Pashtun people

پښتون Paṣtun
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Related ethnic groups Neighboring Iranian peoples (Tajiks, Persians, Yaghnobi) · Burusho · Hindkowans · Nuristanis · Pashai

Pashtuns (also Pushtuns, Pakhtuns, Pukhtuns; Pashto/Urdu/Persian: پشتون‎ ​ Paštūn or پختون Paxtūn), or Pathans (Urdu: پٹھان, Hindi: पठान Paṭhān) and/or ethnic Afghans (Persian: افغان‎ ​ Afğān)[11] are an ethno-linguistic group with populations primarily in the North West Frontier Province, Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Balochistan provinces of Pakistan and in eastern and southern Afghanistan. The Pashtuns are typically characterized by their language, Pashto (which belongs to the Iranian subgroup of the Indo-European languages), their adherence to Pashtunwali (a pre-Islamic indigenous religious code of honor and culture) and Islam.[12]

Pashtuns have survived a turbulent history over several millennia, during which they have rarely been united. Their modern past began with the rise of the Durrani Empire in 1747. Pashtun martial prowess has been renowned since Alexander the Great ran up against them in the third century BCE.[13] The Pashtuns were also one of the few groups that managed to impede British imperialism during the 19th century.[14] Pashtuns played a pivotal role in the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979–89), as many joined the ranks of the Mujahideen. The Pashtuns gained notoriety with the rise and fall of the Taliban, since they were the main ethnic contingent in the movement. Modern Pashtuns have been prominent in the rebuilding of Afghanistan where they are the largest ethnic group and are an important community in Pakistan, where they are the second-largest ethnic group.

The Pashtuns are the world's largest (patriarchal) segmentary lineage tribal group.[15] The total population of the group is estimated to be at least 40 million, but an accurate count remains elusive due to the nomadic nature of many tribes, the practice of secluding women and the lack of an official census since the 1970s.




Map showing the major ethnic groups of the region. Green color represent Pashtuns.
Map showing the major ethnic groups of the region. Green color represent Pashtuns.

The vast majority of Pashtuns can be found in an area stretching from western Pakistan to southwestern Afghanistan. Additional colonies can be found in the Northern Areas, Azad Kashmir, Karachi in Pakistan as well as in other parts of Afghanistan. There are smaller communities in Iran and India, and a large migrant worker community in the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. Important metropolitan centers of Pashtun culture include Peshawar and Kandahar, while Quetta and Kabul, though having large Pashtun populations, are more mixed cities of cultural significance.

Pashtuns comprise over 15.42% of Pakistan's population or 25.6 million[4] and about 42% of Afghanistan's population totaling 12.5 million. Though no official census has ever been made in Afghanistan, some higher estimates place speakers of Pashto at 60 to 65% of the population.[16] The exact measure of all of these figures remains uncertain, particularly those for Afghanistan, and are affected by approximately three million Afghan refugees (of which 81.5% or 2.49 million are ethnic Pashtuns) that remain in Pakistan.[3] An indeteminate number of refugees continue to reside in Iran. A cumulative population assessment suggests a total of over 40 million.


History and origins

The history of the Pashtuns is ancient and much of it has yet to be recorded. From the second millennium BCE to the present, Pashtun regions have seen immense migrations including Aryan tribes (Iranian peoples, Indo-Aryans, Medes, and Persians), Scythians, Kushans, Hephthalites, Greeks, Arabs, Turks, and Mongols. There are many conflicting theories about the origins of the Pashtun people, some modern and others archaic, both among historians and the Pashtuns themselves.


Ancient references

The Greek historian Herodotus first mentioned a people called Pactyan living on the eastern frontier of the Persian Satrapy Arachosia as early as the 1st millennium BCE.[17] It has been conjectured that these may be the ancestors of today's Pashtuns, but there is no corroborating evidence for this. In addition, the Rig-Veda mentions a tribe called the Pakthas (in the region of Pakhat) as inhabiting present-day Afghanistan-Pakistan area and some have speculated that they may have been early ancestors of the Pashtuns, but this too remains unproven. The Bactrians appear to have spoken a related Middle Iranian language and it is conceivable that at least some Pashtuns are partially related to them.

