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پښتون Paṣ̌tun
Sultan-Ibrahim-Lodhi 140x190.jpgShershah 140x190.jpgAbdul-Rahman-Momand 140x190.jpg
Khushal-Khan-Khattak 140x190.jpgMirwais-Hotak 140x190.jpgAhmad-Shah-Durani 140x190.jpg
MohammadAyoubKhan 140x190.jpgAmeer Abdurahman Khan 140x190.jpgKing Amanullah Khan 140x190.jpg
Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan 140x190.jpgAbdul Ahad Momand 140x190.jpgHamid Karzai 2004-06-14 140x190.jpg
Ibrahim Lodi · Sher Shah Suri · Rahman Baba
Khushal · Mirwais Hotak · Ahmad Shah Durrani
Ayub Khan · Abdur Rahman Khan · Amanullah
Ghaffar Khan · Momand · Hamid Karzai
Total population
ca. 52 million 
Regions with significant populations
 Pakistan 28 million (2005) [1][2]
 Afghanistan 12 million (2009) [3]
 India 11,086 (2001) [4]
 UAE 315,524 (2008) [5]
 United Kingdom 100,000 (2009) [6]
 Canada 26,000 (2006) [7]
 United States 7,710 (2000) [8]
 Malaysia 5,100 (2008) [9]

Persian or Urdu also spoken widely as second languages


Islam, predominantly Hanafi Sunni with a tiny Twelver Shia minority

Pashtuns (Pashto: پښتون Paṣ̌tun, Pax̌tun, also rendered as Pushtuns, Pakhtuns, Pukhtuns), also called Pathans[10] (Urdu: پٹھان, Hindi: पठान Paṭhān) or ethnic Afghans,[11] are an Eastern Iranian ethno-linguistic group with populations primarily in Afghanistan, North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Mianwali District, Attock District and in the Balochistan Province of Pakistan. The Pashtuns are typically characterized by their usage of the Pashto language and practice of Pashtunwali, which is an ancient traditional living by special codes that has been preserved until modern day.[12]

Pashtun society consists of many tribes and clans which were not politically united[13] until the rise of the Hotaki followed by the Durrani Empire in the early-18th century.[3] Pashtuns played a vital role during the Great Game from the 19th century to the 20th century as they were caught between the imperialist designs of the British and Russian empires. For over 300 years, they reigned as the dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan with nearly every ruler being a Pashtun. More recently, the Pashtuns gained worldwide attention during the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan and with the rise and fall of the Taliban, since they are the main ethnic contingent in the movement. Pashtuns are also an important community in Pakistan, where they have attained the presidency, high positions in the military, and are the second-largest ethnic group.[14]

The Pashtuns are the world's largest (patriarchal) segmentary lineage ethnic group.[15] The total population of the group is estimated to be around 42 million, but an accurate count remains elusive due to the lack of an official census in Afghanistan since 1979.[16] There are an estimated 60 major Pashtun tribes and more than 400 sub-clans.[17]



Predominant Pashtun area marked in blue with lines.

The vast majority of Pashtuns are found in an area stretching from southeastern Afghanistan to northwestern Pakistan. Additional Pashtun communities are found in the Northern Areas of Pakistan and in the Khorasan Province of eastern Iran. There is also a sizeable community in India, which is of largely putative ancestry.[4][18] Smaller Pashtun communities are located in the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, Europe and the Americas, particularly in North America.

Important metropolitan centers of Pashtun culture include Kandahar, Quetta, Peshawar, Jalalabad and Swat. Kabul, Ghazni, and Kunduz are ethnically mixed cities with large Pashtun populations. The city of Karachi in Pakistan hosts one of the largest Pashtun populations in the world.[19] In addition, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, and Lahore also has sizable Pashtun population.

Pashtuns comprise roughly 15.42% of Pakistan's population, or 25.6 million people.[1] In Afghanistan, they make up an estimated 42% of the population, according to the CIA World Factbook.[20] The exact numbers remain uncertain, particularly in Afghanistan, and are affected by approximately 1.7 million Afghan refugees that remain in Pakistan,[21] a majority of which are Pashtuns. Another 937,600 registered Afghans live in Iran, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).[22] A cumulative population assessment suggests a total of around 42 million across the region.[1][3]

History and origins

Pashtun girl template.jpg

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The history of the Pashtun people is ancient, and much of it is not fully researched. Since the 2nd millennium BC, cities in the region now inhabited by Pashtuns have seen invasions and migrations, including by Indo-Iranians, Iranian peoples, Indo-Aryans, Medes, Achaemenids, Mauryas, Scythians, Kushans, Hephthalites, Greeks, Arabs, Turks, Mongols, British, Russians, and more recently by the NATO forces.

There are many conflicting theories about the origin of Pashtuns, some modern and others archaic, both among historians and the Pashtuns themselves. According to most historians and experts, the true origin of the Pashtuns or Afghans is unknown.[23]

...the origin of the Afghans is so obscure, that no one, even among the oldest and most clever of the tribe, can give satisfactory information on this point.[24]
—Mohan Lal, 1846
Looking for the origin of Pashtuns and the Afghans is something like exploring the source of the Amazon. Is there one specific beginning? And are the Pashtuns originally identical with the Afghans? Although the Pashtuns nowadays constitute a clear ethnic group with their own language and culture, there is no evidence whatsoever that all modern Pashtuns share the same ethnic origin. In fact it is highly unlikely.[25]
—Willem Vogelsang, 2002

Ancient references

The Arachosia Satrapy and the Pactyan people during the Achaemenid Empire in 500 B.C.

