Honor Matters

Pashtunwali – The Code of the Pashtuns

I heard it said by a Pashtun that he has been a Pashtun for 5,000 years, a Muslim for 1430 years, and a Pakistani for 63 years.  That is the power of the Pashtun identity, one of the oldest and largest ethnic/tribal groups in the world.


Kandahar, Afghanistan, 1992. A group of Pashtun tribal nomads called Kuchis in the desert near Kandahar.

Forty million strong, Pashtuns mainly live in the Pashtun tribal belt which straddles the Afghan/Pakistan border.


Farmer, Jalalabad, Afghanistan, 1992

The legal and moral code by which they live,  deeply embedded in the Pashtun psyche, is the concept of Pashtunwali, the idea that honor, hospitality, revenge,  and the importance of tribe, clan, and family are paramount.


Kabul, Afghanistan, 2002



Pakistan, 1984. Afghan Pashtun Refugees

Fierce fighters, they are said to have been reluctantly admired by the British, Russians, and any other group who tried to subdue them.


Kandahar, 1985

It is said that they are today’s Spartans in a culture that lives and breathes war and conflict.


Kandahar, 1992

The attempt to extend the influence of a national government is antithetical to the Pashtun ways of living.  Outsiders are rejected violently if they threaten to usurp the ancient ways.


Young girl, Ghazni, Afghanistan, 1990

In order to understand current events in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is imperative to understand the mores of this ancient tribe.



Kabul, 2002



Kilns firing bricks to rebuild homes, Kandahar, Afghanistan, 1992

58 Responses to “Honor Matters”

  1. Reblogged this on Edoardo Gobattoni photographer and commented:
    Great shots, congrats !!!

  2. Your pictures always remind me again, that the world is so full of precious beautiful people.

  3. Legendary post, I enjoy this spectacular site,I found you along freshly pressed!

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  4. Barnali Mukherjee Says:


    These are such amazing images!These are rare and terrific.Now Iam reading ‘AThosand Splendid Suns’ and I have already found my Moriom, my Tariq…….!I can feel their tragedy through your pictures. Regards,


  5. Dear Steve,

    Your photography is magical in colors and human spirit.

    Your consistency startling.

    It was and always will be a great honor to having seen your color slides of Afghanistan up close and personal.

    The Gulf War slides were rich in human destruction of our planet.

    Thank you.

    Your images are worth millions.

    Love your Melbourne friend, Anne

    Happy New Year 2011.

  6. Dear Steve,

    Your photography is magical in colors and human spirit.

    Your consistency startling.

    Having worked for you previously in New York, it was a great honor to see your color slides of Afghanistan up close and personal.

    Thank you.

    Your images are worth millions.

    Love your Melbourne friend, Anne

    Happy New Year 2011.

  7. Extremely good.

  8. Dave Conroy Says:

    You know what Steve, your exhibit in Birmingham was great to see and been very popular, but I can’t help feeling that there are so many more images of greater depth that you could show.

    Is it possible to run a series in Birmingham over the course of a year: I would love to see your harder Afghan images there. Not only are they beautifully shot and processed, but they clearly tell an amazing story of life there and of the impact we in the West are having.

  9. Steve, I looked at your photographs and they are stunning – well done!!
    Thank you!

  10. Inspiring, stunning, moving, Eyes are truly the windows into the soul.

  11. La fotografia es algo tan hermoso, bello , tan emotivo y usted capturo cada esencia de las personas, paisajes, que tramite cada sentimiento, Gracias por compartir tan bellisimo trabajo, Es admirable y mas, Gracias por permitirme viajar a tantos lugares hermosos, por tramitir esos sentimientos que los seres humanos nacimos con ellos pero atra vez del tiempo se nos olvidan.

  12. hi Steve i have been great admirer of all your work but specially of the Afghan/pashtun people since i my self am a pashtun. i am looking forward to seeing more of your work in the future

  13. Hello steve, its yr friend anne writing to you from australia, cheeras and greetings me…..I love yr work in the Middle East xox

  14. Steve, these are such amazing images and thank you for going into the Pashtun. Thank you so much for posting them!

  15. Hi Steve,
    What a wonderful representation of the Pashtun identity, one of the oldest and largest ethnic/tribal groups in the world. The photographs are rare and just terrific.
    Many many thanks for showing their world which we may not know without your photographs.
    Partha Pal, India

  16. Amazing, those photos that were taken in the 80’s was just like it was taken yesterday, TIMELESS…

  17. Thank you for the write-up Steve:)

    Some really thoughtful and understanding comments recieved:) it brings commonsense to the equation!

    I’ve come across your first image with the men in Khandahar a few times now and have wondered – are these men simply resting or are the conducting ‘sallah’?

    I can see the portrait of the young girl from the famous city – named after ‘Sultan Mahmood Ghazni’ being a story in itself – with National Geographic mounting some form of search.

