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Understanding Pashtunwali

Pashtunwali – the code of conduct every proud Pashtun follows.

Basic code of conduct principles:

  • “Melmastia” (hospitality) is a key component of Pashtunwali. “Melma” means a guest. However, hospitality is not to be interpreted in the manner a Westerner would interpret it. It means offering hospitality to a guest; transcending race, religion and economic status. It also means once under the roof of the host, a guest should neither be harmed nor surrendered to an enemy. This will be regardless of the relationship between the guest and the host enjoyed previously. In this regard, melmasthia takes precedence over badal (yet another principle of Pashtunwali); so even the enemy who comes seeking refuge, must be granted it and defended against his pursuers.
  •  “Badal” means “to seek justice or take revenge against the wrongdoer.” There is no time limit to when the injustice can be avenged. If badal is not exercised, the offended man or his family will be considered stripped of honour. The exercise of this principle can lead to generations of bloodshed, feuds, hundreds of lives lost for one insult. It requires a violent reaction to the insult or death or injury inflicted. A badal usually ends with a badal. An action elicits or demands an equivalent response – and the cycle goes on. Khushal Khan Khattak, the great Pashto poet, warrior and soldier, was not far off the mark when he said: “Let the head be gone, wealth be gone, but the honour must not go, because the whole of dignity of a man is due to this honour.”
  • “Nanawatai” (sanctuary) is another pillar of the Pashtunwali code. It allows a person to seek refuge in the house of another, seeking asylum against his enemies. The host Pashtun is honour-bound to offer that protection, may it be at the cost of his own family or fortune. Traditionally, the protection is extended only till such time as the refuge seeker is on the property of the person whose refuge he seeks. The protection will be considered withdrawn once he is off the host’s property.

A Pashtun at all times is expected to defend his land, family, women and property against invaders. Honour of his name must be defended. Lives are laid down to defend the honour associated [“Tureh” (bravery) that is another component of the Pashtunwali].

Note: The Pashtun tribes, are the tribes of the Pashtun people, a large Eastern Iranian ethnic group who use the Pashto language and follow Pashtunwali code of conduct.