Pashtuns are also historically referred to as ethnic Afghans as the terms Pashtun and Afghan were synonymous until the advent of modern Afghanistan and the division of the Pashtuns by the Durand Line, a dividing line drawn by the British in the late 19th century. According to V. Minorsky, W.K. Frazier Tyler, M.C. Gillet and several other scholars, "The word Afghan first appears in history in the Hudud-al-Alam in 982 CE."[18] It was used by the Pashtuns and refers to a common legendary ancestor known as Afghana.

It is often hypothesized that the Pashtuns emerged from the area around Kandahar and the Suleiman Mountains and began expanding millennia ago. In this geographic location they would have often been in close contact with the Persians, while according to archaeological, morphological and hermeneutic evidence many Pashtuns were most likely Pagan, with sizable minorities of Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians and Jews prior to the arrival of Muslim Arabs in the eighth century CE.[19]


Anthropology and linguistics

The origins of the Pashtuns are not entirely clear,[20] but their language is classified as an Eastern Iranian tongue, itself a sub-branch of the Indo-Iranian branch of the greater Indo-European family of languages, and thus the Pashtuns are often classified as an Iranian people,[21][22] [23] possibly as partial modern-day descendants of the Scythians, an ancient Iranian group.[24] According to many academics, such as 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."[25][26] These tribes, who most likely spoke an early version of modern Pashto, survived countless invasions and spread throughout the northeastern Iranian plateau.

The Pashto-speaking Pashtuns refer to themselves as Pashtuns or Pukhtuns depending upon whether they are speakers of the southern dialect or northern dialect respectively. These Pashtuns compose the core of ethnic Pashtuns who are predominantly an Iranian people are found in western Pakistan and southern-eastern Afghanistan. Many Pashtuns have however intermingled with various invaders, neighboring groups, and migrants (as have the other Iranian peoples) including possibly the Ghilzai who may have mingled with Turkic tribes[27]. In terms of phenotype, the Pashto-speaking Pashtuns overall are predominantly a Mediterranean Caucasoid people, often with varying degrees of mongoloid admixture, but light hair and eye colours are not uncommon, especially among remote mountain tribes.[28]


Oral traditions and recent research

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 seventeenth century CE. Another book, that corresponds with most Pashtun historical records, Taaqati-Nasiri, states that in the seventh century a people called the Bani Israel settled in Ghor, southeast of Herat, Afghanistan-Pakistan area and then migrated south and east. These Bani Israel references are in line with the commonly held view by Pashtuns that when the twelve tribes of Israel were dispersed (see Israel and Judah and Lost Ten Tribes), the tribe of Joseph, among other Hebrew tribes, settled in the region. Hence the term 'Yusef Zai' in Pashto translates to the 'sons of Joseph'. A similar story is told by Ferishta.[29]

Maghzan-e-Afghani's Bani-Israel theory has largely been debunked due to historical and linguistic inconsistencies. The oral tradition is believed to be a myth that grew out of a political and cultural struggle between Pashtuns and Mughals, which explains the historical backdrop for the creation of the myth, the inconsistencies of the mythology, and the linguistic research that refutes any Semitic origins.[30]

Other Pashtun tribes claim descent from Arabs including some even claiming to be descendants of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad (popularly referred to as sayyids). Some groups from Peshawar and Kandahar (such as the Afridis, Khattaks and Sadozais) also claim to be descended from Greeks in the time of Alexander the Great.



