Culture defines a society, and even the sub-elements within a society. It is also a means to compare and evaluate societies and sub-societies, to determine how and why they act as they do. Such information can enable reasonably accurate predictions as to how people might react or affect situations over which they may or may not have control or influence. As in all such societies, culture is influenced by many different variables such as language, religion, tribe, geography, economics, gender, government, and education. For this newsletter, the Afghan culture variables are addressed in various categories.
Within Afghanistan there are as many cultures and variations of cultures as there are valleys and villages. Given the number and geographical distribution of the tribes and sub-tribes, it is virtually impossible to identify each and every one. Therefore, the training of military and civilian personnel deploying to Afghanistan should focus on what is common throughout the country. Some of the commonalities include:
- Tribal and Islamic cultures are traditional and conservative.
- Tribal codes (honor, revenge, and hospitality) are social controls.
- Tribal identity and loyalty are communal and public and take precedence over individual identity and private loyalty.
- Self-interest and personal gain outweigh the fear of retribution or legal/punitive action and hypocrisy or loss of respect.
- Jirgah is a tribal assembly of elders that makes decisions by consensus. This is most common among Pashtun tribes.
- Shura is Dari for an assembly, an organized body of participants, or administrative body usually called upon for a specific decision making process.
- The most important duty of an Afghan man is to defend and control his assets: women, gold, and land.
- Hospitality is an essential aspect of Afghan culture.
One area the tribal elders have maintained is their resistance to change. Over the centuries very little has changed, to include modernization, which is directly related to economics and isolation.