A variety of ancient groups with eponyms similar to either Pashtun or Pukhtun have been hypothesized as possible ancestors of modern Pashtuns. The Greek historian Herodotus mentioned a people called Pactyans, living in the Achaemenid's Arachosia Satrapy as early as the 1st millennium BC,[26] but their connection to Pashtuns remains unclear. Similarly, the Rig-Veda mentions a tribe called the Pakthas[27] (in the region of Pakhat) inhabiting eastern Afghanistan and some academics have proposed a connection with modern Pashtuns, but this too remains speculative.[28] Ahmad Hasan Dani, a popular Pakistani historian from Islamabad, believed that Gandhara was part of an ancient Pashtun kingdom.[29]

In the Middle Ages until the advent of the modern state of Afghanistan in 1747 and the division of Pashtun territory by the 1893 Durand Line border, Pashtuns were often referred to as ethnic Afghans. It was used to refer to a common legendary ancestor known as Afghana.[30] Hiven Tsiang, a Chinese pilgrim, visiting the Afghanistan area in 629 AD speaks about Afghan tribes in Zhob.[31] According to several scholars such as V. Minorsky, W.K. Frazier Tyler and M.C. Gillet,[32] the word "Afghan" first appears in the 982 AD Hudud-al-Alam, where a reference is made to an Afghan village.[25]

Saul, a pleasant village on a mountain. In it live Afghans.

The village of Saul was probably located near Gardez, Afghanistan.[25] Hudud ul-'alam also speaks of a king in Ninhar, who had Muslim, Afghan, and Hindu wives. Al-Biruni referred to the Afghans in the 11th century as various tribes living along the frontier mountains between Ancient India and Persia.[33]

The most explicit mentioning of the Afghans appears in Al- Baruni’s Ta'rikh al-Hind (eleventh century AD) Here it is said that various tribes of Afghans lived in the mountains in the west of India.[25]
—Willem Vogelsang, 2002

In this geographic location the Afghans would most likely have been in some contact with Indians and the Persians.[34] A famous Moroccan traveller, Ibn Battuta, visiting Kabul in 1333 writes:

We travelled on to Kabul, formerly a vast town, the site of which is now occupied by a tribe of Persians called Afghans.[35]
Ibn Battuta1304–1369

One historical account connects the ethnic Afghans or Pashtuns to a possible Ancient Egyptian past but this also lacks supporting evidence.

...I have read in the Mutla-ul-Anwar, a work written by a respectable author, and which I procured at Burhanpur, a town of Khandesh in the Deccan, that the Afghans are Copts of the race of the Pharaohs; and that when the prophet Moses got the better of that infidel who was overwhelmed in the Red Sea, many of the Copts became converts to the Jewish faith; but others, stubborn and self-willed, refusing to embrace the true faith, leaving their country, came to India, and eventually settled in the Sulimany mountains, where they bore the name of Afghans.[11]

On the contrary, althought this too is unsubstantiated, Afghan historians have maintained that Pashtuns are linked to the ancient Israelites.

The Afghan historians proceed to relate that the children of Israel, both in Ghore and in Arabia, preserved their knowledge of the unity of God and the purity of their religious belief, and that on the appearance of the last and greatest of the prophets (Mohammed) the Afghans of Ghore listened to the invitation of their Arabian brethren, the chief of whom was Khauled (or Caled), son of Waleed, so famous for his conquest of Syria, and marched to the aid of the true faith, under the command of Kyse, afterwards surnamed Abdoolresheed.[36]
—Mohan Lal, 1846

Anthropology and linguistics

Caucasian race includes Pashtun (Afghan), on the right lower row

Racially, Pashtun people are classified as Caucasians. Their Pashto language is classified under the Eastern Iranian sub-branch of the Iranian branch of the Indo-European family of languages. As a result, Pashtuns are often refered to as a group of the Iranian peoples,[23][37] possibly as partial descendants of the Bactrians and Scythians.[38]

Early precursors to the Pashtuns were Old Iranian tribes that spread throughout the eastern Iranian plateau.[39][40] According to academic Yu. V. Gankovsky, the Pashtuns began as a "union of largely East-Iranian tribes which became the initial ethnic stratum of the Pashtun ethnogenesis, dates from the middle of the first millennium CE and is connected with the dissolution of the Epthalite (White Huns) confederacy."[41] Gankovsky proposes Kushan-o-Ephthalite origin for Pashtuns.[41]

Those who speak a dialect of Pashto in the Kandahar region refer to themselves as Pashtuns, while those who speak a Peshawari dialect call themselves Pukhtuns. These native people compose the core of ethnic Pashtuns who are found in southeastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan. Like other Iranian peoples, some Pashtuns have mixed with neighboring groups or new migrants that settled in their region, including invaders. The new settlers eventually adopted the Pashtun way of life, like the Ghaznavids, Khiljis, and others.


Research into human DNA is as a new way to explore historical movements of populations by studying their genetic make-up. Some recent genetic genealogy studies indicate that Pashtuns are mainly related to Iranian peoples and to the Burusho who speak a language isolate.[42][43] There is also evidence of a small Greek contribution to the Pashtun gene pool that will likely require further testing in order to ascertain its pervasiveness.[44] The oral tradition that supposes the theory of Pashtun descent from Israelites is currently being studied by Navras Aafreedi, an Indian Pashtun academic, as well as Indian geneticist Shahnaz Ali, who is collecting DNA samples from Afridi Pashtuns residing in Malihabad, a Pashtun territory safely and easily accessible to those interested in the probable Israelite origins of Pathans; this project is being funded by the government of Israel.[45][46]

Oral traditions

Amir Sher Ali Khan with Prince Abdullah Jan and the Afghan Sardars in 1869.

