Several Pakistani ethnic groups — notably the Pashtun and Baloch — have tribal structures. The Pashtuns (Pathans) live in western and southern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. Their homeland is in the valleys of Hindu Kush. According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Pashtun are traditionally pastoral nomads with a strong tribal organization. Each tribe, consisting of kinsmen who trace descent in male bloodlines from a common tribal ancestor, is divided into clans, subclans, and patriarchal families. Tribal genealogies establish rights of succession and inheritance, the right to use tribal lands, and the right to speak in tribal council. Disputes over property, women, and personal injury often result in blood feuds between families and whole clans; these may be inherited unless settled by the intervention of clan chiefs or by tribal council. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

“Pashtun social groups are well-organized. In increasing size, they are: Qabila, Taifa, and Khail. The males are the dominant members of a household. For example, if a husband dies, the widow is required to marry someone within her husband's family, even if the only person available happens to be only one year old. In this case, it appears that culture is given more weight than religion. Pashtun leaders convene to discuss and to solve major problems in the community. The jirga is the community assembly that is used to solve disputes and problems. The shura is an Islamic council that is also relied upon by Pashtun in Afghanistan for organization. Respect for the elderly is very important to the Pashtun.

The power of tribal leaders is regarded as absolute. In places where the honor system is strong there is no caste system or sharp divisions between wealth, rank or status. In the Swat and Mardan valleys, Pashtun clans observe a custom of equality known as “ wesh” that included periodically redistributing land and belongings among the rich and poor. In places where the traditional landowning system is defined by wealth and land mullahs and sayyeds (descendants of Mohammed) have their own special place in society and given special respect.

Pashtun Tribes

Pashtuns are divided into a number of tribes whose names are almost as famous as the Pashtuns themselves: Wazirs, Mahsud, Khattak, Bangash, Afridi, Mohmand, Sulemankel, Achakzais Yusufzai, Safis, and Shinwaris. Each tribe gets its name from a common ancestor and they in turn claim a link to one the four sons of Afghana.

The Pashtun tribes can be quite different from one another. The Yusufzai from Swat, for example, wear their hair very short, while the Bangash men wear their hair in a shoulder-length bob and bangs. Mahsud men don waist-length “ringlets.”

Immortalized in a Rudyard Kipling poem called "Arithmetic on the Frontier," the Afridis reportedly were such excellent marksmen they were able to shoot down British biplanes with rifles. There is a legend about one Afridi leader whose heart was taken to the British museum in a silk casket. The heart it was said weighed ten pounds. Some say the Afridi descended from soldiers of Alexander the Great’s army.

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “The Pashtun are divided into about 60 tribes of varying size and importance, each of which occupies a particular territory. In Afghanistan, where Pashtun are the predominant ethnic group, the main tribes are the Durrani or Abdali south of Kabul and the Ghilzay east of Kabul.” [Source: revised by M. Kerr, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

In the hill areas of Pakistan, “the main tribes are, from south to north: the Kakar, Sherani, and Ustarana south of the Gumal River; the Mahsud, Darwsh Khel, Waziri, and Batani, between the Gomal River and Thal; the Turi, Bangash, Orakzay, Afridi, and Shinwari from Thal to the Khyber Pass; and the Mahmand, Uthman Khel, Tarklani, and Yousufzay north and northeast of the Khyber. The settled areas include lowland tribes subject to direct administration by the provincial government. The main tribes there are, from south to north: the Banuchi and Khattak from the Kurram River to Nowshera; and the Khalil and Mandan in the vale of Peshawar. *\

“It is perhaps the power and leadership of individuals that divides the Pashtun not only into tribes but also into numerous sub-tribes, each isolated within its own boundaries. Interference in each other's affairs has caused conflicts among the different sub-tribes throughout history. Yet any external interference — Russian, British, American, etc. — has resulted in immediate unity of Pashtun tribes.” *\

Pashtun Egalitarian Individualism

An intensely egalitarian ethos exists among Pashtun men in a clan; the tribal leader is considered the first among equals. No man willingly admits himself less than any other's equal. Nor will he, unless driven by the most dire circumstances, put himself in a position of subservience or admit dependency on another. This sense of equality is evident in the structure of the men's council, composed of lineage elders who deal with matters ranging from disputes between local lineage sections to relations with other tribes or with the national government. Although the council can make and enforce binding decisions, within the body itself all are considered equals. To attempt or to appear to coerce another is to give grave insult and to risk initiating a feud. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994]

Charles Lindholm of Boston University wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Pashtuns live in a social universe of egalitarian individualism where no overarching authority is recognized. There is no police force; no central government intervenes to enforce contracts or laws. Instead it is all personal responsibility of all individuals to stand up for themselves and their patrilineal relatives.”

