoral nomadic life together with great autonomy and tribal political organization is important in
more secluded and harsher areas in the south of Pashtun mainland (ibid: 105). But also in the central
and northern parts of Afghanistan, some Pashtun groups live as nomads or subsist on a variant of
pastoral lifestyle like transhumance.

The economic base has great significance in the Pashtun-dominated society of the Swat region where
the land is owned by a few families. Its relevance on social life also account for political processes,
since it concerns the system of land allotment and the ownership of land. Though estate property
explains to a certain extent the material capital to be a means for building up political following, the
economic aspect is but one side of the explanatory framework for political practice. Nevertheless, the
significance of land, its property and allocation as well as the respective cultural connotation must be
included in a wider analysis of political procedures. Ahmed insists that the economic structure and
ecological constraints have great analytical meaning in order to understand political organization and
power (1976: 71). But being critical towards any kind of economic determinism and reductionist
explanatory models, other features than mere economic forms of production supposedly have an
impact on the cultural arrangement including the political structure. Thus, the cultural diversity
Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
- 19 -
between different communities appears to cover a scope of magnitude rather than to represent different
unrelated cultural units (Barth 1981: 105). Even more, certain cultural traits from the realms of social
organization, customs, beliefs and values are selected to constitute not only a set of criteria for an
ascription to ethnic identity. They also contribute to the inventory that accounts for political legitimacy
and hence add to the regulatory frames of the formation of political alignment. For that reason, central
attributes as necessarily attributed to Pashtun culture and identity will be addressed hereafter. Apart
from economic and ecological factors, various authors assume non-material features such as
personalized qualities related to a concept of the idealized Pashtun character to be persistent even if
their functionality in a changing economic and social environment may justly be questioned. Besides,
the following cultural standards serve partly as a distinctive device to assess whether Pashto is done
generally. Cultural standards are based on ideal-type models. Even if not compatible with observable
realities at all events, they are a collective instrument to measure, for instance, the congruence of
political actions of political leaders with cultural ideals (Barth 1959: 82). When speaking of ideal-
types, the notion refers to basic concepts of the pertinent discussion. This term very often follows
Ahmed’s most simple definition as ideal-types to represent “structures based on frequency of
observable behaviour and a concept of a species type and not based on quantitative analysis of
statistical averages. Ideal-types help to explain the ‘ideal’ while examining the ‘actual’ and to
contemplate the ‘pure forms’ and not the ‘average’ “ (Ahmed 1976: 73f.). The importance of tribal
ideals and values as a resource for a type of non-material capital and their interconnections with the
economic system, economic contracts and house tenancy interdependencies provide altogether
explicatory components for political action as well as for political legitimacy. Related interconnections
of this type will be illustrated later.
2.5 ‘Nang’ and ‘qalang’: two distinctive socio-economic categories
As with other tribal groups and as insinuated earlier, geographical, political and social environment of
the varied Pashtun groups may differ significantly. For example, a distinction regarding the degree of
state inclusion is to be made for the purpose at hand. The degree of central government control affects
traditional repositories of political institutions and their functioning. Additionally, the socio-economic
foundation determines to a certain extent the importance of customary repertoires such as life-guiding
standards. First, the relational pattern of political leaders and followers may differ according to the
socio-economic environment and the degree of integration into the administrative system along with
the law enforcement system of the state. For instance, hierarchies may be more or less pronounced.
Second, core values or general distinctive personal qualities attached to political leadership may be
subject to change if general environmental circumstances alter. Therefore, the analysis of the diverse
forms of Pashtun society should not leave out the socio-economic milieu in which it is embedded nor
ignore the potential for change. A distinction between mountain and plain tribes is indispensable
seeing that it is important to the Pashtun self-conception (Rubin 2002: 28). To simplify, plain tribes
(qalang) are integrated into a system of administrative and political control of the state. As a
Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
- 20 -
consequence, they pay taxes. Furthermore, the state’s monopoly of violence and a law enforcement
system is effective. Powerful Pashtun landlords dominate and manipulate patronage networks.
Conversely, hill tribes (nang) are relatively free of any non-tribal control from outside. Even within
tribal borders they are free of domination by others, leaving aside justifiable objections against this
assessment from a qualified female point of view:
“[Hill tribes] embrace, much more fully than can the qalang Pashtun, the ideal type of egalitarian
tribalism expressed in the Pashtun Code, Pashtunwali. In the tribal model, conformity to Pashtunwali
defines what it means to be ‘really’ Pashtun” (ibid.). A Pashtun proverb gets the two models
symbolically to the heart: “Honour, nang, ate up the mountains and taxes, qalang, ate up the plains”
(Ahmed 1975: 47). Honour refers to the great importance of revenge related to honour and shame as
well as to the prevalence of blood feuds among hill tribes. Subsequently, in order to give an example
of Pashtun variation in north-western Pakistan, two socio-economic organizations will be opposed.
The categories of nang and qalang will serve as differing categories. Specific attributes serve as
characterizations. Applying the categories elaborated by Ahmed, they are opposed so as to make clear
the differences in a very brief and simplified table (Ahmed 1976: 82f.). The referential terms nang (i.e.
honour) and qalang (i.e. rents and taxes) are symbols for the socio-economic categories and stand for
an emphasis on particular attributes or rather key concepts that stand for the whole set of defining
features of each respective system. Ahmed derives the category from sections of a related tribe, but
living under dissimilar conditions: The Tribal Area Mohmands (TAM approximating nang category)
and the Settled Area Mohmands (SAM approximating qalang category). On accounts of clarity, I will
use the terms qalang and nang, respectively.

The nang category:
The “hills” or Tribal Areas of the six Tribal
Agencies in the North-West Frontier Province.
The regular criminal and judicial laws do not
apply. Mainly along the international border.
The qalang category:
The “plains” or Settled Disctricts
administratively subdivided into three
divisions of the Province.
-weak encapsulation: less administrative control of the
state (“tribal area”)
-outside larger (juxtaposed to) state system; illiterate; oral
-encapsulated within larger systems; district boards;
literate; written tradition
-more administrative control of the state
-hill areas; largely unirrigated; scarce population
dispersed in fort-like hamlets and nucleated settlements
-plain areas; largely irrigated; dense population in
large villages and tendency to urbanization
-pastoral tribal economy -agricultural feudal economy
-no rents and taxes -rents and taxes
- egalitarian social organization; mainly ‘achieved’ status
of elders (mashars)
-mainly ‘ascribed status of khans; hierarchical social
organizational based on authochthonic population
-warriors participating in raids -warlords organizing battles
-acephalous tribal society organized in segmentary
descent groups
-autocephalous village organization under khan
within larger acephalous society
emphasis on ‘nangwali’ (Code of honour) -emphasis on ‘tarboorwali’ (agnativ rivalry)
-jirga represents interests of entire tribe (the vast majority
of the population)

-jirga members from landowning Pashtun tribes only
TABLE 1: Nang and Qalang: Socio-economic categories. Source: Ahmed (1976: 82).

Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
- 21 -
It is important to point to the artificiality of the chart. The binary character should not obscure the fact
that categories may prove to be arbitrary and contradict empirical knowledge in particular instances.
Cultural boundaries rarely enclose pure closed systems. The categories at times overlap and borrow
from each other. They are not residential groupings either, since in reality the same tribal group may
be found on both “sides”, occasionally. Finally, both socio-cultural systems are dynamic owing to
effects of migration, exchange of goods and ideas or economic transformation. After all, cultural traits
are subject to change. However, ecological, historical and socio-economic prerequisites account for
the sufficient functionality of the categories since the underlying factors affect cultural evolution. In
consequence, they shape the political structure to some extent. Therefore, one should constantly bear
in mind socio-economic differences, even if the applied categories may appear simplistic. In terms of
what constitutes and ideal-type Pashtun behaviour and person, the gap between the evaluation of the
self-image and the perception of the outsider adds to the confusion. With important features of Pashtun
practice and Pashtun personality such as revenge, cousin enmity, hospitality, bravery and politics, the
respective evaluations differ considerably. While the nang tribes see themselves as practicing revenge
(badal, tor; cf. chapter 4.2) uncompromisingly, they maintain that qalang tribes are lax in taking
revenge. They reproach qalang tribes even to compromise cases of tor, where the impaired chastity of
women is involved. This is considered as the most serious threat. The qalang on the other hand are
aware of their deviance from the ideal, but still talk in badal (revenge) idiom. But they claim to take
revenge in cases where tor is concerned. Qalang regard the rigid practice of nang as wild and unruly
while killing indiscriminately (Ahmed 1980: 329). With cousin enmity, hospitality and bravery, the
evaluations are comparable:

self-image and
perception of the
nang about nang nang about qalang qalang about qalang qalang about nang
cousin enmity•
involved in
agnatic rivalry
too weak to
practice it
a milder form,
other expressions
than killing
nang not motivated by
nang, but by jealousy
and boorish nature

very hospitable too poor
to be hospitable
hospitable, civilized,
calculating in their

very brave submissive,
ascendants the
bravest, but aware of
admit bravery of
nang, but seen as
ill-directed, wild
TABLE 2: Nang and Qalang: Self-perception and perception of the other. Source: Ahmed (1980: 329).

Moreover, the categories are referred to from relevant authors who deal with Pashtun culture (e.g.
Ahmed, Barth). Hence, they will also serve as experienced analytic categories in this paper. In terms
of the integration into an administrative system controlled by a central government, some areas have
undergone important transformations which have a bearing for the political organizations. For
instance, in Swat in the 1920s, a central government was superimposed over a structure which
Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
- 22 -
consisted of numerous and ephemeral small-scale leaders in every village. But in the last decades, the
government has weakened significantly. This allowed the old segmentary system to reassert itself
(Lindholm 1991).

3 Segmentary tribal organization and politics

Among Durrani Pashtuns, a saying goes: “Descent (nasab) makes a tribe (tayfa)” (Tapper1991: 45).
Under the effect of literature, one is tempted to add: a tribal belonging makes a Pashtun. Pashtuns are
often referred to as the tribal people and are likewise said to be the largest tribal grouping in the world
(recurrent stereotype and probably first formulated in Spain 1963: 17). This points to the pre-eminence
of tribal affiliation, since it has not only an enclosing effect against other ethnic groups, but it also
links Pashtuns together on the basis of a common apical ancestor. But given that the term tribe is very
often used popularly with an unsystematic elasticity, if not to say in an appalling randomness, the
meaning applied here needs a succinct clarification. In a sharp contrast to the popular use of tribe as a
fuzzy term which is used to referring to any small ethnic group and at times does not even refrain from
derogatory connotations, the term applied here is descriptive for a particular kind of social
organization. Tribes, as understood here, consist of an organizational principle based on segmentary
lineages. Essentially, they are characterized by (a) ramifying segmentation of tribal groups based on a
genealogical concept and therefore include (b) unilineal descent from a common eponymous ancestor
(Ahmed 1980: 82, following Leach 1960). Ahmed completes his definition with tribes to form an
egalitarian or an acephalous type of political organization. It is important to note that, for a tribal
individual, the affiliation to a sub-tribe, tribe or clan has not only organizational implications but
entails far-reaching repercussions. Basically, it confers rights of land and property. In particular with
the Pashtuns, it indicates a dignified social status considering the catalogue of exclusive qualities
attached to it emically: e.g. marked nobility, pride, bravery and honour. Within tribal worlds in
general, tribal membership is evidently a banner to carry in height with distinction:

Arab rulers would be deeply offended if their tribal background was questioned, Afghan
dignitaries and intellectuals increasingly use their tribal names as a second name, a similar
tendency is noticeable in Pakistan, e.g. Ghulam Ishaq Khan, a former President of Pakistan
preferred to appear in tribal costume on official occasions (Glatzer 2002).

In addition, it may provide for a large network of primordial obligations on the basis of well-known
and structured genealogical ties. Generally, tribal membership may perform several functions. It
confers distinctive ethnic identity by its disassociative boundary against non-members on every
segment. Moreover, the structural connections and a sense of commonality between segments
(lineages, sub tribes) may ensure solidarity being activated in the occurrence of predicaments. In most
respects, alike solidarity is also contingent on the distance of kinship. According to Evans-Pritchard,
people within segmentary lineage organizations interact on the basis of genealogical closeness or
Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
- 23 -
remoteness, respectively (Barnard and Spencer 1996: 152). Similarly, ancestors and genealogies serve
accordingly as a repository of political identity and as a resource for mobilizing adherents for political
action. Depending on the situation, the scope of kin-based inclusion varies. A famous Arab proverb
reflects this flexible system for political mobilization: “Myself against my brother; my brother and I
against my cousins; my cousins and I against the world” (ibid.). For the purpose of the present paper,
the relevance of segmentary descent groups for political matters must be examined further. Many
authors characterize tribe as a political unit which in turn suggests any descent group on a charter to be
a corporate group. If used by social anthropologists, the term corporate group commonly portrays a
collection of people recruited on a recognized kin-based principle applicable to groups that (a) share a
common identity with a single legal personality; (b) imply permanent existence; (c) include common
interests in property and common rules and norms (Boissevain 1974: 171; Barnard and Spencer 1998:
599). This definition of a descent group as a corporate body remains in contrast to an alternative
characterization of coalitions. Coalitions are generally defined as temporary alliances of parties for a
limited purpose and duration as well as a joint use of resources in an attempt to pursue a clearly
determined goal (Boissevain 1974: 171f.). An analysis of descent groups relative to their political
inference must therefore take into account three aspects: temporality (relative duration), goal-
orientation and instrumentality. As a consequence, an assessment of the political role of lineage
formation should not only include structural considerations, but must also comprise the individual
choice of political actors. Only the basis of individual choice is able to lay bare personal goals with
their inherent instrumental nature.

3.1 The Pashtun tribal system
Before setting out to consider pertinent aspects of segmentary systems for political activities, a few
words about Pashtun genealogy may be useful. All Pashtuns claim descent from their putative
ancestor, Qais bin Rashid. His real name may be disputed, but solely the belief of belonging to one
common prime ancestor, i.e. one huge kinship group on the top level is of major importance (Glatzer
2002). Qais was converted to Islam by the Prophet himself. He is said to have married the daughter of
the most renowned general of early Islam, Khalid bin Walid. From her, he had three sons: Sarbarn,
Bitan and Ghurgust. Karlanri, a fourth son, is said to have been adopted later into the family of the
third son (Ghurgust). All Pashtun tribes trace their origin to the offspring of Qais (ibid.). Two aspects
of considerable importance underlie this information about the genealogical origination of all Pashtun
tribes, whether historical true or fictitious: Pashtuns lack a collective hang-up attributable to a coercive
conversion to Islam. On the contrary, they were “enlightened” on the behalf of their genealogical apex
person. What’s more, the link to a famous general fighting in the name of Islam creates the mythology
of martial descent (Ahmed 1980: 129). This is consistent with the proverbial belligerency of Pashtuns
and adds to the characteristic and the self-image which advocates an ideal of the brave, martial,
intrepid and honourable man (turialáy). Before Qais, descent is traced back to Afghana, a descendant
Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
- 24 -
of Saul, the first king of the Jews. This connection explains the name of today’s nation-state. Short
clarifications of terminology should include the term qawm (from the Arabic, meaning people, nation,
tribe, group). Qawm refers to human groupings of all kinds and analytical levels. Amid Durranis who
otherwise claim their superiority towards others, a qawm is ideally endogamous. The term therefore
defines all Durrani as equally eligible as affines (Tapper 1991: 47). Sub-tribe or sub-clan means khel
in Pashto, whereas larger tribal units (but not all of them) are referred to by adding the suffix –zay
(“son of”). Accordingly, Muhamadzai literally means “offspring of Muhamad”. Eastern tribes and
others may lack this typical tribal suffix. The Durrani and Ghilzai are seen as the two largest tribal
units and are therefore often referred to as a tribal confederation. Both the Durrani and the Ghilzai
were the founders of the preliminary state created in the 18
century and later.
Figure 1 shows an extensive genealogical charter of the tribal society of the Pashtuns.