Some anthropologists lend credence to the mythical oral traditions of the Pashtun tribes themselves. For example, according to the Encyclopaedia of Islam, the theory of Pashtun descent from Israelites is traced to Maghzan-e-Afghani who compiled a history for Khan-e-Jehan Lodhi in the reign of Mughal Emperor Jehangir in the 17th century.

Another book that corresponds with Pashtun historical records, Taaqati-Nasiri, states that in the 7th century BC a people called the Bani Israel settled in the Ghor region of Afghanistan and migrated later to the southeast areas. These references to Bani Israel agree with the commonly held view by Pashtuns that when the twelve tribes of Israel were dispersed (see Israel and Judah and Ten Lost Tribes), the tribe of Joseph, among other Hebrew tribes, settled in the region.[47] This oral tradition is widespread among the Pashtuns. There have been many legends over the centuries of descent from the Ten Lost Tribes after groups converted to Christianity and Islam. Hence the tribal name Yusufzai in Pashto translates to the "son of Joseph". A similar story is told by the 16th century Persian historian, Ferishta.[11]

One conflicting issue in the belief that the Pashtuns descend from the Israelites is that the Ten Lost Tribes were exiled by the ruler of Assyria, while Maghzan-e-Afghani says they were permitted by the ruler to go east to Afghanistan.[citation needed] This inconsistency can be explained by the fact that Persia acquired the lands of the ancient Assyrian Empire when it conquered the Empire of the Medes and Chaldean Babylonia, which had conquered Assyria decades earlier. But no ancient author mentions such a transfer of Israelites further east, or no ancient extra-Biblical texts refer to the Ten Lost Tribes at all.

Other Pashtun tribes claim descent from Arabs, including some even claiming to be descendants of the Islamic prophet Muhammad (referred to as sayeds).[48] Some groups from Peshawar and Kandahar claim to be descended from Ancient Greeks that arrived with Alexander the Great.[42]

Modern era

Zahir Shah became the last King of Afghanistan, reigning from 1933 to 1973.

The Pashtuns are intimately tied to the history of modern Afghanistan and Pakistan. Following Muslim Arab and Turkic conquests from the 7th to 11th centuries, Pashtun ghazis (warriors for the faith) invaded and conquered much of northern India during the Khilji dynasty (1290-1321), Lodhi dynasty (1451-1526) and Suri dynasty (1540-1556). The Pashtuns' modern past stretches back to the Hotaki dynasty (1709-1738) and later the Durrani Empire (1747-1826).[49] The Hotakis were Ghilzai tribesmen, who defeated the Safavid dynasty of Persia and seized control over much of the Persian Empire from 1722 to 1738. This was followed by the conquests of Ahmad Shah Durrani who was a former high-ranking military commander under Nader Shah of Persia. He founded the Afghan Empire that covered most of what is today Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, Indian Punjab, and Khorasan province of Iran.[50] After the fall of the Durrani Empire in 1826, the Barakzai dynasty took control of Afghanistan. Specifically, the Mohamedzai subclan ruled Afghanistan from 1826 to the end of Mohammed Zahir Shah's reign in 1973. This legacy continues into modern times as Afghanistan is run by President Hamid Karzai, who is from the Popalzai tribe of Kandahar.

Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan and head of the Karzai administration since December 2001.

The Pashtuns in Afghanistan resisted British designs upon their territory and kept the Russians at bay during the so-called Great Game. By playing the two empires against each other, Afghanistan remained an independent state and maintained some autonomy (see the Siege of Malakand). But during the reign of Abdur Rahman Khan (1880-1901), Pashtun regions were divided by the Durand Line, and what is today western Pakistan was ceded to British India in 1893.[52] In the 20th century, many politically-active Pashtun leaders living under British rule in the North-West Frontier Province of colonial India supported Indian independence, including Khan Wali Khan and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (both members of the Khudai Khidmatgar, popularly referred to as the Surkh posh or "the Red shirts"), and were inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent method of resistance.[53][54] Later, in the 1970s, Khan Wali Khan pressed for more autonomy for Pashtuns in Pakistan. Many Pashtuns also worked in the Muslim League to fight for an independent Pakistan, including Abdur Rab Nishtar (a close associate of Muhammad Ali Jinnah) and Yusuf Khattak, among others.[55][56]

Pashtuns in Afghanistan attained complete independence from British intervention during the reign of King Amanullah Khan, following the Third Anglo-Afghan War. The monarchy ended when Sardar Daoud Khan seized control of Afghanistan in 1973. This opened the door to Soviet intervention and culminated in the Communist Saur Revolution in 1978. Starting in the late 1970s, many Pashtuns joined the Mujahideen opposition against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In the late 1990s, Pashtuns became known for being the primary ethnic group that comprised the Taliban, which was a religious government based on Islamic sharia law.[57] The Taliban government was ousted in late 2001 during the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and replaced with the current Karzai administration, which is dominated by Pashtun ministers.[58]

Pashtuns have played an important role in the regions of South and Central Asia, including the Middle East. The Afghan royal family, which was represented by king Zahir Shah, is of ethnic Pashtun origin. Other prominent Pashtuns include the 17th-century warrior poet Khushal Khan Khattak, "Iron" Emir Abdur Rahman Khan, and in modern times Afghan Astronaut Abdul Ahad Mohmand and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad among many others. In Pakistan, ethnic Pashtuns, notably Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Ghulam Ishaq Khan, attained the Presidency. A number of Pakistani Pashtuns also held high government posts, such as Army Chief Gul Hassan Khan, Abdul Waheed Kakar, Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Sherpao, and etc. Similarly, one of India's former presidents, Dr. Zakir Hussain, was a Pashtun of the Afridi tribe who came from an upper middle class Pashtun family settled in Farrukhabad.[59][60][61][62][63] Mohammad Yunus, India's former ambassador to Algeria and advisor to Indira Gandhi, is an ethnic Pashtun related to the legendary Bacha Khan.[64][65][66][67]

Pashtuns defined

Among historians, anthropologists, and the Pashtuns themselves, there is some debate as to who exactly is a Pashtun. The most prominent views are:

These three definitions may be described as the ethno-linguistic definition, the religious-cultural definition, and the patrilineal definition, respectively.

