Pashtun Code Of Conduct And Talks With Taliban (TTP)



01-10-2013_pushtun-culture1By Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

I am a Pakistani of Pashtun descent. Both my parents are Pashtuns and I speak fluent Pashto although I have lived almost all my life away from my village. But my allegiance and loyalty is to my Pakistani identity. I do not accept any other identity to have precedence or legitimacy over and above my Pakistani identity. Although I do believe there is strength in diversity.

I would not have brought my ethnic identity into discussion but I have to do it because a question was raised to me about dealing with injustice and crime under Pashtun code. Since my views could be biased. I decided to check if Wikipedia can help me explain it better. Here is what I found:

“Nanawatai (Pashto: ننواتی, translation sanctuary) is a tenet of the Pashtunwali code of the Pashtun people. It allows a beleaguered person to enter the house of any other person and make a request of him which cannot be refused, even at the cost of the host’s own life or fortune.
By invoking nanawatai, one is said to “seize the skirt” (laman niwul) of his new protector, and the other party is obligated to extend peace and acquiesce to grant shelter and protection, when someone has placed themselves in harm’s way in this fashion.

Traditionally, the burden of protection exists only insofar as the one pleading clemency stays within the property of the protector; if one leaves the company of the protector, the responsibility vanishes and even the protector can attack him. Often, the one pleading for sanctuary would be made to first humiliate himself, perhaps wearing a halter made of grass around his neck, to demonstrate that he was entirely supplicant to his host.”

So considering the above definition of Nanawatai, when Hakimullah Mehsud and other Pakistani Taliban leaders come for negotiations, they have to be first humiliated and unconditionally submitted to accept the decision of the jirga that is managing the nanawatai.



I am sure most of you find it interesting that many of our political leaders are suggesting, in the television talk shows, that the Pashtun code is such that when a person’s father is killed, he burns with revenge and does not rest until that thirst is satisfied. So the people that have been killed by the TTP, at least for which they have accepted responsibility, then those who lost their loved ones have to take revenge from TTP. I would want to know how the negotiators tell Hakimullah Mehsud, and all these order Militant commanders that according to Pashtun tradition, they have to offer equal number of men to be killed for each death caused by them.

Hakimullah Mehsud and other Pakistani Taliban understand well what they are doing. They know that if they suggest that they are driven by their Pashtun tradition to take revenge for deaths caused by drone strikes then they themselves have to be submitting to this code. In this case they will be held responsible for killing innocent people under Pashtun code. It is for this reason they have ensured to kill all elders in FATA area that could have become members of a jirga against their crimes.

The second strategy they adopted was to use a safer route, which is to use religion as their driving force. This not only gives them legitimacy but also helps them recruit as well as gains them supporters from other segments of Pakistani nation. These 20 or 30 something militant commanders tell the people that they want Sharia to be imposed in the nation without any knowledge of it. Some of their supporters recently countered me on facebook (don’t be surprised these TTP supporters are quite tech savvy and use propaganda effectively) I asked them where have they learned their sharia. They said they have learned it listening to their commanders in the field. I asked them where your commanders learned the Sharia. They said they will be following up with me. I waited for a long time. They never came back with an answer. Then another one countered me. This person was a little more knowledgeable because he had read some pamphlets and felt he has enough knowledge about Sharia to defend it. I asked him two questions to which I am still waiting for an answer.

Our Pashtun politicians tell the nation that people from other provinces don’t understand the Pashtun code. They willfully forget to inform the nation that in Pashtun tradition crimes are dealt with very seriously. So those Taliban that are engaged in drug trade, extortion, and robberies are breaking the Pashtun code of honor everyday. And if Pashtun code is applied to them then they have to be hanged publicly. I would like to see which of these Pashtun politicians will tell Hakimullah Mehsud about this at his face.

Like other walks of our national lives, we are also confused about how to define our enemies. We hide behind burkas made from our own twisted concepts of our culture and tradition. The last Pashtun tradition is to defend the weak. So are our Pashtun politicians, which are invoking peace talks, ready to take up arms to fight these insurgents and criminals when the talks fail? If they are not willing to do that, then they are not fit to be called Pashtuns.

06-09-2013_abdul-quyyum-khan-kundiThe writer is a former President of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce-USA and member advisory committee of Pakistan Tehrike Insaf (PTI). He has authored three books titled Freedom by Choice, Lessons from Quran and Islamic Social Contract. The opinion expressed here are personal and not the official position of PTI.