Bitan Sarban
Khalid bin
-Ghoriah Khel:


Figure 1:Pashtun putative genealogy. Based on Ahmed (1976: 7) and Ahmed (1980: 129).
Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
- 25 -
Pashtun society is strongly male centred. With reference to the genealogical system, the term
patrilineal descent system is appropriate in order to reflect the emphasis on structural male dominance.
Barth does not hesitate to label Pashtun society patriarchal (1959: 22). As a rule, the senior male is the
formal representative of the domestic household in public. Pashtun males exert absolute dominance
not only in the public sphere. They also exercise extensive control in the domestic sphere. In the
family, the husband and father has all authority. He employs his pre-eminence in an attempt (a) to
control arbitrarily the social intercourse of the family members; (b) to cut his wife from her natal kin;
(c) to control all property; (d) to control all productive resources; (e) to use physical compulsion to
pull off his purposes; (f) to exercise his exclusive right in dissolving the domestic unit or in matters of
expulsion of family members (Barth 1959: 22f). In a more general sense, descent ideology is formally
relevant on the level of the ethnic group. There it determines marriage choice and political allegiance
(Tapper 1991: 46). Thus, the strict emphasis on male line in the genealogical charter is reflected and
reinforced in formal rights which in turn have a great impact on society. It should be clarified that
tribal membership does not manifestly call for sanguineal substantiation. Several genealogical myths
prove Pashtun pragmatism and a flexible handling of genealogical absorption. As a result, many
famous tribes, among them the tribal Ghilzai federation, are connected by adoption or by female links.
All the same, especially the Ghilzai case demonstrates the noble origin to be a crucial characteristic for
the acceptance of outsiders at least in former times (Glatzer 2002). In addition, outsiders who reside in
tribal areas for one generation or more may be accepted as tribal members provided that they honour
the tribal Code of behaviour (Glatzer 1998
). The significance of genealogy is subject to change. One
indication for this might be that many contemporary Pashtuns are more likely to use residential
designations (e.g. Qandahari) than genealogical reference to denote groupings of tribes (Rubin 2002:
28). Nevertheless, one should take into account the aspect of security provided by the lineage
membership. Especially in times, when migratory displacement due to warfare events or other causes
that result in expulsion, one can hardly be “de-pashtunized”: “Nothing can strip […a Pashtun] of his
place on the tribal charter to which he is recruited by birth. The kinship chart provides him with a
permanent set of terms […] and preventing him from becoming anomic” (Ahmed 1980: 84). But an
inconsistency to this observation arises: a description of the Yusufzai segmentary system in Pakistani
lower Swat valley, where (descent) group membership is categorically connected with a title of estate
property, seems to challenge this view. Sons of a Yusufzai tribal membership who have lost their title
of the inherited land are no longer regarded as members of the group (Barth 1981: 60). Most likely,
similar discrepancies often ensue from disparate socio-economic backgrounds. Ahmed mainly resorts
to nang tribes in his accounts, whereas Barth for the most part portrays qalang societies in Swat.
Another aspect might demonstrate the importance of tribal membership. Since tribal descent and birth
is a principle of recruitment for Pashtunness, tribal affiliation confers on the member elite status. This
in turn underscores the prominence of tribal membership against non-Pashtun people. To be fair, one
should not fail to mention inequality between lineages. A certain favouritism towards seniority of a
lineage compared to a more recent one on the same comparative level of segment is manifest in
Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
- 26 -
settlement arrangements. For instance, it may occasionally explain why some (senior) lineages have
access to the better lands along fertile river banks (Ahmed: 132).

3.2 Tribal affiliation and political matters: Does it matter?
For an analysis of political alignment, segmentary lineage systems need to be examined under the
aspect of common identity and interests. The essential question at hand is whether segmentary groups
operate as corporate groups. As maintained by Boissevain, corporate groups differ from coalitions in
various features. In the former, an individual identity is replaced by a group identity. In the latter, a
clear distinction of each partaking section remains and prevents individuals from adopting a group
identity. However, the maintenance in time may possibly set off a transition towards a corporate
nature of group cohesion by acquiring some of the relevant attributes. Apart from a collective identity
and temporal persistence, corporate groups are often marked by an individual commitment to an
uniform set of rights and obligations (Boissevain 1974: 172). However, I suggest that the most basic
distinction for the formulation of the imminent question relies on the degree of instrumentality. Thus,
two questions arise: Can assemblages of people be aligned only due to a common identity and a
preformed commonality? Conversely, are temporary groupings which are formed to achieve specific
political goals actually a result of an appeal to individual motives and self-interest? The appraisal of
whether tribes or tribal segments can be mobilized as complete corporate political groups or whether
they are no more than “alliances at events” is crucial. It is at the core of the theoretical discussion that
was initiated by a Barthian methodological individualism which in turn challenged the structural-
functionalist paradigm in the 1950ies: individual choice versus structural predisposition of the
individual lay at the heart of those armchair-row. Pashtun tribal associations in Afghanistan are seen to
serve more as a blueprint for political alliances, kinship being rather a convenient than a compulsory
way to build up alliances (Glatzer 2002). A clear distinction must be drawn between the merely
structural arrangement of units based on a unilineal descent system in a formal sense and the way
these units are made relevant for concrete corporate actions. This is a distinction in which many
descriptions of lineage systems are deficient (Barth: 1981: 55). Applying the idea of mechanical
solidarity, descent charters are generally composed of a hierarchy of homologous groups. Societies
based on mechanical solidarity are thus held together by their uniformity. A consequence of internal
tightness and coherence is a relatively strong collective consciousness (Barnard and Spencer 1996:
613). In a classical consideration of segmentary systems, solidarity derives from likeness. Aside from
certain restrictions, descent groups amalgamate with their respective political interests. However,
within Yusufzai Pashtun society in Swat for example, “descent charters do not unequivocally define
corporate units; […] the manner of recruitment of Pathan political groups cannot be understood
directly in terms of the descent system” (Barth 1981: 56). Why is this the case? For a transactionalist
approach maintained by Barth, political actors are not seen as single elements that function according
to unilineal descent principles based on their respective genealogical positions. Quite the reverse, the
Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
- 27 -
implications of unilineal descent are related with their significance for individual choices. With the
Yusufzai case, variations from the classical description of segmentary systems are seen as a result of a
particular arrangement of dual opposing factions, which is a corollary of a specific structure of land-
allotment. In order to draw the comparison comprehensibly, it should be recalled that the alleged
principles underlie the classical rationale of segmentary systems (Barth 1981: 57fff. referring to Fortes
and Evans-Pritchard 1940: 284-296): (1) Unilineal descent defines a hierarchy of descent groups. The
remoteness of one’s common ancestor indicates all at once the scale of his group of descendants.
Situational opposition or alignment is flexible and rests on the nature and the magnitude of conflict.
As a result, a system of fission and fusion is inherent in an ever-changing texture of political
organization. Situational grouping for corporate political action runs along ascending line of unilineal
male agnates. Along those lines, a unilineal charter serves as a charter for the fusion of interests of the
kind enumerated above. (2) A progressive interlocking of segments along the ascending line of
agnates is seen as an intrinsic part of segmentary allying. That is, the fusion of interests initially
encompasses a merging of those more closely related by lineage bonds against those more distantly
related. (3) The equivalence of siblings creates a basic bond. Its ideal approaches a state which Barth
(ibid.) terms the merging of social personalities of siblings.
Technically, the Pashtun kinship system does not form a dramatic exception to those principles. A
major deviation might be assumed for the second postulation, though conflicts with the closest
collateral agnate are frequent in many segmentary societies. But in political contexts with Pashtuns,
Barth interprets the manner of such generalizations to lack reminiscence of African lineage
organizations, on which classical observations of segmentary systems are based (Barth 1980: 58). In
the context of Swat Pashtuns, the basic frame of unilineal descent is intertwined with political
alliances derived from individual choice and completed with a dual division. This is a result of an
inherent dilemma of a system of alignment giving political primacy to the bonds between brothers and
to the bonds between fathers and sons. A subsequent alliance between close agnate kins would unite
close collateral agnates as well. But in Pashtun society, the relationship between close collateral
agnates such as patrilineal cousins typically is one of profound enmity. The incompatibility of the total
of such requirements constitutes the dilemma for any Pashtun male ‘ego’. Individual strategies that
seek to solve it are seen as one constituent of Pashtun political dual organization in Swat. The
complements are a limited number of potential sources of conflict. Recurring matters of conflict
essentially concern issues related to land, such as the contentious use of irrigation facilities or a
controversy over the course of land borders, respectively. Alternative sources of conflict are about
violent events and issues of revenge involving honour and women. In councils (jirga), where most –
but not all– of the mentioned issues are debated openly and conflicts possibly settled unanimously or
arranged by informal lobbying, specific features of political organization become apparent. They
reflect the dilemma to a certain degree:

Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
- 28 -
A hierarchy of councils is defined, corresponding in terms of their membership to a merging series
of agnatic descent groups. But when members align against each other in debates, or any other
form of opposition, they do not act in terms of such a merging series. In meeting of a council of a
wide area, there is not the fusion of interests of smaller, related segments of a minor council vis-à-
vis larger segments which one would expect in a lineage system […]. On the contrary, the
opposition between small, closely related segments persists in the wider context, and these
segments unite with similar small segments in a pattern of two-party opposition, not in a merging
series of descent segments. (Barth: 1980: 63)

Obviously, the society of Swat Pasthuns is composed of close collateral lineages opposing each other
in case of conflict. But the more distantly related segments tend to form clusters of alliances. This
gives rise to a pattern that constantly creates a two-bloc system. Close collaterally neighbouring
groups or lineage groups that are integrated due to a common direct genealogical link do rarely merge
for political action. Rather small segments unite with alternative small segments, that lack immediate
proximity in terms of their genealogical position within a segmentary system. Inferred from this
specific system of segmentary opposition, a two-bloc system has constantly been developing while it
serves as a guideline for dual alliance or opposition (Barth 1980: 65fff.). If extended and reproduced
widely so as to cover a larger society, it generates a structure of political dual division into two
opposed blocs. In figure 2, the function of such a two-bloc system is illustrated on the basis of a
simplified unilineal segmentary structure.

Figure 2: Segmentary opposition and the two-bloc system.
Source: Barth (1980: 67-68).

Explanation of figure 2:
A and B are structurally
opposed. a are the rivals of
b, and c are the rivals of d. a
may form an alliance either
with c or d, while c may form
an alliance with a or b, since
either of the mentioned party
represents a more distantly
related collateral relative.
Thus, the potential number of
issues of conflict is limited.
In case of meeting on a
higher level (e.g. when A and
B segments form a council as
well as in a conflictive
event), a and d contract to
combine against their
respective relatives b and c.
The extended version
amounts to a recurrent pattern
of political dual division
called dullah.

Consistent with the suggested person-centred politics in Swat and in other Pashtun-dominated regions,
each party of the dualistic structure is named after their local leader’s clan. With a web of alliances
d c a b
kinship relation

structural opposition
possible alliance
Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
- 29 -
throughout the region based on the two-bloc system (dullah), powerful leaders in Swat are able to
name members of their party in 50 villages or more (Lindholm 1991: 172). Since descent groups in
Swat can be localized spatially, the collateral relatives are customarily neighbours, taken literally. As
said before, conflicts owing to land issues are the main source of inner conflict. For that reason,
collateral relatives such as ego’s patrilateral parallel cousin and his equivalent counterpart are
structurally prone to conflicts. First, because in a strictly patrilineal system they are opponents with
regard to the inheritance of estate property. In this respect, they are competitors. Second, as a result of
evident localization of descent groups, they are usually neighbours and therefore actors in an often
violent contest of land-rights or questioning the course of land borders or irrigation practices. Third,
the tension between agnate collaterals is manifest in kinship terminology. In ego’s generation, the
children of the father’s brother are distinguished by a particular term: tarbur. It has further the
connotation of rival or enemy. The problematic relationship between agnate collaterals is recognised
by Pashtuns. Though it is not regarded as ideal, since loyalty to one’s agnates is highly valued, it is
still regretted as a lamentable fact of life (Barth 1959: 109). Lindholm criticizes Barth’s suggestion to
give impermanent alliances priority over the principle of the unity of patrilineal segments, because “in
actual fact, party alliances are set aside in cases of blood revenge. No man would ever support the
murderer of his tarbur under any circumstances” (Lindholm 1991: 172).
We have just seen that the formal framework sponsored by the territorial system and its underlying
arrangement based on opposed descent groups creates a two-bloc system. Many smaller corporate
groups are aligned in two grand dispersed political divisions. Each bloc integrates members from
nearly every local community (ibid.: 104). But how are these groups held together? What is the
conventional basis on which politically operating groups function?

3.3 Contractual alliance and the two-bloc system: Conceptual explanations
In Swat, a series of alliances between local leaders (Pashtun khans and land-owners) lead to the fusion
into two great blocs across a comprehensive tribal area. The basic status of a mutual attachment is an
alliance between two political leaders based on a contractual agreement. The agreement assures each
joint partner of being supported in the defence of their several interests if opposed to outsiders. In the
absence of a given contract of political fusion, a leader however is not compelled to give political
support to any particular person or to any person at all. Thus, a leader may establish such an agreement
with any political actor, always keeping in mind the obligations of tacit loyalty to his father and
brothers. Conversely, leaders are not committed to oppose any particular person or group. Unlike
alternative political alliances such as agreements between landowner and tenant, fusion alliances are
composed of independent leaders and their equal partners. Being essentially equal towards each other,
“they are not engaged in any other joint co-operative effort, nor is one able to bring particular
sanctions to bear on the other. Their solidarity derives from the mutual strategic advantage they obtain
from the relationship” (Barth 1959: 105). Once a political constellation is short of such a strategic
Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
- 30 -
advantage, the repudiation of and thus terminating of the relationship is implicit. In Swat, political
alliances are accordingly deemed political contracts by Frederik Barth. The described circumstances of
alike political relationships that differ in nature from any other relationship serve as the crucial point
of the argument: the very nature of free individual choice. According to Barth, free individual choice
is thus the vital principle on which similar political coalitions are based. Unlike membership owing to
common descent or territorial propinquity, political contractual promises for mutual support are hardly
embedded in imperative structural principles others than decisions of free choice (ibid.). But once
entered into a contractual agreement, mutual support is systematic and tacitly expected in political
conflicts, particularly if related to debates in public assemblies and to the use of force. In addition, if
an allied partner’s material rights or privileges are threatened, mutual assistance is anticipated.
Nonetheless, there are issues of conflicts of which the kind of alliance partnership at issue is not
susceptible: For instance, conflicts in defence of honour does never involve the alliance partner. An
issue involving blood revenge is a personal matter and a subsequent conflict is confined to individuals,
since “a man’s honour can only be defended by his own might” (ibid.: 106). On the previous accounts
and by suggesting Swat Pashtuns to be a functional segmentary organization, one might expect
constant processes of political fission and fusion. But this characteristic of any segmentary society is
less applicable to the alliances of Swat. Rivalries between individuals within an alliance is kept down.
An ally is a supporter in any situation irrespective of whom he opposes. To oppose to a person in one
situation and allied to him in another is scarcely conceivable. Therefore, we may attribute to such
contractual alliances some consistency, a considerable persistency as well as a qualitatively systematic
nature. Resuming the theoretical discussion over whether political alliances like the ones under debate
comply with the requirements of corporate groups or not, is a complex endeavour. To summarize,
incompatible interests between collateral agnates based on (1) a segmentary agnatic lineage system
and (2) a socio-economic arrangement built on genealogy-based allocation of land and estate property
foster the creation of a political two-bloc system. The main actors consist of Pashtun political leaders
and their followers, mainly non-Pashtun tenants. Smaller lineage segments ally with other small
segments based on a contractual agreement between their political leaders. Genealogical distance of
each segment appears to correlate positively with the leanings to enter into an alliance. Alliances
function as a strategy based on a rational decision which is derived from a series of free individual
choices. Being individual and free, the choice to join in an alliance is not structurally predetermined
either in terms of possible partners nor with regard to the mere constraint to be allied at all. But once
set up an alliance, it is subject to systematic assistance in case either partner’s interests are threatened.
In this respect, the assemblage of allied partners may be seen as corporate groups, if the definition
includes (a) a persistence through time; (b) groups acting as units in a co-ordinated fashion; (c) have
an internal distribution of authority and responsibility; (d) they exist unambiguously to protect a joint
estate such as interests and privileges of the constituting members (Barth 1959: 119). If we take into
account the important aspect of instrumentality in this context, we meet again the problematic nature
of terms which suggest dichotomy rather than a continuum. For the complex reality at hand, being
Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
- 31 -
suspicious of applying simplistic labels is more than appropriate. Presuming that bloc alliances are
held together by common interests and calculated strategy so as to gain political significance, the term
mechanical solidarity is unlikely to be adequate. Bloc alliances lack a strong collective consciousness
provided by daily joint routine as well as an automatic, i.e. mechanical mode of mobilization. Barth
examines the Pashtun framework of unilineal descent and political organization by means of the
Theory of Games (derived from Neumann and Morgenstern: 1947) that favours focussing the attention
on the decision of the individual subject. In accordance with this theory, political groups are formed
through the strategic choices of persons. Hence, the solidarity of groups arises from the calculated
advantages which persons obtain –or anticipate in obtaining– from being a member of the group
(Barth 1981: 72-82). Alliances with Swat Pashtuns are explicit inasmuch as they require an overt
contractual agreement between political leaders. To a certain degree, they remain an instrumental
body, only mobilized in overt political action, if needed. However, the membership of a bloc surely
confers a certain degree of identity perceived by the members. Furthermore, it persists through a
certain time. Though political fission or factionalism might be assumed at least for every line in every
generation, when the estates of brothers passes on to parallel cousins, because brother’s sons become
cousins after succeeding their fathers. Barth points to important features that complicate
straightforward fissions of latent political units. First, son’s are active in political life before
establishing as independent landowners. During this stage, the contact with their father’s allies (and
later on their potential opponents) delays fission. There is some inhibition to abandon his established
friends for the prospect ally. Second, the leader of the bloc tries to exert his influence to hold the group
together. A large amount of time is invested in arranging settlements and compromises between
constituents of allies. Third, the mere necessity of belonging to a politically viable unit prevent an
immediate dissolution of political mergers. Thus, only events of overt conflict result in a political re-
arrangement. Tensions alone spare the “old world order” fission: “Thus persons whose structural
position implies rivalry may continue together in alliance for a considerable length of time. Swat
Pathans use the term mariz for persons who are local rivals but nevertheless belong to the same bloc”
(Barth 1959: 111). In accordance with that, the co-ordinated strategies develop in order to settle
disputes or to reach compromises with their structural opponents. Concessions in one dispute are given
in return for gains in another (ibid.: 111-126). Finally, some caution is advised in applying the political
framework of Swat Pashtuns to the tribal society as a whole. Given the socio-economic variability of
the entire Pashtun tribal society, alternative models of political organization must be assumed.
However, during the US-led war against the Taliban in the end of 2001, the attentive spectator was
becoming aware of the fact that even in major cities such as Kandahar, a type of two-party system had
obviously played a part when facing the handing over of control after the Taliban surrendered the
town. This points to the likely context-specificity of the system related with a quasi-feudal social
organization consisting of landowning Pashtun patrons in an ecologically advantageous environment.
It was shown that agnatic rivalry provides the structural foundation for a two-bloc system. The term
tarbur with its hostile connotations exists in largely all Pashtun language communities. Moreover, a
Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
- 32 -
two-bloc system of named alliances (Gar and Samil) is characteristic to southern areas of the tribal
territories in today’s Pakistan and Afghanistan (ibid.). Therefore, we might altogether assume some
applicability of the political two-bloc system to a wider Pashtun community, given similar socio-
economic realities. Glatzer illustrates the functioning of a two-section division near Khost in East
Afghanistan named tor gund (white faction) and spin gund (black faction). It is rather latent than
overtly apparent, since it has practically become obsolete. But even there, in recent violent land
disputes between “former” members of different factions, an uninvolved party sided spontaneously
with their actual gund fellows (Glatzer: 2002). The case indicates a possible transience of similar
systems in the course of socio-economic and political transformation, but nonetheless unveils their
persistency and latent character as a part in the conscience collective of a community. At least in Swat
the superimposed dual party system has proved importance in showing a predictive power during
national elections in recent times. The Pushtun vote in Swat is likely to split in the traditional balanced
opposition reflecting the two-bloc division (Lindholm 1991: 171).

