When I think of how to describe the Afghan culture, I see the contrast of good customs and old traditions that don’t benefit the people the way they once did. Afghanistan is such a traditionalist society. Our customs and traditions are so deeply rooted and established, that today they have the force of law.
The best example is our Jirga system, which means “assemblies.” Jirgas are unofficial gatherings of old, experienced citizens who are supposed to be neutral on a subject of common interest. Jirgas have convened for centuries in our country. For years the decisions of the Jirgas were approved and accepted by all, without a doubt.
Jirgas continue in practice today, but without the same ethical standards and honesty they once had. Now many decisions are made in favor of the powerful and the warlords at the expense of the powerless.
The international community has been working hard to replace this traditional system with a more advanced and honest legal system of justice. Huge funding is being spent on the new system of justice.
Our practice of customs and traditions in Afghanistan even influences our religious beliefs, sometimes in a positive way, but often negatively. Since Taliban rule, these so-called warlords and powerful people started to interpret religious beliefs for their own purposes.
But we have many wonderful customs and traditions. Afghans are a very hospitable people; we love our guests. We serve them well and we try to make them feel at home. Guests are not required to follow our customs, although this changed under Taliban rule. Guests are invited to parties and family events where the traditions are explained to them so they understand and know Afghanistan and Afghans.
Afghans are also tremendously good warriors. There is a very famous statement made by Hitler at the end of World War II when he realized he was defeated. He said the mistake he made was not having soldiers from Afghanistan, commanders who were Turks and weapons from Russia.
We love our nation and religion; we respect it and would die for it. We are good soldiers. People may be on different sides of the argument; some of them are loyal to government and some of them are loyal to opposition, yet both sides fight well.
Some of our worst customs are regarding the lack of liberty and progress allowed to women. Women are prey to family conflicts. Women are sacrificed for the misconduct of their brothers, fathers, or uncles. For example, the exchange of women to resolve a dispute in a murder and the forced marriage of young girls are two grim examples of Afghan customs that do not benefit women.
For most of history our society has been closed. It was not open to the outside world. This had its own impact on our mentality and adoption of traditions.
My teachers and parents say that Afghans in the 1950s and 1960s were thought to be the top nationalists in the world because Afghanistan had so few immigrants coming in. This was thought to be good because our nationalist spirit spared our country from foreign invaders.
However, it was not all positive because we were kept confined within our traditions and culture. Without new concepts coming into the country, Afghanistan was behind in development and scientific progress.
Afghans are traditionally very ethnically oriented, with tribes such as the Pashtoons, Tajiks, and Hazaras.
Our weak governance structure and poor economy makes us easy prey to outsiders’ traps against our nation, and such disloyalties have taken our country to the stage where it stands today.
Photo of mujahideen in 1984 by Erwin Franzen