Pashtunwali:  A Strong Code of Ethics

By | January 11, 2017

[January 11, 2017]  Pashtunwali … if you’re reading this, then you’ve likely never heard this word spoken aloud.  The meaning, of course, will elude you but most importantly you will never understand its full meaning as intended.

You cannot understand fully the code of ethics of Pashtunwali unless you’ve personally lived it from childhood.  No amount of study or review of its path can lead to its knowing if viewed from the outside.  No scholar, expert, or disciple can instill it in you.  The reason is simple.  You have not lived the life.

What we can do is get a small idea and, as we should, in the study of leadership – at least for those of us who are serious – do our very best to gain something from this code.  We do so because it makes us better.  We do so because any code of ethics that can last for thousands of years deserves our greatest attention.

Pashtunwali is a strong unwritten ethical code and traditional lifestyle for the Pashtun people.  From what is told, it has existed since prehistoric times and is still practiced today, mostly in rural tribal areas (most eastern Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan).  Below I listed the main principles.  Note how closely they relate to modern-day leadership principles.  The similarities are uncanny.

The major components of Pashtunwali are:

  1. Hospitality: showing profound respect to all visitors and doing so without any hope of remuneration.
  2. Forgiveness (or asylum): refers to the protection given to a person against his enemies.
  3. Justice (or revenge): seek to bring a wrongdoer to account for their unjust actions.
  4. Bravery: the physical courage to protect one’s land, property, and family.
  5. Loyalty: to the family, friends, and tribe members. Shame is the outcome for failure.
  6. Righteousness: strive for goodness in thought and deed. Behaving respectfully to people, animals, and the environment.
  7. Faith: trusting of Allah and belief in only Allah.
  8. Respect, Pride, and Courage: this begins at home among family members and relatives.
  9. Protection of Women: defending the honor of women at all costs.
  10. Honor: defense of the weak around him.
  11. Country: obligation to protect the land, culture, and countrymen of the Pashtuns.

These are not inclusive but give us the flavor of such a rural, tribal culture.  The code was demonstrated in the film Lone Survivor where a local Afghan took in an injured Navy SEAL and protected him from the Taliban.1

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

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