Tribalism is not a feature of every ethnic group in Afghanistan; and evenwithin tribally organized groups tribalism is a flexible concept that allowsvariations to exist and changes to occur as kinship groups rise and fall.
Tribal identity which merges with ethnicity rests on unified genealogiesconsisting of descendants of a common male ancestor whose name often providesthe name of the group. Internal divisions consist of the descendants ofintermediate descendants of the original founder. Thus an entire tribe maydescend from a man ten or more generations in the past. Smaller segmentarypatrilineages composed of great-grandsons and grandsons form units of residenceand strong personal loyalty.
Although preferred marriages for males are to father's brother's daughters,genealogies reflect political, economic and social alliances outside strictdescent lines. Typically, it is men from dominant groups who will seek to marrywith females outside their own ethnic group.
The Pushtun represent the largest tribal entities in Afghanistan; among themtribal institutions are strongest within the Ghilzai. Common characteristics ofPushtun tribal organization ideally feature egalitarianism, democraticdecision-making through councils called jirgah at which individualmembers have the right to express themselves freely, and certain corporateresponsibilities such as revenge. Revenge, for instance, may be taken on anymember of an offending tribe, although liability is usually greater for thosemost closely related to the accused. The essentially decentralized independentcommunities within tribal subsections conduct both internal and external affairsaccording to the tribal code of conduct called Pushtunwali (see Pushtun, thisch.).
The aristocratic elites who lead subdivisions, rise to their positionsprimarily through personal charisma, patronage, and leadership abilities ratherthan by primogeniture, which is not recognized in Muslim law, or any type ofprescribed hereditary rights. Tribal organization is therefore acephalous orwithout a paramount chief. And the measure of their power differs. Heads ofnomadic tribal groups, for instance, act principally as spokesmen, but have noright to make decisions binding on others.
The absence of recognized principles governing the assumption of leadershipallows for intense competition. Rivalries within and between tribal segments andbetween tribes and subtribes consequently have always existed. It is theseinternecine feuds that have earned the Pushtun their reputation as an unruly andwarlike people. Nonetheless, when outside forces threaten, the Pushtun areequally reputed for their ability to forge formidable alliances, amongthemselves and with other ethnic groups.
Both internal as well as intergroup conflicts are most often rooted inmatters of personal and group honour, personal enmities, family dissensionsconcerning brides and property, struggles for material possession, access toresources, territorial integrity and extensions of power, rather than inintrinsic attitudes of ethnic discrimination.
Many contentious struggles raged about the creation of the nation-state.Although Ahmad Shah Durrani set the stage for Pushtun dominance, his successorslacked both his personal charisma and his leadership abilities. His son, TimurShah (1772-1783), further compounded the problem by leaving behind 23 sons bornof wives from ten different tribes without designating a successor. Similarly,the next charismatic leader to consolidate the area, Amir Dost Mohammad(1834-38; 1842-63), left 20 sons to fight for the throne. Violent episodesinvolving individual quests for power characterized much of the eighteenth andnineteenth centuries.
With the advent of Amir Abdur Rahman (1880-1901), a grandson of Amir DostMohammad, the situation changed dramatically. Amir Abdur Rahman utilized hispowerful personality in combination with adroit politics and judicious use offinancial subsidies and weaponry provided by the British. To further hisambition to establish a centralized state under his authoritarian control, hecreated the first standing army and relied heavily on the support of his ownMohammadzai section of the Barakzai Durrani, to whom he granted annualallowances. Thus he raised the Mohammadzai to a privileged group and reduced thepower of the tribal Sardars. At his death in 1901 he was succeeded by his sonwithout the usual violent upheavals.
State institution building was met with periodic open revolts such as that ofthe eastern Pushtun which ended the rule of King Amanullah in 1929. King Nadir(1929-1933) restored the preeminence of central Mohammadzai control with tribalassistance. The 1978 coup d'etat deposed the Mohammadzai and the Soviet-AfghanWar introduced political parties which brought new leadership patterns intobeing, altering tribal structures and reshaping ethnic identities. Traditionalsegmentation has not disappeared, but it is now being expressed through newpolitical structures.
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