3.4 Tribes and politics: Critical and conclusive remarks
Altogether, tribal affiliation obviously does matter. It is less evident in the sense that larger descent
segments as corporate groups fuse for political interests. Rather, the strong tensions between
landowning agnatic collaterals regularly prevent descent groups from forming political units.
Conversely, they encourage to create an alternative system of contractual alliance partnerships which
serve as instrumental factions to secure protection from, or dominance over, his local agnatic rivals
(ibid.: 110). Despite all objections to factional tendencies, one should not overlook the weakness of a
segmentary system of the Swat Pashtun type. Alliances are instrumental. That is, they serve as to
achieve a political goal and are therefore primarily activated at times of conflict. In every new
generation, a new situation challenges the previous arrangement of coalitions due to changing
positions on the genealogical charter. Additionally, free choice derived from individual, goal-
achievement oriented strategy as the basis of a political joint venture is far from being a reliable basis
for durable political mergers. After all, the concentration of political actions on sole political leaders
fosters a person-centred politics, which is prone to personal capriciousness and possibly also to private
ambitions of the political leader. But there is another uncertainty factor which may obscure the
stability of the political fabric. The strive for individual as well as tribal egalitarianism prevents a
persistent coherence of political joint enterprises (Glatzer 2002). In addition, egalitarianism averts the
unstable and volatile leadership. Tribal divisions are structurally stable, tribal leadership is not. What
remains after having considered some aspects is the proverbial unpredictability of political life based
on tribal leadership (Glatzer 2002). Before extending the debate, let me emphasize an important point
about the accountability of tribal systems for political matters. In most lineage organizations, descent
groups fuse as corporate groups for political objectives. Even though opposition between collateral
agnates is to some extent inherent in any segmentary system, lower segments of descent groups merge
Khans and Warlords: Political Alignment, Leadership and the State in Pashtun Society
- 33 -
on an ever higher level of segmentation for political action. Extending this strict logic, ramifying
smaller segments fuse into larger ones. However, among Pashtun societies in Swat, small adjoining
descent segments rarely merge on a higher segmentary level for political action. Instead, they join
politically with other segments, collaterally more distantly related, in a system of two blocs. Thus,
opposition between close collateral segments is maintained in all circumstances (Barth 1981: 80). But
objections to this suggestion are appropriate, since Pashtun history is evocative of an alternative
implication of tribal associations. In 1722, after ousting the Persian Safavid rulers from Qandahar, a
tribal confederation of the Ghilzai succeeded conquering and usurping the throne of the Safavids in
Isfahan. A powerful khan of the Ghilzai tribe of the Hotakis led the resistance. However, the tribal-
based kingdom was shortlived and disintegrated in bloody battles of succession. A lack of any
organizational basis quickened the decay among other reasons for Ghilzai decline. They subsequently
succumbed to the Turkish conqueror under Nadir Shah Afshar. The tribal Abdalis (today’s Durrani)
offered him generous assistance without going away empty-handed, of course: The Abdalis amassed
wealth and military experience in the Turkish army (Rubin 2002: 45; Glatzer 2002). This short outline
of historical events serves as an exemplary analysis. It may be instructive in order to interpret some
vital characteristics of Pashtun politics on a more abstract tribal level: (1) Towards the top level of a
segmentary tribal union, an inclusive boundary appears to arise. It delimits a margin in opposition to
other tribal mergers. This tribal grouping conveys a type of tribal or ethnic identity (the Abdali; the
Ghilzai). (2) In order to be successful in tribal merging on a higher segmentary level for political
action, the existence of a powerful and integrating political leader seems to play a key part in this
process (cf. chapter 7). (3) Tribal identity overrides a comprehensive Pashtun ethnic identity. Each
tribal association manipulates actively or benefits from political events and relationships at the
expense of a tribal competitor. If advantages can be anticipated rationally, such unscrupulous
interfering is favoured while ideological ethnic considerations are suspended. The appeal to an all-
embracing Muslim identity within the religious community may be an exception. (4) In spite of an
initial success to rule as a tribal unit, a strong propensity for internal factionalism thwarts efforts to act
as a persistent corporate group for common political action. The frequently addressed phenomenon of
a cousin enmity between patrilateral cousins is a recurring theme in Pashtun politics. In 1973, when
Muhamad Zahir Shah, at that time sitting enthroned as the king of Afghanistan, had relished a
treatment stay abroad, Daoud Khan replaced him on the spot without asking for audience with the
king, beforehand. Daoud Khan was essentially Zahir’s cousin (Rubin 2002: 58). (5) Like in a zero-sum
game, the wrangle over power has obviously the effect of bringing about a triumphing party while the
parallel contestant’s power is on the wane. The competitor is usually outdone by manipulating exterior
groups of political actors, or rather players. A similar process can be observed when Pashtun groups in
today’s north-western Pakistan tried to use the rule of the British to play off their tribal counterparts
(Ahmed 1980: 72-78). A constant scheming and manipulation which subsequently produced
unpredictable political manoeuvres on almost each side of acting groups has also been observable in
the last decades amidst the geo-strategic game of super- or middling –powers in the wider region.
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After the withdrawal of the Soviets, countless defections and re-arrangements in the political fabric of
the violent conflicts turned out to be an unpredictable but constant factor. Again, once having got rid
of an exterior enemy that united the factions under the umbrella of jihad, “the fragmentation of the
political and military structures of the resistance prevented the mujahidin from turning local victories
into a national one. For many, […] the personal obligation (farz-i ´ain) of jihad ended […]. As in more
normal times –but with more weapons– they engaged in struggles for local power” (Rubin 2002: 247).
Exemplary illustrations in a specific context only serve as a contributory factor of a possible function
of the Pashtun segmentary system for political actions. Being context-bounded as well as subject to
change, the explanatory significance of a segmentary system is an open question. Various authors
evoke an ongoing effect of de-tribalization (Rubin 2002: 29). Furthermore, the causal direction as well
as a potential over-accentuation of the tribal factor should be considered:

Ethnicity and tribalism are often held responsible for the Afghan disunity. Indeed practically each
of the conflicting parties and groups […] show a certain emphasis towards one or another ethnic
group. This, however, is no proof that ethnic and tribal divisions are the cause of political
cleavages and violent conflicts. Every Afghan belongs to one of the ethnic groups and every
Pashtun belongs to one of the tribes, thus a quarrel between two Afghans who incidentally do not
belong to the same group or tribe may easily be misinterpreted as ethnically or tribally motivated .
(Glatzer 2002)

A future debate ought to centre upon the often neglected aspect of forced migration with regard to
tribal systems and their political function. In a tribally organized ethnic group like the Pashtuns with
millions of war refugees, a question arises: Does migration support tribal bonds, or quite the reverse
do migratory processes result in severing kinship ties? Despite all the uncertainties regarding the
relevancy of the Pashtun tribal organization for political actions, the importance of the genealogical
basis should not be rejected, either. Rather, I suggest the tribal organization and the kin-based identity
to be analysed against the background of a goal-oriented calculation of political actors who weigh the
utility of tribal bonds against advantages and drawbacks of alternative options. Besides, the simple
convenience and practical aspect offered by already existing tribal or local ties should not be
underestimated. The former proposal follows Barth’s analysis adopts a perspective of utility
maximization and rational choice. It focuses on rational decisions of the individual actors based on
options of choice to solve his problem, rather than defining a set of formal structural positions. From
this perspective on political acting, one might be inclined to insinuate a large portion of
instrumentality: “Whether social action is based on tribal and ethnic criteria depends on opportunities
and tactics and may change quickly. E.g. the Pashtun party leader and warlord Gulbudin Hikmatyar
initially laid a stress in his public speeches on panislamism and the Muslim ummah. […] Later, during
his campaigns for recruitment in Pashtun areas he appealed to the ethnic and tribal solidarity of the
Pashtuns who should defend their identity and honour against the rest of the world” (Glatzer 2002).
As final points, let me summarize the most important key aspects of the structural basis of the
PAshtun Segmentary Tribal Organization (“PASTO”):
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• IDENTITY: PASTO confers ethnic identity. Members are equipped with and guided by specific qualities attached
to membership of PASTO.
• EGALITARIANISM: PASTO is the basis of the ideal of egalitarianism.
• EXPEDIENCY: For practical matters, PASTO-links are most convenient as a basis for political alliances. It
enables leaders to form political entities.
• FACTIONALISM: The divisive character prevents PASTO from forming enduring political entities as well as
from performing any collective action as a tribe. Apart from structural features such as inherent egalitarian
predispositions, agnatic rivalry and enmity of cousins are largely responsible for tribal factionalism.
• THE LEADER: There are at least two constructive factors that appear to have the potential to increase (sub-)tribal
merger and to mitigate tribal parting: First, a capable political leader of high integrity and wide acceptance seems to
be a indispensable prerequisite so as to succeed in transforming PASTO in a political merger. Tribal khans are seen
to be the key actors in order to “tie the knot of the tribe” (Glatzer 2002; citing Anderson 1978). Second, external
threats such as invasions or impending dangers are able to combine efforts in an attempt to gather tribal segements
as politically functional groups. Religious leaders often emerge as powerful actors to take the lead in times of crisis.
Looking at it that way, we should be cautious not to overstress PASTO as the merging factor. More accurately, the
Muslim community substitutes for any other collective identity in the process of political mobilization.

Despite all indicators of tribal factionalism, Pashtuns educate, view, assess, act and react on common
grounds as well. Apart from shared historical experiences which have been introduced in chapter 2, a
fundamental principle of Pashtun views is represented by Pashtunwali and its inherent attributes to an
idealized Pashtun person. Pashtunwali is of paramount importance for the tribal daily life and the
political behaviour: It is often referred to as the tribal law. The succeeding sections will deal with
implications related to the tribal law, the idealized tribal man and the way these concepts interact with
political matters.

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4 Pashtunwali: The tribal law

Being a “true” Pashtun requires being a good Pashtun. From an emic point of view, Pashtun is not
only considered as a label for ethnic or linguistic membership, but also as an expression of fulfilling a
set of stringent qualities. Consequently, being a good Pashtun implies living and acting in accordance
with the ideal of ethnic self-representation that is embodied in the concept of pashtunwali. The
concept encompasses the idealized core values of the Pashtun person and his behaviour, since it is the
epitome of Pashtun moral and juridical standards. Pashtunwali has been the customary law of the
Pashtuns for centuries. We can find evidence in descriptive sources already a couple of centuries ago
as “the manners and customs of the Afghan tribes” (Glatzer 1998a). Even where the term is unknown,
the identical substance of traditional norms, that hardly differ from those of their neighbours, is active.
‘Pashtunwali’ provides a definition for the ideal person (ibid.). Pashtun culture is described as being
immensely imbued with ‘the Code’. Through this pervasive nature it has a great plausibility for social

Although unwritten and precisely undefined it is the theme of song, proverb, metaphor and parable
and never far from men’s minds; like most codes it is part-fiction and part-reality. (…) It is
remarkable how native and foreign models coincide with regard to the main features of
Pukhtunwali and its relevance and sanctity in society. It is equally remarkable how similar the
ideological model is to the actual immediate model of empirically observed social behaviour and
organization. (Ahmed 1980: 89)

The ambiguity of the term pashto as a reference to the language as well as to a distillate of an ideal
pattern of behaviour must be interpreted but as one expression since the Code is seen as the language
or idiom through which the Pashtun conveys his “pashtunness” (ibid: 91). Pashtunwali appears to
bridge the regular gap between etic models of outsiders and emic explanations. Accordingly, the
empirical reality of behaviour seems to act in far-reaching accordance with the ideological claims In
West Afghanistan, an equivalent code is called rawaj, instead. Rawaj equals to a set of principles for
aspired human qualities that is termed ghairatman, the “good Pashtun”. Contrary to southern and
eastern Pashtun area, the qualities of ghairatman do not enclose barely the ethnic Pashtuns. A “good
Tadjik” or a “good Aimaq” as an epitome of the “good Afghan Muslim” may also be marked by the
label ghairatman (Glatzer 1996: 111).
In practice, pashtunwali has many functions:
(a) It serves as a guide-line for behaviour as well as a model and an orientation for education.
(b) It provides an assessment criterion for conflict resolution.
(c) It is a selective tool that may exclude ethnic foreigners. Consequently, it endows the members
that follow the Code with an ethnic distinction. It is powerful in accentuating ethnic membership
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and social boundaries. This quality may be activated in times of change or conflict since it
imparts comprehensive plausibility.
(d) It has catalytic power, since it holds up and reinforces a distinct set of values that stand for the
“good Pashtun”. Similarly, it closes off desirable qualities from sanctioned characteristics and
(e) It provides legal standards in territories where state-like institutions based on a framework of
legislation and a sound system of law enforcement have been partly absent for centuries.

It is important to see that in an ideal-type model of pashtunwali the actor is tacitly compelled to pursue
his objectives in accordance with the Code. That is, in a case of murder or robbery that is placed
outside the recognised laws of revenge, the actor will be severely dealt by society through the tribal
assembly. On the contrary, the negligence of normative behaviour such as adequate retaliation will be
condemned just as clear as not doing Pashto. “In his freedom he is slave to the Code” (Ahmed 1980:
Before it is adequate to mention some critical objections in view of the praises that coat the
phenomenon of the Pashtun Code, a description of some central features is requisite. According to a
multitude of sources that cover the literature on the Pashtuns, the main values and institutions appear
to be nang, badal, melmastia, nanawatee and jirga.

