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Afghan War News > Culture > Afghanistan Culture

When I took a decision or adapted an alternative, it was after studying every relevant and many irrelevant factors. Geography, tribal structures, religion, social customs, languages, appetites, standards, all were at my fingertips.
                  Lawrence of Arabia

Afghanistan is one of the more interesting countries in the world. One of the interesting aspects of Afghanistan is its culture; which is extremely different than what most Americans and other 'westerners' have been exposed to. An appreciation of Afghan culture is very important in the understanding of the Afghan society and the ability to interact successfully with Afghan government, military, and police leaders; as well as with the Afghan population in general.

Religion. The predominent religion in Afghanistan is Islam. Ramazan is observed every year by Muslims in Afghanistan. Another important holiday is Eid-al-Adha which lasts about 3-4 days.

Pashtunwali. 'Way of the Pashtuns". Pashtunwali is part of Pashtun culture. It is a non-written ethical code and traditional lifestyle which the Pashtun people (located primarily in eastern and southern Afghanistan) follow. There are ten main principles: hospitality, asylum, justice, bravery, loyalty, righteousness, trust in God, courage, protection of women, and honor. Most of the Pashtun tribes observe Pashtunwali to some degree.

Afghan Weddings. Depending on the ethnic group, income, and region the weddings in Afghanistan vary in custom. Weddings in Kabul among the middle class can be very expensive - some as much as 20 to 30 thousand dollars. 1.

Informational Sources on Pashtunwali:

Learn more about pashtunwali at Wikipedia.

Understanding Afghan Culture: Operational Pashtunwali, Program for Culture and Conflict Studies (CCS), Department of National Security Affairs, Naval Postgraduate School, 15 June 2009.

Afghan Musicians
Army Photo by PFC Derek L. Kuhn

Human Terrain System and Human Terrain Teams. In an effort to help Soldiers become more aware of the dynamics of Afghan society the military fielded teams of social scientists and anthropologists to augment the brigade combat teams deployed to Afghanistan. These teams consisted of 4 to 6 members with varied backgrounds. Learn more about the Human Terrain Teams in Afghanistan.

Military and Government Websites on Culture

Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning. US Marine Corps. Accessed at the following link:

Cross-Cultural Guide - Peace Corps

Culture Awareness: Afghanistan. Peace Support Training Center, Canadian Forces.

Pakistan and Afghanistan Culture Lessons. Prepared for the Marines by the Language Acquisition Resource Center (LARC) at San Diego State University.

Program for Culture & Conflict Studies. Naval Postgraduate School (NPS).

Non-Military Websites on Afghan Culture

Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture

Afghanistan Culture

Afghan Culture. National Geographic Magazine.

Afghan Culture Museum. A 3D online museum on Afghan culture.

Afghan Cultural House. A non-profit cultural umbrella organization.

Afghanistan Culture. Asian Studies Center of Michigan State University.

Afghanistan Language and Culture Program (ALCP). San Diego State University.

Centre for Intercultural Learning

Cultural Affairs Section of The Embassy of Afghanistan (Washington, D.C.).

Culture of Afghanistan by Wikipedia.

Culture of Afghanistan. Central-Asia.Info.

Culture of Afghanistan. By the Afghanistan Language and Culture Program of San Diego State University.

Centre for Intercultural Learning

Culture Revival. By the Afghan Institute of Learning.

Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. University of West Florida. A series of cultural lessons designed to familiarize U.S. military operators with the values, beliefs, behaviors and norms of modern Afghanistan with the intent to minimize culture shock and increase the mission effectiveness of U.S. military personnel operating in the region. Lessons include geography, history, peoples and ethnic groups, languages, religious influences, society and norms, behavior and etiquette, and a cultural summary.

Journal for the Study of Culture, Language and International Security, Institute for the Study of Culture and Language, Norwich University.

Pakistan and Afghanistan Culture Lessons. History, weather & geography, family structure, religion, weddings, government, tribes, economy, poppies, education, Taliban, agriculture, commerce, music, communication, and ANSF. 22 comprehensive video lessons by San Diego State University.

Ramazan. The annual Islamic holy month of Ramadan takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Learn more about Ramazan at the link below.

UNESCO: Afghan Cultural Heritage. . . . /afghanistan/

Blogs about Afghan Culture

Afghan Culture Unveiled. Stories on women, food, and cultural literacy.

Military References on Culture
(listed in chronological order)

U.S. Army, Intelligence, ADRP 2-0, August 2012.

Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL), Afghan Culture, Observations, Insights, and Lessons, Newsletter No. 10-64, September 2010.

Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL), Understanding Afghan Culture, Newsletter No. 12-18, September 2012. Observations, Insights and Lessons.

