People of Afghanistan

Like Switzerland, Afghanistan is not a self-contained ethnic unit and its culture is not uniform. Afghanistan is home to myriad ethnic, lingusitic, and even religious groups. Below is a list of the most prominent groups. It should be noted that the transliteration of words into English from alphabets based on Arabic and Cyrillic script varies widely, resulting in many alternative spellings for names and vocabulary from Afghanistan.

Accurate population estimates are difficult to state. No reliable census figures exist due to the lack of central authority. Continual warfare since the time of the Soviet invasion and subsequent civil wars and more recently, the American invasion, have resulted in the largest refugee population in the world. Displacement due to drought, starvation, and warfare further confound exact estimates of Afghanistan's population. 25 million is a reasonable estimate, with several million more Afghans in diaspora. The reconstruction of the Afghan economy and civil society will be accomplished not only through international assistance, but also by the joint effort of the many diverse inhabitants of Afghanistan. Below is a list of the most prominent Afghan ethnolinguistic groups:


Also known as Pathans/Pashtoons/Pakhtuns/Puchtuns/Pukhtuns, et cetera

The Pashtuns make up roughly half the population of Afghanistan. An equal number of Pashtun live across the border in Pakistan's North West Territories. Though not a political reality, one can refer to the Pashtun population that straddles the Afghan-Pakistani border as a cultural entity known as "Pashtunistan". Mostly Hanafi Sunni, they are distinguished by a distinctive, pre-Islamic tribal culture known as the Pashtunwali. Their language is Pashto, linguistically related to Persian. The Pashtun have played a dominant role in Afghan and regional history.



Also known as Tadjik/Tadzhik

The Tajik make up nearly one fourth of the population of Afghanistan. They are the majority population of neighboring Tajikistan. Their language is Tajik and is closely related to Persian. They are mainly Hanafi Sunni with small numbers adherent to Ismailiya Shia. The Tajik have played a leading role at times in Afghan history, most recently in concert with the Uzbeks as members of the Northern Alliance.



The Uzbek are a Turkic people who also populate the neighboring country of Uzbekistan. Their population is numbered at an estimated 1.3 million. They speak Uzbek, a language related to Turkish, and are Hanafi Sunni. Along with the Tajik, they now exert influence in Afghanistan by virtue of the role they play as members of the Northern Alliance.



Though disputed by scholars, the Hazara are often perceived to be the descendants of the armies of Genghis Khan. They are overwhelming Shia (some Imami, some Ismailiya), though a few are Sunni. They were known for their fierce resistance to the Soviet invasion. They have often been abject and persecuted in Afghanistan due to their Shia identity. They number roughly one million in population.



Also known as Kafiri

Small in numbers at just several hundred thousand, the Nuristani are legendary for being the last hold outs to convert to Islam in Afghanistan. They were forcibly converted in the late 19th century. Their region was called "Kafiristan" and they were referred to as "Kafiri" (infidel) prior to their conversion to Sunni Islam. Thereafter, the region became known as "Nuristan", land of the pure and enlightened. Their language is stilled referred to as Kafiri.



Also known as Baloch/Balooch

Small in number at some 250,000, the Baluch in Afghanistan are notable due to their wide geographic dispersion across national borders. Baluchs are significantly located in Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. There is significant nationalist sentiment nutured by some Baluchs, which envisions a Baluch homeland known as "Baluchistan".



Afghanistan is currently a poor country but it is one of the richest in terms of its diversity. The above groups, although perhaps the most populous, do not come close to representing the the variety of cultures and peoples. Among the many more are :

  • Aimaq
  • Brahui
  • Gujar
  • Kohistani
  • Jat Guji
  • Turkoman/Turkmen
  • Kirghiz
  • Moghol
  • Farsiwan/Parsiwan
  • Qizilbash
  • Pamiri
  • Ghalcha
  • Mountain Tajik
  • Changar Musali
  • Chalu
  • Sheikh Mohmandi
  • "Arab/Sayyid"

Religious Minorities/Non-Muslims

Today's Afghanistan can be considered 99% Muslim. There is a rough 3/4 to 1/4 split in favor of Sunni Muslims to Shia. Though recent history has been defined by growing religious intolerance and sectarian conflict, Afghanistan does have marginal adherents of other religions.

Hindu and Sikh (Punjabi and Lahnda) populations are of Punjabi and Lahnda descent. There is a Bahai community, albeit in exile. Until recently, there was a small Yahudi (Jewish) community in urban areas. The efforts of Christian missionaries have given rise to a small, numerically insignificant Christian community. Added to this mix are the international brigades of jihadis who have flocked to Afghanistan since the Soviet Invasion. Comprised primarily of Arabs (mostly Algerian, Egyptian, Saudi, Kuwaiti,Yemeni), but not exclusively (North Americans, Malaysians, Turks, Chechens, Indonesians, etc), they have been referred to as "Afghani [sic] Arabs".

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