Ethnic definition

The ethno-linguistic definition is the most prominent and accepted view as to who is and is not a Pashtun.[70] Generally, this most common view holds that Pashtuns are defined within the parameters of having mainly eastern Iranian ethnic origins, sharing a common language, culture and history, living in relatively close geographic proximity to each other, and acknowledging each other as kinsmen. Thus, tribes that speak disparate yet mutually intelligible dialects of Pashto acknowledge each other as ethnic Pashtuns and even subscribe to certain dialects as "proper", such as the Pukhtu spoken by the Yousafzai and the Pashto spoken by the Durrani in Kandahar.[71] These criteria tend to be used by most Pashtuns in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Cultural definition

Bollywood superstar, Shahrukh Khan, is a non-Pashto-speaking Indian Pashtun of Afghan descent.[72][73]

The religious and cultural definition is more stringent and requires Pashtuns to be Muslim and adhere to the Pashtunwali code.[74] This is the most prevalent view among more orthodox and conservative tribesmen who do not recognize anyone of the Jewish faith as a Pashtun, even if they themselves faultfully claim to be of Hebrew ancestry as some tribes do. Pashtun intellectuals and academics tend to be more flexible and sometimes define who is Pashtun based on other criteria. Pashtun society is not homogenous by religion: Majority Pashtuns are Sunni Muslims, while there is at least one Shia tribe (Turi) in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Pakistani Jews and Afghan Jews, once numbering in the thousands, have largely relocated to Israel and the United States.[75]

Ancestral definition

The patrilineal definition is based on an important orthodox law of Pashtunwali which mainly requires that only those who have a Pashtun father are Pashtun. This law has maintained the tradition of exclusively patriarchal tribal lineage. This definition places less emphasis on what language one speaks, such as Pashto, Persian, Urdu or English. For example, the Pathans in India have lost both the language and presumably many of the ways of their putative ancestors, but trace their fathers' ethnic heritage to the Pashtun tribes. One example is Bollywood superstar, Shahrukh Khan, who still proudly considers himself Pathan or ethnic Afghan but has married a Punjabi woman (Gauri Khan) with whom he has children.[72][73]

Putative ancestry

There are various communities who claim Pashtun descent but are largely found among other groups in South and Central Asia who generally do not speak Pashto. Those communities are often considered overlapping groups or are simply assigned to the ethno-linguistic group that corresponds to their geographic location and mother tongue. They include various non-Pashtun Afghans who often speak Persian rather than Pashto.[3]

Ayub Khan, President of Pakistan from 1958 to 1969, was a non-Pashto-speaker from the Tareen tribe of Abbottabad.

Many claimants of Pashtun heritage in South Asia have mixed with local Muslim populations and refer to themselves (and to Pashto-speaking Pashtuns) as "Pathans", the Hindi-Urdu variant of Pashtun.[76][77] These populations are usually only part-Pashtun, to varying degrees, and often trace their Pashtun ancestry putatively through a paternal lineage, and are not universally viewed as ethnic Pashtuns (see section on Pashtuns Defined for further analysis).

Some groups claiming Pashtun descent live close to Pashtuns, such as the Hindkowans, who are sometimes referred to as "Punjabi Pathans".[78] The Hindkowans speak Hindko and are considered to have mixed Pashtun and local origins.[79] They are a large minority in major cities such as Peshawar, Kohat, Mardan, and Dera Ismail Khan and in mixed districts including Haripur, Abbottabad and Attock, where they are often bilingual in Hindko and Pashto.

Some Indians claim descent from Pashtun soldiers who settled in India by marrying local women during the Muslim conquest in the Indian subcontinent.[18] No specific population figures exist, as claimants of Pashtun descent are spread throughout the country. Notably, the Rohilla Pashtuns, after their defeat by the British, are known to have settled in parts of North India and intermarried with local ethnic groups. They are believed to have been bilingual in Pashto and Urdu until the mid-19th century. Some Urdu-speaking Muslims claiming descent from Pashtuns moved to Pakistan after independence in 1947. Also, the repression of Rohilla Pashtuns by the British in the late 19th century caused thousands to flee to the Dutch colony of Guyana and Suriname in South America.[80]

During the mid-19th century, around the time when the British were accepting peasants from across India as indentured servants to work in the Caribbean, South Africa and Fiji, some Pashtuns from the North-West Frontier Province and Balochistan, were sent to places as far as Trinidad, Surinam and Guyana (see above) and Fiji, to work with other Indians (Hindu and Muslim) on the sugarcane fields and perform manual labor. During this period, many immigrants from India stayed on in these places and formed unique communities of their own where ethnic distinctions were often blurred, save for religious ones. Most of the Pashtun migrants ended up mixing in with the other South Asian Muslim nationalities to form a common Indian Muslim community in tandem with the larger Indian community, losing their distinctive heritage. Their descendants mostly speak Urdu or English and are no longer conversant in Pashto.