4.1 ‘Nang’, the concept of honour and shame
The crucial term in pashtunwali includes the complex idea that centres around honour and shame,
dignity, courage and bravery. The pursuit of an honourable life is at the core of the idealized concept
that approximates how not only to speak, but to live Pashto. Nang is found as a central theme in poetry
and literature. It guides every-day action as well as social and military action: “I despite the man who
does not guide his life by honour. The very word ‘honour’ drives me mad”, as Khusal Khan Khattak
(1613-89) is quoted (Spain 1963: 63). Nang is still today so essential that pashtunwali is at times
freely equated to nangwali (Ahmed 1980: 91; Glatzer 1998a). The juridical function of the Code
becomes apparent when societies in qalang and nang situations are opposed. Apart from the
polysemous implication of the latter which gives some account of the importance of nang-qualities in
this context, the absence of any other law underpins the significance of a tribal law, in which nang is a
dominant component. Ahmed bases this observance on economical and ecological circumstances that
have a deep impact on the quality of personal prerequisites for political leaders: “Economic channels
of mobility and power are so obviously restricted in the ecological situation in which the tribe finds
itself that nang, as a symbol of prestige and social mobility, assumes a key aspect” (Ahmed 1976:
75fff). Nang as a pivotal concept and a complete codification of behaviour offers also an important
analytical instrument and a standard of reference. Its ideal-type gives insights into normative tribal
behaviour and socio-political understanding. In other words, the inclusive bearing of nang can be
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sometimes applied to explain a “subordinate” phenomenon such as badal, since only the absence or
impaired nang of a person or family sets off actions based on the concept of badal. We will see later,
how ideas revolving around nang qualities play a key role in constituting a personal capital in order to
gain political authority. Political success of leaders can partly be attached to whether they succeed in
living up to the ideal of an honourable and dignified life-style. Similarly, even economic achievement
is linked to it. In particular, nang provides also explanatory aspects in order to understand the
normative behaviour towards women. A nangialáy is a man who meets with the requirements of nang.
In doing so, a person brings honour and fame to his kin-group. In contrast, “to be called benanga
(‘shameless’, ‘undignified’) is the worst possible insult in Pashtu and a deadly threat to the social
position of the insulted” (Glatzer 1998a). A culturally accepted and even encouraged way of regaining
one’s nang includes retaliatory actions, not ruling out killing the insulter. The insult of a person’s nang
adds up to the involvement of his kins. Some important characteristics of the concept become obvious
here: (a) the extension of the concept beyond the individual by engaging family ties (especially
women) as demonstrated by the concept of badal; (b) the instrumentality of nang that makes it to be a
major non-material resource to gain respect through highly valued “Pashtunness”. As a result, it
enables to acquire political and economic advantages; (c) the interconnections with alternative notions
within pashtunwali such as badal; (d) the complex and complementary character of nang, since it is
not only defined by what it constitutes, but above all by the negative and hence complementary
attributes that prevent the accomplishment of nang criteria.
This is why in this context two features of nang need a closer look: sharm and namus. The former is a
significant part of nang. Sharm is roughly equivalent to the English term ‘shame’ in the sense of noble
modesty. Again we can identify a strict ambivalent quality of the notion: its implementation into
concrete action or the failure by counteracting the ideal of the concept in every-day life, respectively.
For example, a boy may guzzle down a meal greedily. His father might possibly ask him: “sharm
nálare?!” (“don’t you have shame?”). Similarly, a man does not check her daughter’s flirt with the
neighbour’s son. In this situation, people would probably say: “sharm nálarî” (“he has no shame“).
The latter is an extremely serious insult and requires impressive and categorical action. A multitude of
incidents that concern sharm is related to the behaviour of females, their control from men and the
consequences for women’s family and kin-group. Less the honour of the woman itself but the honour
of her whole group is at stake (Glatzer 1998
). The term namus belongs to the complex of nang, too. It
means privacy and the protection of its sanctity. It is essential to analyse it in terms of women’s moral
credit and its significance for consanguineal and affinal male kin in public discourse: “In the narrower
sense namus refers to the integrity, modesty and respectability of women and to the absolute duty of
men to protect them. In a wider sense namus means the female part of the family, of the clan, tribe and
of the Afghan [i.e. Pashtun] society; in the widest sense it is the Afghan home-land to be protected”
The importance of women in the described concept of honour and shame reveals an explicit perception
of the role of women and their inherent characteristics. Among Durrani Pashtuns, the superiority of
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men over women is expressed in a dichotomic mental chart of gender attributes: Whereas men are
associated with nobleness, authenticity and perfection, women embody imperfection, weakness,
polutedness and are seen as “imitations” (Tapper 1991: 52). Women are routinely linked to emotion
(nafs). By contrast, men have reason or responsibility (aql) (ibid: 209-211). Young women are
considered less to be able to act rationally. They are believed to have less self-control and to be more
inclined to sexual activity. As a consequence of this unambiguous gender-specific stereotyping,
women are an easy prey to any seducer coming along (Glatzer 1998a). By inference, the possible
threat of a violation of a woman’s namus is palpable. Since namus in a wider sense means the female
part of the whole family and affects severely the husband’s integrity, the honour and shame (nang) of
a wider kin-group is at stake. Therefore, “men feel obliged to fight for maintaining their namus, i.e.
first of all to keep the women of their families under tight control and to protect the women from their
own ‘weakness’ “ (ibid: 5). However, men are less worried about the actual behaviour of women.
Rather, the belief and perception of the public is concerned. Neighbour’s gossip is feared the most.
Gossip is difficult to control and may erode namus effectively. This in turn reinforces men’s attempts
to protect their women: “Better not let anybody see the women” (ibid: 5). Still, the reality appears to
be more complex. Glatzer was told by north-western Pashtuns in Afghanistan that the authentic
strength of a man need no austere protection management of women since no outsider would dare to
come too close and “only weaklings need to hide and lock-up their women” (ibid: 6). This may be
true. One is tempted to deduce positive correlations between the lack of power and the efforts to
protect women from public sphere. All the same, journalists nowadays still report on the difficulties to
get occasions where women would be allowed to talk to male interviewers (Sorg 2002fff). In a paper
that pretends to deal with conflict and political matters, one may be surprised at the relative
importance of gender subjects granted here. Violent conflicts like feuds can be most typically put
down to three causes: zin, zer and zamin. Zin stands for women. Zer literally means gold and refers to
any kind of portable property and is also utilized in making gifts or bribes. Zamin refers to land and
other immovable property or rights to land and water, respectively (Barth 1959: 73; Dupree 1984:
269). We can hence identify a trinity of causes for conflicts. My proposal would be even to interpret
these features as resources to create and maintain political influence by adding the whole set of
concepts that centre upon idealized qualities of person. Some of them have been addressed already. To
resume the topic, women are deeply involved in generating and maintaining men’s and family’s honor
by avoiding shame. Other sound arguments account for a comprehensive, though passive, role of
women: Firstly, the inviolability of women is nearly equated with the significance of land, as a
common saying goes: “The way to the women leads over the land [since he] who cannot protect the
integrity of his family cannot protect anything, anyone is free to snatch away from him what he wants,
his possessions, his land” (Glatzer 1998a: 6). Secondly, most authors agree that an impaired namus is
a frequent cause for violent conflicts (ibid). Thirdly, the concept of namus appears to set off extensive
political plausibility. Apart from religious arguments, mujahedin were engaged for the resistance
against the socialist regime (and subsequently against the Soviet invasion) by reasoning that the namus
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of Afghanistan is threatened. This happened during the late seventies of the last century. In the course
of similar events, many people in the basically rural country defied the strict school enrolment policy
of girls. But the reason for the suspicion was not a categorical rejection of female education that was
being raised. Rather, the encroachment on the private sphere engenders rebuffs. This reflects the neat
separation between public and private spheres in traditional Pashtun society. To be precise, the
interference in matters where females are involved are intensely private (ibid: 6).

4.2 ‘Badal’ and ‘tarboorwali’ (agnatic rivalry)
Badal generally denotes forms of exchange. To make a distinction from the exchange of women in
badal marriages between close agnatic kins, the term badal being considered here is about exchange in
the sense of activities in retaliation for a morally sanctioned behaviour. The translation reflects a
notion that accounts for retaliatory concepts such as revenge, feud and vendetta: “He is not a Pukhtun
who does not give a blow for a pinch” (cf. Ahmed 1975: 57). Between cousins, rivalry is strong and
outspoken. Dispute express or question dominance and power. Tarbur do not fear another. Rather,
they challenge one another. Lindholm renders an account of a devastating feud ongoing during his
fieldwork in Swat, which illustrates the severe economic repercussions pattern of solidarity between
direct relatives in cases of tarbur conflict:

[It] began with a boy’s refusal to let his second cousin play soccer with him. This insult led to a
fight which spread to the boys’ fathers. At the close of the fieldwork three men were dead and the
fields of both families had either been sold for weapons or else left fallow as the remaining men
sought to eliminate their rivals. (Lindholm 1991: 169)

As stated by Ahmed, badal provides the primary law of Pashtunwali. (1980: 90). Dupree simply states
it in the slogan “To avenge blood” (1984: 282). As with other features of pashtunwali, badal is
interconnected with complementary elements such as nang, sharm or melmastia. For instance, with
regard to the latter that encompasses the hospitality to guests, one must revenge and thus “to fight to
the death for a person who has taken refuge with me no matter what his lineage” (ibid: 282). Badal
(“the primary law”) can be extended to comprise tarboorwali and tor (Ahmed 1980: 91). Tarboorwali
revolves around the current agnatic rivalry usually between patrilateral parallel cousins of the same
generation. Tor approximates to the prior term of namus. It is used in cases where the chastity of
women is compromised. In such a case, both affected parties are said to be tor and its offence is
considered to be of the utmost seriousness. Ahmed stresses on the one hand its paramount significance
within Pashtun patterns of norms and on the other hand he points to the uncompromising nature of
those central features:

The very concept of nang is equated and reduced to tarboorwali and tor. It is in the pursuit of
these two that the other principles of Pukthunwali may be tacitly suspended. Considerations of
tarboorwali and tor override sanctions of custom, Code and even religion. Around these two
features the boundaries are clear and unambiguous. There is no compromise in practice. (ibid: 91)
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Furthermore, the binary assessment of a behaviour is strictly based on the compliance with the norm
and refers to the accomplishment of the act, but also to its omission. Either one has done Pashtu (killed
his tor daughter; restored his own nang by killing the responsible) or one has failed to do Pashto (not
killed his tor daughter; not taken revenge to restore his own impaired nang). Here the extension of the
Code to a more general evaluation of the ideal Pashtun person becomes apparent. In addition, actual
social behaviour –or at least its evaluation– and ideal behaviour seem to correspond in practice.

4.3 ‘Melmastia’
Considering the proverbial expression of a Pashtun elder that equates a Pashtun with “a friend of
guests” (“da melma dost”), it becomes clear that hospitality appears to be a key feature of behavioural
ideal towards invited company that seek shelter and protection. The custom of hospitality is imperative
for a Pashtun host. Any guest will be given the most sumptuous commensal service as possible, even
in the absence of a household’s wealth. The guest-host relationship is complex though given that e.g.
the Durrani Pashtuns are described to humble themselves before their guests. He accepts that the guest
has the right to demand and receive whatever thing. However, this apparent superiority of the guest is
deceptive, for receiving hospitality is also a submissive act since he honours his host and implicitly
acknowledges the host’s ability to satisfy his requests (Tapper 1991: 172). Additionally, entertaining
guests has wider social and political implications. Not only should a village or any associated
community share the burden of the guest’s expenses, an elder, a patriarch or senior lineage mashar
(elder) is responsible for the guest’s costs, but also for his security (Ahmed 1980: 90). Hospitality as a
special form of gift-giving implies solidarity and may express inequalities between guest and host. The
recipient is under an obligation of respect. The host proves his economic and political success through
the generous offering of his wealth (Barth 1959: 77). Being a host, on is obliged to assure the security
of the guest. What's more, the host proves and at times risks commonality with a guest. An unpleasant
guest from the point of view of the community may harm the integrity of the host. Currently, we can
observe that western journalists in the area of Kandahar, a former stronghold of the Taliban and a core
region of southern Pashtuns, are deeply distrusted. A shadow of suspicion and disappointment is cast
over Pashtun hosts of western reporters who are on occasion held for or equated with Americans (Sorg
2002; Espinosa 2002). The blunt refusal of Taliban’s political leaders to meet the American demands
to deliver some of their Arab “clients” must also be seen in the light of Pashtun custom.

4.4 ‘Nanawatee’
According to Ahmed, nanawatee is an extension of melmastia. It is deduced from the verb that has the
signification of “going in”. Whenever an enemy “goes in” (i.e. “comes in”) to offer peace, the act is
considered a supplication. This in turn is to be acknowledged tacitly by the receiving counterpart.
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Nanawatee is usually substantiated by a ritualized slaying of goats or cows (Ahmed 1980: 90). The
obvious existence of an institutionalized act of exoneration from the social constraint to seek
retaliation is of great importance: “More recently, when the son and grandsons of [the elder] Shahzada
fired on Mazullah […], Shahzada swallowed his pride and asked for nanawatee rather than see one of
his offspring killed.” (ibid: 90) In view of the widely expressed assertion that Pashtun culture demands
imperatively acts of retaliation for physical and nang violations, such alternative features are helpful
mitigations. Nanawatee is additionally complemented by an attribute of the ideal person: The virtue
that corresponds with aql (reason), which is the counterpart of turá (the sword).

4.5 Jirga
As a public assembly of elders, the jirga is composed of elder respected persons and informal political
leaders on local level. It deals with specific issues for which the members (jirgaeez) of the assembly
must find decisions that are binding on parties in conflict. The size of a local jirga may vary
depending on the scale of the issue under debate. The treated issues also are diverse in their
magnitude, with regard to the actors as well as to the topics involved: “The jirga regulates life through
decisions ranging from the location of a mosque to the settling of conflict within sub-sections, to
larger issues such as regulating foreign relations with other tribes and even conveying decisions of the
the tribe to government” (Ahmed 1980: 90–91). Both the Islamic law and the Pashto custom are the
guidelines on which decisions of jirga are based. With reference to the political life of Pashtun culture,
three particular aspects illustrate wider implications: First, the existence of a traditional political
institution such as the jirga shows again the institutionalized attempts to provide a legal or rather
legitimate alternative as a substitution to written or formal law, respectively. Second, the jirga is
regularly referred to an radically democratic institution. Third, it demonstrates an ideal of equality and
autonomy that give priority to sameness. It reflects the highly valued importance of the “free man” and
highlights the inter pares, though a primus is certainly far from being absent as the heading in a
relevant title strikingly implies: A somewhat hierarchical society with an ideal of egalitarianism
(Centlivres and Centlivres-Demont 1988: 22; cf. chapter 5.3).

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5 Being Pashtun – Concepts of person and politics

Pashtunwali serves as a tribal law. Explicitly, it must provide a customary basis for decisions in cases
of conflict. It is not a written charter of unambiguous rules. Therefore one must be conversant with
behavioural features that are to be reinforced as well as proved not only by verdict, but also in the
course of daily routine and public discourse. Proverbs, self-ascription and public discourses are filled
with values, that are attached to the idealized Pashtun person (Ahmed 1980; Dupree 1984). This
idealized person is not only supported by public discourse and verdicts based on Pashtunwali. The
tribal Code itself is packed with ideal qualities of a Pashtun person, as we have seen. The compliance
with badal requires courage and a personal strength to execute an obligation. It calls for loyalty
towards kin members too. Melmastia requires generosity and openness. The ability to show an
adequate deference is needed as well. Nanawatee demands forgiveness and the ability to suppress the
need for retaliation. Jirga is based on deference towards a judgement that is not based on transparent
law or written theorems, but on debate and unanimity. More important: It is founded on the belief that
everyone is equal. The concepts of nang, sharm, namus are all about obscure notions such as dignity,
shame and honour. Those themes are recurring in scientific literature on Pashtun societies. This is why
I take their significance to a certain degree for granted. To complete the panorama of components that
encompass the ideal Pashtun person, two further dimensions are important to tackle questions of
violent conflicts: turá, aql and the ideal of egalitarianism.