Department of Defense, Defense Language, Regional Expertise, and Culture Program (DLRECP), Number 5160.41E, August 21, 2015.

Department of Army, Culture Cards: Afghanistan & Islamic Culture, GTA 21-03-022, September 2011. DA, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning, Georgia. Access here on Army Training (and Education) Network (ATN).

Department of the Army, Chapter 3 "Culture", FM 3-24, Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies, May 2014. This extract from FM 3-24 addresses culture and its role in a counterinsurgency operational environment. (Adobe Acrobat PDF, 6 pages long, and 223 KBs big).

Department of Army, Culture Cards: Afghanistan & Islamic Culture, GTA 21-03-022, September 2011. DA, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning, Georgia. Access here on Army Training (and Education) Network (ATN).

Department of the Navy, Operational Culture and Language Training and Readiness (T&R) Manual, NAVMC 3500.65A, January 20, 2012.

NATO HUMINT Centre of Excellence. Human Aspects in Afghanistan Handbook, 2013. Provides information on history, population, social aspects, governance, political aspects, economic aspects, criminality and security threats, communications and media, ANSF, cultural aspects, dos and don'ts, food, clothing, and ethnic groups. An Adobe Acrobat PDF available below.

Unknown Author, Background Brief: Afghanistan – Cultural Appreciation Booklet (FOUO), January 2009.

USMC, Operational Culture for Deploying Personnel, Afghanistan, May 2009.

Wise, Chris J. et al, Methods to Improve Cultural Communication Skills in Special Operating Forces, U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, March 1997.

Yager, Mark, Andi O'Conor, and Kimberly Metcalf. Assessing Cross-cultural Training for Military Advisors, Defense Culture, 2012. . . ./Assessing_Cross_Cultural-Training.pdf

References, Documents, and Reports on Culture


Giustozzi, Dr. Antonio, Nomad-Settler Conflict in Afghanistan Today, Afghanistan Research Evaluation Unit (AREU), November 13, 2019, 70 pages.


Stein, Gil J., et al. Preserving the Cultural Heritage of Afghanistan, The Oriental Institute, the University of Chicago, 2017.


Taliaferro, Aaron, Wade P. Hinkle, and Alexander O. Gallo. "Foreign Culture and its Effect on US Department of Defense Efforts to Train and Advise Foreign Security Forces", Small Wars Journal, November 26, 2014.


Kim, Jason.  “Cultural Awareness and Language Proficiency: Critical for Regionally Aligned Forces”, Small Wars Journal, November 16, 2012.

Kim, Jason.  “Cultural Awareness and Language Proficiency: Critical for Regionally Aligned Forces”, Small Wars Journal, November 16, 2012.


Rosello, Victor M. Soft Skills for 21st Century Land Dominance, Institute of Land Warfare Publication No. 09-1, January 2009. Association of the United States Army. This paper explores the need for servicemen and units who have developed expertise in skills such as language proficiency and cultural awareness to perform certain missions sets.


Merrill, Linda, Donald Paxson, and Thomas Tobey. An Introduction to Afghanistan Culture, UC Davis, Fall 2006. . . . culture . . . pdf


Robson, Barbara, Juliene Lipson, Farid Younos, and Mariam Mehdi. The Afghans: Their History and Culture, published by the Center for Applied Linguistics, The Cultural Orientation Resource Center, 2002. This booklet is a basic introduction to the people, history and culture of Afghanistan and is designed primarily for service providers and others assisting the Afghan refugees in their new communities in the United States. Posted on  World Relief website.

Afghan Cooking and Afghan Foods

Afghan Culture Unveiled. Rich culture, delicious fodd, and stories from Afghanistan.

Food in Afghanistan. By SAARC Tourism Afghanistan.

Landai Season. A traditional winter (or late fall) food feast. Read more in a report by Fazal Muzhary in Landai Season: a delicacy and a feast in rural Afghanistan, Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), December 30, 2015.

Museums in and about Afghanistan

National Museum of Afghanistan.

Women in Afghanistan

Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)

Women in Afghanistan by Afghan War News.

"Bacha Posh". Turning a daughter into a son to compensate for no male children. The girl is raised as a boy. For more on this cultural practice read "Turning daughters into sons, Afghans empower girls", The Boston Globe, May 4, 2014.

Afghanistan Tourism

SAARC Tourism - Afghanistan. South Asian Association for Region Cooperation.

Skiing in Afghanistan. Eventually, many years from now, Afghanistan will boast some awesome ski resorts. Learn more about the potential for skiing in Afghanistan.

Photos of Afghanistan

Afghanistan . TrekEarth - Learning about the world through photography.

