Among Pakistan's Pashtun, arranged marriages the norm


Farida Begum, a school teacher from Pakistan's northwestern scenic Swat Valley, met her husband on the day of her wedding.

"I had never seen him before. My parents selected him for me, without my consent," the 38-year-old said.

Nine years and three children later, she says she is happy.

For ethnic Pashtun -- who hail from northern Pakistan and parts of bordering Afghanistan -- arranged marriages are a custom several generations have lived with and until recently never questioned.

"In the past teenage marriages were common," Abaseen Yousufzai, a Pashtun poet said. "So parents had to take these decisions. Now as the age of marriage has shifted to the 20s and 30s, young men and women are in a better position to choose their life partners."

In the largely tribal ethnic group, which follows its own set of customs and values called the Pashtunwali, families can make or break an individual.

In such circumstances, marriages are often decided based on tribal affiliations -- or sometimes even to settle scores.

And while love marriages are not unheard of nowadays, many families prefer arranged marriages.

"Most people who had arranged marriages are happy. But those in love marriages have many problems," Yousufzai told Anadolu Agency.

Wadah, is a Pashto word that means marriage but is literally translated as a promise.

Marriages in Pashtun families are big events. After a partner is selected, the families of the bride and groom meet several times to negotiate over the marriage arrangements, particularly the "bride price", or walwar, which goes to the bride when she is engaged.

The greater the walwar the bride fetches, the more she is respected in her husband's house.

However, while the mothers, aunts and sisters take part in the meetings, it is the men who often have the final word.

"Allowing parents to decide your future spouse is a way for children to show that they trust them," Malak Shah Bahder, a 62-year-old Pashtun elder, said.

"They know, parents love them and always care for them. That is why no son or daughter opposes their decision."

Fazal Mula, a 67-year-old elder from Pakistan's northwestern Dir district differs. "We need to follow Islamic principles and clearly take consent of the girl and boy who plan to get married," he told Anadolu Agency.

Islam allows both women and men to choose their life partners.

Recalling his own marriage, Mula said: "One day I came home and my mother told me about my engagement. I couldn't dare to ask her about the girl? I went to my sister and she told me the details."

Pashtun poetry and music are filled with expressions of love. But in real life they are a conservative community, where going public about your sweetheart can result in bloody feuds between tribes.

In addition, marriage between cousins is common, despite medical advice against it and polygamy is still practised. Divorce is so rare that the term divorcee is often used as an abusive name.

Contact Us