Research into human DNA has emerged as a new and innovative tool being used to explore the genetic make-up of various populations in order to ascertain historical population movements. According to some genetic research (the source of which is disclosed under the references section below regarding a random sampling of Pashtun populations without specification as to which Pashtun tribes were tested in western Pakistan) the anthropological evidence that the Pashto-speaking Pashtuns are related to other Iranian groups as well as the Burusho of the Northern Areas of Pakistan, who speak a language isolate.[31] The genetic testing, though still in its initial phases, has not shown any substantial connection between the general Pashtun population sampled to the genetic markers found among most Greeks, Jews, or Arabs. What may be the case is that the genetically Pashtuns have slightly changed over time by due to various migrations in the area, while still maintaining an eastern Iranian base genetically overall. Ultimately, a more detailed and wider sampling of Pashtun DNA will be required before the conclusions can be seen as representative of the majority Pashtun population.


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.[36] 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 will 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. These criteria tend to be used by most Pashtuns in Pakistan and Afghanistan as the basis for who can be counted as a Pashtun.


Cultural definition

The religious and cultural definition is more stringent and requires Pashtuns to be Muslim and adherents of the Pashtunwali code. This is the most prevalent view among the more orthodox and conservative tribesmen who do not view Pashtuns of the Jewish faith as actual Pashtuns even if they themselves might claim to be of Hebrew ancestry depending upon which tribe is in question. The religious definition for Pashtuns is partially based upon the laws of Pashtunwali, and that those who are Pashtun must follow and honor Pashtunwali. However, Pashtun society is not entirely homogenous in the religious sense, as Pashtuns, who are predominantly Sunni Muslims, can also be followers of the Shia sect among others. In addition, the Pakistani Jews and Afghan Jewish population (once numbering in the thousands) has largely relocated to Israel. Overall, more flexibility can be found among Pashtun intellectuals and academics who sometimes simply define who is and is not a Pashtun based upon other criteria that often excludes religion.


Ancestral definition

The patrilineal definition is based on an important orthodox law of Pashtunwali. Its main requirement is that anyone claiming to be a Pashtun must have a Pashtun father. This law has maintained the tradition of exclusively patriarchal tribal lineage intact. Under this definition there is less regard as to what language you speak (Pashto, Persian, Urdu, English, etc.), while more emphasis is placed upon one's father in order to be an ethnic Pashtun. Thus, the Pathans in India, for example, who have lost both the language and presumably many of the ways of their putative ancestors, can, by being able to trace their fathers' ethnic heritage back to the Pashtun tribes (who some believe are descendants of the four grandsons of Qais Abdur Rashid, a possible legendary progenitor of the Pashtuns), remain "Pashtun".[37] The legend states that Qais, after having heard of the new religion of Islam, traveled to meet the Muslim Prophet Muhammad in Medina and returned to Afghanistan-Pakistan area a Muslim. Qais, in turn, purportedly had many children and one son, Afghana, produced up to four sons who set out towards the east including one son who went towards Swat, another towards Lahore and Oudh, another to Multan, and finally one to Quetta. This legend is one of many traditional tales among the Pashtuns regarding their disparate origins that remain largely unverifiable.


Putative ancestry

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

Many claimants of Pashtun heritage in South Asia have mixed with local Muslim populations and refer to themselves (and Pashto-speaking Pashtuns and often Afghans in general) in the Hindi-Urdu variant Pathan rather than Pashtun or Pukhtun.[38] 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).

Hindkowans who are referred to as Punjabi Pathans (in publications such as Encyclopædia Britannica) speak the Hindko language and are regarded as a group of mixed Pashtun and Punjabi origin. The Hindko-speaking people live in major cities such as Peshawar, Kohat, Mardan, and Dera Ismail Khan and in mixed districts including Haripur and Abbottabad where they are often bilingual in Hindko and Pashto.

There are also a small number of Siraiki-speaking Pathans as well. Many Siraiki Pathans currently reside in Mianwali and Dera Ismail Khan.