Pashtun culture was formed over the course of many centuries. Pre-Islamic traditions, probably dating back to as far as Alexander's conquest in 330 BC, survived in the form of traditional dances, while literary styles and music largely reflect strong influence from the Persian tradition and regional musical instruments fused with localized variants and interpretation. Pashtun culture is a unique blend of native customs and strong influences from Central, South and West Asia.


From left to right: Jamaluddin Badar, Nuristan provincial governor, Lutfullah Mashal, Laghman governor, Gul Agha Sherzai, Nangarhar governor, and Fazlullah Wahidi, Kunar governor, huddle together prior to the start of the first regional Jirga Oct. 22, 2009, to talk about peace, prosperity and the rehabilitation of Afghanistan.

The Pashtuns speak Pashto, an Indo-European language. It belongs to the Iranian sub-group of the Indo-Iranian branch.[81] It can be further delineated within Eastern Iranian and Southeastern Iranian. Pashto is written in the Perso-Arabic script and is divided into two main dialects, the northern "Pukhtu" and the southern "Pashto".

Pashto has ancient origins and bears similarities to extinct languages such as Avestan and Bactrian.[82] Its closest modern relatives include Pamir languages, such as Shughni and Wakhi, and Ossetic. Pashto has an ancient legacy of borrowing vocabulary from neighboring languages including Persian and Vedic Sanskrit. Invaders have left vestiges as well as Pashto has borrowed words from Ancient Greek, Arabic and Turkic, sometimes due to invasions. Modern borrowings come primarily from English.[83]

Fluency in Pashto is often the main determinant of group acceptance as to who is considered a Pashtun. Pashtun nationalism emerged following the rise of Pashto poetry that linked language and ethnic identity. This started with the work of Khushal Khan Khattak and continued with his grandson Afzal Khan (author of Tarikh-e Morassa, a history of the Pashtun people).[83]

Pashto has national status in Afghanistan and regional status in Pakistan. In addition to their mother-tongue, many Pashtuns are fluent in Dari (Afghan Persian), Urdu and English.


A mosque in Lashkar Gah, southern Afghanistan

The overwhelming majority of Pashtuns follow Sunni Islam, mainly the Hanafi school. A tiny population of Shi'a Pashtuns exist in the northeastern Paktia Province of Afghanistan and the neighboring Kurram area of NWFP in Pakistan. The Shia Pashtuns mostly belong to the Turi tribe while the Bangash tribe is approximately 50% Shia and 50% Sunni, whom live mainly in the Kohat area of Pakistan.

Studies conducted among the Ghilzai reveal strong links between tribal affiliation and membership in the larger ummah (Islamic community). Afghan historians believe that Pashtuns are descendants of Qais Abdur Rashid, who is purported to have been an early convert to Islam and thus bequeathed the faith to the early Pashtun population.[36][11][84] The legend says that after Qais heard of the new religion of Islam, he traveled to meet Muhammad in Medina and returned to Afghanistan as a Muslim. He purportedly had four children, Sarban, Batan, Ghourghusht and Karlan. It is believed that some Pashtuns may have been Zoroastrians, Hindus, Jews or Shamanists before Islam was introduced to them in the 7th century. A number of them may even have practiced Buddhism. However, these theories remain without conclusive evidence.

A legacy of Sufi activity may be found in Pashtun regions[citation needed], as evident in song and dance. Many Pashtuns are prominent Ulema, Islamic scholars, such as Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan who translated the Noble Quran and Sahih Al-Bukhari and many other books to English.[85]

Lastly, little information is available on non-Muslim Pashtuns as there is limited data regarding irreligious groups and minorities, especially since many of the Hindu and Sikh Pashtuns migrated from Pakhtunkhwa after the partition of India and later, after the rise of the Taliban.[86][87] There is, however, an affirmed community of Sikh Pashtuns residing in Peshawar, Parachinar, and in the Orakzai Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.[88] In addition, the legendary Kapoor family, despite being Hindu, claims to be Pathan as well.[89][90][91][92][93]


The term "Pakhto" or "Pashto" from which the Pashtuns derive their name is not merely the name of their language, but is synonymous with a pre-Islamic honor code/religion formally known as Pashtunwali (or Pakhtunwali). Pashtunwali governs and regulates nearly all aspects of Pashtun life ranging from tribal affairs to individual "honor" (nang) and behavior.

Numerous intricate tenets of Pashtunwali influence Pashtun social behavior. One of the better known tenets is Melmastia, hospitality and asylum to all guests seeking help. Perceived injustice calls for Badal, swift revenge. A popular Pashtun saying, "Revenge is a dish best served cold", was borrowed by the British and popularized in the West.[94] Men are expected to protect Zan, Zar, Zameen, which translates to women, treasure, and land. Some aspects promote peaceful co-existence, such as Nanawati, the humble admission of guilt for a wrong committed, which should result in automatic forgiveness from the wronged party. Other aspects of Pashtunwali have attracted widespread criticism, particularly with respect to its influence on women's rights and so-called "honour killings".[95] These and other basic precepts of Pashtunwali continue to be followed by many Pashtuns, especially in rural areas.

Pashto literature and media

Mahmud Tarzi, pioneer of journalism in Afghanistan, with his wife Asma Rasmiya.

Throughout Pashtun history, poets, prophets, kings and warriors have been among the most revered members of society. But for much of that history literature has not played a major role, because Persian was the literary lingua franca for neighboring peoples and was generally relied on for writing. Early written records of Pashto began to appear by the 16th century. The earliest describes Sheikh Mali's conquest of Swat.[96] The advent of Pashto poetry and the revered works of Khushal Khan Khattak and Rahman Baba in the 17th century helped transition Pashto to the modern period.[97] In the 20th century, Pashto literature gained significant prominence with poetry by Ameer Hamza Shinwari who developed Pashto Ghazals.[98] In 1919, Mahmud Tarzi published Seraj-al-Akhbar, which became the first newspaper in Afghanistan. His work was in Pashto and in Dari language, the country's other major language.

