Ethnic groups in Afghanistan as of 1997

Afghanistan is a multiethnic and mostly tribal society. The population of the country consists of numerous ethnolinguistic groups: mainly the Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek and minorities of Aimaq, Turkmen, Baloch, Pashai, Nuristani, Gujjar, Brahui, Qizilbash, Pamiri, Kyrgyz, Sadat, and others. Altogether they make up the Afghan people.

The former Afghan National Anthem and the Afghan Constitution (before 2021) each mention fourteen of them.[1]

National identity

Further information: Afghans, Afghan (ethnonym), Afghan identity card, and Name of Afghanistan

The term "Afghan" is synonymous with the ethnonym "Pashtun", but in modern times the term became the national identity of the people, who live in Afghanistan.[2][3]

The national culture of Afghanistan is not uniform, at the same time, the various ethnic groups have no clear boundaries between each other and there is much overlap.[4] Additionally, ethnic groups are not racially homogenous. Ethnic groups in Afghanistan have adopted traditions and celebrations from each other and all share a similar culture. For example, Nauruz is a New Year festival celebrated by various ethnic groups in Afghanistan.

Larger ethnic groups

Pashtuns

Further information: Pashtuns, Pashtun tribes, and Theories of Pashtun origin

Pashtuns of Afghanistan

The Pashtuns make up the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.[5] The exact numbers vary; according to the Library of Congress Country Studies' estimate of 1996, Pashtuns made up 40%, according to the World Factbook of 1991 50% of Afghanistan's population. More recent estimates vary between 42% in 2013[6] and 52.4% in 2023.[7] The majority of Pashtuns practice Sunni Islam.[8] After the rise of the Hotaki dynasty in 1709 and the Durrani Empire in 1747, Pashtuns expanded by forming communities in what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan.[9]

There are conflicting theories about the origin of the Pashtun people, both among historians and the Pashtun themselves. A variety of ancient groups with eponyms similar to 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 Satrap as early as the 1st millennium BC.[10] Since the 3rd century AD and onward they are mostly referred to by the ethnonym "Afghan", a name believed to be given to them by neighboring Persian people.[11] Some believe that ethnic Afghan is an adaptation of the Prakrit ethnonym Avagana, attested in the 6th century CE.[2] It was used to refer to a common legendary ancestor known as "Afghana", asserted to be grandson of King Saul of Israel.[12]

Some notable Pashtuns of Afghanistan include: Hamid Karzai, Ashraf Ghani, Nazo Tokhi, Abdul Ahad Momand, Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan Girl, Hedayat Amin Arsala, Abdul Rahim Wardak, Sher Mohammad Karimi, Abdul Salam Azimi, Zalmai Rassoul, Omar Zakhilwal, Ghulam Farooq Wardak, Anwar ul-Haq Ahady, Daud Shah Saba, Mohammad Gulab Mangal, Gul Agha Sherzai, Asadullah Khalid, Mohammad Hanif Atmar, Mohammad Ishaq Aloko, Mohammed Omar, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Nashenas, Ubaidullah Jan, Naghma, Farhad Darya, Suhaila Seddiqi, Shukria Barakzai, and Fauzia Gailani.

Tajik

Further information: Tajiks, Farsiwan, and List of Tajik people

Tajiks of Afghanistan

Tajiks form the second-largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.[13] While it is estimated that they make up about 27% of the population as of 2013, they made up 25.3% of Afghanistan's population in 1996,[14] and the Encyclopædia Britannica explains that by the early 21st century they constituted about one-fifth (i. e. 20%) of the population.[15][16] They are a native Persian-speaking people.[15] As a self-designation, the term Tajik, which earlier on had been more or less pejorative, has become acceptable only during the last several decades, particularly as a result of Soviet administration in Central Asia.[17] Alternative names for the Tajiks are Fārsī (Persian), Fārsīwān (Persian-speaker), and Dīhgān (cf. Tajik: Деҳқон, romanizedDehqon, literally "farmer or settled villager", in a wider sense "settled" in contrast to "nomadic").[18]

Tajiks are the major ethnic group in neighboring Tajikistan, a country that was created north of Afghanistan in 1991.[16] During the late 19th century and early 20th century, large number of Central Asian Tajiks fled the conquest of their native homeland by Russian Red Army and settled in northern Afghanistan.[19][20]

Some notable Tajiks from Afghanistan include: Habibullah Kalakani, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Ahmad Shah Massoud, Ahmad Zia Massoud, Mohammed Fahim, Yunus Qanuni, Ismail Khan, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, Atta Muhammad Nur, Amrullah Saleh, Wasef Bakhtari, Abdul Latif Pedram, Massouda Jalal, Baz Mohammad Ahmadi, Mohammed Daud Daud, Abdul Basir Salangi, and Fawzia Koofi.