Additionally, nearly 20% of Urdu-speaking people claim partial Pashtun ancestry.[39][40] The Muslim sultans and Mughal emperors of Delhi employed thousands of Pashtun soldiers that settled down in northern India and intermarried with local Muslims. The Rohilla Pashtuns, after their defeat by the British, are notable for having intermarried with local Muslims, while becoming part of the Urdu-speaking Muslim community. They were known to have been bilingual in both Pashto and Urdu until the mid nineteenth century. The repression of Rohilla Pashtuns by the British in late eighteenth century caused thousands to flee to the Dutch colony of Guyana in South America.[41] Small minorities of Sikhs and Hindus, who are often bilingual in Pashto and Punjabi, are estimated to be in the thousands and can be found in parts of Afghanistan.[42]



Rahman Baba, Pashto Sufi poet.
Rahman Baba, Pashto Sufi poet.

Pashtun culture was formed over the course of many centuries. Pagan traditions survived in the form of traditional dances, while literary styles and music largely reflect strong influence from the Persian literary 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.



The Pashtuns speak Pashto, an Indo-European language. It belongs to the Iranian sub-group of the Indo-Iranian branch. In addition to their mother-tongue, many Pashtuns are fluent in Persian and/or Urdu.


Pashto literature

Throughout Pashtun history, poets, prophets, kings and warriors have been amongst the most revered members of society. For much of Pashtun history, literature has not played a major role as Persian was the lingua franca used by neighboring peoples and generally relied upon for writing purposes. However, by the sixteenth century early written records of Pashto began to appear, the earliest of which describes Sheikh Mali's conquest of Swat.[43] The advent of Pashto poetry and the revered works of Khushal Khan Khattak and Rahman Baba in the seventeenth century helped transition Pashto towards the modern period.[44] In the twentieth century, Pashto literature gained significant prominence with the poetic works of Ameer Hamza Shinwari who was noted for his development of Pashto Ghazals.[45] In recent times, Pashto literature has received increased patronage, but due to relatively high illiteracy rates, many Pashtuns continue to rely upon the oral tradition. Pashtun males continue to meet at chai khaanas or 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. 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.



Pashtuns are predominantly Sunni Muslims, most of them followers of the Hanafite branch of Sunni Islam. There is a small minority of Ithna Asharia Shia Pashtuns largely concentrated in Afghanistan.[46]

Studies conducted amongst the Ghilzai reveal strong linkages between tribal affiliation and membership in the larger ummah as most Pashtuns believe that they are descendents of the aforementioned Qais Abdur Rashid who is purported to have been an early convert to Islam and thus bequeathed the faith to the entire Pashtun population.[47] A legacy of sufi activity remains common in Pashtun regions as evident in song and dance. Many Pashtuns are prominent Ulema, such as Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan who translated the Noble Quran and Sahih Al-Bukhari and many other books into English.[48] A small Jewish population has relocated to Israel.



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).[49] The main tenets of Pashtunwali include:

  1. Melmastia: Hospitality and asylum to all guests seeking help.
  2. Badal: Justice and revenge, possibly derived from ancient Israelite Mosaic Law, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."
  3. Zan, Zar and Zameen: Defense of women and family, treasure, property and land.
  4. Nanawati: Humble admission of guilt for a wrong committed, which should result in automatic forgiveness from the wronged party.

The basic precepts of Pashtunwali continue to be followed by many Pashtuns, especially in rural areas and is often the center of Pashtun tribal life.



Pashtuns engage in various sporting activities common throughout the world including cricket and football (soccer). Older traditional sports include buzkashi, a contest between horsemen (believed to have been brought to the region by the Mongols) that entails dragging a goat carcass and keeping it away from other players. Another Pashtun past-time is naiza bazi, which also involves horsemen who compete in spear throwing.[50]

Polo is also an ancient traditional sport in the region and is a popular amongst many tribesmen such as the Yousafzai. Like other neighboring peoples, many Pashtuns engage in wrestling (Pehlwani), which is often part of larger sporting events.[51] Cricket is largely a legacy of British rule in the North West Frontier Province and many Pashtuns have become prominent participants (such as Shahid Afridi and Imran Khan).

