They primarily live in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A substantial majority of ethnic Pashtuns share Pashto —an Eastern Iranic language in the Indo-European language family—as the native language.
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The majority of the Pashtuns live in the region regarded as Pashtunistan , which has been split between two countries since the Durand Line border was formed after the Second Anglo-Afghan War.
Smaller, but still significant Pashtun diaspora communities exist in Sindh and Punjab in Pakistan, especially in the cities of Karachi and Lahore , and in the Rohilkhand region of Uttar Pradesh , India. As the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan anywhere between 42 and 60 percent of the population , Pashtuns have been the dominant ethno-linguistic group for over years.
During the Delhi Sultanate era, the 15th—16th century Lodi dynasty briefly replaced the preexisting rulers in North India until Babur completely deposed the Lodi dynasty. Other Pashtuns fought the Safavids and Mughals before obtaining an independent state in the early 18th century,  which began with a successful revolution by Mirwais Hotak followed by conquests of Ahmad Shah Durrani.
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The Pashtuns are the world's largest segmentary lineage ethnic group. Estimates of the number of Pashtun tribes and clans range from about to over The vast majority of the Pashtuns are found in the traditional Pashtun homeland , located in an area south of the Amu Darya in Afghanistan and west of the Indus River in Pakistan, which includes Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the northern part of Balochistan.
There are also sizeable Muslim communities in India, which are of largely Pashtun ancestry. In Pakistan, the city of Karachi in Sindh province has the largest Pashtun diaspora communities in the world, with as much as 7 million Pashtuns living in Karachi according to some estimates. Another one million or more Afghans live in Iran. A prominent institution of the Pashtun people is the intricate system of tribes.
The Pashtuns remain a predominantly tribal people, but the trend of urbanisation has begun to alter Pashtun society as cities such as Kandahar, Peshawar, Quetta and Kabul have grown rapidly due to the influx of rural Pashtuns.
Despite this, many people still identify themselves with various clans. The tribal system has several levels of organisation: 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.
Excavations of prehistoric sites suggest that early humans were living in what is now Afghanistan at least 50, years ago. In recent times, people of the Western world have explored the area as well.
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Early precursors to some of the Pashtun's may have been old Iranian tribes that spread throughout the eastern Iranian plateau. Gankovsky, the Pashtun's probably 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 Epthalites White Huns confederacy.
According to Abdul Hai Habibi , some oriental scholars hold that the second largest Pasthun tribe, the Ghiljis , are the descendants of a mixed race of Hephthalite and Pakhtas who have been living in Afghanistan since the Vedic Aryan period. 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.
Of the contribution of the Epthalites White Huns to the ethnogenesis of the Pashtuns we find evidence in the ethnonym of the largest of the Pashtun tribe unions, the Abdali Durrani after associated with the ethnic name of the Epthalites — Abdal.
The Siah-posh , the Kafirs Nuristanis of the Hindu Kush , called all Pashtuns by a general name of Abdal still at the beginning of the 19th century. The ethnogenesis of the Pashtun ethnic group is unclear but historians have come across references to various ancient peoples called Pakthas Pactyans between the 2nd and the 1st millennium BC,   who may be their early ancestors, however, such a claim lacks substantial evidence.
There are many conflicting theories, some modern and others archaic, both among historians and the Pashtuns themselves. 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. Pashtuns are intimately tied to the history of modern Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and northern India. Following Muslim conquests from the 7th to 11th centuries, many Pashtun ghazis warriors invaded and conquered much of the northern parts of South Asia during the periods of the Suris and Durranis. Some modern-day Pashtun tribes have also been identified living in ancient Ariana e. Xuanzang , a Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, visiting the Afghanistan region several times between and CE also speaks about them.
In it live Afghans".
The village of Saul was probably located near Gardez in Afghanistan. Muhammad of Ghor , ruler of the Ghorids , also had Afghans in his army along with others. They hold mountains and defiles and possess considerable strength, and are mostly highwaymen. Their principle mountain is called Kuh Sulayman.
It is told that the prophet Sulayman Solomon , Sulemani ascended this mountain and having looked out over India, which was then covered with darkness, returned without entering it.
One historical account connects the native Pakhtuns of Pakistan to a possible Ancient Egyptian past but this lacks supporting evidence. Additionally, although this too is unsubstantiated, some Afghan historians have maintained that Pashtuns are linked to the ancient Israelites.
Mohan Lal quoted Mountstuart Elphinstone who wrote:. Some Pashtun tribes claim descent from Arabs , including some claiming to be Sayyids descendants of Muhammad. 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.