“Anarchy is avoided by the operation of the lineage system and the tribal code that demands generosity, hospitality and absolute obligation to avenge any slight. One who can not live up to the tribal standards is held in contempt — a fate worse than death in a culture where one’s very existence depends on the presence of one peers, relatives and allies. Order in this world is precarious, life is dangerous and one only relies on the tribal structure and the principals of honor for stability.”

Pashtun Code of Honor

The Pashtun code of honor is known as “Pashtunwali”, or the way of the Pashtuns. It is an ancient and absolute set of rules that defines: 1) how a host must care and protect guests and their property, 2) the chastity of married women and the way men must defend women’s honor; 3) rules of restraint accorded those regarded as weak (namely Hindus, women and boys); 4) defense provided for those who seek refuge; and 5) how killings should be avenged. “Pashtanwali” has precedence over the law of the land and even Islamic law. It is regarded as an ideal, which Pashtun may not be able to meet but they should try to live up to and is so strong and prevalent in some areas it negates the need for a government.

Central to adherence to the male-centered pakhtunwali code of conduct is the notion of honor, nang, which is articulated in a starkly black-and-white, all-or-nothing manner. Without honor, life for a Pashtun is not worth living. Honor demands the maintenance of sexual propriety. Complete chastity among female relatives is of the essence; only with the purity and good repute of his mother, daughters, sisters, and wife (or wives) does a man ensure his honor. Thus women are restricted to private, family compounds in much of the province. Census takers, invariably male, are constrained not to ask about the women in another man's home, and the number of men in a household is often overstated because sons and brothers are a source of strength. Accurate enumeration of the population hence is not possible. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994]

Among the three most important obligations of “Pashtanwali” are 1) nanawatai”, or giving asylum to a refugee, even a mortal enemy; 2) “melmastia”, extending hospitality to strangers, even enemies; and 3) “badal”, or obtaining revenge for a slight, which are usually over “zamin” (gold, land and women). [Source: Bern Keating, National Geographic, January 1967].

The punishments for breaking the code are very harsh and often involve death. The penalty for illicit sexual behavior, for example, is death. Death is often regarded as preferable to dishonor. This code allows for, even encourages, revenge killings. Pakhtunwali in some cases contradicts and generally takes precedence over Islamic law. It is enforced by strong social pressure. Violations of law outside of the activities the code encompasses are dealt with by the jirga or the government administration.

One Pashtun saying goes: “He is not Pashtun who gives a pinch for a blow.” Ellis observed a five year old boy make five trips across the border in less than an hour to get cooking oil for an Afghan merchant who filled up a large tank. On his last trip the boy was slapped by a border guard. "He was Pashtun," wrote Ellis, "But being only five or so, the spirit of Pashtunwali had not taken hold of him. So he cried."*

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: Hospitality (Milmastia) is important to Pashtun, as is a reliance on the tribal council (jirga) for the resolution of disputes and local decision making. Other Pashto codes include: courageousness (Tureh, which is also the word for sword in Pashtu); the spirit of taking revenge (Badal); protection of honor (Ghayrat); and nanawati, a method of terminating hostility, hatred, and enmity (i.e., when a person, family, or tribe goes to the hostile people through elderly people, they will accept their apology and the feeling of hatred and enmity are dissolved). Important elements of Pashtunwali code are personal authority and freedom. Political leadership is based on personalities rather than structures and ideologies. [Source: revised by M. Kerr, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

Pashtun Fighting Spirit

Violence and guns are a way of life for the Pashtuns. It is not uncommon to see a Pashtun boy beating up on his sister while their mother looks on laughing or a father to whack his son hard if he looks the other way while the father is speaking. In many Pashtun areas it is not safe to travel at night unless you are surrounded by an armed convoy. A Pashtun poet once wrote: “The eyes of the dove are lovely, my son. But the hawk rules the skies, so cover your dove-like eyes and grow claws.”

Rivalries and alliances are often based on the closeness of blood relations. According to one Pashtun proverb: “We are only at peace when we are at war.” Another goes: “My brother and I against my cousin; and my cousin, brother and I against the rest of the world.” Pashto is the only known language in which the word for cousin and enemy are the same.

