Political leadership among Swat Pathans

University of London, The Athlone Press (19) • Published In 1965 • Pages: 8, 143

By: Barth, Fredrik.

This revised Ph.D. thesis is Barth's early attempt to describe the political structure of Pashtun society in the Swat valley of the North-West Frontier Province of Afghanistan prior to state formation. Mutual aspects of patron-client bonds are demonstrated in such contractual relationships as those between tenant and landowner and between craftspersons and village farmers. The focus of political authority is on landowners or those who have rights to land and who preside over a men's house (hujra). Bonds between Saints (in this work mullahs receive less attention as tribal leaders) and their followers are also said to constitute patron-client units. The ability to command a large following signals to rivals that an army can be mobilized should disputes escalate into warfare. Barth asserts that the contractual relationships between leaders and their dependents underlie the territory's political system and the establishment of social order within it. However, while Pashtun may comprise the majority group in certain areas of Swat and only a minority in other regions, it is not clear how Pashtun interests intersect with the wider society. It is not fully explained, though it is implied, that the local disputes between landowners may involve the community outside of the public assembly (jirga) and the two-bloc alliance. The differences between Pashtun-led assemblies and those controlled by Saints are also unclear. Part of the difficulty in identifying the political boundaries referred to in this work stems from the basic analytic framework. Barth uses the Hindu system of social organization to compare the hierarchical and descent groups in Swat and labels these divisions as 'castes' (see pp. 16-22). According to Barth, landownership is the prerequisite for differentiating Pashtun from non-Pashtun. This explanation does not adequately recognize other indigenous kinship criteria which individuals in Swat use to distinguish among themselves. The author's analytical approach seems not to allow for other distinctions between individuals and groups, especially the role of ethnic differences which he and others have elaborated elsewhere.
Political behavior
Culture summary
Acculturation and culture contact
Interpersonal relations
Form and rules of government
Kin groups
Chief executive
Prophets and ascetics
HRAF PubDate
Sub Region
Central Asia
Document Type
Creator Type
Document Rating
5: Excellent Primary Data
Delores Walters ; Gerald Reid ; 1987-1988
Field Date
February - November 1954
Coverage Date
not specified
Coverage Place
Swat valley, northern Pakistan
Fredrik Barth
Contact between British authorities and tribal groups loosely organized under local chiefs is indexed for Acculturation and Culture Change 177. Information regarding the process of redistribution of power to a central Pashtun ruler is indexed for Form and Rules of Government (642) and Chief Executive (643). The political leadership role of saints and mullahs, including their role in initiating holy wars is indexed for the all of the Political Behavior subjects (66*).
Includes bibliographical references (p. 139-141)