5.1 ‘Turá’: the sword
According to Glatzer, nang and the concept of honour and dignity has two counteracting sides: Turá
and aql (1998: 6). Turá may be translated as “the sword”. As an allegorical reference, it encompasses
the ideal of aggressiveness as well as the readiness to fight until self-sacrifice. Turá is supposed to be a
dominant element of the ideal personality associated with young men. It validates hotheadedness and
rashness in situations where provocation is answered with impetuous acts of violence. Channelled by
the discipline of tribal militias (lashkar), turá is instrumental in achieving objectives. Therefore its
social acceptance is reassured. All the more, as a characteristic attached to the individual, it must be
constantly proved by courageous actions. Consequently, the turialáy, the one who embodies turá, is
respected. Turá does not only serve as to demonstrate his personal honour, but it also reinforces one’s
own equality and autonomy and hence that of one’s family. In displaying turá, “one has not to bow
down before any arbitrary power” (ibid: 7). In this respect, turá combines with the ideal of
individualism and egalitarianism. It must therefore be seen as an operative measure to prevent the
intimidating loss of one’s honour and independence. Besides, it supports a select behavioural trait that
is indispensable in meeting requirements of traditional institutions or rather events such as blood feuds
or comparable violent occurrences. Were Pashtuns successful warriors due to their cultural
prerequisites that underscore martial values or doe they emphasize bravery their because of their role
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in military systems and the importance of violent public conflicts in their history? Regardless of the
causal direction, fact is: Pashtuns did not only play a crucial role in the standing army of the Persian
empire, but the image of the Pashtuns as courageous and heroic warriors is effective until today. With
a share of about 25%, they are proportionally overrepresented in the army of Pakistan. Despite their
relative small share of Pakistani national population (14%), the Pashtuns are the second largest group
in the army (Rasuly 1993: 34; Schaffer and Mehta 2002: 5). Of course, the setting of national and
regional politics may as well explain the role of Pashtuns in the national army, since Pakistan attempts
to undermine Pashtun nationalism by integrating Pakistani Pashtuns institutionally. However, a select
integration of Pashtuns as soldiers is supposed to reinforce their (self-) image as heroic warriors. In
doing so, an accentuation of martial characteristics might be assumed.
5.2 ‘Aql’: responsibility and the corrective of ‘turá’
Since turá might be harmful for social existence, if undirected, we find its counterpart. Virtually
organic, aql averts the destructive occurrence of a literal overkill of turá. Aql, originally an Arabic
term, may be translated as “reason” or depending on context as “responsibility”. The notion suggests
competence as well as predictions and decisions based on rationality, sensibility, common sense and
prudence. Furthermore, it also has connotations of a willingness to accept the consequences of action,
self-control and discipline (Tapper 1991: 209). Aql-guided decisions should definitely bear in mind the
benefit to one’s family and one’s wider social environment: a definition of social responsibility that
may include the ethnic group, the nation or the entire Muslim community (Glatzer 1998a). Young
men’s turá is not expected to be tempered by young men’s aql. Rather, it is supposed to be checked by
the aql of the elders, the “white beards” (spin gíri). Consequently boys are educated to obey the elders
(ibid: 7). In practice, aql as the respected feature of elders’ personality is the basis on which decisions
of jirga are founded. Aql is thus functional in jurisdiction and mediation in case of conflicts. The two
sides of nang are connected with different ages. But they imply a symbiotic aspect, too. For instance,
decisions that are swayed by aql depend at times on the persuasiveness of turá in lashkars to execute
the decisions of the egalitarian jirgas.

5.3 Egalitarianism: ’har saray khan day’ – every man is a khan
Throughout scientific literature, more or less implicit allusions are numerous, where the facts are
linked to an inherent idea of Pashtun strive for egalitarianism and autonomy: “Les hommes de
l’Afghanistan professent un idéal d’égalité et d’autonomie, souvent affirmé dans les institutions
tribales” (Centlivres and Centlivres-Demont 1988: 22). Tribal institutions such as jirga provide
exemplary evidence of the weight that is attached to sameness. The participants are numerous. They
must have legitimacy in terms of their political influence (not power) as well as their personal qualities
(aql) that are culturally accepted. Decisions based on the public assembly of jirga are best to be
unanimous. The equal rights of the assembly’s participants are symbolised in the spatial order that
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favour a circular arrangement. The public disapproval of a deficiency of independence also of men in
Swat has been described by Lindholm: “All forms of dependence and of need are reviled as weakness,
since they show that a man cannot stand on his own against the world” (1988: 234). Historical
incidents that prove a martial defence of independence are further instances for the cultural
endorsement of egalitarianism. Among such events, the violent resistance to colonial subjugation
during the British occupation in the 19
century or the battles against the Russians account for a stern
reflex against the loss of freedom. Conversely, one must concede the ambiguous role of ephemeral
coalition building on the part of some Pashtun groups, if only to do harm to a rivalling Pashtun foe.
Furthermore, the insistence and cultural accentuation of values such as individual pride as well as the
honour of the “free man” provide for a passionate care of independence (ibid.). In a more traditional,
i.e. less encapsulated context, “democracy is almost total, it can come close to anarchy: “ ‘Every man
is a Khan’ (har saray khan day) ” (Ahmed 1980: 94). The idea of equality is most often connected with
the tribal organization of social life. According to Ahmed, an intense spirit of democracy belongs
consistently to the two fundamental principles (besides tarboorwali) that have an impact on Pashtun
social organization. A similar sense of democracy finds ratification in the tribal charter (ibid.: 5). The
confrontation of a traditional tribal setting with an imposed colonial administration demonstrated the
democratic nature of tribal realities. When British occupying forces in the 1930ies were trying to
bolster the growth of an administrative malik (‘petty chiefs’) class in the Tribal Areas, the very core of
tribal democracy was touched. In the administrative structure of the agency, conflicts were created
between mashars and kashars. Hitherto, petty chiefs in the Tribal Areas had more influence than
power in restricted realms of war and counselling, while their authority was more achieved than
ascribed. Yet, the somewhat artificial nomination of administrative maliks who gained a profit from
secret allowances and political privileges created resentment and endangered the political stability.
Even so, the mechanical end on a Durkheimian’s dimension scale of solidarity proved to prevail:
“Nevertheless, the Maliks … remained little more than glorified tourist chiefs. In the interior of the
Agency the weight of their word depended to a great extent on their personal influence. The Agency
remained a close system” (ibid.: 70f.). To sum up, the strive for autonomy appears to be a pervasive
and recurrent theme that guides Pashtun behaviour in conflictive situations. The ideal of equality
(“égalité”) is based on the standards of freedom and autonomy. The one is equal who does not depend
on anyone’s endowments neither as a means to survive nor to protect one’s honour. The status of
freedom is expressed in the capability to supply gifts generously. Quite the reverse, being in the
position of the recipient is far from being desired. Since he provides gifts and offers services, a patron-
like leader embodies the free person. Conversely, his clients do not. Wealth as a means to express
autonomy hence is a helpful if not essential equivalent to independence. Independence is a
supplementary quality to be accepted as a participant in jirga. The community considers the freedom
and autonomy of its members as a commodity to be protected and defended, if imperilled (Centlivres
and Centlivres-Demont 1988: 23). Seen this way, the threat to lose individual autonomy may be
regarded as a collateral damage of one’s nang. Despite an apparently sound picture of an equal
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community, the unfamiliar observer perceives fundamental dissimilarity. The quintessence of vertical
stratification may not only be found in the existence of khans, mashars and powerful saints (religious
leaders). The definition of relationships between men and women is in a strong contrast to the ideal of
egalitarianism that guides relationship between males. Additionally, a deeply entrenched principle of
seniority marks the relationship between young men and older people (“white beards”) less in terms of
material matters but with regard to expressions of respect and deference. Besides, the economic
production is based on a particular arrangement of clientelistic networks which brings forth unequal
patron-client relationships (ibid.: 22fff). Finally, one should not refrain from taking into account
hierarchies between collectives. Such is not restricted to inter-ethnic relations (cf. chapter 2.2). Among
Pashtun tribes, a subjective perception of superiority towards other Pashtun tribes prevails. For
example, this collective self-image guides endogamous marriage patterns with Durrani Pashtuns.
Durrani consider themselves as superior to other ethnic or tribal groups, including Durrani women
who are rated even superior to both men and women of other non-Durrani groups (Tapper 1991: 52–
61). The ideal of egalitarianism needs obviously redefinition once crossing tribal borders. Again, we
must be careful in taking the ideal (i.e. being equal) for granted in every-day life which may reveal
divergent social realities. Therefore, the consideration of the empirical context is necessary in order to
make sound judgments upon political matters.

5.4 Pride and the primacy of emotional control
As stated by Lindholm as well as other relevant authors from the beginning of ethnographic
description until today, pride is a recurrent referential term to summarize a desired quality among
Pashtuns: “Every [Swati-Pashtun] […] is filled with the idea of his own dignity and importance…
Their pride appears in the seclusion of their own women, in the gravity of their manners, and in the
high terms they speak of themselves and their tribe, not allowing even the Dooraunees [i.e. the kingly
tribe of Durrani Pashtuns] to be their equals” (Elphinstone (1815) cited in Lindholm 1988: 235). I
assume this conception of dignity to approximate to the set of values attached to nang. But how are
these attitudes of dignity, pride, honour and autonomy expressed in public? If we expect them to have
an effect of collective inculcation, we must as well be able to find a fairly unanimous form among
individuals. The mentioned set of values appears to have a great impact on personal (and political)
success. Can we therefore expect to find people behaving in weakly –i.e. deviant– manners in public,
after all? What are then publicly visual indicators that comply with the rules of dignity? In contrast,
what are pointers that indicate deviant –i.e. weakly– attitudes and should therefore be avoided in
public? To answer those questions, another culturally viable constituent of Pashtun set of values,
relevant also for political actions, must be addressed: mechanisms of emotional control. As an
illustration for the issue, Lindholm made up a game with four Pashtun tribesmen during his fieldwork:

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The game was for one person to pretend to feel an emotion and for the others to guess which
emotion it was. My [Swati] Pukhtun friends were enthusiastic about this idea, but each emotion
they portrayed looked exactly the same: impassive and stoic, with perhaps a slight trembling of the
lips. Eventually I realized that the actor was stimulating a feeling inside himself, and then
concealing it behind this habitual inexpressive mask. (Lindholm 1988: 232)

Emotions like anger, sadness, happiness, or any other emotions within human repertoire are to be
obscured in public. Even at public occasions, including funerals or celebrations, the expression of
emotions must be suppressed. Boisterous spirits as well as mourning waters are strictly shunned.
Emotional expressions must remain imperturbable. The primacy of emotional control is pervasive and
normative. The control of emotion is consequently a virtue to be impressed persistently on young male
children. Deviant behaviour is punished. The aura of control and self-sufficiency are deemed
appropriate aspects of the ideal Pashtun. Control and restraint are subjects of poetry and proverbs.
Ghani Khan, a contemporary Pashtun writer, still gives faint advices to hide the personal, the private,
hence the weak: “The eye of the dove is lovely, my son. But the sky is made for the hawk. So cover
your dovelike eyes [sic] And grow claws” (Lindholm 1988: 233). This allegory allows to assume that
the existence of a private face is recognised. According to Lindholm, it may be one of anger,
frustration and depression. But the public face is often in marked contrast. Lindholm gives as an
explanation the social circumstances, since in Swat society individual antagonism and rivalry abound
as a result of the classical acephalous patrilineal segmentary organization. Consequently, “men also
must continually present themselves as proud, courageous, and impassive. In this environment,
emotions of depression, fear, jealousy, tenderness or other forms of attachment, are viewed negatively
as displaying an inability to cope and to keep one’s autonomy” (ibid.: 234). Display of weakness
indicate vulnerability. Therefore, expressions of emotions in public are kept in check, since the
evidence of a lack of control allows omnipresent opponents an unwanted advantage (ibid.). In
addition, emotional control essentially is supplemental to the prevailing ideal concepts of person,
among them the dominant nang and aql. What is important if discussing non-material, “soft” qualities
of persons in connection with political leadership is the greater repercussions they have for political
leaders. As we will see, leaders and their actions are traditionally more than anyone else evaluated
whether they fulfil the requirements of pashtunwali. They are more than anyone else required to
comply with the demands of a pure form of the idealized Pashtun person.

5.5 The Pashtun Code, concepts of the ideal Pashtun person and their impact
on leadership
The idealized concept of egalitarianism has been previously portrayed. Within the extended family,
disparities manifest along the lines of gender and age while the principles of primogeniture and
seniority are standards. Outside this core of kin group, the cardinal pattern of egalitarianism seems to
be predominant, at least as an emic norm, if not as an observable social fact at any time and place.
This pattern has an impact on the preferred type of leadership. Regardless of the socio-economic
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setting, the political leadership of Pashtuns displays informal types of leadership. Traditionally, they
lack the administrative framework and the permanence of bureaucratic authority. As to political
leadership, the fully egalitarian and hence ever contestable position of the mashar (elder, petty chief)
in the nang society may differ from its counterpart in the qalang context to some degree. But even in
the qalang setting, the title of khan (apart from its use for courtesy) does not involve any formal office
(Barth 1977: 214). No questions of succession arise since the status of political leadership is by no
means ascribed but achieved invariably: “Leadership cannot be transmitted and is inherent in the
individual. Tribal society remains democratic to the end. The good and great qualities of a leader are
buried with him in his grave” (Ahmed 1980: 158). The achievement of chiefly status depends on a
variety of factors. Some of them will be addressed below. In a political system such as the one which
seems to prevail among the Pashtuns, the decisions of political actors are rather a result of a sequence
of individual decisions based on free choice and strategic calculations than of e.g. predetermined
alignment. Then, a question inevitably arises: If political actors are structurally unable to rely on
predetermined bonds of dependent adherents and allies: how is leadership created? What are potential
sources of authority that can be manipulated and serve as a means to attract followers so as to gain
political support? A selection of sources of authority will be given in the next chapter. But many
scholars see non-material cultural foundations such as the tribal law, promoted values and selected
features of the idealized Pashtun person as an influential basis from which political authority may
spring. Political leaders “build up ephemeral prestige and power because of exceptional personal
qualities of leadership […] but this is not hereditary and cannot be passed on to their sons” (Ahmed
1980: 141). Subsequently, Ahmed describes the behaviour of tribal leaders with the nang Mohmands,
a hill tribe fitting in the nang model. Together with the precedence to seniority, mashars as the living
senior agnate of a tribal section represent the direct unilineal descent from the tribal eponym. He is
therefore a symbol for and the living link with the ancestors (ibid.: 149). But unlike other resources of
authority, unilineal descent is hardly an influence-raising factor for a mashar. Certainly, descent may
be coupled with the holding of a fairly advantageous share of estate. An offspring may additionally
trace his descent to a direct agnate who distinguished himself with a particularly honourable life or
martial deeds during a jihad, for instance. “Historical capital” of this type might contribute to a better
start among competitors of potential chiefs. Therefore, a shift of the attention towards variables within
the bounds of a leader’s influence is appropriate. Being an elder and an example for the younger men,
a mashar is obliged to comply with the ideal of aql in order to be respected as a political leader:
Mohmands expected in formal questionnaires a leader to ensure peace among his sub-section with
justice and wisdom. Thus, loyalty, reliable caring and helpful assistance to his lineage sub-section or
group is another yardstick for political legitimacy. Furthermore, a leader ideally must display bravery.
Bravery, proven in reputable battles or in the name of jihad, increases his political eligibility.
Furthermore, a mashar symbolizes Pashtunwali, the tribal law and regulatory frame of Pashtun custom
and behaviour. Traditionally, the eligibility of any leader is measured by his compliance with the
norms of pashtunwali. Among the central terms which are conferred by pashtunwali, honour, shame,
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counsel and the requirements of hospitality are the most prominent qualities related to plausible assets
of leaders. The requirement of hospitality is dependent on socio-economic conditions. According to
Ahmed’s interpretation based on his survey, hospitality had lower priority in nang areas. Conversely,
in areas which approximate to qalang conditions described by Barth, bounteousness of mashars had
greater importance, defining a mashar to be the one who “helped the poor” (ibid.: 145). Paradoxically,
for the latter, the mere virtue of hospitality came low in priority. For Ahmed, this is indicative for a
deviance from the ideal concept of pashtunwali. In his view, hospitality is reduced to sheer material
assistance in redistributive qalang contexts. It mirrors their subconscious desire for dependence in a
social and environmental setting where stronger stratification and administrative encapsulation are
effective. This may result in stronger leaders. Followers expect from a capable leader to be successful
in resolution of conflicts. In jirgas, a leaders talent is judged by his skills in settling conflicts, in
brokering discords in a wise manner, in short: in displaying in public aql and in taming the turá of the
young. Honour is another major concern for political pretenders. The leader’s ability is not only
measured by his wealth and his actions. Rather, his actions are judged in relation to the ideal. To
defend his honour in cases of insults or as a consequence of impaired namus, is an undisputed standard
for every Pashtun. The ability to defend the honour of his kin wives and to prevent his land and wealth
being threatened is the gauge of his honour. His impeccable honour, in turn, functions as a valuable
currency for his reputation as a capable leader. As a consequence, a leader should never fail to comply
with the code of honour, which may also require acts of lethal revenge, depending on the magnitude of
the insult. Only the show of superior force by the insulted leader does not impair his most effective
non-material currency as an indicator of political ability and success. In the materially prosperous
context of Swat, we might expect such non-material factors to have less importance. But also in Swat,
a chief must command respect by virtue: “Thus the intangible factor of prestige of reputation becomes
a major source of authority, an important means by which a political pretender rallies supporters. The
qualities are evaluated in terms of the polar opposites izat honour, and sharm – shame. The ideal
personality is virile and impetuous, […] always brave” (Barth 1959: 81ff.). Why do personal qualities
weigh so much also in conditions that prevail in Swat, where one would expect a slow disappearing of
the significance for political rallying? Pashtun males in Swat may break their contractual relations at
will with any party, at any time they wish to. As a rule contractual relationships imply political support
for the patron. On the other hand, the situation of a tenant as the contractual party is dependant on the
success of his patron and his ability to defend his property. Being free to terminate a contract, but
depending on the success of his patron, potential political pretenders are constantly evaluating the
anticipated success and the ability of the competing leaders (i.e. patrons). A chief may be wealthy in
inherited land but lose his land to rival chiefs. A poor man depends on the hospitality and assistance of
a chief for his sustenance. But they are free to join an alternative rivalling chief in case of expecting
better success with him (ibid.). For an evaluation, the latest state of currency of a leader’s honour,
prestige and reputation indicator may help him with his decision-making. Another structural aspect
may be supportive in perpetuating the system. Between competing leaders, none of them is
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superordinate or subordinate by structure. In conjunction with an egalitarian ethos, this facilitates
shifts and changeability of distribution of political power. In summary, a selection of the classic
ethnographic research from Barth and Ahmed provides enough evidence to suggest non-material
factors such as values and personal qualities to have great significance for the functioning of political
leadership. Whether alike “soft” factors which affect political leadership are fundamentally subject to
change when exposed to modern or foreign influences remains speculative. An appropriate perspective
will be given later. Again, the paucity of contemporary and comprehensive literature on the relevant
topic makes an adequate conclusion more difficult. Furthermore, the importance of some features
appear to vary according to the underlying socio-economic setting.