In his 1838 book “A Journey to the Source of the River Oxus,” British explorer Capt. John Wood wrote, the Pashtun's "showed their deep-rooted hatred of the Sikhs, by cruelly murdering two defenseless grass-cutters, and making off with a herd of camels...The bodies of the murdered men were brought into camp, one with the throat fearfully cut, the other a headless trunk."

Winston Churchill nearly lost life while stationed in the Northwest Frontier. One Pashtun old-timer told Schultheir, "The British were good to fight. They were honorable men. When they were about to bombard our villages, they always warned us before hand so we could move our women, children and old people to safety. When the fighting was over, we could sit down and be friends. The “shorawi” [Russians] are not like that."

Clan and Kinship Among the Pashtun

Pashtuns are organized into segmentary clans (called khels), each named for a first migrant to their area to whom they trace their ancestry. Membership is tied to landownership as well as to descent. A person who loses his land is no longer treated as a full (adult) member of the community. He no longer may join or speak in the tribal jirga, or council of tribal leaders, at which issues of common interest are debated. But because brothers divide property among themselves, rivalry builds among the children of brothers who may have to subdivide increasingly unequal portions of an original estate. Hence, a man's greatest rival for women, money, and land (zan, zar, and zamin, respectively) is his first cousin — his father's brother's son — even though the same man may be his staunchest ally in the event of attack from the outside. Lineages themselves have a notable tendency to fragment; this tendency has contributed to the existence of a number of well-established clans among the Pashtuns. At every level of Pashtun social organization, groups are split into a complex and shifting pattern of alliance and enmity. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994]

Pashtuns society is organized on many levels by kinship based on clan and patrilineal ancestors. Things like alliances, inheritance, obligations and rivalries are defined by clan subsection, which is generally defined as the children of one ancestor four or five generations later. Land and rights go to sons, brothers and cousins on the paternal line, The eldest son is usually in charge of the extended family. Villages are made up of men from common paternal lines. Women marry into the clans although many are of them belong to same clans as their husbands.

Clan loyalty is important to the Pashtuns. There are eight major clans. Large clans include the southern Durranis and eastern Ghilzai. Most of the top Taliban leaders and supporter of the Afghan monarchy have been Durranis. Durranis and Ghilzai have traditionally been bitter rivals. Sometimes bloody feuds broke out between them. Tribes and clans often fight among themselves and often only unite when they are faced with a common enemy.

The smallest unit of the Pashtun clan system is the “kor,” or household. It is characterized by a group that is led by a senior patriarch or grandfather. It members are the most basic and fundamental social unit. A household may share a single compound, live in a village together or form a nomadic group/

Pashtun Revenge and Blood Feuds

Closely related to the notion of honor is the principle of revenge, or badal. Offenses to one's honor must be avenged, or there is no honor. Although minor problems may be settled by negotiation, murder demands blood revenge, and partners in illicit sexual liaisons are killed if discovered. Even making lewd innuendos or, in the case of women, having one's reputation maligned may mean death. The men involved sometimes escape to other regions, where they may well be tracked down by the woman's kin. When a woman is killed, the assailant is, almost without exception, a close male relative. Killings associated with sexual misconduct are the only ones that do not demand revenge. Even the courts are accustomed to dealing leniently in such cases. Vendettas and feuds are an endemic feature of social relations and an index of individual and group identity. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994]

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “As noted, the rivalry with father's brother's son for property, power, and wives is a constant source of conflict, as is Pakhtunwali itself, since even petty quarrels can escalate to a point where honor is involved. Efforts to encapsulate the Pashtun into political systems seen as alien are also a source of conflict. It is frequently at such times of external threat that religious leaders assume political importance since resistance takes the form of a holy struggle or jihad. Conflict resolution is done through the jirga or through the intervention of Religious figures. [Source: Akbar S. Ahmed with Paul Titus “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1996 |~|]

The Pashtun code of honor requires a fatal retribution for sometimes the smallest slight. Blood feuds often begin with small slights that are answered with insults that in turn lead to tit for tat exchanges of violence that often expand and involve entire tribes. The causes of Pashtun feuds are usually women, land boundaries or water rights. A typical one involves a young man who vows to kill a neighbor that killed his father in a land dispute. Revenge is essential; a weak man may soon find others taking advantage of him.

