Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan, Blaming the Victim, Digital/Star War, War and Poverty | Tags: counter insurgency, drones, Human Terrain Teams, Pukhtoon, revenge, Swat Valley
“A Pukhtoon never forsakes revenge.”
“A stone of Pukhtoon (enmity) does not rot in water.”
“A Pukhtoon enmity is like fire of a dunghill.”
“May Allah spare you a Pukhtoon’s Anger.”
“If a Pukhtoon takes his revenge after a hundred years, it is still too soon.”
– Proverbs of the Afghan and Pakistani Pukhtoon people
“The Pukhtoon loves fighting but hates to be a soldier; loves music but has a great contempt for the musician; is kind and gentle but hates to show it; loves his new rifle and his old wife; is hot-blooded and hot-headed; is poor and proud with strange principles; might be a loving friend or a deadly enemy; in general, he is very simple but very complicated in his simplicity.”
Ghani Khan: Pukhtoon poet and philosopher
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The wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan could drag on for 10, 20 or more years. Viewed from the stance of many Pukhtoon villagers these wars have already lasted almost 30 years since the arrival of Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the early 1980s. Eventually the wars will end because outside forces including NATO, the US, and national armies of Afghanistan and Pakistan that are viewed as trouble makers or hostile interlopers will go away due to exhaustion. The wars may also end because of negotiations with villages, or some of the 60 tribes which are groups of villages that share specific customs, and in some cases larger coalitions. Negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban forces are happening at undisclosed locations in the Gulf States. The Pakistan military has a long history of communication and even support for the Taliban. These larger relationships and negotiations will not obviate the need for additional talks with traditional leaders that can lead to peace.
According to Ali Gohar, a child of Pukhtoon culture and respected leader in Pukhtoon communities of Northwest Pakistan and Afghanistan, any negotiations must be conditioned by customary law. He summarizes this in a recent monograph, “hospitality is one of the finest virtues, revenge a sacred duty and bravery an essential pre-requisite for an honorable life… These attributes also form the basis of the Pukhtoon code of honor and anyone who repudiates them is looked down upon by the society.” For the Pukhtoon peace is sustained by following norms, values and customary law.
Without authentic action of making things right by the perpetrator of a crime, badal (revenge) is a duty of a Pukhtoon tribesmen. The crime may come from those who invade and those who bomb with drones or air planes. The obligation of Badal rests with the aggrieved party and it can be discharged only by action against the aggressor, writes Gohar. If there is no means of revenge it may be deferred for years, but it is disgraceful to abandon it entirely. The whole tribe may be called upon to assist in retaliation.
In the Pukhtoon culture shame is for the victims. It can be equalized and therefore cancelled through revenge. Even though there is a strong religious belief that God will punish the wrongdoer here and in the hereafter, people still believe that revenge is their duty. A victim of kidnaping, rape or murder carries with her or him the shame of this crime done to them. This shame will persist for their whole life until and unless it is equalized by revenge. Shame is not just a matter for the individual. Shame is carried by the family and tribe of the victims for generations Only when traditional elders working through the council (jirga) of the community intervene with traditional law can the cycle of shame be broken without retribution.
There is no Pukhtoon word for “sorry”. If a person does something wrong, both the offender and the victim will suffer for generations until and unless it is equalized by applying the principal “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” By way of jirga intervention one may beg for forgiveness (nanawathay). Compromise through arbitration is also practiced when both parties agree to engage in a process.
In tribes and villages it is common for adult males to own a weapon. If a visitor comes to a village the males will line up and shoot their weapons as a sign of welcome. However, these weapons are also available in a time of need to form a police force in order to apply local customary law or as a militia when enemies from the outside appear.
This very sketchy smattering of Pukhtoon customs are at best a taste of what foreign armies, journalists and sincere helpers face in the present Afghanistan and Pakistani wars. An already complex social inheritance is made even more complicated by the introduction of various outside Muslim and non Muslim forces and home grown warlords now referred to as Taliban groups. In general however, any resolution will have to incorporate the deeply held values identified above and others if there is to be lasting peace.
I asked persons who live in the midst of Pukhtoon tribal society if there is any way that these tribal customs can become a resource for peace rather than a source of confusion and conflict. Their answer was an unqualified, “Yes”. “But” said one informer with deep roots in the region, “you can not send people from the military you must send civilians. We will not trust the military who send Hellfire missiles and bombs and soldiers.”
When I asked my informers if it would be safe for someone to come and talk they replied, “We honor our guests with our lives. They will be welcomed by a row of local people who shoot their weapons into the air as a sign of hospitality. We will guard you with our lives. Richard Holbrook would be welcomed tomorrow. Our most basic need right now is peace.”
“And who would Richard Holbrook or his Afghan or Pakistani counterpart talk to?” I asked. “A garget (community of elders) would be assembled in the tribe, the village, or region and we would start talking. It can happen.”
Revenge is a deep part of Pukhtoon life. But revenge for the coming decades is not inevitable. Every missile and every attack increases the deep margins of revenge in the Pukhtoon soul. Another proverb points the way in hope, “Where there is love a Pukhtoon will accompany you to hell but where there is force he will not even go to heaven with you.”
For information on how to access this new monograph Who learns from whom? Pukhtoon Traditions in Modern Perspective by Ali Gohar go to www.justpeaceint.org. It should be available shortly.
Note: In former posting I used the spelling Pashtoon. There are a variety of terms and spellings used to refer to the Pukhtoon people. For this piece I have been advised to use Pukhtoon.
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