Pathan - Sociopolitical Organization



The Pathan are divided into a number of different politicoadministrative structures. In Afghanistan the state, itself evolved from the tribal system, has historically exerted only loose control except in the major cities. In Pakistan several different systems prevail that are largely the legacy of British imperial administration. Although most Pathans live in Districts where Pakistan's civil and criminal laws prevail, some tribes, such as the Mohmand and Wazirs, are within Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), while others, such as those in Malakand in the North-West Frontier Province or those in Zhob Agency in Baluchistan, are within Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA). In FATA and PATA tribal and customary law holds sway.

Social Organization. Despite administrative divisions Pathan maintain a conception of their cultural and ethnic unity. This idea stems from the segmentary tribal structure and the associated notion of descent from a common ancestor. A. S. Ahmed has identified two principles of social Organization among the Pathan, nang (honor) and qalang (taxes or rent). In areas where nang prevails traditional values are practiced, there is little social stratification, and there is no Central political authority. In qalang areas landownership, not lineage membership, gives status and social stratification is prevalent, along with political centralization in the hands of an aristocracy. In both contexts mullahs, Sayyids (descendants of the Prophet Mohammed), and occupation groups play their special roles in Pathan society but stand outside Pathan genealogy.

Political Organization. To varying degrees Pathans are assimilated into the administrative structure of the area in which they live. In the last twenty-five years Afghanistan has officially moved from being a constitutional monarchy to a republic and finally to a democratic republic. Despite these changes (and until the current civil war) the relationship Between the government and the rural population changed Little. Since the government's presence has usually been for the purpose of extracting taxes or conscripts, the villagers' attitude toward it has generally been defensive and nonCooperative. To some extent the same was true on the other side of the border where there was ongoing resistance to British rule, though British administration was accepted in some areas and British subsidies in others. Although most Pathans supported the movement for the creation of Pakistan, others wanted to reunite Pathans on both sides of the border in a country to be called "Pakhtunistan." Since then the Pakhtunistan movement has smoldered in various forms in both countries. An important political role is played by indigenous decision-making councils called jirgas. They are made up of maliks and decide various intra- or intertribal matters on the basis of tribal custom and, to a lesser extent, Islamic law. In Afghanistan the institution extends to the national level where the Loya Jirga, made up of tribal, ethnic, and Religious leaders, meets to decide important issues.

Social Control. Traditionally social control was maintained by a code of behavior and honor called Pakhtunwali. It combines the principles of revenge, hospitality to guests, defense of those who have sought protection in one's care, the chastity of married women, and restraint toward those considered weak or helpless (Hindus, women, and boys). Pakhtunwali in some cases contradicts and generally takes precedence over Islamic law. It is harsh—the penalty for illicit sexual behavior, for example, is death—and it is enforced by strong social pressure. Violations of law outside of the activities the code encompasses are dealt with by the jirga or the government administration.

Conflict. As noted, the rivalry with father's brother's son for property, power, and wives is a constant source of conflict, as is Pakhtunwali itself, since even petty quarrels can escalate to a point where honor is involved. Efforts to encapsulate the Pathan into political systems seen as alien are also a source of conflict. It is frequently at such times of external threat that religious leaders assume political importance since resistance takes the form of a holy struggle or jihad. Conflict resolution is done through the jirga or through the intervention of Religious figures.


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