Once a blood feud gets going it sometimes endures for generations. Some tribesmen spend their whole lives at war. It is not uncommon for a man to have his throat slit over an offense that occurred 30 year earlier. The Pashtun have a saying, “Revenge is a dish which tastes better cold.” Journalist William Ellis heard some men talking about a shooting he asked them how many died. One man said, "Forty."It is not uncommon for a man to show up at his own house occasionally and secretly out of fear of being shot by his cousin, whose brother he murdered. Once a six-year-old boy was turned a local hero for avenging his father’s death by killing his assassin.

The only time Pashtun take a break from battling rival families if when they join together to battle a rival family or fight an external threat. The Pashtun have a saying, “Me against my brother, my brother and me against our cousins, we and our cousin against the enemy.”

Most blood feuds end with a payment of blood money. “Pashtanwali” provides a family of a victim the choice of seeking revenge through death or accepting “blood money” as compensation. In most cases the families take the money. Sometimes they are settled with a promise that young teenage girls will be married to men in their 60s and 70s. Sometimes they are resolved with the help of religion leaders.

Pashtun Hospitality and Refuge

Pashtuns are as legendary for their hospitality, or melmastia, among strangers as they are for their bellicosity among themselves. They share the contents of their water pipes with anyone who pulls up a seat. Every village or neighborhood has a “hujra” (guest house) to entertain casual guests. Special guests are given the best bed in the house and presented with a gift when they leave. Hospitality has precedence over revenge and blood feuds.

Hospitality is expressed through commensalism, a means of showing respect, friendship, and alliance. A complex etiquette surrounds the serving of guests, in which the host or his sons, when serving, refuse to sit with those they entertain as a mark of courtesy.One traveler told journalist Rob Schultheis that he befriended a Pashtun chief by buying him a pot of tea. The chief returned the gesture by providing the traveler with an armed escort from Afghanistan to India. The escorts came in handy when some people tried to take their seats on a train. The Pashtuns pulled out their pistols and had little trouble getting the people to move.

Closely related to melmastia is the requirement of giving refuge to anyone, even one's enemy, for as long as the person is within the precincts of one's home. These codes, too, are related to the concept of honor, for the host gains honor by serving his guest, and the person who places himself under another's protection is weak, a supplicant. Refuge must extend to the point of being willing to sacrifice one's own life to defend one's guest, but a person who demeans himself so much as to plead for mercy should be spared. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

If a Pashtun is being attacked by a group that outnumbers his own group he can seek refuge in the house any Pashtun even those who are attacking him and he will be granted asylum and protected. Once a Pashtun encampment fought off a Mughal hunting party after the wild boar they were chasing ended in the camp and was thereby granted "asylum." [Source: Bern Keating, National Geographic, January 1967]

Pashtun area, it is said, is best avoided by travelers unless they happen to be on the run from police or authorities. Another important element of the Pashtun code is for tribes to grant asylum to anyone escaping the law. Pashtun tradition of “panah”, or asylum or refuge. A Pakistani politician told the Washington Post, “It’s ingrained. The guest is a very honored commodity; we have to look after them. Even if I know this person had committed 20 murders across the road if he asks for protection, I’m sorry, I have to give him protection — until someone comes for him and we sit down and talk.”

Observers credit the relatively minimal tension that initially existed between Pakistani Pashtuns and the large number of Pashtun refugees from Afghanistan to the deeply felt obligation of Pashtuns to obey the customary dictates of hospitality. However, Pakistani Pashtuns' frustration with the refugees escalated after the Soviet army withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. Many Pakistani Pashtuns were upset that the internecine violence resulting from warring clans in conflict in Afghanistan was overflowing into Pakistan. In 1994 Pakistani Pashtuns were as eager as other Pakistanis to see the refugees return to Afghanistan. *

Baloch Tribes

The Baloch, also know the Balochi, Baluch or Baluchi, are an ethnic group that live primarily in the sandy plains, deserts and barren mountains of southeast Iran, southwest Pakistan and southern Afghanistan.

The Baloch are divided into various eastern and western tribes such as the Marri, Bugti, Brahui and Hur. Sometimes these tribes are regarded as distinct groups. The Brahuis have their own language and history. Baloch people are divided into two groups, the Sulaimani and the Makrani, separated from each other by a compact block of Brahui tribes.

Baloch homeland probably lay on the Irani Baloch were mentioned in Arabic chronicles of the 10th century AD. The old tribal organization is best preserved among those inhabiting the Sulaiman Mountains. Each tribe (tuman) consists of several clans and acknowledges one chief, even though in some tuman there are clans in habitual opposition to the chief.