    Once again ta very muchly for the write-up. You must miss Afghanistan!


  18. Amazing and beautiful photos as always!
    Thank you.

  19. I loved the image of the young girl Ghazni! great job!

  20. Steve!
    Thanks for all pictures and story behind the pictures.We all learning from your work.
    Mayby something abouth Varanasi and India for next time?
    Un saludo

  21. aswirly Says:

    Each image tells such a powerful story…

  22. Great stories and images. WordPress and blog’s like Steve’s has become the new magazines of our times. Now, if we can only figure out how to make a living doing what we love.

  23. The images are fantastic and a great visual insight as to who they are as a people. Thanks for the post!

  24. This images are incredible.

  25. Thanks for your nice lessons
    great images

  26. Hi Steve,
    I always like your blog. Great story & nice pics.
    Thanks for sharing.

  27. reshma balakrishna Says:

    Hi. Mesmerizing images. Pushtans seem to live in another age and time – which adds to their charm.

  28. Darrell Says:

    Steve, if this is really your official blog, thanks for showing these great photos and telling about the rich history that they illustrate.

  29. These photos are simply amazing. Thanks for sharing about the Pashtuns, too–the Western world seems to get so caught up in the modern boundaries of states that it forgets most of the world wasn’t carved out that way.

  30. Great images and story.. thanks!

  31. Incredibly strong beauty of your portraits, all of them.

  32. Thanks for sharing…Great blog!

  33. Thanks for all the great pictures and primarily thanks for the story behind the pictures!

  34. Just another amazement of your talent in shouting in silence … the first shot is truly impressive.
    Beside all such masterpieces, I’m also looking forward a series of your earliest photos of Asia, during the famous first trip to India.

    Best regards

  35. Hauntingly beautiful blog!!!!

  36. Marc Cappelletti Says:

    I am soooo thankful to come across this blog! Wow. I’ve seen your images through the years and finding them all woven here together is so inspiring. Thanks!

  37. This is one of my favorite series you’ve posted, for the insight into a culture I’ve never “seen” and the wonderful character of the photos. The “young girl’ reminds me of your most famous image. I love the way her elbow juts forward to match the intensity of her expression.

  38. I simply enjoyed reading and viewing your post.

  39. Wow. This is really nice. I’m a pushtoon and its awesome to read positive stuff about us for a change:)

  40. wow – these images say it all! this is a great post.


  41. gloriadelia Says:

    I just spent quite awhile oohing and awing over your other photographs on your web site: http://www.stevemccurry.com/main.php

    Wow. I would love to be a photographer, but I can’t say I’d love to be in the places you’ve been to get the great shots you’ve gotten.

  42. Another fantastic blog post……thank you so much. If having the most beautiful photographs were not enough, your insights into the people you photograph and how they are affected by events that make us all shake our heads in disbelief, are invaluable.

  43. Thank you Steve for another post that challenges racial, ethnic, and religious intolerance. I am touched most by the picture of the man and boy who are both amputees, ravaged by war, who stay their ground smiling…
    One can not kill indomitable spirit; indomitable faith. Stephanie Alt, MS

  44. I’m guessing that as well as oldest and largest ethnic groups, we could also add most misunderstood.

  45. Stunning images…absolutely gorgeous! The image of the Farmer and the Young Girl took my breath away. Thank you for sharing.

  46. Hi Steve,

    I have a very long list of notable Indian Pashtuns, few of them are former president of India Dr. Zakir Hussain, famous actors like Dilip Kumar (Yusuf Khan), Shah Rukh Khan and cricketer Irfan Pathan, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi. Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi is also Nawab of Pataudi state.

    There are a large number of Pashtuns settled in North India, it will be interesting to find how and when they moved to India and from where.

    They are respected for their “Words”.:)


  47. gloriadelia Says:

    Oh, congratulations on being on the wordpress homepage!

  48. gloriadelia Says:

    Beautiful pictures. Especially love the portrait of the farmer near the top. Thanks for the insight into how these people live and think. It’s amazing how many of them there are — 40 million! Wow.


  49. Wow, such a simple and powerful post. Thank you Steve. Gerry had it spot on above.

  50. very cool, very nice!!!

  51. Dear Steve,

    as I mentioned before on other post of you, they have another view of moral and ethical view than the western have. It is difficult to believe that democratization could be adapted on such culture. Who are we, who wants to change they way of life? Again beautiful images as always.


    Jos Runarka

  52. Having read and enjoyed your blog and pictures, I wonder all the more why we are fighting in Afghanistan?

  53. The pictures on your blog continue to mesmerize. You allow me a very personal glimpse into haunting faces from cultures which I would never have gotten to see otherwise.

  54. Steve

    Thanks for the wonderful images, but more importantly for helping me understand, in a single blog, more about the Pashtun than I ever have before. Are you still able to access these proud people?


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