An Economic Interpretation of the Pashtunwalli

Tom Ginsburg

This essay analyzes the Pashtunwalli, the tribal code of the Pashtuns, from a political economy perspective. Though it bears some similarity with customary laws of other Afghan tribes, the Pashtun customs are distinctive both for their persistence and harshness. The norms of the Pashtunwalli provide an illustration of the logic of retaliation in private legal systems as well as an institutional solution โ€“ the jirga โ€“ to minimize the threat of escalation. The paper also considers two normative problems associated with the Pashtunwalli: gender inequities and relatively high levels of violence. It considers a simple strategy for introducing greater normative coherence to the Pashtunwalli that might also ameliorate its morally troubling aspects โ€“ the expansion of literacy. While not a panacea, greater levels of education could potentially facilitate clearer substantive norms as well as improved quality of life for women.