According to the Government of Balochistan: A number of tribes constitute to make people of Balochistan. Three major tribes are Baloch (Baloch & Brahvi) and Pashtun. The Balochi speaking tribes include Rind, Lashar, Marri, Jamot, Ahmedzai, Bugti Domki, Magsi, Kenazai, Khosa, Rakhashani, Dashti, Umrani, Nosherwani, Gichki, Buledi, Notazai, Sanjarani, Meerwani, Zahrozai, Langove, Kenazai and Khidai. Each tribe is further sub-divided into various branches. The tribal chief is called Sardar while head of sub-tribe is known as Malik, Takari or Mir. Sardars and Maliks are members of district and other local Jirgas according to their status. [Source: Government Of Balochistan,]

“The Baloch can be divided in to two branches: the Sulemani and Mekrani as distinct from the Brahvis who mostly concentrate in central Balochistan. Among the eighteen major Baloch tribes, Bugtis and Marris are the principal ones who are settled in the buttresses of the Sulemania. The Talpur of Sind aIso claim their Baloch origin.

Baloch Society

Clan membership in Baloch society is determined mainly by family ties while tribal affiliation is determined more by region. Status is often determined by one’s place in tribal, clan and political terms. Nancy Gratton wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures: “Baloch people are an amalgam of many large units, of chieftancies, each one of which is itself comprised of a nested set of smaller organizational units. From largest to smallest, these constituent units can best be understood as clans, clan sections and subsections — with smaller segments of this most closely corresponding to actual settlement units. [Source: Nancy E. Gratton,“Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

Great respect and authority are commanded by tribal leaders known as sadars and “waderas”. Gratton wrote: “At each level of this hierarchy, leadership is in the hands of a male elder. At the comprehensive level, such leadership is likely to be achieved as inherited, but over time authority at the more inclusive levels has devolved to the elders of what has become hereditary ‘chiefly clans” (Sardarkel). |~|

“ By the fifteenth century, the Sardarkel formed the organizational foci of a loosely understood feudal system, which had developed into a set of semiautonomous sovereign principalities by the eighteenth century. During the imperial period, the Sardarkel served as mediators between British and local interests, losing a great deal of their original autonomy in the process. However, as a result of their participation in securing the interests of the ruling power, much land and wealth accrued to these groups, establishing a new and more purely economic basis for their leadership role, as well as allowing them to develop something of a monopoly over access to the larger political systems within which the Baloch People now found themselves.” |~|

Kinship and social relations reflect the exigencies of dealing with the harsh physical environment. Like other Pakistanis, Baloch reckon descent patrilineally. Lineages, however, play a minimal role in the lives of most Baloch. They are notably flexible in arrangements with both family and friends. Ideally, a man should maintain close ties with relatives in his father's line, but in practice most relations are left to the discretion of the individual, and there is wide variation. It is typical for lineages to split and fragment, often because of disputes with close kin over matters such as inheritance and bad relations within marriages. Most Baloch treat both mother's and father's kin as a pool of potential assistance to be called on as the occasion demands. Again, the precariousness of subsistence favors having the widest possible circle of friends and relatives. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Baloch society is stratified and has been characterized as "feudal militarism." The significant social tie is that between a leader, the hakim, and his retinue, consisting of pastoralists, agriculturists, lower-level leaders, and lower- level tenant farmers and descendants of former slaves (hizmatkar). Suprafamily groups formed through patrilineal descent are significant mostly for the elite hakim, whose concern for rivalry and politics is not shared by other groups. The basic exchange traditionally underlying this elaborate system was the hakim's offer of booty or property rights in return for support in battle. In more modern times, various favors are generally traded for votes, but the structure of the system — the participation of the lower-level leaders and the hizmatkar through patron-client ties — remains much the same. *

Baloch Honor and Blood Feuds

The Baloch, also know the Balochi, Baluch or Baluchi, are an ethnic group that live primarily in the sandy plains, deserts and barren mountains of southeast Iran, southwest Pakistan and southern Afghanistan.