Football (soccer) is a more recent sport that increasing numbers of Pashtuns have started to play. Children engage in various games including a somewhat macabre form of marbles called buzul-bazi, which involves playing with the knuckle bones of sheep. Although traditionally less involved in sports than boys, young Pashtun girls often play volleyball and basketball, especially in urban areas. Another sport played by Pashtuns is Gatka, which is a form of fencing where two participants square up to each other and are armed with a leather padded circular shield accompanied by a long leather covered cane. This sport was quite popular in Swat and Hazara,esp amongst the Swati clans until the 1970s and was frequently seen during special occasions such as weddings. It has declined in popularity in recent decades due to a shortage of Ustazs'(teachers).


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.

Feroze Khan is a famous Pashtun Bollywood actor from India.
Feroze Khan is a famous Pashtun Bollywood actor from India.

One of the most prominent dances is the Attan, a dance with ancient pagan roots, that was later modified by Islamic mysticism in some regions, and has become the national dance of Afghanistan.[52] A rigorous exercise, the Attan is performed as musicians play various native instruments including the dhol (drums), tablas (percussions), rubab (a bowed string instrument), and toola (wooden flute). Involving a rapid circular motion, dancers perform until no one is left dancing in a fashion similar to sufi whirling dervishes. Numerous other dances are affiliated with various tribes 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 to successfully execute. Though most dances are dominated by males, some dance performances such as the Spin Takray feature female dancers.[53] Additionally, 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 Indian classical music), Iranian musical traditions, and other various forms found in South Asia. Popular forms include the ghazal (sung poetry) and Sufi qawwali music.[54] General themes tend to revolve around love and religious introspection. Modern Pashto music is currently centered around the city of Peshawar due to the various wars in Afghanistan and tends to combine indigenous techniques and instruments with Iranian-inspired Persian music and Indian Filmi music prominent in Bollywood.[55]

Other modern Pashtun media include an established Pashto language film and tv 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.[56] Past films such as Yusuf Khan Sherbano dealt with serious subject matter, traditional stories, and legends, but the Pashto film industry has, since the 1980s, been accused of churning out increasingly lewd exploitation-style films.[57][58] Pashtun lifestyle and issues have been raised by Western and Pashtun expatriate film-makers in recent years. Notable films about the Pashtun experience include British film-maker Michael Winterbottom's In This World,[59] which chronicles the struggles of two Afghan youths who leave their refugee camps in Pakistan and attempt to move to the United Kingdom in search of a better life, and the British mini-series Traffik (re-made as Traffic for US audiences) which featured a Pashtun man (played by Jamal Shah) struggling to survive in a world with few opportunities outside the drug trade. Numerous actors of Pashtun descent also work in India's Bollywood film industry including Kader Khan and Feroz Khan.



Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan, is an ethnic Pashtun from Kandahar.
Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan, is an ethnic Pashtun from Kandahar.
For a list of tribal groupings, see Pashtun tribes.

Possibly the most prominent institution of the Pashtun people is the intricate system of tribes. The Pashtuns remain a predominantly tribal people, but the world-wide 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.[60] Many still identify themselves with various clans despite this trend towards urbanization.

More precisely, there are several levels of organization within the Pashtun tribal system: the Tabar (tribe) is subdivided into kinship groups called Khels. The Khel in turn is divided into smaller groups (Pllarina or Plarganey), each of which consists of several extended families or Kahols.[61] "A large tribe often has dozens of sub-tribes whose members may see themselves as belonging to each, some, or all of the sub-tribes in different social situations (co-operative, competitive, confrontational) and identify with each accordingly."[62] Pashtun tribes are divided into four 'greater' tribal groups: Sarbans, Batans, Ghurghusht and Karlans.

In addition to the tribal hierarchy, another prominent Pashtun institution is that of the Jirga or 'Senate' of elected elders and wise 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.[63]

Pashtuns often observe special occasions upon which to celebrate and/or commemorate events, which are also quite often national holidays in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A common Turko-Iranian celebration known as Nouruz (or New Year) is often observed by Pashtuns.[64] 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 together in what is often both a religious duty and a festive celebration.


The modern era

Dr. Zalmay Khalizad, currently U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, is the first Pashtun to work for the White House.
Dr. Zalmay Khalizad, currently U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, is the first Pashtun to work for the White House.