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6 Forms of political leadership and the state

As particularized earlier, the share of power in Afghanistan has mostly been based on Pashtun
domination throughout Afghan history. The situation is similar in Pakistani tribal territories where
Pashtuns make up the majority. Seeing that attempts of extensive pervasion of the Afghan central
authority on regional level has failed repeatedly, the political integration of Pashtun society has proved
to be a balancing act. In spite of intense integrative efforts during the reign of Amir Amanullah Khan
(1919–1928), the incorporation of local and regional tribal power on state level remained limited.
Major efforts to deprive traditional elites of power fell short and recurrently culminated in rebellions.
This is partly due to scarce economic and military resources of the state, but to a certain extent also a
result of an inherent proclivity for political independence in Pashtun society. In addition, a high degree
of legitimacy of Pashtun leaders on regional level contribute to the obduracy towards non-tribal
political determination. Thus, owing to historical experience, the state and its representatives have
been undeniably dependent on the cooperation and clemency of traditional Pashtun leadership. Since
then, the state has strictly avoided to infringe upon local politics and regional sovereignty. Claims of
state rights of sovereignty such as imposition of taxes, a rudimentary administration and jurisdiction
has been limited. The strategic policy was confined to a comprehensive local and regional
participation as well as to a non-violation policy that tolerated regional sovereignty. As a consequence,
the state did hardly interfere in the political actions of regional and local representatives. As a
counterpart, local leaders were essentially precluded from influencing state politics based on tacit
consent. The dichotomy between traditional political elite on regional and local level and political
representatives on state level is hence a determining shaping factor of Afghan politics (Rasuly 1997:
101ff.). The latter has been mostly backed by a traditional power structure of the Durrani Pashtun clan.
During more than two centuries, with only a few short periods of interruption, its political leaders
reigned the country with the mentioned federal restrictions on the basis of a monarchy-like claim of
power. One might deem this phenomenon to be more an Afghan specificity. But a look at the north-
western frontier region of Pakistan suggests an alternative interpretation towards a Pashtun special
case. In British India a century ago, the Pashtuns in the north-west frontier region in Swat (Pakistan)
were administratively acknowledged as a ‘tribal territory’, i.e. an area in which extensive local
autonomy was effective. The Swat interpretation of local autonomy included working out their own
political problems in any manner they chose. The Indian Government (in pre-Pakistan times) did not
interfere in political matters nor did they tolerate external interference from the dynastic centre of
Afghanistan (Barth 1959: 8f.). Here again the fear of colonial administration in India towards Pashtun
political amalgamation, that later anticipated Pakistan’s concern, becomes apparent. After an era of
decolonization and after violent series of turmoil that led to the foundation of the Islamic state of
Pakistan, this statutory autonomy has been modified, but actual conditions still approximate closely to
the ideal of local autonomy within borders of Pashtun dominated ‘tribal territory’ (ibid.). For the goal
of this paper, a short outline of the Pakistan policy in terms of the tribal areas of the north-western
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frontier provinces must bring up (a) the invalidity of criminal or civil procedure codes of Pakistan; (b)
a wide-ranging exemption from payments of taxes or rents of any kind, (c) the existence of only a
loose establishment of a political administration whose main purpose is to ensure general tribal peace
so as to guarantee the functioning of infrastructural installations with great significance for the
Pakistan state; (d) the work of political parties or modern politics has been prevented by the original
tribal treaties (Ahmed 1980: 10f.). Still today, the Pakistani Pashtun tribesmen in the tribal nang area
are not subject to national laws in a large part of their own territories. This fact backs the concept of a
keen sense of independence to be a Pashtun peculiarity. Based on the previous evidence, my
argumentation will therefore promote the idea that political matters in the Pashtun-dominated areas
within state borders are strongly rooted in tribal politics. In addition, Pashtun tribal politics is deeply
marked by actions of political leaders. This suggestion has been repeatedly insinuated so far. A more
elaborated theoretical foundation will be given later. As a result, an understanding of Pashtun politics
and its effect even within state borders requires an analysis of political actors as well as their
significance, acting and legitimizing within tribal structures and values. Generally, the traditional
political elite can be subdivided into two large groups: on the one hand a political elite with secular
orientation that pursue mainly political aims and comprises local leaders presiding over their tribal
affiliation (lineage, clan); on the other hand a religious elite with great religious significance for the
people but at times aspiring political power, too (ibid.). Mohamed Omar, a mullah of the Pashtun
Hotak Ghilzai tribe near Kandahar and the political as well as religious leader of the Taliban (Rashid
2000: 65) is a popular example for the latter. This fact shows what a religious office-holder with minor
formal significance can achieve in a social context where Islam has great plausibility in times of

6.1 Leadership: Traditional political elite
The implication of the term ‘traditional’ as a descriptive notion to label political systems is
problematical. As described earlier, the problem is reminiscent of Ahmed’s objections towards a
generalizing notion of Pashtun social organization: “The absence of a general societal typology has led
authoritative writers to take nang values for granted while analysing empirically observed qalang
society” (1980: 116). Following his clarifications, I tried to unravel the maze of societal typologies
and their potential of conceptual aberration in two ways: First, since this paper also deals with the
possible effects of traditional political systems on contemporary political life within a framework of a
state, I give a deliberate preference to structural components and behavioural traits that are connected
with a situation of at least partial encapsulation (i.e. the Swat expample). In history, the process of
partial structural integration was constantly moderating cultural features of a pure ‘nang’ society
(Ahmed 1980: 92fff.). Second, central features of Pashtun culture such as the set of tribal laws and
values based on pashtunwali are persistent also in an encapsulated situation, even if only
idiomatically, or as an emically idealized concept. Furthermore, a qalang society wishes “to live up to
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the nang ideal but finding it difficult to do so in an encapsulated situation” (ibid: 118). Ahmed has
substantiated in his thesis, that central features of pashtunwali can survive and yet be prominent
despite encapsulation, though a strict application of some features has been rejected or reinterpreted.
Still, the self-confession to comply with Pashtun values in qalang society proves at least their emic
significance. With reference to protagonists of political leadership, the discussion has a bearing
whenever an analysis of political organization is carried out: a high degree of centralization in an
environment which allows material accumulation and thus a source of power is confronted with an
acephalous tribal system with no central authority; the former reveals a considerable power of khans,
backed by coercive authority which is in turn nurtured by the accumulation and access to material
resources. The latter limits authority to the genealogical position of senior agnates. A political leader
has power in a qalang situation, while in nang societies the effect of political legitimation is influence.
Nevertheless, the assumption of the persistence of an invariable set of features that affects political life
of Pashtun society should allow to give an account of political leadership. After all, the model-
building in social science always remains an image of the reality and therefore hardly an uncritical
reflection of vivid social reality itself, since only defining a concept does not make it a social reality
(Boissevain 1974: 171). For that reason, description of social and political organization in a very
complex environment leaves space for alternative interpretations and empirical realities. In
Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan, multifaceted relations that had a wide range of impact blurred
social boundaries and political spheres. We find a great variety of political organizations that do not
warrant simplistic descriptions. Besides, the Pashtun region has been a steady hot spot rimmed with
playgrounds for international power politics.
Unlike other tribal societies, Pashtun politics puts barely forth positions of uncontested leadership.
Rasuly detects a higher degree of concurrence among potential leaders that strive for power and
influence in comparison with other ethnic groups in Afghanistan whose political structures were the
target of suppressive efforts on the part of the state (1997: 105fff.). This is a result of a non-
interference policy of Afghan central authorities towards Pashtun tribes. Henceforth, a partial
autonomy hampered a socio-political transformation of Pashtun tribal structure. For that reason, I
consider the social anthropological literature to have great plausibility in describing political practice,
since it conventionally allows for traditional political organization adequately. In a most general
assessment, Pashtun politics is a reflection of Pashtun society, its value orientation and social
organization. In principle, it is based on a strong patriarchal predisposition. Authority lies in the hands
of elder men. The ideal-type of a household consists of several generations and forms a residential
unity. More important for political issues is the function of the family with its wide genealogical
ramifications as a solidarity group (ibid: 107). The leader and hence political representative of any
sectional level is almost invariably the living senior agnate. On household level, the family elder
assumes this role. They are representatives and speakers of a group, may it be a household, a village or
a kin-group, e.g. a lineage. A respective local leader is termed mashar (or more formally málak) and
implies ‘petty chief’ or ‘headman’ (ibid; Ahmed 1980: 141ff.). Khan is another term and serves as a
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title for political leaders further up the scale of power, compared to mashars. However, the title does
not legitimize a formalized position of authority in a hierarchical system. Rather, a khan’s claim to
authority over others is restricted to the leader’s willingness to lead (Barth 1959: 74). In the nang
context, the deep aversion to authority and titles implying political power comes to light in the distaste
for the label khan. In terms of political power, the discussion about leadership in social, political and
anthropological science can be demonstrated exemplary along the fuzzy lines of power in the Pashtun
context. The classic dichotomy of analytical categories differentiates between leadership on the one
end of the continuum and chiefdoms on the other end of the relevant measure. In short, the former
entails achieved status, temporariness, transient and situational power, personal qualities as well as
relational instability and brittleness of the political followers. The latter category implies ascribed
status, permanency, office and inherent conditions attached to it as well as a certain relational stability
of the adherents (Luque 1996: 142fff.). In the Pashtun context neither reality meets the requirements
of chiefdoms. Though some restrictions are appropriate, Pashtuns are typically a non-hierarchical
society based on an ethos of tribal egalitarianism. Traditionally, neither an ascribed status nor a
permanency in office can be asserted according to the literature. If adding variables of genealogical
sacredness and heredity of power, none of the described political systems may be pigeonholed under
the chiefdom category (Luque 1996: 146; Keesing 1981: 290). As a consequence, a manifestation of
power among Pashtuns complies largely with the conceptual prerequisites of leadership. The nang
Pashtuns reject emphatically any form of structural inequality, since “no ‘chiefly model’ has evolved
or is possible in the Tribal [i.e. nang] Areas. Elders yes, petty chiefs for temporary periods possibly,
but chiefs: no. By some fortune or traits of personality an individual may exceed another but none is
by right superordinate and none by structure subordinate, all are as good in the sight of man and by
their own lights” (Ahmed 1980: 146). But this is also true for Pashtun tribes under qalang conditions.
When a western researcher asked in a hujra (village guest-house), who was the khan and how he is
customarily elected, the gathering answered unanimously: “Every man is a khan” (ibid.). Generally, in
a traditional context, Pashtun descent, wealth and a set of personal qualities were imperative
prerequisites for the assumption of political leadership. In Afghanistan, other qualities turned out to be
more relevant and successful in the course of the war. Other types of actors superseded traditional
leaders with direct bonds to local politics and custom. Some effects of the change on the arena of
politics through the preceding decades will shortly be discussed below.

6.2 Political leadership in nang society
In accordance with their aversion to hierarchy and titles and their preference to equality, tribal nang
societies like the Mohmand tribes in the tribal territory in Pakistan dislike the formal reference of
malik for ‘petty-chiefs’ (Ahmed 1980: 142). Tribal Area Pashtuns or “Pathans of the hills" arrange
their socio-political life along egalitarian lines: “The ‘Malik’ is seldom more than their leader in war
and their agent in dealings with others; he possesses influence rather than power[!]; and the real
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authority rests with the “jirgah”, a democratic council composed of all the “Maliks” “ (Ahmed 1976:
74). In nang society, deviant behaviour is more confronted with tribal and customary laws. They are
rooted in the set of codes that is provided by pashtunwali owing to the absence of any other law. The
picture that emerges from the socio-political illustration of Ahmed is one of acephalous and
segmentary tribal groups, where traditional tribal customs and codes have much more impact on
political life (ibid: 74f.). One might theorize that this is –apart from the situation of administrative
autonomy– also a consequence of a cultural premise of egalitarianism which is in turn rooted in the
socio-economic environment: “Tribal life is supported by primitive modes of production and equitable
forms of distribution. Equality is thus inherent […] and acts through circular causation with existing
socio-political factors to reinforce itself” (ibid.). The mere absence of state control, the lack of
juridical and administrative encapsulation as well as a scarce economic basis together with the strive
for equality between small kin units prevent the creation of powerful leaders. The formation of
powerful leadership requires an economic environment which allows accumulation of resources. In
accordance with an acephalous political system and more informal leadership, resources of power
differ from those exploited “in the plains” (qalang societies). Features of the idealized Pashtun person
are key symbols that stand for prestige and social mobility. In a poor environment, non-material
properties become a fundamental pool of resources in order to establish influence, not power. Nang,
for example, develops into a pivotal concept and a standard of reference in understanding socio-
political interaction and the formation of informal leadership: “In the face of severe economic poverty,
personal valour, marksmanship and skills in combat become the symbols that confer nang and
therefore status. For a different and older age-set wisdom and propriety achieve honour” (Ahmed
1976: 76). The listed set of personal traits, which embodies personal valour is partly identical to the
introduced concepts that centre upon the idealized Pashtun person. They are reminiscent of
characteristics such as nang, turá and aql.