In common with the neighboring Pashtuns, Baloch are deeply committed to maintaining their personal honor, showing generous hospitality to guests, and giving protection to those who seek it of them. However, the prototypical relationship is that between the leader and his minions. A Baloch suffers no loss of status in submitting to another. Although competition for scarce water and land resources characterizes social relations between minor leaders and hizmatkar, competition coexists with a deeply held belief in the virtues of sharing and cooperation. Sharing creates networks of obligation among herders, mutual aid being an insurance policy in the face of a precarious livelihood. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994]

Baloch follow a strict code of honor called “mayar” that incorporates hospitality, loyalty, mercy, refuge, honesty and is backed up by defense of honor through revenge called “her” . Hospitality and defending to the death those who seek refuge are the cornerstones of this value system. These ideas are kept alive in ballads and epics. One the best known is a about a Bihar chief who is killed by Buledi tribesmen who roast his remains and throw them to the kites. In revenge the Bihars catch the Buledi chief and cut off his head and use his skull for a drinking cup.

Blood feuds have traditionally been common and can be long-lasting and bloody. A Baloch proverb goes: “A Baloch revenge remains as young as a two-year old deer for two hundred years.” The British were able to curb the practice of blood feuds by ending long standing ones through marriages involving rival groups and initiated a set payment system involving cash, animals and girls for each murder, loss of face or violation to honor.

Nancy E. Gratton wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Although Muslim, the Baloch do not invoke Sharia (Islamic law) to deal with social transgressions. Rather, secular authority is vested in the traditional tribal leaders (Sardars) and conducted according to Rawaj, which is based on the principles of Balochmayar. The ultimate traditional sanction was provided by the mechanism of the blood feud, invoked by the clan to avenge the wrongful death of one of its members. Capital punishment was also traditionally applied in cases of adultery or the theft of clan property. Refusal to comply with the socially prescribed norms of hospitality is punishable by fines imposed by the local elders. Pardon for many social infractions can be obtained by the intercession of female representatives of the offender's family. In the case of all offenses except that of adultery, the offender may seek refuge in the household of a nonrelated clan, which obligates the household providing sanctuary to fight to the death to defend the refugee. Petitions for such sanctuary must be granted, according to the code of Balochmayar. Formal public taunting, in verse as well as in direct speech, provides a further mechanism by which compliance with the Baloch code of behavior is enforced. [Source: Nancy E. Gratton,“Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

“The warrior tradition of the Baloch extends back throughout their history, reaching its fullest flowering in the eleventh to fourteenth centuries, at a time coincident with their need to establish a settlement base from which to conduct their seminomadic way of life. During the imperial period the British imposed a policy of pacification upon the region and enforced it by maintaining a substantial garrison presence. The Baloch reputation for producing fierce Warriors is today recalled primarily in the activities of the "free fighters" of the Baloch nationalist movement.”

Brahui Tribal Society

The Brahui are a Dravidian language group of tribes that live mostly in Balochistan and the Sindh. The Brahui are grouped into tribes, each of which is lead by a hereditary chief (sadar). The tribes are loosely structured units based on patrilineal descent and political allegiance, and further divided into descending kin-groups down to the level of the immediate lineage. Baloch and Pashtun clan groups have been incorporated into the Brahui tribal units. Among the largest Brahui tribes are the Mengals, Zahris, and Muhammad Hosanis. The Khans of Kalat originally belonged to the Ahmedzai tribe.

According to the “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “The Brahui tribes inhabit some of the harshest, most-isolated, and least-productive environments in Pakistan. This is reflected in the relative inefficiency of traditional economic systems and the generally low standards of living of the community. Belated government efforts to bring development to the region have done little for the welfare of the Brahui, who are essentially nomadic and rural in character. The Brahui are one of the many tribal minorities in a country dominated by ethnic elites such as the Punjabis and Sindhis. The lack of a written literature (what there is dates only from the 1960s) has hindered the development of a tribal consciousness, and matters are made worse by the declining numbers of people speaking Brahui. /=\

D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “ The Brahui appear to be rapidly assimilating with the surrounding Baloch populations. Apart from their language, which gives them a sense of cultural identity, the Brahui lack a sense of identification with their country and have very little representation in the political arena. They still tend to function on a tribal basis, dealing with the government through their sardars and other tribal leaders. The Brahui remain one of the many tribal peoples of Pakistan who remain "outsiders" in a country dominated by ethnic elites such as the Punjabis and Sindhis. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 ]

Sindi Society

Sindhis are the natives of the Sindh province, which includes Karachi, the lower part of the Indus River, the southeast coast of Pakistan and a lot of desert. The caste system is more alive here than other places. In villages of Sindh, the gatherings between castes are largely restricted to men. Women largely communicate within their own caste, within which they marry exclusively. Opportunities for meeting women of other castes become more restricted with higher status. Rajput women observe strict purdah (seclusion) while poorer Bajeer, Bheel, Menghwar and Kohli are freer to undertake their field tasks. They are victims of centuries-old customs like Karo Kari, marriage with the Holy Quran and latter occur specially in the Upper cast in Muslims or most conservative families. But it is very hopeful that this custom is very low. Tribal system is more powerful and implementation of laws is another question.

