Introduction / History
The Pashtun of Afghanistan and Pakistan have been called the largest Muslim tribal society in the world. There are at least 30 major tribes, and countless sub-tribes and clans. Spread over a vast geographical area and riven by socio-economic, political, tribal and linguistic (dialectical) differences, Pashtuns nevertheless share a unique sense of common identity. Pashtun identity is based on four elements: Heritage (descent from a common ancestor); Islam (99.9% Muslim); the Pashtunwali Code of Honor ("The Way of the Pashtun"); and to some extent, Language (Pakhtu or Pashto). They live primarily in Afghanistan and Pakistan, though there is a significant Pashtun diaspora in the Arab Gulf and many Western countries.
What Are Their Lives Like?
There have been efforts to reach the Pashtun since 1818, when William Carey translated parts of the Old Testament into Pakhto, based on interaction with Pashtun traders who caravanned (and settled) across north India and beyond. (In South Asia, the name "Pashtun/Pakhtun" was anglicized to "Pathan"—a name immortalized in Rudyard Kipling's novels and British colonial history; today, the Pashtun in India, Bangladesh, and throughout South Asia are known as "Pathan".) The first intentional mission to the Pashtun was launched by the Church Missionary Society in Peshawar, Pakistan (then Northwest India) in 1853. This was followed by over 150 years of faithful witness, through mission hospitals, schools, colleges, literature, friendship evangelism, and other forms of witness by national Pakistani (Punjabi) Christians and expatriate missionaries. Despite this record, and the slow but growing number of scattered Pashtun believers, a vibrant, indigenous, disciple-making movement has yet to take root and spread.
The majority of Pashtun live in Pakistan. Among them are the Isakzai. They are concentrated mainly in the northern and western provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan. The Durand Line (the border established under British colonial rule) divides traditional Pashtun homelands in Afghanistan and present-day Pakistan. However, due to tribal, linguistic, social and economic ties, the border is porous, and volatile—fertile ground for the drug trade, smuggling, and cross-border militancy.
More significant than dialectical differences, a Pashtun's primary loyalty is to his particular social group (tribe or sub-tribe). This loyalty supersedes their loyalty to either Afghanistan or Pakistan, their two major countries of origin.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Be they in Afghanistan or Pakistan, Pashtuns must deal with the Taliban, which rules Afghanistan with an iron fist. The Taliban has a high concentration of Pashtun members. However, different clans might be loyal to them or against them.
Pashtun clans in Pakistan like the Isakzai must make a living in a country that is dominated by a Punjabi speaking elite. They try to protect their identity and interests through groups like the Pashtun Tahafuz (protection) Movement.
In Pakistan one can find Pashtuns in all walks of life, but most are involved in agriculture.
Although most Pakistani Christians are from a former low-caste background and speak Punjabi, some have overcome social, language and prejudice barriers to reach out in love to their Muslim neighbors. Despite growing anti-Western and anti-American sentiment, Pakistan still offers opportunities for investment, learning, business and service. Many expatriates have enjoyed the renowned hospitality and friendship of Pashtuns and other Pakistani peoples.
What Are Their Needs?
Pashtun communities have tremendous potential. If they allowed the Holy Spirit to direct their families and communities, they and those around them would be blessed beyond measure.
Media. Pray for the production and distribution of all forms of media in the Pashto language, including literature, videos, music, movies, radio, websites, and social media. The demand and response have increased!
Scripture. Pray for Bible translations in progress!
Laborers. Pray for more workers to serve among the Pashtun people—in education, business, healthcare, development, and other professional areas!
Believers. No one knows how many Pashtuns are following Jesus. Believers have sewn seeds far and wide. The greatest barriers to faith are social and cultural. Pray for God's Spirit to strengthen and protect new believers and to empower their lives and witness.
Pray for an unstoppable Holy Spirit directed movement to Christ among every Pashtun clan that will abundantly bless them in every way.
Scripture Prayers for the Pashtun Isakzai in Pakistan.