The Pashtuns are intimately tied to the history of modern Afghanistan and western Pakistan stretching back to the Hotaki dynasty and later the Durrani Empire.[65] The Hotakis were Ghilzai tribesmen, who defeated the Persian Safavids and seized control over much of Persia (Iran) from 1722 to 1736. This was followed by the conquests of Ahmad Shah Durrani (from the Abdali (later Durrani) clan) who was a former high-ranking military commander under the ruler Nadir Shah of Persia. He founded the Durrani Empire that covered all of what is today Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indian Punjab, and Khorasan province of Iran.[66][67] After the fall of the Durrani Empire in 1818, it was the Barakzai clan that took control of Afghanistan. Specifically, the subclan known as the Mohamedzai, ruled Afghanistan between 1826 to the end of Mohammad Zahir Shah reign in 1973. This legacy continues into modern times as Afghanistan is run by President Hamid Karzai.

The Pashtuns in Afghanistan fought the British to a standstill and kept the Russians at bay during the so-called Great Game, during which Afghanistan remained an independent state that played the two large imperialist empires against each other to maintain some semblance of autonomy. Despite this, during the reign of Abdur Rahman Khan (1880-1901), Pashtun regions were divided by the Durand Line and control of what is today western Pakistan was ceded to British India in 1893.[68] In the twentieth century, various Pashtuns living under British Indian rule in the North West Frontier Province agitated for 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.[69] Later, in the 1970s, Khan Wali Khan pressed for more autonomy for Pashtuns.

Pashtuns in Afghanistan attained complete independence from British intervention during the reign of King Amanullah Khan, following the Third Anglo-Afghan War.[70] The monarchy ended with Sardar Daoud Khan seizing control of Afghanistan in 1973, which opened the door to Soviet intervention and eventually culminated in the Saur Revolution or Communist take-over of Afghanistan in 1978. Starting in the late 1970s, many Pashtuns joined the Mujahideen opposition against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. These Mujahideen fought for control of Afghanistan against the Communist Khalq and the Parcham factions. More recently, the Pashtuns became known for being the primary ethnic group that comprised the Taliban, which was a religious movement that emerged from Kandahar, Afghanistan.[71] As of late 2001, the Taliban government had been removed from power as a result of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

Pashtuns have played an important role in the region of South-Central Asia. The current President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai from Qandahar. In neighboring Pakistan ethnic Pashtun politicians, notably Ayub Khan and Ghulam Ishaq Khan, have also attained the Presidency in the past. The Afghan royal family now represented by Muhammad Zahir Shah is also of ethnic Pashtun origin. Other prominent Pashtuns include the seventeenth century warrior poet Khushal Khan Khattak, Afghan "Iron" Emir Abdur Rahman Khan and in modern times U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad among many others.



The Pashtuns today are a diverse population with widely varying lifestyles and perspectives. The effects of globalization have led to the proliferation of Western ideas as well as the infiltration of Saudi-style Wahhabist Islam into Pashtun regions. Though many Pashtuns remain tribal and illiterate, others have become urbanized and highly educated. The ravages of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the Afghan wars leading up to the rise and fall of the Taliban have caused considerable hardship amongst the Pashtuns. Currently, Afghanistan is in a rebuilding phase, while Pashtuns in Pakistan have grown in numbers and influence. Stability remains elusive for Pashtuns who have had to balance a practical necessity to survive with a desire to seek out opportunity. However, changes among the Pashtuns have not come without difficulty, especially in the case of women.

Pashtun women vary from the traditional housewives who live in seclusion to urban workers some of whom seek (and have attained) parity with men. However, due to numerous social hurdles, the literacy rate for Pashtun women remains considerably lower than that of males. Abuse against women is also widespread and yet is increasingly being challenged by women's rights organizations who 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 traditional Pashtun women's ability to mitigate the suffering they acknowledge in their lives."

Meena Keshwar Kamal, founder of RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan).
Meena Keshwar Kamal, founder of RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan).

