Pashtunwali is a collective word for unwritten social laws, culture and way of life of the Pashtuns. It forms the basis of all interpersonal and communal interactions in the Pashtun culture as well as their individual identities. 

Origins & Attributes

The term Pashtunwali originates from the term Pashtun or Pakhtun from Pashto, which comprises of the following attributes:


  • پ  – Pey, from the Pashto letter Pat, means honour, fellowship or comradery.
  • ش – Sheen from the Pashto letter for Xegarha, means doing good for others.
  • ت – Tey for Toora, which  stands for courage and literally means sword.
  • و – Wow for Wafa, which means loyalty to one’s commitments
  • ن – Noon for Nang, which means honour.


Therefore, the essence of the term “Pashtun” lies in commitments to chivalry, courage, loyalty and honour. They are the attributes that shape the character of Pashtun society.

Other notable attributes of the Pashtun society include: hospitality (melmastia), the Council of Elders (Jirga), modesty (sharam, haya), revenge (badal), taunting (peghor), seeking forgiveness in a feud (nanawati), the honour of the family (nang, namoos), and zeal, courage, or manliness (ghairat).

Central pillars

At its root, the Pashtun culture has four central pillars:

  • Nang i.e. honour
  • Sharam i.e. shame 
  • Badal i.e. revenge 
  • Peghore i.e. taunting

Of these, Nang is the most significant value. It is the basic characteristic of the collective and individual Pashtun personality.

Nang (Honour)

Nang or honour, as a concept may be individual or collective. It begins with the individual and expands into the family, then Tabar (clan or extended family), then blood relatives, then the community and finally the Pashtun ethnicity. 

Nang has multiple levels of meanings. While it means honour in the most basic sense, it also means modesty, shame, courage, zeal, humanity, and manhood etc. 

Sharam (Shame)

Sharam literally means shame. In tribal terms and usage, however, it is a payment; from the one who is guilty to his opponent. It is usually given for moral offences and is most often given in the form of money or psa (a male goat or lamb). Sharam does not have a fixed rate, rather it is decided upon by the elders and if someone refuses to pay it, they may be forced to pay a fine as well. 

Sharam has different standards depending on the strength of honour attached to the subject of the offence, but the shame of a woman is generally not forgiven.

Jirga (Council of Elders)

A jirga is a council of elders that makes decisions in matters of dispute. It is usually formed to restore the honour of the affectee. Whatever decision the jirga gives is the final one and must be executed immediately. 

Badal (Revenge)

Whenever any aspect of honour is harmed, it must be restored. This is usually done by taking badal or revenge. It is a need every true Pashtun must embrace. Though in some cases, it may be intentionally delayed, a Pashtun never forgets to take revenge. 

The Pashtun’s word of honour never grows old. Revenge is the inevitable result of a slight or damage to Nang. It is this understanding of no one ever getting away with crime that protects the Pashtun social order. 

Peghor (Taunting)

If revenge or any payment for debt is not taken, peghor or taunting on the interpersonal and/or communal level shames the affectee’s family until they enact revenge for both the crime and the lack of atonement for it.

Pashtunwali may be a possible reason for prolonged periods of peace among Pashtuns in tribal areas, where, there is no other law in practice except this social contract. The crime rate here is much lower than that in settled districts where the state law is in practice, however it has its own drawbacks too. 


About Author

is a Mass Communication graduate from NUST. She enjoys creative writing, reading and, photography in her free time.

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