Population in Afghanistan: 6,000,000
Global Population: 15,400,000
Primary Language: Southern Pashto
Primary Religion: Islam - Sunni
Percentage of Evangelical Christians: 0.02%
Progress of the Gospel: Unengaged and Unreached
OVERVIEW: Passionate is a word that well describes much about the Pashtun tribes of Afghanistan. They are said to love or hate with equal intensity, displaying fierce loyalty to friends, yet defending the right of badal - revenge or blood feuds where enemies are concerned. An old proverb reveals much, "He is no Pashtun who does not give a blow for a punch." Thus, it is no surprise that the infamous Taliban fighters originated among the Pashtun. But that presents an unfairly sensational - and lopsided - view of Afghanistan's largest people group. They are not the first to use tradition, disposition and numbers to attempt domination. Each coin has another side.
They are part of Central Asia's mystique although ethnic researchers have identified them with the Indo-Iranian Affinity Bloc, the Pashtun People Cluster and variously call them Pashtun, Pakhtun or Pushtun. There are three segments of Pashtun - the Southern Pashtun, the Eastern Pashtun, and the Middle Pashtun. Comprising less than half of Afghanistan's population, total they currently number beyond 10.5 million there; 35.5 million world wide. Pashto is their traditional language, although possibly giving way to Dari (Eastern Farsi), the country's trade language.
Traditional Pashtun territory lies in the southern and eastern mountains where extended families dwell in tents or mud houses, amid typically unsanitary conditions due to lack of safe water sources. Such circumstances, coupled with lack of health care, contribute to limited life expectancy - about 46 years. Nomads may live in valleys during winter and move to mountain pastures during summer months - a harsh lifestyle either way on war-torn, landmine-pocked landscapes. In one of the world's poorest countries, many depend on raising livestock, limited farming and cultivating the notorious opium poppy for income. Others relocated to Kabul (the capital city) after the 2001 Allied invasion hoping for industry to develop and to supply jobs. Though some urban Pashtun are educated, most adults are illiterate, particularly women.
Pashtun culture adheres to a rigid, unwritten "code of ethics" - the Pushtunwali (the way of the Pashtun). Behavior expected without question includes hospitality and protection for guests, provision of refuge to a fugitive and acceptance of a sincere offer of peace, bravery, steadfastness, persistence, defense of property and family honor and protection of female relatives - values for which death is not too high a price to pay.
Hard lives, however, find joy and relaxation in music that includes folk songs or dancing accompanied by stringed instruments and tambourines. Poetry and storytelling have long been favorite pastimes, as are segregated gatherings just to visit or to have pleasant conversation with friends.
Clothing is simple. Men wear long-sleeved cotton shirts over loose pants with sleeveless vests, and turbans wound in a particular way with the end hanging to the shoulder. In some areas weapons complete this costume. Women must observe Purdah (meaning curtain) which requires wearing a full-length garment known as the burka that features a mesh opening over the eyes for navigation.
Women raise the children and prepare meals. The dietary staple is a flat bread called nan. The rare dish containing meat could include curry or garlic, perhaps accompanied by lentils, spinach, or onions, with cheese to complete the meal. Tea is the favored beverage - one always offered to guests. Living a limited life, women neither inherit property, appear publicly without a male escort nor expect advanced education. Her identity is linked to a male member of her family, that is, as the wife of (her husband) or the mother of (her eldest son). With increased exposure to the world beyond, however, and a new democratic-style government some Pashtun customs may eventually change.
Since the time of Alexander the Great, Afghanistan has been the site of both Eastern and Western invasions. As a result, the Pashtun tribes have been influenced by Indian Buddhists as well as African Muslims. However, Islam has been the chief religion of Afghanistan since the 10th century. Presently the Pashtun people are nearly all Muslim.
The Islamic religion is very difficult to influence. Converts to Christianity will more than likely be banished from their families. Consequently, there has been very little growth of Christianity among the Pashtun. Most of the work by various missions agencies has ended due to unrest in the country. More recently, some of the "freedom fighters" have attacked Western relief agencies, causing them to flee from Afghanistan. Christian radio and television broadcasts are strictly forbidden by the government.
* Sources include International Mission Board (peoplegroups.org) and Joshua Project (joshuaproject.net).
- Pray for peace in the land of the Pashtun peoples.
- Ask God to call those who are willing to go to Afghanistan and share Christ with the Pashtun.
- Pray that God will encourage and protect the small number of Pashtun believers.
- Ask God to soften the hearts of the Pashtun towards Christians so that they will be open to the Gospel.
- Ask God to once again open the doors for Christian agencies desiring to work among the Pashtun.