Pashtun women often have their legal rights curtailed in favor of their husbands or male relatives as well. For example, though women are technically allowed to vote in Afghanistan and Pakistan, many have been kept away from ballot boxes by males.[72] Traditionally, Pashtun women have few inheritance rights and are often charged with taking care of large extended families of their spouses.[73] Another tradition that persists is swara, a practice that involves giving a female relative to someone in order to rectify a dispute. The practice was declared illegal in 2000, but continues to be conducted in tribal regions.[74]

Despite obstacles, many Pashtun women have begun a process of slow change. Some Pashtun women in cities in Pakistan have attained more personal freedom and autonomy when it comes to their personal lives, which has not been received well by conservative Pashtun men and women. Others have joined men in business, finance, and other male-dominated fields. While most Pashtun women are illiterate, a rich oral tradition and resurgence of poetry has been inspirational to many Pashtun women seeking to learn to read and write.[75] As a sign of further female emancipation, a Pashtun woman recently became one of the first female fighter pilots in Pakistan's Air force.[76] In addition, numerous Pashtun women have attained high political office in both Pakistan and, following recent elections, in Afghanistan where female representatives comprise one of the highest percentages in the world.[77] Substantial work remains though for Pashtun women who hope to gain equal rights with Pashtun men who remain disproportionately dominant in most aspects of Pashtun society. Human rights organizations including the Afghan Women's Network continue to struggle for greater women's rights as does the Aurat Foundation in Pakistan which often attempts to safeguard women from domestic abuse.[78][79] Civil rights have remained an important issue in Afghanistan where Meena Khishwar Kamal has campaigned for women's rights and founded the Revolutionary Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), which has continued to advocate on behalf of women's rights.[80] Queen Soraya Tarzi of Afghanistan was one of the earliest feminist leaders; however, her and King Amunallah's reforms for women were so radical, it would lead to their fall.