Afghanistan As It Once Was, Radio Free Europe. A collection of phontos by William Podlich - a professor who spent two years in Kabul teaching in late 1960s.

Videos on Afghan Culture

Kuchi Nomads: Struggling and Stateless in War-Torn Lands, Radio Free Europe, February 9, 2016. 3 minutes long.

Reviving the Attan; Afghanistan's National Dance, NATO Channel video posted on YouTube about the centuries-old Afghan dance. (Dec 9, 2014, YouTube, 3 mins.).

The Jewellers - Crafting Afghanistan's Future. NATO channel video posted on YouTube about traditional jewellry making in Afghanistan (Oct 22, 2014, 3 mins).

The  Potter -Crafting Afghanistan's Future. NATO channel video posted on YouTube about traditional Afghan pottery (October 21, 2014 , 2 1/ minutes).

Wahkon Corridor of Afghanistan

What Life is Like in the Most Isolated Corridor of the World, Conde Nast Traveler, February 8, 2016.

Other Cultural Aspects or Notes of Interest

Bamiyan Buddhas. For centuries two large Buddha statues stood inside a huge mountain face. In 2001 the Taliban demolished the Buddha's. Read more about this in a news story by The Guardian (Jan 10, 2015).

Buzkashi (or Kokpar). This is the Central Asian sport played amongst Afghans and other peoples of Central Asia. The game takes place on horseback and is sometimes compared to polo (substitute a headless goat for the polo ball).

Bacha Bazi. An ancient practice of Afghan culture is that of Bacha Bazi or dancing boys. Young boys are dressed up as girls and dance for male audiences. There is a dark side of Bacha Bazi that is illegal under current Afghan law.

One Name. Many Afghans have only one name. This is slowly changing. In fact, the Afghan government is currently (2014-2015) conducting a nation-wide population census and it is encouraging Afghans to adopt a surname.

Nomads. The is an ongoing conflict between Kuchi nomads and settlers in Afghanistan that grows worse year by year.

News Reports of about Culture in Afghanistan

April 7, 2015. "Diasporas and Knowledge Societies in the Making: individual challenges and communal opportunities", by Dr. Yahia Baiza, posted on Afghan Professionals Network.

December 28, 2014. "Meet the Afghan Workers Restoring Historic Landmarks Destroyed by the Taliban". Vice News.

December 15, 2014. "American seeks to preserve storied Afghan past". Yahoo! News. Read about Nancy Hatch Dupree.

October 28, 2014. "ISAF advisor's musical past enshrined in Kabul museum". ISAF News. Sakhi Karimi has been working as a cultural advisor for ISAF since 2010. He was a well-known Afghan musician in the 1970s.

September 10, 2014. "The Study and Understudy of Afghanistan's Ethnic Groups: What we know - and don't know", Afghanistan Analysts Network.

October 29, 2013. "An Afghan Tragedy: The Pashtu practice of having sex with young boys". The Independent. Afghanistan's subculture of paedophilia is one of the country's untold shames.

October 3, 2013. "Author Provides Glimpse Into Afghanistan's Secret Subcultures, Hidden Worlds". Radio Free Europe.

August 1, 2013. "Despite West's Efforts, Afghan Youths Cling to Traditional Ways". The New York Times.

July 2, 2013. Afghan Lessons: Culture, Diplomacy, and Counterinsurgency. A book review by the Brookings Institution Press of Fernando Gentilini - a civilian envoy who lived in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2010.

September 28, 2012. "Afghan troops get a lesson in American cultural ignorance". The Washington Post.

September 13, 2012. "The Deadly Consequences of Cultural Insensitivity in Afghanistan". Radio Free Europe.

September 11, 2012. "Fight the Taliban with Afghan Culture". USA Today.

March 6, 2012. "Marines Get Crash Course in Afghan Culture in California Model Village". PBS Newshour. A model Afghan village situated in the desert is helping Marines gain a better understanding of cultural differences. (Video, 8 minutes).

June 13, 2009. "Afghans Share Music, Culture with Servicemembers". American Forces Press Service. Culture night held at Bagram Air Field.

December 2004. "Saving Afghan Culture". National Geographic.

March 2004. "The Impact of War upon Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage". Archaelogical Institute of America.

April 9, 2002. "Looting of Antiquities on the Rise". Institute for War and Peace Reporting. By Walid Baidar.

November 6, 2001. "Afghan Archivist of Culture".




1. For more on a middle-class Afghan wedding in Kabul read "Crashing An Afghan Wedding: No Toasts But Lots of Cheesy Music", NPR Parallels, November 30, 2013.

2. For more on the Afghan government census and encouragement of adopting a surname see "The Politics of Last Names", The Atlantic, January 5, 2015.



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