Forbidden Love: Tales From Pashtunkhwa (Working Title)

Here’s an abstract from a project that a dear family friend and I started on the topic of forbidden love stories. The idea came to life a couple of months ago, when I’d casually inquired on Twitter about Pashtuns’ thoughts on the topic of love marriages. After a number of great back and forth commentary, my friend (who is like an older brother to me) and I decided that it would be a great idea that, rather than discussing the topic online, we should compile love stories from the Afg-Pak border and write a full-length book on it. At the time, the idea seemed rather impossible to me, but now, for reasons I will not disclose, it has become a project that both of us are immensely passionate about and hope to complete by the end of 2013.

Also, the idea for this book has already been copyrighted (yes, before I decided to share this abstract, I made sure to go through my lawyer and actually copyright the idea). So, yeah, if you’re the type to steal/copy ideas, well, don’t bother, for you’ll only be causing trouble for yourself. And I mean this in a very nice way. 🙂

Anyway, the abstract below is a very, very rough draft. So, please read it with an open mind. And if you’re Pashtun and have experienced a love marriage, I’d love to hear your story and perhaps even include it in our book (with your full consent of course). Names will be changed for anonymity’s sake (unless you really want your actual names to be on there), but please don’t shy away from sharing. We’d both really appreciate your courage, for it’s not easy sharing such stories, especially if it’s ended up in lost familial ties and heartaches.

So, without further ado, enjoy! Oh, and feedback is always welcome! Please share your thoughts in the comment box below. Thanks!



Love is the emotional, psychological and spiritual need of every human being to survive among the harsh realities of life. It is not a socially limited phenomenon, for people also find love in societies that are marred by war and political instability. If, on the one hand, certain people want to spread hatred and promote violence on the basis of religion, colour, ethnicity, political ideals and economic interests, there are others who believe in the beauty of the human heart and advocate love, humanity, and a peaceful co-existence.

The Pashtun dominated region along the Pak-Afghan border is a land of beauty where snow-capped mountains, gushing rivers, alpine forests, fascinating meadows, and a rich Buddhist cultural heritage make an ideal environment for poetry and love.

Yet, at the same time, the Pashtun society is passing through a transitional phase. The whole region from Swat to Waziristan is in the grip of unprecedented violence, where military operations are in full swing and natural disasters displace families from their ancestral homes. The slow phase of re-habilitation and reconstruction further erodes people’s trust in the State institutions. Confusion, fear and an acute sense of uncertainty prevails, and centuries old Pashtun social values, cultural traditions, and customs are confronted with serious challenges for their survival. A network of militant groups and organizations want to impose their extremist version of Islam on the local communities that is resulting into stifling delicate emotions of the heart.

Romantic love is considered taboo – it is a revolt and an attack on the established moral and ethical system. Not only is romantic love wholly discouraged and condemned, but it sometimes results in the loss of precious human lives.

Hence, Pashtun romanticism is deep, fierce and devastating!

There are characters in Pashtun social history like Adam Khan, Durkhanai, Yousaf Khan, Sherbano, Sher Alam and Mamonai, who followed the call of their hearts and refused to surrender to the exploitative customs and traditions of the society. Perhaps, at that time, Pashtun society condemned and persecuted these revolutionaries; but for the modern Pashtun youth, they are celebrated as heroes and heroines. Such is the power of the human heart!

These romantic tales craft the very soul of Pashtun arts and literature, and inspire generations after generations to pursue their dreams and build their own worlds.

Although, Pashtun romantic folk tales are the stories of unfulfilled love, of betrayals and of immense human sacrifice, it is important to note that romantic love is rarely practiced and showcased openly for the reason that it is considered “forbidden.” This is primarily due to religious and cultural practices, especially if exercised outside the sanctity of marriage. Most Pashtuns have their marriages arranged by their families, and people commonly marry within the tribe or close knit family circles. Any type of love before marriage is considered “taboo,” and commonly ends in tears, broken hearts, lost familial ties/disownment, and perhaps even death. Thus, the idea that “love comes after marriage” is every so often accepted as the norm.

Conversely, this study will attempt to examine the idiosyncratic concept of romantic love and what it means, especially in the Eastern/Pashtun context. It will also take a close look at how romantic love was secretly practiced, among the Pashtun locality, not only in past history, but also in the most recent and current time.

A recent interesting account is that of Pashtuns who were internally displaced not only during the rise of Taliban extremism, in 2008, especially in Swat, but also due to massive flooding that occurred in parts of Pakistan, including Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, in 2010. Albeit, extremism and flooding itself had extremely negative impacts, this was also a time when love was in the air, for young Pashtuns attained the opportunity to meet and fall in love in an open space, unlike that to which they were originally accustomed. Even during the flooding, war, and violence that had forcefully enveloped the region in despair, many Pashtuns were able to escape their horrid realities by creating a separate world in which they lost themselves in the euphoric solace of romantic love. It is no wonder that there was an influx of marriages once the IDPs returned back to their respective homes.

Furthermore, this study will also document romantic love stories of thirty Pashtun couples who have managed to overcome taboos of forbidden love. They are the modern Adam Khans and Durkhanais of our time for they, too, like the historical star-crossed lovers, had to struggle through a plethora of religious and cultural obstacles to be with the one they love. Hence, one will quickly learn, through these personal narratives, how these star-crossed couples have stopped to no end in order to achieve love, even if it meant putting their lives at risk.

However, it is also important to note that despite the positive element of romantic love, not all love stories necessarily have a happy ending. And this topic will also be covered in the study.

All in all, this study strives to examine the changing patterns of romantic love in the modern Pashtun society, and thus want a peek into the hearts of those who want to keep the flame of love alive in a society devastated by decades of war and violence.

© SesapZai and Shaheen Buneri

10 responses to “Forbidden Love: Tales From Pashtunkhwa (Working Title)

  1. all the best shaheen and esapzai.Great idea. I would rather like an illustrated book than mere collection of stories that really gets into the false fabric of depicting pakhtuns customs against love and love marriages. Also interesting would be the phasing of stories- pre displacement, during displacement, and post displacement episodes and how lovers endure all this through prose and poetry.

  2. It will be nice to see some Pushtun love stories that cross the cultural divide. You can find some in Karachi.

  3. i don’t know whether you are a woman or man; but i would like to say; instead of collecting the love stories, as you have time and resources, you must utilize your time and resources to highlight the issues of pathans and atrocities of the foreign aggressors. Moreover, history shows, and till now, pathans are exemplary in giving respect and honor to the women. So, in order to win praises from your aliens friends, please stop attacking the pathan culture.

  4. I strongly believe its a fantastic idea, there is no doubt that Pashtons have many social,political,and economic issues. Pashton/Pathans have been deliberately kept away from education. They have been in conflict with either foreigners or among themselves for the past 60 years.

    Pashtons are the world’s largestg lineage ethnic group with an estimated population of 50 Million,I think sharing their love stories could be productive. We could learn from these stories in order to make the right decisions going forward. Its part of our identity, something that will add a sweet taste of love to our culture, In Islam true love is not foribidden, and its imperative to look at love from a religious point of view as well, rather than considering it an attack on culture.God does not know us by culture,he created us Human first,

    I wish you both lots of success and your effort will not be fruitless that i can tell you for sure. Keep up the great work. May God bless you both.
    Looking forward to it.

    Love is from the infinite, and will remain until eternity.
    The seeker of love escapes the chains of birth and death.
    Tomorrow, when resurrection comes,
    The heart that is not in love will fail the test.
    Maulana Jalalludin Balkhi (Rumi)

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