Hazara

Further information: Hazaras, List of Hazara tribes, Aimaq Hazara, and List of Hazara people

Hazaras of Afghanistan

The Hazaras are one of the largest ethnic groups in Afghanistan.[21] They reside in all parts of Afghanistan, mainly in the Hazarajat region in central Afghanistan. Linguistically the Hazaras speak the Dari and Hazaragi dialects of the Persian language. Dari is the official language of Afghanistan and Hazaragi is closely related to the Dari which sometimes their variant is interspersed with many Turkic and a few Mongolic words. They practice Islam, mostly the Shi'a, with significant and almost large Sunni, and some Isma'ili.[22] According to Library of Congress Country Studies in 1996, Hazaras made up 18% of country's population.[8]

Some notable Hazaras of Afghanistan include: Abdul Ali Mazari, Commander Shafi Hazara, Ismael Balkhi, Karim Khalili, Sultan Ali Keshtmand, Habiba Sarābi, Sarwar Danish, Muhammad Ibrahim Khan, Sima Samar, Ramazan Bashardost, Abdul Haq Shafaq, Sayed Anwar Rahmati, Qurban Ali Urozgani, Azra Jafari, Ahmad Shah Ramazan, Muhammad Mohaqiq, Ahmad Behzad, Nasrullah Sadiqi Zada Nili, Abbas Noyan, Fahim Hashimy, Rohullah Nikpai, Hamid Rahimi, Mohammad Ebrahim Khedri, Wakil Hussain Allahdad, and Dawood Sarkhosh.

Uzbek

Further information: Uzbeks, List of Uzbeks, and Afghan Turkestan

Uzbeks of Afghanistan

The Uzbeks are one of the main Turkic ethnic group in Afghanistan, whose native territory is in the northern regions of the country. Most likely the Uzbeks migrated with a wave of Turkic invaders and intermingled with local Iranic tribes over time to become the ethnic group they are today. The Uzbeks of Afghanistan are predominantly Sunni Muslims and fluent in Southern Uzbek.[23] Uzbeks living in Afghanistan were estimated in the 1990s at approximately 1.3 million[14] but are believed to be 2 million in 2011.[24]

Some notable Uzbeks of Afghanistan include: Abdul Rashid Dostum, Azad Beg, Alhaj Mutalib Baig, Suraya Dalil, Husn Banu Ghazanfar, Delbar Nazari, Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, Muhammad Yunus Nawandish, Sherkhan Farnood, Abdul Majid Rouzi, Abdul Malik Pahlawan, and Rasul Pahlawan.

Smaller ethnic groups

Aimaq

Further information: Aimaq people and Aimaq Hazara

The Aimaqs, Aimaq meaning "tribe" or "group of tribes" in Turkic-Mongolic (Oymaq),[25] is not an ethnic denomination, but differentiates semi-nomadic herders and agricultural tribal groups of various ethnic origins including the Hazara, Tajik, and others, that were formed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[26] They live among non-tribal people in the central and western highlands of Afghanistan, especially in Badghis, Ghor, and Herat provinces. They practice Sunni Islam, speak Aimaq dialect of the Persian close to Dari, and refer to themselves with tribal designations.[27] Population estimates vary widely, from less than 500,000 to around 800,000.[citation needed]

Turkmen

Further information: Turkmens, Afghan Turkmens, Turkmen tribes, and Afghan Turkestan

Turkmen girl and baby from Afghanistan

The Turkmens are a smaller Turkic-speaking ethnic group in Afghanistan. They are predominantly Sunni Muslims, and their origins are very similar to that of the Uzbeks. Unlike the Uzbeks, however, the Turkmens are traditionally a nomadic people (though they were forced to abandon this way of life in Turkmenistan itself under Soviet rule).[23] In the 1990s their number was put at around 200,000.[14]

Baloch

Further information: Baloch people, List of Baloch people, and List of Baloch tribes

Balochs of Afghanistan

The Baloch people are speakers of the Balochi language who are mostly found in and around the Balochistan region of Afghanistan. In the 1990s their number figure was put at 100,000 but they are around 200,000 today.[14] Mainly pastoral and desert dwellers, the Baloch people of Afghanistan are predominantly Sunni Muslims. Abdul Karim Brahui the former Governor of Nimruz Province, is an ethnic Baloch.[citation needed]

Sadat

Further information: Sayyid

On 13 March 2019, addressing the Sadat gathering at the presidential palace (Arg), President Ashraf Ghani said that he will issue a decree on the inclusion of Sadat ethnic group in new electronic national identity card (e-NIC).[28][29][30][31]

Pashayi

Further information: Pashayi people

A Pashai boy wearing a pakol

The Pashayi are an Indo-Aryan ethnolinguistic group[32] living primarily in eastern Afghanistan. They are mainly concentrated in the northern parts of Laghman and Nangarhar, also parts of Kunar, Kapisa, Parwan, Nuristan, and a bit of Panjshir. Their total population is estimated to be 400,000.[33]

