I have hardly come across any writer on Pakhtuns who has taken a positive and holistic view of Pakhtunwali.
Pakhtun as well as non-Pakhtun writers fail to treat it as a world-view and as a national character of a people. While deciphering Pakhtunwali they oversimplify and take a superficial view of a culture which is the accumulation of many interactions in a frontier region. Actually, the story of Pakhtunwali is a fascinating one of dialectics and the syncretic process.
I believe Pakhtunwali has evolved over a long period of three to four thousand years. It reflects the multiple worldviews of all the people who interacted with the Pakhtuns in the historic Gandhara civilization. It is in no way limited to the few bandied-about articles or commandments such as nang, badal, tarburwali, nanawate, melmastya and the Pakhtuns’ religiosity. These things, though central to the Pakhtuns’ social life, are in no way the sum-total of Pakhtunwali, and the journalists and anthropologists who repeat them ad nauseum have really not done their homework. In fact I would like to term this prevalent approach as repeating-Pakhtunwali-parrot-fashion.
Look at the list of parrots: the well-known anthropologist Akbar S. Ahmad in particular seems to be obsessed with the concept of nang, and much of his approach to Pakhtun history and society moves around this postulate. Sadiqullah Rishtin, a well-known Afghan scholar, terms all the norms and values, customs and practices of the Pakhtuns as Pakhtunwali. But when he comes to interpret it he has nothing to offer save repeating-Pakhtunwali-parrot-fashion. Another Afghan scholar, Qiam-ud-Din Khadim, makes an effort in this direction and it seems, to a certain extent, a success. His book “Pakhtunwali (Pakhto)” casts light on the extended universe of Pakhtunwali. The most correct (or least incorrect) approach is that of Mukulika Banerji. In her book “The Pathan Unarmed” she advocates what I may call the historical view of Pakhtunwali.
It goes like this: Pakhtunwali evolved with the passage of time in the historical abode of the Pakhtuns, which has always served as a frontier. According to historian Arnold Toynbee (as quoted by Banerjee) two types of geographical limits might be distinguished: “culs-de-sac are regions on the fringe … that have received successive influences from the centre but have not been able to pass them further afield. Roundabouts are regions on which routes converge from all quarters of the compass and from which routes radiate to all quarters of the compass again.” The Pakhtuns’ land (Gandhara) certainly presents the picture of a roundabout region. It has played a central role in the civilizational processes of South and Central Asia, China and Tibet. In the words of Banerjee: “Genuine frontiers are spatially extended regions with their own cultural processes and imperatives which tend towards the syncretic and dialectic. Gandhara was born out of just such a process, a prolonged and extraordinary fusion of civilizations, and all achieved some 1,500 years before Kipling stated that east and west would never meet, and the British sought with gun and bunker to turn a frontier into a border.”
The British did this out of their imperialistic designs as they were actively involved in the Great Game with Tsarist (and later its Soviet successor) Russia. All their policies in northern India and Afghanistan were directed by obsession at the Russian threat. And all this impinged on the Pakhtuns’ culture (Pakhtunwali) and society.
The late Professor Ahmad Hasan Dani was also au fait with the roundabout character of the frontier area of Gandhara. He wanted the past and future of the area to be weaved. In his paper, “Contribution of Gandhara to world Civilization”, presented in the Pak-Japan Colloquium on Significance of Gandhara to Human History (6th – 14th September 1997), he emphasized this point in the wider context of the progress and development of Asian man. He wrote:
“The presence of scholars from Japan and Pakistan and all others who are participating here is not only meant to throw light on the past of Gandhara but also to push forward the land and people of Gandhara towards newer and newer goals of activity in the new historical context of Asian history. Gandhara lies at the crossroads of this history but that history unfortunately lies unheard of and finds no place in the current studies.”
Professor Dani stated that presently “Asian countries have lost mutual educational contacts and so have little understanding and appreciation of one another’s source of inspiration and also the source of cooperation.” He hoped that the Colloquium “may create new ideas and new understanding of the ways as to how to lead Asian man towards a new world of progress and advance by pooling the intellectual resources of all of us.” Professor Dani believed that “Gandhara has the potential of reviving the dead channels of history.”
We may find a framework from Prof. Dani’s observations for the redefinition of Pakhtunwali. That is Pakhtunwali might be contextualized against the backdrop of the phenomenal developments and movements that have taken place (and are taking place) in the history of Gandhara. If Gandhara were allowed to play its archetypal role in today’s world, we would have no cultural crisis in Pakhtunkhwa, no seemingly chaotic violence (of the kind that has presently engulfed the whole region). In the words of Professor Dani: “Let Gandhara of the past stand as a solid foundation for the better Gandhara of the future.”