6.3 Political leadership in qalang society
In Swat, male elders are the representatives of a Pashtun household. On a higher level of a segmentary
section, a dominant khan is as well the legitimate representative, i.e. the political leader of a sub-
lineage, of a lineage or of a clan, respectively. Pashtun households in Swat are based on their estate
property. Swat society is divided into social strata. Those qawms (social groups) are also referred to as
castes. They constitute patrilineal, hereditary, ranked occupational, endogamous groups. Membership
is determined by birth. The Pashtuns as the conquerors of the region in the 16
century belong as a
rule to the caste of landowning tribesmen (Barth 1959: 16fff.). Being neglectful in giving an all-
encompassing account of the social framework of organization in Swat, only a few words should
suffice to gain an overview of qalang political make-up. In the function of a landowner, the khan is the
patron of non-Pashtun tenants or landless Pashtuns as well as small Pashtun landowners. Consistent
with the interpretation of Barth, the dyadic relationship does not involve any asymmetrical inequality
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that would necessarily engender dependence. But even Barth concedes the superiority of the person
who gives the contract. Therefore, the “employee”, i.e. contract-taker, is economically in a weaker
bargaining position. It does however not imply aspects of political dominance and submission. But
still, mutual relations are regulated by a series of individual contracts. Not only agricultural labourer as
tenants, but also professional specialists such as craftsmen are integrated within a contractual
relationship. Most of those contracts are thus by definition purely economic in character (Barth 1977:
212). What is central for the political realm –and there is the effective difference to classical patron-
client dyads– is that most of such contractual relationships have no lasting political implications. That
is, contracts can be suspended any time. By inference, the ones who establish contracts with a Pashtun
landowner, is at the same time regarded as political followers in an implicit agreement. The services of
the followers are bought by gifts and promises. In return, the service of a leader is expected to be
compensated by political support. If necessary support is refused, a leader is able to exercise control
by threatening to withdraw benefits. A follower can expect to obtain rewards in the form of
advantages through the success of his leader (Barth 1977: 214ff.). In this respect, he is dependant. But
since the follower may at least theoretically switch sides so as to support another –allegedly more
successful– leader, he is more dependant of the leader’s success than structurally of the leader itself.
As a consequence, followers seek the leaders from whom they anticipate to have the greatest success
which results in advantages for themselves. As a principle, this system is structurally very instable.
One might expect a considerable political “turnover” in number and frequency. As a result, “the
position of a leader is thus never secure; his following may swell or shrink almost without warning.
Since leaders are permanently in competition, the sources of their authority are most clearly exhibited
in situations of conflict” (ibid.). Leaders appear to be permanently in competition. They attempt to
expand their estate property, their wealth and field of political influence. The arena where personal
superiority and power can be exhibited most effectively is the showdown events of conflicts. A
specific deduction becomes tempting: Is it then mere speculation to suggest that the high tension of
public violence is also due to leader’s active search for the public arena where one’s capability,
influence and strength can be proven in conflictive competition? As a preventive means of losing
adherents, the public conflicts seen in the light of advancing power, may even be interpreted as a
legitimate structural part of the political organization in Swat. The two-bloc system in Swat may be a
mitigating factor that complicates defection from one political faction to another. Of course, some
restrictions regarding the assumed stability of a lineage-based two-bloc system are needed. Some
arguments have been presented in an previous chapter. A further variable prevents followers from
switching sides easily with the purpose of entering into an agreement with a leader who promises
better prospects. A critical reinterpretation of Barth’s analysis of Swat Pashtun evidence must stress
the unequal distribution of the control of resources as well as the means of production. From this point
of view, the distinguished landowning power-holders are maintaining their power within a system
based on exploitative economic relationships with dependant landless tenants (Asad 1972). That is, in
an environment where estate property is not only vital but also a scarce resource, the fear of loss may
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hesitate a tenant before leaving the safe haven. With house tenancy contracts, practical reasons also
impede an easy “contractual defection”. Ultimately, not only a structural-functional approach which
overemphasizes systemic stability, but also the concept of individual free will and choice should be
balanced by an inclusive class analysis. Emphasizing individual strategies and motives in search of
maximizing advantages or power is likely to hide structural obstructions which preclude theoretical
free choice from action.

6.4 Sources of authority
In a situation of inherent structural instability of the political system. like in the case of Yusufzai
Pashtuns in Swat, the sources of influence become the centre of interest. Given that authority and
superiority can only be demonstrated through the sources of power, land, wealth, honour and martial
qualities become essential issues.
–Land: In Swat, estate property constitutes the basic assets. Compared to other property, land is
associated with the claim of high status. The only access for non-landowners to it is through
contractual agreements with landowners. For the leader, land is the most important source to gain
contractual partners. Since only through a considerable number of contractual relationships, a leader
can gain political supporters. The number of contractual and political adherents is in turn a public
yardstick for a leader’s success. In rallying support, we can possibly expect the mechanism of social
comparison to be also effective. Nevertheless, the landowner certainly holds the whip hand and exerts
his dominance, since “the tenant depends on the land for his livelihood, and the power of eviction
gives the landowner a hold on him” (Barth 1977: 215). Political influence is thus directly correlated
with the ownership of land. Increasing one’s land holdings enhances a leader’s chances to gain
political influence: “The competition between chiefs is thus largely for the control of land, and the
acquisition of land is an important move in a political ascent” (ibid.). How can property of land be
expanded? There are mainly four possibilities: (1) land can be inherited. Brothers share equal inherited
estates; (2) one may be rewarded with land for political loyalty; (3) purchase; (4) acquisition by
violence or threats. The last option is extensively used, since there is often a confusion owing to
conflicting claims, or because of disputes relating to the course of land borders. For instance, a
powerful landlord attempts to encroach on the land of his weaker neighbours. Smaller landowners may
be forced to transfer partial claims to his more influential neighbour in exchange for his support and
protection against another powerful leader who in turn tries to seize his entire estate (Barth 1977: 217).
–Wealth: Through the well-directed manipulation of his wealth, a chief attempts to strengthen
his position. He tries to assure the loyalty of his adherents and clients in several ways: by bribes,
payments, gifts and hospitality. The unilateral gift-giving does not explicitly entail an obligation for
the receiver to respond to the command of the giver. But it is an expression of difference in status.
–Hospitality: Hospitality is a direct function of the manipulation of a leader’s wealth. Commensality
generates solidarity. It is a concealed form of a distributive economic system. It may be expressed in
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terms of food, material support or generous assistance on cost-intensive occasions such as weddings.
For political matters, hospitality appears to be the most important and least detrimental form of giving:
“Bribes and payments create relationships which render them onerous or hazardous. Gifts and
hospitality, on the other hand, are of prime importance in the building up of a political following”
(ibid.). The recipient is highly dependent on the continuation of the gifts he receives. Therefore,
hospitality is a potent measure in order to control others. A continuous flow of gifts fosters
dependence. As a consequence, it reinforces the bond of contractual relationships, which can be
mobilized for a leader’s political actions (Barth 1959: 79f.). In this sense, the Pashtun leader’s gift
practice is reminiscent of the institution of Northwestern American potlatch, where the public display
of lavishness is used to gain social prestige (Ahmed 1980).
–The men’s house: In connection with the importance of hospitality, the guest-house of the leader
offers to his adherents a space for public meeting and mutual exchange. It is also an opportunity to
gather his following so as to show the strength of support publicly as well as to demonstrate his
–“Key or soft qualities”: As illustrated before, a capable leader must comply with admired personal
qualities of the idealized Pashtun person. He is required to meet with the conditions of pashtunwali.
Furthermore, he must constantly provide evidence for his superiority and personal abilities. That is, he
ought to protect his honour. In debates such councils (jirga), he must demonstrate his wisdom (aql).
As head and commander of local lashkars (tribal armed gathering for battles), a chief must also prove
martial qualities: a brave character and a determined willingness to defend his honour and property at
all costs. This way he keeps his contenders from the temptation to challenge him. As Lindholm has
demonstrated, emotional control is another attribute. As ambitious competitors are present
everywhere, the expression of weakness must always be concealed. The conditions and corollary of a
generous behaviour and its functionality in gathering support has been illustrated in detail by now.

In terms of importance, the share of single resources within the whole variety of possible “stakes” may
subject to change. As will be claimed in the conclusive chapter, the economic role of the whole range
of official or unofficial actors from several states has made the Afghanistan war an international
conflict. This may influence the type of leadership qualitatively as well as quantitatively with regards
to the type of material resource involved. A political economy of war may entail a pragmatic
economization as well as a militarization of a leader’s activity:

The pursuit of politics through both peaceful and violent means requires money. Just as in many
parts of the world political power is a principal means to the pursuit of wealth, war too may create
conditions for economic activity, though often of a predatory nature. Political leaders speak in
public about their ideas and goals, but much of their daily activity is devoted to raising the
resources to exercise power and reward supporters or themselves. How political leaders raise and
distribute these resources often determines the outcome of their acts, as much as if not more than
their stated goals and intentions. (Rubin 1999)

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The warlordism debate may bring out more clearly the characteristics of change Afghanistan has
undergone for a couple of decades. Many scholars suggest that Pashtun leaders who base their
authority on features of traditional legitimacy have replaced by a modern type of leader. As a
consequence of an increasing economization of conflicts, a warlord-type elite dominated the political

6.5 Traditional religious elite
Within the area taken under study, roughly four religious elites can be discerned: (1) the ulema with its
Islamic dignitary and scholars (Alim, Malauwi); (2) the pirs, i.e. the spiritual leaders of different Sufi
orders (tariqats); (3) the holy saints (the sayyeds with the Pashtuns); (4) the mullahs on the local level.
As a rule, mullahs do not have a paramount significance in politics. But particularly in Pashtun areas,
single charismatic mullahs played an important part over and over again in history. Apart from
isolated incidents, the political influence of mullahs do rarely extend beyond the local level of politics
and religious instruction (Rasuly 1997: 119ff.). Under the British colonial “rule”, proven political
authorities such as mashars or khans were superseded by religious leaders such as mullahs and
sayyeds. When signs of political trouble emerged, mullahs took the initiative. They became political
leaders highlighting religious themes (Ahmed 1980: 70). The sayyeds are of distinctive character,
since they claim special status which is derived from their holy descent of Pashtun ancestor. In some
areas they exert considerable political influence, while in Swat, their main source of authority is land.
Their role as mediators in conflicts has greater importance (Barth 1959: 92–103). In general, the role
of religious leaders must be viewed in the context of an Islamic society. In Islamic societies like in
Afghanistan, the influence of Islamic dignitaries the influence exceeds the religious sphere. Rather, in
educational as well as in juridical areas, religious representatives have immense influence (Rasuly
1997: 120f.). The main importance of religious dignitaries who become substantial political leaders in
certain contexts can be confined to three functions:
(1) They are mediators. In times of deepening political cleavages between single segments of society
or e.g. between the Pashtun central authority and local segmentary collectives, religious figures
mediate between the parties at odds (ibid.).
(2) In periods of crisis and threats, religious leaders have recurrently taken the lead. If Afghanistan or
Pashtun tribal homeland is threatened by foreign intruders (the British, the Russians), the importance
of the religious elite as political leaders rose significantly (ibid.).
(3) Furthermore, they are contenders of political leaders, too. But unlike other political representatives
such as Pashtun khans, their influence is not restricted to tribal or ethnic boundaries. Rather, they
attempt to appeal to the Islamic community in general in order to gain influence, regardless of tribal
identity. Even more, they are interested in breaking confined ethnic ties. This is instrumental for other
political players, too. For instance, in the last decades Pakistan supported deliberately religious
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representatives only to prevent the Pashtun community from adopting a strategy of reunification (cf.
“The Pashtunistan issue”: chapter 2.2).

Not only the religious elite attempts to stress the shariat networks. Many secular political leaders
pursuing an extremist Islamic policy try to address both the pan-Islamic identity as well as the ethnic
identity; a double-cross strategy according to the intention and the audience. A recent example is the
Pashtun warlord Gulbudin Hikmatyar. For the Islamic clergy, traditional tribal affiliation had less
importance. Therefore, they tried to supersede the tribal divisions. In recent times, they stress bonds of
networks provided by Islamic parties. During the 1970s, young Islamist intellectuals, such as
Hikmatyar, attempted to root themselves in new political patterns, such as affiliation to an Islamist
political party. But in the south, young intellectuals had more difficulty to be successful. There, the
new leadership consisted of mullahs who gained legitimacy through their prominent religious position
(Roy 1989: 73).

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7 The theory of person-centred politics

Shahrani (2000) sees person-centred politics as “the cornerstone of kin-based mode of Pashtun tribal
social and political organization [...] has been the defining attribute of Afghan politics since the
creation of Pushtun-dominated centralized polity” by assuming the Pashtun political leader to have a
pivotal role in political processes. Quoting Eric Wolf, Shahrani points to the Achilles heels of kin-
based politics in general, that a leader must attract following through judicious management of
alliances and redistributive action. But a leader in a tribal context reaches a natural limit to expand his
influence, as his scope of potential authority is contained within borders of the kinship order. To
surpass the limitations of kin-based politics a leader is forced to gain independent access to reliable
and renewable resources of his own. As illustrated above, such resources may be of material,
monetary, personal or ideological i.e. religious nature. In Afghanistan, the latter has been successfully
activated in order to overcome tribal constraints and kin-based political economy with considerable
success in the beginning, as waging jihads against non-Muslim invaders or the initial triumph of the
Taliban movement have shown. Another historical example is a form of internal colonialism imposed
on non-Pashtun communities gives evidence for this strategy. Also extensive foreign subsidies from
the wider region have brought a resource into play that allowed to expand power of politically
dominant groups around ambitious leaders. Still, as Shahrani speculates, the “effectiveness of these
strategies, however, has proved to be episodic and transient (ibid.)”. The tribal political culture is
anchored in person-centred politics. This is exactly, where Shahrani spots the source of the failure to
shift from such person-centred politics “to a broader, more inclusive, participatory national politics
based on the development of modern national institutions and ideologies” (ibid.). As a result,
fratricidal hostilities, violent confrontation and wars of succession on local as well as on national level
together with holy wars against foreign powers have devastated the whole country. It is not merely
speculative, that incessant incidents of internal conflicts have facilitated aggressive foreign
interventions. Foreign powers turned into actively involved “stake-holders” of the conflicts since they
were able to benefit from them by playing off parties against each other. Internal conflicts were also
constantly covered up with the rhetoric of religious or ideological justifications. Consequently, without
compromising his theorizing, Shahrani resumes the central function of leaders entangled in their
traditional setting. He denies any implication of ideological or institutional causes. Instead, the
conflicts “were fought for or against specific individuals, families or clans out of personal, but often
rapidly shifting, commoditicized loyalties” (ibid.). Another term, employed by Banfield (1958) within
a Mediterranean peasant setting describes best, what is insinuated here: an “amoral familism” that puts
an individual’s responsibility primarily towards his or her family (Barnard and Spencer 1996: 212).
Thus, if loyalty to the immediate kin-group as a determining ethos for political actors take precedence
over corporate obligations, we can expect a similar dynamics to be even much more effective and
significant in a tribal setting, where kin-based mobilisation for political matters has structural
advantages. It can exploit expanded primordial ties which are embedded in a cultural system of
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retributive responsibilities. This is especially the case in remote areas that resemble to nang
conditions. Conversely, the tribal variant and thus expansion of the concept of “amoral familism”
employed for the Pashtun context is not fully compatible with Barth’s concept of free choice. In
contrary to the appearance among other tribal contexts, where “one has the impression, that political
allegiance is not a matter of individual choice. Each individual is born into a particular structural
position, and will accordingly give his political allegiance to a particular group or office-holder. In
Swat, persons find their place in the political order through a series of choices, many of which are
temporary or revocable” (Barth 1959: 2). Consequently, the application of an alternative notion of
amoral familism needs further conceptual clarification and extension. What segments does a similar
force of social cohesion as a means for political mobilization encompass? Is only a household with its
co-residents included, or is a similar concept to comprise a wider network and deeper genealogy of
kinship? If it only consists of the former, as Barth’s remarks insinuate, is it still adequate to speak of a
tribal society as a kin-based political unit? The resumption of the discussion that centres around the
core concept of leadership may help to interpret apparent inconsistencies. At least, the concept of
amoral familism matches methodically with Barth’s observations in its actor-centred logics of
methodological individualism. Both explanations are based on an actor’s tendency to maximize
material advantage of the core kin group, assuming that all others will do likewise. In addition, Barth’s
observations lay stress on the paramount significance of political leaders (1959: 71). This emphasis is
in accord with the introduced assessment of Shahrani. In the context of Swat Pashtuns, people were
unable to indicate any simple principle for the recruitment of corporate units for political purposes.
When they refer to such groups, phrases like “my descent group” or “my association” are absent both
in two-bloc systems and within associated groups indirectly linked by contractual ties with the same
leader. The activities of groups are strictly seen in terms of the actions of their leader. As a
consequence, conflicts have a personalized face : “the reference is always to ‘the party of so and so’.
[…] From Pathan descriptions of conflicts, one might think they were duels (Barth 1959: 71)”. A
historical extract of Pashtun history of invasion of the upper Swat region illustrates the strong focus on
a political leader in holding together a corporate group. There were four Khans, among them Taj
Mohammed Khan. They invited the Nawab of Dir, an adjacent region, to invade upper Swat. The other
party that invaded and later ruled Swat together with the former was Darmei Khan in collaboration
with the Badshah (later the founder of Swat state). The brother’s son of Taj Mohammed Khan rebelled
against his uncle once the Nawab had been driven out and thus weakened Taj Mohammed Khan.
Subsequently, Taj Mohammed Khan’s nephew switched side and joined the Badshah. The four old
Khans fled to Dir. After they returned temporarely to Swat, their rifles were confiscated, their movable
property taken. Unlike any of the four old Khans, their followers returned to Swat, while a large part
of them did not even joined the flight of their leaders in the first instance. The number of followers and
combatants amounted to thousands, so did the number of confiscated arms (Barth 1977: 213). This
incidents show some of the most crucial properties of a recurrent pattern with political conflicts, when
political groups for corporate actions are involved in violent disputes:
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First, an extension of the principle of agnatic rivalry as an expression of tarboorwali. This principle
describes a latent sphere hostility regarding male agnates. It opposes collateral patrilineal relatives
against each other, especially parallel cousins jostling for power (cf. chapter 4.2). The ambiguous
relationship between agnatic rivalry reveals on the one hand the instrumental character of kin relations
as a means to achieve collectively political goals. On the other hand, it provides an opportunity to
surpass, outclass and finally eliminate his tarboor.
Second, the survival of a corporate group for concerted action is dependent on a leader. A corporate
group should by definition persist in perpetuity, independently of the life and death of individuals. The
leaving or the decease of the leader creates a crisis. The conflicts over succession to leadership often
disband a group (ibid.). The mobilisation, existence and purposeful action of a corporate group for
political action accordingly appears to function only in connection with a leader. Again, the principle
of person-centred politics is supported.
Third, in qalang societies such as Swat as well as in broad river valleys like the region around
Qandahar (tribal homeland of the Barakzais or the Popalzais), we can suggest a comparable ideal
pattern of political structure. Powerful leaders compete for scarce resources based on land. Land and
wealth enables them to enter into contractual agreements with tenants and other service providers,
mostly landless or petty Pashtun landowners or non-Pashtun clients of other ethnic identity. In a
concealed redistributive system, the leader provides in turn services, material assistance and
protection. Due to the asymmetry of the contractual relationship, dependence cannot be fully denied.
In return for his services, the Pashtun khan expects the follower to be supportive in his political
actions. Political actions include the active maintenance of a leader’s power, possibly the extension of
his influence through the expansion of land and accumulation of his wealth. His contenders are other
ambitious Pashtun khans. Since also followers, contractually committed, attempt to maximize their
advantages, they are constantly evaluating the influence and success of their leader and their
challengers. Theoretically, a switch of sides may improve his situations. The process of decision-
making is based on a principle of rational and free choice, on either side, the khan’s as well as his
adherent’s. As a consequence, khans might permanently feel forced to demonstrate their ability.
Appropriate opportunities of exhibition of strength and power is on the one hand the triumph in
conflicts over their competitors, on the other hand the successful settlement of conflicts between a
leader’s adherents in order to prevent fissions.