The Pashtuns have oral and written accounts of their family tree. The elders transfer the knowledge to the younger generation.
Lineage is considered very important and is a vital consideration in marital business. Some anthropologists lend credence to the 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 Nimat Allah al-Harawi , who compiled a history for Khan-e-Jehan Lodhi in the reign of Mughal Emperor Jehangir in the 17th century.
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 many historians, including the 14th century Ibn Battuta and 16th century Ferishta. 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.
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.
Their modern past stretches back to the Delhi Sultanate , particularly the Hotak dynasty and the Durrani Empire. The Hotaks were Ghilji tribesmen who rebelled against the Safavids and seized control over much of Persia from to He created the last Afghan empire that covered most of what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir , Indian Punjab , as well as the Kohistan and Khorasan provinces of Iran.
Specifically, the Mohamedzai subclan held Afghanistan's monarchy from around to the end of Zahir Shah 's reign in 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 super powers against each other, Afghanistan remained an independent sovereign state and maintained some autonomy see the Siege of Malakand. But during the reign of Abdur Rahman Khan — , Pashtun regions were politically divided by the Durand Line , and what is today western Pakistan was claimed by British in In the 20th century, many politically active Pashtun leaders living under British rule of undivided India supported Indian independence , including Ashfaqulla Khan ,   Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai , Ajmal Khattak , Bacha Khan and his son Wali Khan both members of the Khudai Khidmatgar , and were inspired by Mohandas Gandhi 's non-violent method of resistance.
The Pashtuns of Afghanistan attained complete independence from British political intervention during the reign of Amanullah Khan , following the Third Anglo-Afghan War. By the s a popular call for Pashtunistan began to be heard in Afghanistan and the new state of Pakistan.
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This led to bad relations between the two nations. The Afghan monarchy ended when President Daoud Khan seized control of Afghanistan from his cousin Zahir Shah in , which opened doors for a proxy war by neighbors and the rise of Marxism.
In April , Daoud Khan was assassinated along with his family and relatives. Mujahideen commanders began being recruited in neighboring Pakistan for a guerrilla warfare against the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
In , the Soviet Union invaded its southern neighbor Afghanistan in order to defeat a rising insurgency. In the meantime, millions of Pashtuns fled their native land to live among other Afghan diaspora in Pakistan and Iran , and from there tens of thousands proceeded to North America, the European Union , the Middle East, Australia and other parts of the world.
In the late s, Pashtuns became known for being the primary ethnic group comprised by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Taliban regime.
The Taliban regime was ousted in late during the US-led War in Afghanistan and replaced with the Karzai administration. The list of current governors of Afghanistan , as well as the parliamentarians in the House of the People and House of Elders , include large percentage of Pashtuns. Many of the non-Pashtun groups in Afghanistan have adopted the Pashtun culture and use Pashto as a second language. For example, many leaders of non-Pashtun ethnic groups in Afghanistan practice Pashtunwali to some degree and are fluent in Pashto language.
Ghulam Mohammad became the Governor-General of Pakistan from to Others became famous in sports e. Pashtun families are historically accustomed to watching Indian films and dramas. In addition, one of India's former presidents, Zakir Hussain , belonged to the Afridi tribe. According to a study:. This genetic affinity and gene flow suggests interactions that could have existed since at least the establishment of the region's first civilizations at the Indus Valley and the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex.
The abstract states:"our results that all current Afghans largely share a heritage derived from a common unstructured ancestral population that could have emerged during the Neolithic revolution and the formation of the first farming communities. Our results also indicate that inter-Afghan differentiation started during the Bronze Age, probably driven by the formation of the first civilizations in the region.
Among historians, anthropologists, and the Pashtuns themselves, there is some debate as to who exactly qualifies as 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. The ethno-linguistic definition is the most prominent and accepted view as to who is and is not a Pashtun.
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 Pukhto spoken by the Yousafzais , Gigyani tribe , Afridi and other tribes in Peshawar and the Pashto spoken by the Kakar , Wazir , Khilji and Durranis in Kandahar.
These criteria tend to be used by most Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The religious and cultural definition requires Pashtuns to be Muslim and adhere to Pashtunwali codes. Pashtun intellectuals and academics, however, tend to be more flexible and sometimes define who is Pashtun based on other criteria. Pashtun society is not homogenous by religion: the overwhelming majority of them are Sunni , with a tiny Shia community the Turi and partially the Bangash tribe in the Kurram and Orakzai agencies of FATA, Pakistan.
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, Dari , Hindko , Urdu , Hindi or English.