Map of Pathan Territory
















 Pushtoon Boy






















The Pathans, or Pukhtara as they call themselves, make up 55% of the population of Afghanistan and 13% of Pakistan. In Pakistan the majority live in the North West Frontier Province. Altogether there are approximately 11.5 million Pathans. In the past they have withstood invasion by Alexander the Great, the Moghul Emperors, the Russians and the British, and have earned themselves a reputation for being proud independent warriors.


All Pathans speak Pushto, of which there are three main dialects and many local variations.

The Pathans have their own moral code, called 'pukhtunwali', which must be adhered to. This code, which is interpreted by the 'jirga' or council of elders, often conflicts with Islamic laws. The pukhtunwali has three main parts:

  • Revenge - This is usually taken over disputes concerning gold, women or land. Revenge is obligatory and may continue through many generations. It either involves the spilling of blood or the law courts.
  • Hospitality - Food, drink and shelter are available for all, and are sometimes pressed upon one to an alarming extent. In its grander forms hospitality has more to do with personal prestige than the well-being of the guest.
  • Refuge - This is the giving of asylum to escapees from the law.

Pathans are mainly farmers. During the twentieth century most changed from a nomadic to a settled lifestyle. In recent years there has been an exodus to the cities to find work. In Karachi alone there are 2 million Pathans.


Primary education for girls is gradually gaining acceptance. Women's lives are heavily influenced by the need to maintain purdah, which means 'curtain'. It describes the segregation of women from all men other than close relatives. When they leave the home all women cover themselves at least with a shawl, but more often with an all-enveloping burkha with only a slit to see through. Marriages are always arranged by the girl's parents.


Pathans say that "to be a Pathan is to be a Muslim". They know of no exceptions. Men and women follow orthodox Sunni Islam. Most learn to read the Qur'an in Arabic. They pray regularly and keep the fast of Ramadan. Some of the religious practices have animistic undertones.


Christian work among the Pathans dates back to William Carey's Serampore Mission which published the first Pushto New Testament in 1818. New translations of the Old and New Testament were published about 1890. A revised New Testament was printed in the early 1990s.


Many Christian groups have attempted to reach the Pathans for Christ but have experienced many difficulties and little fruit. Presently there are only a few workers among them. The Pathans are very resistant to the Gospel. They present one of the strongest challenges to the Christian church.