Nuristani

Further information: Nuristanis and Kalash people

A Nuristani girl

The Nuristani are an Indo-Iranian people, representing a third independent branch of the Aryan peoples (Indo-Aryan, Iranian and Nuristani), who live in isolated regions of northeastern Afghanistan as well as across the border in the district of Chitral in Pakistan. They speak a variety of Nuristani languages. Better known historically as the Kafirs of what was once known as Kafiristan (land of pagans). In the mid-1890s, after the establishment of the Durand Line when Afghanistan reached an agreement on various frontier areas to the British Empire for a period of time, Emir Abdur Rahman Khan conducted a military campaign in Kafiristan and followed up his conquest with forced conversion of the Kafirs to Islam;[34][35] the region thenceforth being known as Nuristan, the "Land of Light".[36][37][38][39] Before their conversion, the Nuristanis practiced a form of ancient Hinduism.[40][41][42] Non-Muslim religious practices endure in Nuristan today to some degree as folk customs. In their native rural areas, they are often farmers, herders, and dairymen. The population in the 1990s was estimated at 125,000 by some; the Nuristani prefer a figure of 300,000.[14]

The Nuristan region has been a prominent location for war scenes that have led to the death of many indigenous Nuristanis.[43][44] Nuristan has also received abundance of settlers from the surrounding Afghanistan regions due to the borderline vacant location.[45][46]

Pamiri

Further information: Pamiris

Pamiris are people who speak the Pamiri languages. Pamiris share close linguistic, cultural and religious ties with the people in Badakhshan Province in Afghanistan, the Sarikoli speakers in Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County in Xinjiang Province in China and the Wakhi speakers in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Pamiri people have their own distinctive styles of dress, which can differentiate one community from the next. The styles of hats are especially varied: one can spot someone from the Wakhan, as opposed to from Ruhshon or Shugnon valleys, based solely on headwear.[47]

Kurd

Further information: Kurds and Kurdish tribes

Kurds have been coming to Afghanistan at different times and lived there. Another large wave of Kurdish migration into Afghanistan was the continuation of their migration from Iranian Kurdistan to greater Khorasan during the Afsharid dynasty.[48][page needed][49][50][failed verification] Two main groups formed Nader Shah's army. The first was a group of Shahsevan Turks who were in charge of warfare and combat, and the second was a group of Kurds who served as a backup for Nader's army.[49][better source needed] Although the majority of Afghan Kurds are descendants from the Kurds brought to fight the Mongols, or the descendants of the Kurds who migrated to Afghanistan, or the descendants of Kurds loyal to Nader Shah, a significant amount came in the 1980s to fight in the Soviet–Afghan War to fight against the Soviets.[51] Afghan Kurds today are mostly assimilated, yet acknowledge that they are Kurds, most of them speak Dari as their first language, and only a few Kurdish speakers exist among them.[52][failed verification][better source needed] They follow Sunni Islam and mainly live in the cities of Herat, Ghazni, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Kabul.[50][failed verification] According to the Kurdish Institute of Paris, Kurds in Afghanistan number 200,000 people.[53][better source needed][54]

Gurjar

Further information: Gujars, Gurjar tribes, and List of Gurjars

The Gujar people are a tribal group who have lived in Afghanistan for centuries. According to the Afghanistan news agency Pajwok Afghan News, there are currently an estimated 1.5 million Gujar people residing in the country.[55][56] The Gujar people are predominantly found in the northeastern regions of Afghanistan, including Kapisa, Baghlan, Balkh, Kunduz, Takhar, Badakhshan, Nuristan, Laghman, Nangarhar, and Khost. They have a distinct culture and way of life.[55][56]

The old Afghanistan constitution recognised 14 ethnic groups officially with the Gujar ethnic group being one of them.[55][57][56] Many Gujar tribal people in Afghanistan are deprived of their rights and their living conditions are poor. The Gujar in Afghanistan have sometimes been internally displaced in the past by illegal militias, during 2018 around 200 Gujar families were displaced from their homes in Farkhar district in Takhar province.[55][58] During the corona virus pandemic, the Gujar people in the northeastern province of Badakhshan used Andak meat to treat the corona virus, due to lack of clinics and other health facilities in their areas. The Gujar Tribe Council deemed the meat of the Andak animal as Haram, however many Gujar people in the area said they had no choice.[56]

In the past Gujar tribal leaders have met with the previous president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. The Gujar elders demanded schools and hospitals to be built in their areas and the Afghan government give scholarships to Gujar students to study abroad.[59]

Kyrgyz

Further information: Kyrgyz people

The Kyrgyz population of Afghanistan was 1,130 in 2003, all from the eastern Wakhan District in the Badakhshan Province of northeastern Afghanistan. They live a nomadic lifestyle.[60]

Others

More small groups include the Moghol, Ormur, Wakhi, Sindhi, Hindkowan, Punjabi, Peripatetic groups of Afghanistan and others.

