The Pathans live in Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. The group is made up of some 60 Pushto-speaking tribes. The Pathans, also known as Pakhtuns, Pashtuns, Pushtuns, and Pakhtoons, number some 10 million in Pakistan and some 8 million in Afghanistan. They make up the largest ethnocultural group in Afghanistan.
The Pathans comprise distinct groups. Some live as nomads in the high mountains with herds of goats and camels; others, such as those living in the Swat Valley, are farmers; and still others are traders or seasonal laborers. However, this ethnographic description defies the fact that they constitute more than 20% of Pakistan’s armed forces and dominate Pakistan’s transportation industry and have provided the most popular Pakistani president Ayub Khan who lead the major industrialization movement which Pakistan has seen in the last 54 years.
The British attacked the Pathans in the late 19th and early 20th century. They were finally forced to offer the Pathans a semiautonomous area between the border of British India and Afghanistan. After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the new nation annexed the Pathan border regions.
In the early 1950s, the Soviet Union through Afghanistan supported Pathan ambitions for the creation of an independent Pushtunistan (also called Pakhtunistan) in the border areas of West Pakistan. Several border clashes and ruptures of diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan ensued. The movement was never able to gain popular support considering that Pathans in Pakistan were always better off than Pathans in Afghanistan.
Pathans also helped liberate the part of Kashmir which is now under Pakistan’s control. Their support and hospitality to more than four million Afghan refugees was crucial in Afghan’s liberation from the Soviet Union.
The Pathans are known as people who are brave, simple, and sincere in their dealings with others. They are noted as fierce fighters, and throughout history they have offered strong resistance to invaders. They staunchly hold on to their cultural traditions and connect with one another in a visceral way.
Most are guided by a tribal code of ethics, Pakhtunwali, or “way of the Pakhtun (Pathan).” Tribal customs and traditions make up the biggest part of the Pathan society. The tenets of Pakhtunwali show the true essence of Pathan culture and these rules are followed religiously. It incorporates the following major practices: “melmastia” (hospitality and protection to every guest); “nanawati” (the right of a fugitive to seek a place of refuge, and acceptance of his bona fide offer of peace); “badal” (the right of blood feuds or revenge); “tureh” (bravery); “sabar” (steadfastness); “imandari” (righteousness); “‘isteqamat” (persistence); “ghayrat” (defense of property and honor); and “mamus” (defense of one’s women).