The center of social life for Sindhi men is the “otak,” (autak) a special room or building building where they gather to discuss politics, play cards, watching television, watch cockfights, listen to musicians, watch dancers, drink alcohol; and chew on betel nut mixtures. The otak is often outside the walls of the house compound a discrete distance beyond the thorn hedge of the family quarters.. Each hamlet will have at least one otak. If for some reason it doesn’t a large shady tree is designated as meeting place. The otak is where landlords traditionally asserted their power and meet their followers. [Source: Sarwat S. Elahi, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992]

Sindhis follow many Muslim norms but also veer away from them. The usually greet one another with the Muslim greeting "Salaam" or "Salaam alaikum") but also still use the Hindu "Namaste." No visitors are allowed to enter a Sindhi home without the consent of the head of the family. Landlords hold great power and prestige. Further honor and prestige comes from having family members, including daughters, who have achieved high levels of education, have professional careers or hold political power. [Source: D. O. Lodrick “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]

Punjabi Society

Punjabis are the largest linguistic group in Pakistan. The speak the Punjabi language and live in or have family in or ancestors from the Punjab region. An important aspect of Punjabi ethnicity is reciprocity at the village level. A man's brother is his friend, his friend is his brother, and both enjoy equal access to his resources. Traditionally, a person has virtually free access to a kinsman's resources without foreseeable payback. This situation results in social networks founded on local (kinship-based) group needs as opposed to individual wants. These networks in turn perpetuate not only friendly relations but also the structure of the community itself. There is great social pressure on an individual to share and pool such resources as income, political influence, and personal connections. Kinship obligations continue to be central to a Punjabi's identity and concerns. Distinctions based on qaum remain significant social markers, particularly in rural areas. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Punjabis predominate in the upper echelons of the military and civil service and in large part run the central government. This situation is resented by many Pashtuns, Baloch, and, particularly by Sindhis, whose numbers and wealth are comparatively small and who are proportionately underrepresented in public positions. Particularly galling to Sindhis is the fact that the muhajirs, who live mainly in their province, are the only overrepresented group in public positions, which is generally traceable to better education in India prior to migrating in 1947. In the early 1980s, tensions mounted between Punjabis and Sindhis because the latter group was feeling alienated from the state. The capital had been moved from Karachi (in Sindh) to Islamabad (in northern Punjab) and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (from Sindh) was not only ousted but hanged. Of the three most prominent national politicians in the 1980s and early 1990s, two were Punjabis: President Zia ul-Haq and Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif. Only Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan People's Party leader and prime minister from October 1993, is Sindhi.

Burusho Society

The Bursusho, also known as Hunzakuts, are dominant ethnic group of the Hunza valley in far northern Pakistan. Burusho society contains five classes: 1) Thamo (royal families); 2) Uyongko, Akabirting (bureaucrats); 3) Bar, Bare, Sis (farmers); 4) Shadarsho (servants); and 5) Baldakuyo, Tsilgalasho (porters for the Thamo and Uyongko). The Berico (India blacksmiths and musicians) also held an important position in society. They have their own customs and speak their own language (Kumaki).

Murder is unheard of in the Hunza valley. The most serious crimes are things like "a man receiving a blow on his arm or his face during a personal dispute." The plaintiff in such a case, if he were to be tried in a traditional Burusho court, would have to pay the victim "one ox for one blow and two oxen for two blows." Today one man told McCarry, decisions that used to take five minutes "now it takes five months and cost a lot of money in bribes." [Source: John McCarry, National Geographic March 1994]

As a greeting Burusho women kiss their male friends on the hand. The man in turn kisses the place on his hand where he was kissed. Not every man is greeted in this way. Usually those that are "smart men" like teachers or men who have proved themselves in battle. Women expect to be treated with an equal amount of respect. Women in the Hunza Valley fling precious flour over their shoulder to wish travelers good luck on the road.♀

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (, Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.