Distribution

Of the major ethnicities, the geographic distribution can be varied. Still, there are generally certain regions where one of the ethnic groups tend to dominate the population. Pashtuns for example are highly concentrated in southern Afghanistan and parts of the east, but nevertheless large minorities exist elsewhere.[61] Tajiks are highly concentrated in the north-east, but also form large communities elsewhere such as in western Afghanistan.[62] Hazaras tend to be mostly concentrated in the wider "Hazarajat" region of central Afghanistan,[63] while Uzbeks are densely populated in the north.[64] Some places are very diverse: the city of Kabul, for example, has been considered a "melting pot" where large populations of the major ethnic groups reside, albeit traditionally with a distinct "Kabuli" identity.[65][66] The provinces of Ghazni, Kunduz, Kabul and Jowzjan are noted for remarkable ethnic diversity.[63]

Ethnic composition

Ethnic groups of Afghanistan by district relative to the population density in 2020

The population of Afghanistan was estimated in 2023 at 41.6 million.[67] An additional 3 million or so Afghans are temporarily housed in neighboring Pakistan and Iran, most of whom were born and raised in those two countries. This makes the total Afghan population around 44.6 million, and its current growth rate is 2.33%.[67]

While there are no reliable statistics post-2004,[68] an approximate distribution of the ethnic groups is shown in the chart below:

Ethnic groups in Afghanistan
Ethnic group Image 2023 estimate based on native mother tongue[7] Pre-2021 estimates
[69][3][70][6][16][71]
Pre-2004 estimates
[71][14][72]
Pre-1992 estimates
[73][71]
Pre-1973 estimates[71]
Pashtun Children in Khost province 52.4% 37–60%
≈48.5%
38–62%
≈50%
50–70%
≈60%
55–60%
≈57.5%
Tajik Tajik children in Khowahan district of Badakhshan 32.1%[A] 20–39%
≈29.5%
12–28%
≈20%
20–35%
≈27.5%
20–30%
≈25%
Hazara Hazara people on the anniversary of Abdul Ali Mazari's death in 2021 in Kabul 6–13%
≈9.5%
7–19%
≈13%
5–10%
≈7.5%
3–7%
≈5%
Uzbek Uzbek looking boy in northern Afghanistan 8.8% 5–9%
≈7%
6–14%
≈10%
5–10%
≈7.5%
3–8%
≈5.5%
Aimaq 0–4%
≈2%
Turkmen 1.9% 1–3%
≈2%
2–2.5%
≈2.25%
Baloch Camera focusing on Baloch 0.9% 0–3%
≈1.5%
Others (Pashai, Nuristani, Brahui, Qizilbash, Pamiri, Gujjar, etc.) Young Pashai man 3.9% 0–4%
≈2%
1–12%
≈6.5%
0–5%
≈2.5%
0–4%
≈2%
  1. ^ This number represents Dari Persian native speakers including Tajiks, Hazaras, Aimaks, Qizilbash and other smaller ethnicities.

See also

References

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  69. ^ See:
  70. ^ Brown, Keith; Sarah Ogilvie (2009). Concise encyclopedia of languages of the world. Elsevie. p. 845. ISBN 978-0-08-087774-7. Retrieved 7 April 2012. Pashto, which is mainly spoken south of the mountain range of the Hindu Kush, is reportedly the mother tongue of 60% of the Afghan population.
  71. ^ a b c d https://digital.lib.washington.edu/researchworks/bitstream/handle/1773/40616/Mobasher_washington_0250E_17869.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
  72. ^ "PEOPLE – Ethnic divisions". The World Factbook/Central Intelligence Agencyu. University of Missouri. 22 January 1993. Archived from the original on 9 October 1999. Retrieved 20 March 2011. Pashtun 38%, Tajik 25%, Uzbek 6%, Hazara 19%; minor ethnic groups include Chahar Aimaks, Turkmen, Baloch, and others
  73. ^ "The World Factbok – Afghanistan". The World Factbook/Central Intelligence Agency. University of Missouri. 15 October 1991. Archived from the original on 27 April 2011. Retrieved 20 March 2011. Ethnic divisions: 50% Pashtun, 25% Tajik, 9% Uzbek, 12-15% Hazara[,] minor ethnic groups include Chahar Aimaks, Turkmen, Baloch, and others […] Language: 50% Pashtu, 35% Afghan Persian (Dari), 11% Turkic languages (primarily Uzbek and Turkmen), 4% thirty minor languages (primarily Balochi and Pashai)[,] much bilingualism