Recently, Pashto literature has received increased patronage, but many Pashtuns continue to rely on oral tradition due to relatively low literacy rates. Pashto media outlets also play a major role in everyday life. Several Pashto TV channels are available in Pashtun regions. The leading one is AVT Khyber, which keeps Pashtuns united and informed about everyday issues, and amused with entertainment programs.[99]

Pashtun males continue to meet at chai khaanas, tea cafes, to listen and relate various oral tales of valor and history. Despite the general male dominance of Pashto oral story-telling, Pashtun society is also marked by some matriarchal tendencies.[100] Folktales involving reverence for Pashtun mothers and matriarchs are common and are passed down from parent to child, as is most Pashtun heritage, through a rich oral tradition that has survived the ravages of time.


Traditional sports include naiza bazi, which involves horsemen who compete in spear throwing.[101] Polo is also an ancient traditional sport in the region and is popular among many tribesmen such as the Yousafzai. Like other Afghans, Pashtuns also engage in Buzkashi and wrestling (Pehlwani), which is often part of larger sporting events.[102] Cricket is largely a legacy of British rule in Pakistan and India, and many Pashtuns have become prominent participants, such as Shahid Afridi, Imran Khan and Irfan Pathan.[103] The Afghanistan national cricket team is dominated by Pashtun players.

Football is the other most popular sport among the Pashtuns. The current captain of Pakistan national football team, Muhammad Essa, is an ethnic Pashtun from the Baluchistan province. Another top player from the same area was Abdul Wahid Durrani, who scored 15 international goals in 13 games and became the captain of the team. The Afghanistan national football team includes a number of Pashtun players. Other sports in which Pashtuns participate include bodybuilding, martial arts, boxing, and field hockey. In recent decades Hayatullah Khan Durrani, Pride of Performance caving legend from Quetta, has been promoting mountaineering, rock climbing and caving in Pakistan.

Snooker and billiards are played by young Pashtun men, especially in the major cities of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Several prominent international recognized snooker players are from the Pashtun area, including Saleh Mohammed.

Children's games include a form of marbles called buzul-bazi, which is played with the knucklebones of sheep. Although traditionally less involved in sports than boys, young Pashtun girls often play volleyball and basketball, especially in urban areas. A favourite game of the Pashtuns in southwestern Pakistan is yanda, especially in Pishin, Pakistan.

Performing arts

Pashtun performers remain avid participants in various physical forms of expression including dance, sword fighting, and other physical feats. Perhaps the most common form of artistic expression can be seen in the various forms of Pashtun dances.

One of the most prominent dances is Attan, which has ancient roots possibly Greek. A rigorous exercise, Attan is performed as musicians play various native instruments including the dhol (drums), tablas (percussions), rubab (a bowed string instrument), and toola (wooden flute). With a rapid circular motion, dancers perform until no one is left dancing, similar to Sufi whirling dervishes. Numerous other dances are affiliated with various tribes notably from Pakistan including the Khattak Wal Atanrh (eponymously named after the Khattak tribe), Mahsood Wal Atanrh (which, in modern times, involves the juggling of loaded rifles), and Waziro Atanrh among others. A sub-type of the Khattak Wal Atanrh known as the Braghoni involves the use of up to three swords and requires great skill. Young women and girls often entertain at weddings with the Tumbal (tambourine).

Traditional Pashtun music has ties to Klasik (traditional Afghan music heavily inspired by Hindustani classical music), Iranian musical traditions, and other various forms found in South Asia. Popular forms include the ghazal (sung poetry) and Sufi qawwali music. Themes revolve around love and religious introspection. Modern Pashto music is centered around the city of Peshawar due to the wars in Afghanistan, and tends to combine indigenous techniques and instruments with Iranian-inspired Persian music and Indian Filmi music prominent in Bollywood. Some well known Pashto singers include Nashenas, Sardar Ali Takkar, Naghma, Rahim Shah, Farhad Darya, Nazia Iqbal, and a number of others.

Other modern Pashtun media include an established Pashto-language film and television industry that is based in Pakistan. Producers based in Lahore have created Pashto-language films since the 1970s. Pashto films were once popular, but have declined both commercially and critically in recent years. Past films such as Yusuf Khan Sherbano dealt with serious subject matter, traditional stories, and legends. Pashtun lifestyle and issues have been raised by Western and Pashtun expatriate film-makers in recent years. One such film is In This World by British film-maker Michael Winterbottom,[104] which chronicles the struggles of two Afghan youths who leave their refugee camps in Pakistan and try to move to the United Kingdom in search of a better life. Another is the British mini-series Traffik, re-made as the American film Traffic, which featured a Pashtun man (played by Jamal Shah) struggling to survive in a world with few opportunities outside the drug trade.[105] Numerous actors of Pashtun descent work in India's Bollywood film industry, including Shahrukh Khan, Feroz Khan, Kader Khan, and others.


Genealogy of Pashtun tribes

A prominent institution of the Pashtun people is the intricate system of tribes. The Pashtuns remain a predominantly tribal people, but the worldwide trend of urbanization has begun to alter Pashtun society as cities such as Peshawar and Quetta have grown rapidly due to the influx of rural Pashtuns and Afghan refugees.[106] Despit this trend of urbanization, many people still identify themselves with various clans.

