Re-emergent Pre-state Substructures: The Case of the Pashtun Tribes

Umar Khan

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

1534 Downloads (Pure)



This study explores borderlands as a function of the imposition of the post-colonial state upon primary structures of identity, polity and social organisation which may be sub-state, national or trans-state in nature. This imposition, particularly in the postcolonial experience of Asia, manifests itself in incongruence between identities of nation and state, between authority and legitimacy, and between beliefs and systems, each of which is most acutely demonstrated in the dynamic borderlands where the competition for influence between non-state and state centres of political gravity is played out.

The instability in borderlands is a product of the re-territorialisation of pre-state primary structures, and the state’s efforts in accommodating, assimilating or suppressing these structures through a combination of militarisation, providing opportunities for greater political enfranchisement, and the structure of trans-borderland economic flows.

The Pashtun tribes of the Afghan borderland between Pakistan and Afghanistan are exhibiting a resurgence of autonomy from the state, as part of the re-territorialisation of the primary substructure of Pakhtunkhwa that underlies southern Afghanistan and north-western Pakistan. This phenomenon is localised, tribally driven, and replicated across the entirety of Pakhtunkhwa. It is a product of the pashtunwali mandated autonomy of zai from which every kor, killi and khel derives its security, and through the protection of which each is able to raise its nang, and is able to realise its position within the larger clan or tribe.

Other examples of competition between postcolonial states and primary structures are the Kurdish experience in south-eastern Turkey and the experience of the Arab state. While manifesting significant peculiarities, all three cases - the Kurds, the Arabs and the Pashtuns - demonstrate that the current configuration of the postcolonial state system in Asia is a fragile construction, imposed upon enduring, pre-state primary structures which are resurgent through competition with the state.

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Halperin, Sandra, Supervisor
  • Khan, Yasmin, Supervisor
Award date1 Oct 2011
Publication statusUnpublished - 1 Oct 2011


  • Pashtun
  • Afghanistan
  • Pakistan
  • borderlands
  • nationalism
  • tribe
  • Durand Line

Cite this