National Geographic : 2010 Dec
• BY ELIZABETH RUBIN Elizabeth Rubin is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine. Photojournalist Lynsey Addario is based in New Delhi, India. Twenty-five years ago an Afghan girl with green eyes haunted the e greater a Pashtun man's hospitality, the more honor he accrues. If a stranger or an enemy turns up on his doorstep and asks for shelter, his honor depends on taking that person in. If any injury is done to a man's land, women, or gold, it is a matter of honor for him to exact revenge. A man without honor is a man without a shadow, without assets, without dignity. But it is not generally acceptable for Pashtun women to extend hospitality or exact revenge. ey are rarely agents. ey're assets to be traded and fought over---until they can stand it no longer. At a shelter in Kabul for women who have escaped domestic abuse, I heard about a girl from one of the richest Pashtun families in a province bordering Pakistan. She fell in love with a boy from the wrong tribe. Her father killed the boy and four of his brothers, and when he discovered that his own mother had helped his daughter escape her father's wrath, he killed his mother too. Now he is o ering a $100,000 reward for his daughter's dead body. ese are extreme actions by an extreme man. But many Pashtun men perceive that their man- hood and very way of life are under assault---by a foreign military, foreign religious leaders, foreign television, international human rights groups--- and they hold fast to traditions that for so long have de ned what it means to be a Pashtun man. I found a col- lection of landays---"short ones"---the two-line poems the Pashtuns recite to each other at the village well or at wedding celebrations. The book, originally published as Suicide and Song, was compiled by Sayd Bahodine Majrouh, a celebrated Afghan poet and writer assassinated while in exile in Pakistan in 1988. He rst col- lected women's landays in his native Kunar River Valley. Majrouh, a humanist, found glory in these cries from the heart, which defy convention and in many ways mock male honor. From cradle to grave, the Pashtun woman's lot is one of shame and sadness. She is taught that she is undeserving of love. is is why, Majrouh wrote, landays are "a cry of separation" from the idea of love and a revelation of the misery of misalliance. cover of National Geographic. She became the iconic image of Afghanistan's plight, a young refugee fleeing the war between the Soviet- backed communists and the American-backed mujahideen. Today the iconic image of Afghani- stan is again a young woman---Bibi Aisha (page 39), whose husband slashed o her nose and ears as punishment for running away from him and his family. Aisha ed to escape beatings and other abuse. Why do husbands, fathers, brothers-in-law, even mothers-in-law brutalize the women in their families? Are these violent acts the conse- quence of a traditional society suddenly, a er years of isolation and so much war, being hurled into the 21st century? And which Afghans in this society are committing the violence? ere are sig- ni cant di erences between the Hazaras, Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Pashtuns, the most populous and conservative group and the one that has domi- nated political life since the 1880s. In the Pashtun crescent, from Farah Province in the west to Kunar in the northeast, life was---and in many ways still is---organized around the code known as Pashtunwali, the "way of the Pashtun." e foundation of Pashtunwali is a man's honor, judged by three possessions---zar (gold), zamin (land), and zan (women). The principles on which the honorable life is built are melmastia (hospitality), nanawati (shelter or asylum), and badal (justice or revenge).