The tribal system has several levels of organization: the tribe, tabar, is divided into kinship groups called khels, in turn divided into smaller groups (pllarina or plarganey), each consisting of several extended families called kahols.[107] Pashtun tribes are divided into four 'greater' tribal groups: Sarbans, Batians, Ghurghusht and Karlans.

Another prominent Pashtun institution is the Jirga or 'Senate' of elected elder men. Most decisions in tribal life are made by members of the Jirga, which is the main institution of authority that the largely egalitarian Pashtuns willingly acknowledge as a viable governing body.[108]

Pashtun celebrations and special events are also often national holidays in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A common Turko-Iranian New Year called Nouruz is often observed by Pashtuns.[109] Most prominent are Muslim holidays including Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. Muslim holidays tend to be the most widely observed and commercial activity can come to a halt as large extended families gather in what is often both a religious duty and a festive celebration.


Girls in Kandahar

The lives of Pashtun women vary from those who reside in conservative rural areas, such as the tribal belt, to those found in relatively freer urban centers.[110] Though many Pashtun women remain tribal and illiterate, others have become educated and gainfully employed.[110] The ravages of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the Afghan wars, leading to the rise and fall of the Taliban, caused considerable hardship among Pashtun women, as many of their rights were curtailed by a rigid and inaccurate interpretation of Islamic law. The difficult lives of Afghan female refugees gained considerable notoriety with the iconic image of the so-called "Afghan Girl" (Sharbat Gula) depicted on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic magazine.[111] The male-dominated code of Pashtunwali often constrains women and forces them into designated traditional roles that separate the genders.[112] The pace of change and reform for women has been slow due to the wars in Afghanistan and the isolation and instability of tribal life in Pakistan.

Modern social reform for Pashtun women began in the 20th century. During the early 20th century, Queen Soraya Tarzi of Afghanistan was an early feminist leader whose advocacy of social reforms for women was so radical that it led to the fall of her and her husband King Amanullah's dynasty.[113][114] Civil rights remained an important issue during the tumultuous Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, as feminist leader Meena Keshwar Kamal campaigned for women's rights and founded the Revolutionary Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) in the 1980s.[115]

Today, Pashtun women vary from the traditional housewives who live in seclusion to urban workers, some of whom seek or have attained parity with men.[110] But due to numerous social hurdles, the literacy rate remains considerably lower for Pashtun females than for males.[116][117] Abuse against women is widespread and increasingly being challenged by women's rights organizations which find themselves struggling with conservative religious groups as well as government officials in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. According to researcher Benedicte Grima's book Performance of Emotion Among Paxtun Women, "a powerful ethic of forbearance severely limits the ability of traditional Pashtun women to mitigate the suffering they acknowledge in their lives."[118]

Zeenat Karzai, wife of Hamid Karzai, representing the women of Afghanistan at a meeting in 2005, is sitting on the right next to the former First Lady of the United States, Laura Bush.

Pashtun women often have their legal rights curtailed in favor of their husbands or male relatives. For example, though women are officially allowed to vote in Afghanistan and Pakistan, many have been kept away from ballot boxes by males.[119] Traditionally, Pashtun women have few inheritance rights and are often charged with taking care of large extended families of their spouses.[120] Another tradition that persists is swara, the giving of a female relative to someone in order to rectify a dispute. It was declared illegal in Pakistan in 2000 but continues in tribal regions.[121]

Despite obstacles, many Pashtun women have begun a process of slow change. A rich oral tradition and resurgence of poetry has inspired many Pashtun women seeking to learn to read and write.[100] Further challenging the status quo, Vida Samadzai was selected as Miss Afghanistan in 2003, a feat that was received with a mixture of support from those who back the individual rights of women and those who view such displays as anti-traditionalist and un-Islamic. Some Pashtun women have attained high political office in Pakistan.[citation needed] In Afghanistan, following recent elections, the proportion of female political representatives is one of the highest in the world.[122] A number of Pashtun women are found as TV hosts, journalists, actors and singers on several TV outlets, especially at AVT Khyber.[99] A Pashtun woman, Khatol Mohammadzai, recently became a paratrooper in the Afghan National Army, another one became a fighter pilot in the Pakistan Air Force.[123]

Substantial work remains for Pashtun women to gain equal rights with men, who remain disproportionately dominant in most aspects of Pashtun society. Human rights organizations continue to struggle for greater women's rights, such as the Afghan Women's Network and the Aurat Foundation in Pakistan which aims to protect women from domestic violence.[124][125] Due to recent reforms in the higher education commission (HEC) of Pakistan, a number of competent Pashtun female scholars have been able to win Masters and PhD scholarships. Most of them have proceeded to USA, UK and other developed countries with support from their families.