See also


Notes and references

  1. 1.0 1.1 Northern Pashto (
  2. Population by Mother Tongue, Population Census Organization, Government of Pakistan
  3. 3.0 3.1 Census of Afghans in Pakistan (UNHCR Statistical Summary Report)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Afghanistan in the CIA World Factbook.
  5. Southern Pashto (
  6. Languages of Iran (
  7. Iran-Pakistan: Refugees (IRIN Asia)
  8. Languages of the United Kingdom (
  9. Statcan data, used along with the Pashtun percentage compisition of Afghanistan and Pakistan to estimate the number of Pashtuns in Canada.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Middle East Report-Descent into Disaster?: Afghan Refugees
  11. Banuazizi, Ali and Myron Weiner (eds.). 1994. "The Politics of Social Transformation in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan (Contemporary Issues in the Middle East)." Syracuse University Press. ISBN 0-8156-2608-8.
  12. Kakar, Palwasha. Harvard University - School of Law - Tribal Law of Pashtunwali and Women’s Legislative Authority
  13. Caroe, Olaf. 1984. "The Pathans: 500 B.C.-A.D. 1957 (Oxford in Asia Historical Reprints)." Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-577221-0
  14. Anglo-Afghan Wars ( Fri January 16, 2006
  15. Ethnic, Cultural and Linguistic Denominations in Pakhtunkhwa (
  17. Chapter 7 of The History of Herodotus (trans. George Rawlinson; originally written 440 BCE)
  18. The Khalaj West of the Oxus; excerpts from "The Turkish Dialect of the Khalaj", Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London, Vol 10, No 2, pp 417-437.
  19. Background Information on Afghanistan-Pre 20th Century History (Lonely Planet)
  20. Pashtun from the Encyclopædia Britannica.
  21. Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (
  22. Awde, Nicholas and Sarwan, Asmatullah: Pashto Dictionary & Phrasebook: Pashto-English English-Pashto. Hippocrene Books, January 2003 (ISBN 0-7818-0972-X).
  23. Pashto report at
  24. Iranian-speaking peoples
  25. Gankovsky, Yu. V., et al: A History of Afghanistan, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1982. 8vo. Cloth. 359 p.
  26. History of Pakistan - Pashtuns
  27. The Khalaj West of the Oxus
  28. Afghanistan Ethnic Groups: Pashtun at the US Library of Congress.
  29. Introduction to Muhammad Qāsim Hindū Šāh Astarābādī Firištah, History Of The Mohamedan Power In India.
  30. - Bani-Israelite Theory of Paktoons Ethnic Origin
  31. Investigation of the Greek ancestry of populations from northern Pakistan, Biomedical and Genetic Engineering Division, Dr. A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories.
  32. Ahmad Shah Durrani (Britannica Concise)
  33. Government and History (from Afghanistan) in the Britannica Student Encyclopedia.
  34. Pashtun Britannica On-Line (accessed 18 January 2007).
  35. Understanding Pashto University of Pennsylvania Gazette (accessed 18 January 2007).
  36. Pakistan: Pakhtuns (US Library of Congress).
  37. Afghanan dot Net: Pathans in retrospect
  38. Memons, Khojas, Cheliyas, Moplahs.... How Well Do You Know Them?, Islamic Voice
  39. Dawat Magazine: Study of the Pathan Communities in four States of India
  40. Joshua Project: Urdu speaking Pathans in India
  41. Afghans of Guyana
  42. Sikhs struggle in Afghanistan, BBC News
  43. UCLA: The History of Pashto language
  44. Baba: Poet of the Pashtuns
  45. Amir Hamza Shinwari Baba (
  46. Pashtun US Library of Congress (accessed 18 January 2007).
  47. Afghanistan Country Study-Illinois Institute of Technology Meaning and Practice[1]
  48. THE NOBLE QURAN (In 9 VOLUMES) &emdash; ARABIC-ENGLISH (ed. Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan)
  49. Afghanan dot net: Pakhtunwali
  50. World Cultures-Pashtun Sports
  51. Afghanistan: Sports and Recreation
  52. Virtual Afghanistan's National Dance
  53. Traditional Dances of Pashtoons
  54. Afghanistan Online: Traditional Pashto Music
  56. Pashto Movies & Video Clips (
  57. Pashto Cinema-Craziness (
  58. The Sublime and Surreal World of Pushto Movies (The Hot Spot Online)
  59. Michael Winterbottom Talks About His Tragic Road Movie, "In This World" (
  60. How Ethno-Religious Identity Influences the Living Conditions of Hazara and Pashtun Refugees in Peshawar, Pakistan (Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT)
  61. Jirga - A Traditional Mechanism of Conflict Resolution in Afghanistan by Ali Wardak (2003), p.7
  62. ibid., p.10
  63. Q & A on Afghanistan's Loya Jirga Process (Human Rights Watch)
  64. Noruz (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
  65. Afghanistan: History (U.S. Department of State)
  66. Map of Durrani Empire
  67. Map of the Durrani Empire
  68. Durand Line (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
  69. Khan Abdul-Ghaffar Khan (
  70. Anglo-Afghan Wars (Encyclopaedia Iranica)
  71. Afghanistan: At the Crossroads of Ancient Civilisations (BBC)
  72. I have a right to - Muhammad Dawood Azami: Pashto (BBC World Service)
  73. Afghanistan Country Study at the Government Documents Depository Website, Paul V. Galvin Library, Illinois Institute of Technology.
  74. Pakistani Girls Forced to Settle Men’s Disputes, Khaleej Times, Fri April 16, 2004 (
  75. "The tale of the Pashtun poetess", Leela Jacinto in The Boston Globe, May 22, 2005.
  76. "Pakistan's first women fighter pilots", Zaffar Abbas, BBC News, 11 May 2005.
  77. "Warlords and women in uneasy mix", Andrew North, BBC News, 14 November 2005.
  78. About AWN, Afghan Women's Network, Tue January 16, 2006
  79. Aurat Publican and Information Service Foundation, Aurat Foundation, Fri January 16, 2006
  80. Making Waves: Interview with RAWA,, Fri January 16, 2006

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