Introduction / History The Pashtun, or Pushtun, are a race of warriors who live primarily in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They consist of about sixty tribes, each with its own territory. Although their origin is unclear, their legends say that they are the descendants of Afghana, grandson of King Saul. However, most believe they probably arose from ancient Aryans intermingling with subsequent invaders.
The Pashtun have played an important role in the history of their region. From their community have come Muslim rulers, administrators, and soldiers. While many have moved out of the highlands in search of an easier life on the plains, their mountainous homeland continues to be their citadel of strength and freedom.
The Pashtun are said to be elegant, colorfully attired, hospitable, considerate, fierce in hatred, and kind in friendship. Though very dedicated to their religious beliefs, they are also fond of pleasure. They are known for their marksmanship and their love of honor.
What are their lives like? Most of the Pashtun live in southern and central Asia. Their homes lie along a chain of barren, rugged mountains (the Indus and the Hindu Kush) and the Syistan Plateau of Iran. Large Pashtun communities can also be found in ten other countries.
At the core of Pashtun society is the extended family. Each family group owns its land and lives in a fortified residence called a qala. Every qala is divided into two areas: a general living area and the private living quarters. A high wall in the middle separates the two areas.
Distinctive tribal customs and traditions also form an integral part of Pashtun society. The true essence of their culture can be seen in the "code of ethics" that they live by. This unwritten code is called Pushtunwali ("the way of the Pushtun"), and is close to the heart of every Pashtun.
Pushtunwali is followed religiously, and it includes the following practices: melmastia (hospitality and protection to every guest); nanawati (the right of a fugitive to seek refuge, and acceptance of his bona fide offer of peace); badal (the right of blood feuds or revenge); tureh (bravery); sabat (steadfastness); imandari (righteousness); 'isteqamat (persistence); ghayrat (defense of property and honor); and namoos (defense of one's women).
Pashtun men usually wear sleeveless, embroidered vests over long sleeved, cotton shirts that are buttoned at one shoulder and hung over baggy trousers. They also wear unique turbans which are tied in such a way to indicate tribal identity. In certain inaccessible regions, rifles, pistols, knives, and other weapons are considered essential items of dress. The women wear basically the same type clothing as the men, but they generally use more colorful material.
The Pashtun tribes range from the highly educated who live in cities to tent-dwelling nomads. Although their societies are based on tribal traditions, the Pashtun who live in cities or villages have a different attitude towards social status than do the nomads. This is because the villages are made up of both Pashtun and non-Pashtun peoples. In most cases, the Pashtun are the landowners.
Members of the wealthier Pashtun families will occasionally farm or tend the animals but they will not engage in any other occupation within the village. The men usually perform the more difficult tasks outside the home, while the women are responsible for the things within the home.
Traditionally, inheritances are divided equally among all the sons. The daughters are usually excluded, in spite of the clear teachings in the Koran concerning such matters. A daftari is a man who possesses a share in the tribal lands and has a voice in tribal councils. Such a person is regarded with high esteem in Pashtun society.
What are their beliefs? The majority of Pashtun are Sunni Muslims. Islam came to them as a great liberating and unifying force, freeing them from the cult of Brahminism and the harshness of Buddhism. For this reason, their underlying faith and steadfast devotion to Islam are very strong.
What are their needs? The Pashtun are a people who have known frequent war. In 1979, the Soviets led a massive invasion into Afghanistan. Approximately three million Afghans (many of them Pashtun) fled across the border into Pakistan. The Soviet occupation has ended but Afghanistan is currently torn by war between the Taliban and the national government supported by the United States and NATO.
Many of the Pashtun are extremely poor and live in unsanitary conditions caused mainly by poor water supply. A large number of the adults are also illiterate. The need for qualified medical teams and school teachers is great.
Since their entire way of life is opposed to change, the Pashtun present one of the strongest challenges to the Christian Church today. Much intercession is needed if they are to be successfully reached with the Gospel.
Prayer Points * Ask God to raise up prayer teams that will break up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask God to grant wisdom and favor to mission agencies that are focusing on the Pashtuns.
* Pray for Pashtun children who grow up in fear and hatred of outsiders.
* Ask God to encourage and protect the small number of Pashtun believers.
* Pray that God will provide greater peace and freedom to live and work among the Pashtun.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Pashtun.