A critical application of Barth’s analysis of Swat Pashtuns together with the explanatory completion
by Shahrani’s theory of person-centred politics may serve as an appropriate instrument in order to
interpret striking phenomena of the political life among Pashtun tribal groups. Observable facts of
Pashtun political organization based on atomized, close-kin oriented and person-centred politics
comprise the following characteristics:

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(1) Person-centred politics makes the political structure highly dependant on the goals and the
success of single leaders, such as tribal khans, religious elites or military commanders. The
existence of a corporate political group is subject to the success/failure of its leader.
(2) A tendency towards factionalism of political groups. The tribal structure may serve as an
explanation for factional tendencies, though not a sufficient reason.
(3) A structural instability manifest in frequent changes of sides of political actors. This is a
consequence of a leader-centred politics. Furthermore, flexible loyalties beyond ties of close
kins as well as a strong inclination to favour short-run advantages for one’s immediate family
reinforce the effects of shifting loyalties.
(4) Paternalistic politics encourages commoditization of loyalties. That is, a quasi redistributive
economic system fosters the creation of political loyalties as a means of economic
(5) A strong need for egalitarianism, at least among Pashtun tribal members prevents tribal groups
from forming persistent and stable political mergers, since it would require hierarchical
political structures.
(6) A high amount and frequency of public conflicts often ending up in violent and lethal clashes.
Personal feuds, competition and enmities to be carried out publicly add to the endurance of
public violence.
(7) A segmentary tribal system of high complexity oscillating between two diametrical poles:
agnatic rivalry between patrilateral cousins and their followers on the one end and a strong
preference to kin groups for corporate actions against tribal outsiders at the other end.
(8) National and socio-political ideologies as well as moral principles serve as to protect personal,
familial, tribal or ethnic group honour. The preservation of self-interest is prevailing. “This
has resulted in serious discrepancies between public policy pronouncements of the contending
groups and their actual practices” (Shahrani 2000). Ideology is often instrumentalized for
political goals.

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8 Critical remarks and contemporary contextualization

The optimistic assumptions or rather insinuations made in this paper resume an extrapolation of Barth.
Namely the daring assertion that salient core features of political organization is not only applicable on
lower levels of local politics, but also characterize an isomorphic organizational framework of wider
political alignments (Barth 1959: 104). I would also like to join in the moaning of some social
anthropologists that precious contributions of their field are largely ignored when it comes to an
explanation of striking contemporary phenomena, such as prominent conflicts. In the public and
academic discussion, political analysts, political scientists and military strategists occasionally armed
with geo-strategic glasses are dominant since they constantly appear to take the lead (cf. Edwards
1998: 714). Rather often one may gain the impression that at times a somewhat simplified perspective
takes the lead. It is habitually marked by the western ideal of a fairly uniform nation-state. But
particularly in Central Asia, nations are often fractioned patchworks of different ethnic groups which
are de facto held together either by autocratic regimes or, more rarely, by explicit policies that allow
quasi autonomous regions. The latter arrangement applies widely to Afghanistan and western Pakistan.
In assessing the Afghan state of affairs, one is inclined to disregard the long history of societal and
ethnic fractures that have been lasted for centuries. The conquest and partial dominance of one ethnic
group (the Pashtuns) as well as their role in a nation-state has avoided dreadful clashes to an even
larger extent. But this argument is only true, if it is completed by another two facts: First, the Pashtun
dominance in Afghanistan has mostly been concentrated on the southern and eastern part.
Furthermore, the central state of Afghanistan since it had been founded has been restricted to a limited
core centre (first Qandahar, later Kabul). Then, the Pashtuns themselves were highly fragmented
according to their tribal segmentation. Besides, the “Pashtun” central government has often been
comprised of a distinguished elite of Durrani tribal members. Other tribal or ethnic groups have been
incorporated by tacit approval of the government in exchange for far-reaching tribal and ethnic
autonomy. Second, external imperial threats have again and again merged together political forces
under the common umbrella of a unified Muslim Umma. Following Asad (1972) and Ahmed (1980),
an analysis of political frameworks and conflicts must definitely include a historical dimension. That
is, even the evidently structural features are subject to change. In addition, and against a structural-
functionalist approach, societies are far from being closed systems. And this is also my central
argument in embedding “traditional” cultural aspects in contemporary incidents: external influences
must unconditionally be considered, in spite of alleged persistence of cultural conventions. I tried to
give a wider focus on the distinguished role of the Pashtuns within frames of a nation-state. Their
prominent position is a result of a privileged treatment and administrative and military incorporation
into the colonial empire during the Persian occupation. Subsequently, the Pashtuns were constantly
taking advantage of their military skills and their organizational superiority through periods of
conquest towards north and east, but also during limited successes in repulsing the empires of the
Persian as well the Indian Mughals in the east. The settlers in the conquered territories had been
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subjugated while a Pashtun landownership was established for the largest part. This is especially
verified for today’s north-western part of Pakistan, where the dominated non-Pashtun population was
either driven out or mostly adopted the role of dependant tenants in a caste-like system. In
Afghanistan, the dominance of the Pashtuns was culminating in the formation of a state, in which the
tribal confederation of the Durrani (formerly Abadali) played a key role in representing the central
state. But this state functioned to a large extent within a system that assured the tribal regions and their
leaders of extensive autonomy. This also included the traditional
lashkars remaining untouched.
Thus, the state’s monopoly on the use of force has been persistently denied. It remained largely in the
hand of local tribal leaders. Together with their numerical strength, the historical experience of
Pashtun dominion may explain the claim for Pashtuns to assume a crucial role in governmental key
departments. Moreover, it explains to a certain degree inter-ethnic relationships in Afghanistan and
north-western Pakistan. In the framework of a wider context, I attempted to address selected key
features that are alleged to contribute to political organization of the Pashtun tribal society.
Pashtunwali, the tribal law, is of major relevance for almost all aspects of life. With regard to political
matters, a leader’s eligibility is also measured by his compliance with standards which are implied in
the tribal law. Directly linked to pashtunwali are specific characteristics of a concept that centres
around the idealized Pashtun person. It includes a distinctive set of personal qualities. Among the
most important characteristics are the publicly perceivable willingness to defend one’s honour that
revolves around an intact reputation of the closest female members of one’s kin. Besides, honour is
associated with consequent retaliatory actions if namus face threats to be insulted or violated. Other
personal qualities comprise the complementary pair of aql (wisdom) on the one and turá (martial
bravery) on the other pole. Emotional constraint is a consequence of those characteristics, since it
conceals weakness. Weakness is likely to be a seen as a gateway through which challenges of honour
may cross. As a standard, the ability of a political leader is measured by the degree of his personal
qualities. But the emphasis differs according to the role political leaders represent: “Khans, whose
support requires a reputation for self-assertiveness and ruthless defense of their interests, […] saints
will have established a reputation for moderation, piety, indifference to physical pleasure” (Edwards
1998: 715). The fulfilment of the mentioned collection of non-material requirements is especially
important for leaders against a background of a highly competitive environment in which political
leaders are competing for influence. The wide-spread, essential and very plausible ethos of
egalitarianism is congruent with the tribal system that stresses the value of individual equality and
fosters an aversion against symbols of inter-tribal disparity. Ideally, non-material characteristics are
seen as currencies that indicate ability of a leader. Apart from non-material dispositions, leadership is
mainly based on land and wealth. Land enables political leaders to contract tenants and professional
service-providers. Since the numerical increase of contractual clients expands equally the number of

Lashkars are tribal armed gatherings. They ensure tribal security and the binding decisions based on jirga arbitration being imposed or
respective violations being penalized. Furthermore, they may function as tribal armed forces at the serve of the matters of a political leader.

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political followers and his reputation as influential and successful leader, he attempts to attract as
much clients and political adherents as he can. Where land is scarce, income low and where unchecked
public violence abounds, clients are partially dependant not only on a chief’s hospitability and gift-
giving, but also on his assistance in conflicts. From the point of view of a leader, an implicit
redistributive system ties economically deprived clients for political matters. However, if we adopt
Barth’s model of actor-centred analysis of political behaviour, the position of a leader is unstable and
threatened at any time. Actors, leaders and clients alike, are free to choose their support based on
rational choice, that is constantly seeking opportunities in order to maximize their advantage. In
contractual relationships, they are theoretically free to switch sides in case an alternative leader
promises more advantage, since the success of a political leader reverts to his clients. Observable
material wealth coupled with a non-material set of personal qualities are indicative to him so as to
reach a decision. Accordingly, political leaders are in return relentless to demonstrate their skills,
success and superiority. This is best proved in conflictive events. Conflicts may therefore be seen as
functional in this game for influence. A critical remark must however be added: Barth’s model of free
choice as an underlying framework has been criticized repeatedly. Bearing in mind the social
stratification and increasing economic disparities, the objection of whether free choice can be
exercised under those conditions, is adequate.
Far from being homogeneous, the Pashtun tribal community is neither socio-economically uniform nor
are the above-made assumptions made above fully applicable to each standard of collective living.
According to the classical literature, two socio-economic categories arise. Mainly based on Akbar S.
Ahmed (1980), Pashtuns can be largely divideded into a nang category and a qalang category. The
former referring to a geographically remote, an ecologically disadvantaged, an economically deprived
and a socio-politically more traditional situation. They appear to be culturally more homogeneous as
well as marked by a lower degree of state encapsulation. Qalang matches up with the antithetical set
of socio-economic description, quite inclining to the other end of the continuum. In respect of political
organization, within nang context, the strive after egalitarianism is stronger, factions align more with
kin-based lineage groups. The concentration and accumulation of wealth is limited. Thus, political
power does not allow the same concentration as with qalang societies. Furthermore, a higher
homogeneity reduces inequality and results in a smaller number of potentially dependant clients.
Traditional institutions such as pashtunwali, and hence the practice of agnatic rivalry and prescriptive
revenge in specific cases seem to be of greater importance compared to qalang. For that reason,
caution is appropriate in generalizing findings derived from a defined cultural area. Nevertheless, one
might conjecture, that the often suggested factionalism and political instability is at least to a
considerable extent attributable to cultural practice that is inherent in the traditional political set-up. It
has been illustrated previously in fuller detail. This is but one misleading interpretation, if not
completed by counter-acting forces. As described in chapter 1.2, Pashtuns may also merge as a
corporate group for political action. Tribal merger on a higher segmentary level seems to be functional
as a reaction to threat from the outside. If challenged by other ethnic groups or by colonial endeavours,
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if autonomy, independence or the namus of one’s country is at stake, the merger of tribal
confederations is purposeful. However, if the source of the immediate threat has disappeared, the
temporary and goal-oriented tribal merger is most likely to fracture. History provides several
evidences about this matter. In contrast to other regions of the world, the Pashtunistan issue provides
substantiation for the ineptitude in forming an administrative and political unit of Pashtuns. History
presents another lesson. Consistent with the assumption about actor’s decisions based on free choice,
calculation and objective-oriented rationale given above, Pashtun politics generally appears to be
pragmatic. We find such pragmatism in wider historical context. In the seventies, when the Marxist
Khalq party in Afghanistan tried to condemn the large landowners for their fortune while glorifying
peasants as heroic, this political rhetoric was largely rejected. Whatever stratified the social structure,
in a country where a large population is still living in rural areas, rhetoric that is ideological in nature
and denounces people’s leaders, is given no odds (Edwards 1998; 717). May pragmatism, opportunism
and leader-centred actions be added as basic constants to Pashtun political culture? It seems that above
all, Islam with its popular plausibility, is able to mobilize extensive political support in periods of
crisis. One may argue that most of the suggestions made here are based on ethnographic data that have
become obsolete if addressing contemporary events. This is certainly true to some extent, even if the
persistence of cultural traits are underestimated at times. But let me demonstrate my last argument on
the basis of current events. Warlords and commanders replaced largely traditional leaders such as
mashars and traditional tribal khans, whose significance has constantly been diminishing during the
last decades.

Status differences between warlords and commanders were reflected most dramatically in their
vehicles […as well as in] the number of bodyguards […]. They simply followed the lead of their
commander, and they told me that if at any point their patron decided to join a different political
party they would do likewise without any hesitation. While the willingness of these men to switch
parties might appear to be evidence of their loyalty to their leaders, it appeared to me more the
result of necessity in that a strong commander provided security and opportunities that would
otherwise be hard to come by. (ibid.: 722)

The new political elite that has been crystallized during the last violent decades has changed the
importance of traditional values and norms (Shahrani 1997: 162ff.). Less wealth and descent but
alternative qualities like military, organizational and logistic competencies enabled a leader to become
an eligible and legitimate leader. My suggestion is that such a development not only has its basis in a
conflictive environment but also draws on strategic considerations of supranational “big regional
players” in Central Asia. Neighbouring countries and hegemonies have been increasingly sponsoring
ambitious political groups with military abilities. Apart from drug trade as an important source of
income, large amounts of money and a large stock of weapons from abroad made it possible for the
new political elite such as warlords and commanders to expand their influence. They were able to
replace traditional leaders by having the demanded material and redefined non-material resources at
their disposal. We might conjecture that such a development is powerful enough to facilitate a
transformation towards a pronounced qalang type of society where the dependence on leaders is
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increasing as well as correlative with the concentration of power. External influences on such a large
scale will likely to weaken traditional political organization and their representative elites. A new type
of leaders may have been arisen while redefining the basis of political eligibility. I suggest that the
available set of cultural standards is catalytic in this process. In this respect, Pashtun culture might be
supportive with its predisposition in favour of pragmatic, profit-maximizing decisions, person-centred
politics and structural factionalism as well as its approval of distinctive personal qualities that foster
martial, honour-related and retribution-seeking characteristics. An analysis of cultural change should
never ignore the fact that socio-economic and political systems are far from being closed ones.
Historical as well as external factors and actors are to be considered. An analysis that is able to address
ways of cultural entrenchment of new leaders against a background of periods of crisis is required.
How do tragic and lasting violent conflicts change the political arena and its cultural basis? Finally, an
analytical framework in an attempt to define whether the popular and ubiquitously used label
“warlord” is necessary. For instance: under what circumstances and at what stage is a leader turning
into a so called warlord? Does he belong to a distinctive category of leader in violent times when the
decay of regular political organization leaves a vacuum of control to be filled? In any case, the type of
a internationally involved political economy of war (and peace) in Afghanistan presumably finds its
corollary in a changing map of political arenas with altering forms of leadership. Related effects on a
tradition-guided pre-war society with its cultural conventionalities of leadership should not be
underrated. They are apparent in an increasing concentration of power which is maintained by large
amounts of raised physical capital as well as their adequate military resources in a violent
environment. In a de facto redistributive system, where asymmetrical relationships of dependency
intensify, the repercussions on national politics may result in an increasing regionalism and hence a
lack of national political cohesion. This may ensue from the creation of powerful local leaders who
aspire after the consolidation of their power against similarly potent adversaries. However, in exactly
what way the underlying cultural framework serves as a reinforcing matrix for this development in a
violent context, or whether it is a rather vanishing factor, or why it looks as if to be so vulnerable to
the effects previously introduced is an open question to be answered in further investigation that
requires greater empirical foundation.