See also

Notes and references

  • Note: population statistics for Pashtuns (including those without a notation) in foreign countries were derived from various census counts, the UN, the CIA World Factbook and Ethnologue.
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  56. ^ "Mohammad Yousaf Khan Khattak". 
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  58. ^ Afghan Government 2009, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
  59. ^ "Dr. Zakir Hussain, quest for truth (by Ziāʼulḥasan Fārūqī)". APH Publishing. Retrieved 2007–08–01. 
  60. ^ "Islam and the modern age, Volume 29". Islam and the Modern Age Society. Retrieved 2007–08–01. 
  61. ^ "Educational thought". Anmol Publications PVT. LTD.. Retrieved 2007–08–01. 
  62. ^ "Famous Indians of the 21st Century". Pustak Mahal. Retrieved 2007–08–01. 
  63. ^ "Zakir Hussain [1897-1969: President of India"]. Network. Retrieved 2007–08–01. 
  64. ^ Commonwealth and Nehru. Vision Books. Retrieved 2008–04–20. "Talking about one such mission, Mr. Mohammed Yunus narrated a story, ... Mr. Mohammad Yunus, a young Pathan at that time, and relative of Khan Abdul ..." 
  65. ^ The Pathan unarmed: opposition & memory in the North West Frontier. James Currey. "He was visiting his cousin Mohammed Yunus, a Pathan who had chosen to move to Delhi at Partition and become a well-known figure in the Congress regime." 
  66. ^ Encyclopædia of Muslim Biography. A.P.H. Pub. Corp.. "Mohammad Yunus is belong to a rich and distinguished Pathan family and son of Haji Ghulam Samdani (1827 — 1926)." 
  67. ^ "To Islamabad and the Frontier". The Hindu. Retrieved 2007–08–01. 
  68. ^ Pashtun Britannica On-Line (retrieved 18 January 2007).
  69. ^ Understanding Pashto University of Pennsylvania Gazette (retrieved 18 January 2007).
  70. ^ Pakistan: Pakhtuns US Library of Congress (retrieved 18 January 2007).
  71. ^ Pashto National Virtual Translation Center (retrieved 18 January 2007).
  72. ^ a b "Shahrukh Khan is Afghan". Afghan Buzz. Retrieved 2009–06–07. 
  73. ^ a b "The Rediff Interview / Shah Rukh Khan". Rediff. Retrieved 5 July 2006. 
  74. ^ "The Pashtun Code". Archived from the original on 2006-11-17. , The New Yorker (retrieved 18 January 2007).
  75. ^ U.S.: Afghan Jews Keep Traditions Alive Far From Home
  76. ^ Memons, Khojas, Cheliyas, Moplahs.... How Well Do You Know Them? Islamic Voice (magazine) (retrieved 18 January 2007).
  77. ^ "Pathan". Houghton Mifflin Company. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  78. ^ "Pakistan: Ethnic Composition", Encyclopædia Britannica (retrieved 24 March 2007).
  79. ^ Hindko in Kohat and Peshawar Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 43, No. 3 (1980), pp. 482-510 (retrieved 18 January 2007).
  80. ^ Afghans of Guyana, (retrieved 18 January 2007)
  81. ^ Pashto language, alphabet and pronunciation, Omniglot (retrieved 18 January 2007).
  82. ^ Avestan language, Encyclopaedia Britannica (retrieved 18 February 2007).
  83. ^ a b Awde, Nicholas and Asmatullah Sarwan. 2002. Pashto: Dictionary & Phrasebook, New York: Hippocrene Books Inc. ISBN 0-7818-0972-X (retrieved 18 February 2007).
  84. ^ Meaning and Practice, Afghanistan Country Study: Religion, Illinois Institute of Technology (retrieved 18 January 2007).
  85. ^ The Noble Quran (in 9 VOLUMES), Arabic-English, (ed. Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan) (retrieved 18 January 2007).
  86. ^ The clash of fundamentalisms: crusades, jihads and modernity. Verso. Retrieved 2008–04–20. "The friends from Peshawar would speak of Hindu and Sikh Pashtuns who had migrated to India. In the tribal areas - the no-man's - land between Afghanistan and Pakistan - quite a few Hindus stayed on and were protected by the tribal codes. The same was true in Afghanistan itself (till the mujahidin and the Taliban arrived)." 
  87. ^ The call to write. Pearson Longman. Retrieved 2008–04–20. "The friends from Peshawar would speak of Hindu and Sikh Pashtuns who had migrated to India. In the tribal areas - the no-man's - land between Afghanistan and Pakistan - quite a few Hindus stayed on and were protected by the tribal codes. The same was true in Afghanistan itself (till the mujahidin and the Taliban arrived)." 
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Further reading and external links

Simple English

[[File:|thumb|right|170px|Ahmad Shah Durrani was a great Pashtun leader who unified the Pashtun tribes and founded Afghanistan in 1747.]] Pashtuns, also spelled Pushtuns, or Pakhtuns, or Pukhtuns, (Hindi: Pathan, Persian: Afghan), Pashto-speaking people of southeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. They make the majority of the population of Afghanistan.

The Pashtuns claim descent from the ancient Hebrews, though most scholars believe it more likely that they arose from an intermingling of ancient Aryans from the north or west with subsequent invaders.[1]

The Pashtun people follow a strict code of honor, known as Pashtunwāli, that requires them to support the poor, the weak, and the challenged; to fight evil; to provide shelter to anyone who needs it and many more.[2]

The Pashtuns are farmers, herdsmen, and warriors. Most tribesmen are sedentary farmers, combining cultivation with animal husbandry; some are migratory herdsmen and caravaners. Large numbers of them have always been attracted to military service.

There are estimated to be about 12,000,000 Pashtun in Afghanistan and 28,000,000 in Pakistan.[3] They comprise about 60 tribes of varying size and importance, each of which occupies a particular territory. In Afghanistan, where Pashtun are the predominant ethnic group, the main tribes are the Durrānī south of Kabul and the Ghilzay east of Kabul.

In Pakistan, Pashtun predominate north of Quetta between the Sulaiman Range and the Indus River. In the hill areas the main tribes are, from south to north: the Kākaṛ, Shērāni, and Ustarāna south of the Gumal River; the Maḥsūd, Darwēsh Khēl, Wazīrī, and Biṭanī between the Gumal River and Thal; the Tūrī, Bangash, Ōrakzay, Afrīdī, and Shinwārī from Thal to the Khyber Pass; and the Mahmand, Utmān Khēl, Tarklānī, and Yūsufzay north and northeast of the Khyber.

Notes and references

  1. "Pashtun." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2010.
  2. [National Geographic, Travel, Countries, Afghanistan Quiz]
  3. CIA World Factbook

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