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Pashtun Traditions versus Western Perceptions

Leo Karrer


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1This ePaper has examined the cultural bases of the disconnect between foreigners’ and locals’ approaches to negotiation in present-day Afghanistan. While extensive literature exists in the fields of  both cross-cultural negotiation and Pashtun (and Afghan) culture, no single publication on the topic of cross-cultural negotiation between foreigners and Afghans exists. This implies that the case of Afghanistan had yet to be discussed in the light of existing Western theories of cross-cultural negotiation. To address this gap, this study surveyed  European and North American civilian foreigners with experience in Afghanistan. The survey included both questions determined by the author to be relevant to negotiations with Afghans and questions borrowed from experts in the field of cross-cultural negotiation, as found in the literature.

2As noted in the introduction, the present research is subject to several methodological limits. Firstly, the very small quantity of survey participants precludes any ambition to statistically significant results. Secondly, as the questions are asked in a very subjective way, the answers cannot be standardised in an objective manner. Third, and most importantly, face-to-face negotiations in Afghanistan are characterised by a very important asymmetry wherein the power distribution often (though not always) heavily favours the foreigner. This phenomenon shades any particular interaction, thus constituting an important bias that must be taken into account when interpreting results.

3Despite these caveats, the survey responses, in conjunction with the authors’ personal observations, nevertheless provide some insights, thus making it possible to demonstrate evidence of a relationship between selected elements of Pashtun tradition and the negotiation behaviour of Afghans. This relationship is postulated to play a major role in the cross-cultural interaction(s) described throughout the paper. These interactions are highly complex, and current cross-cultural theories fail to provide a solid basis upon which to interpret the reality. Afghanistan does not lend itself easily to the simplistic categorisations inherent to the rather bipolar worldview that continues to prevail in Western cross-cultural theory.


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