The People and Cultures of Afghanistan

  • 1990

From ancient times Afghanistan has been invaded and conquered over and over. With many different tribal groups, languages, and cultures, Afghanistan has had a struggle with unifying the country, and has been an easy target for outsiders with their own political and economic interests.

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Population Estimates of Afghanistan

The human population of Afghanistan has recently been estimated at of 28.396 million. The 2009 CIA Factbook estimates the larger populations of ethnic groups as:

Pashtun 42%
Tajik 27%
Hazara 9%
Uzbek 9%
Aimak 4%
Turkmen 3%
Baloch 2%

Other including Kurds, Kirghiz, Nuristani, Pamir, etc. 4%

Pashtuns

The term Afghan has been used synonymously with the term Pashtun. Pashtuns, also known as Pakhtuns or Pathans, are the largest ethnic group, and are divided into tribes.

They have an ancient pre-Islamic code of honor which governs their lives known as Pashtunwali.

Many Pashtuns are farmers, but some are also nomads living in black goat-hair tents. They speak the Indo-Iranian Pashto language.

Pashtuns are the largest populations of the two largest cities, Kabul and Kandahar (which was once a capitol of Afghanistan), Dari has historically been used as the primary language for government and business.

Some have theorized from Pashtun oral tradition and other texts that the Pashtuns were descended from the lost tribes of Israel who were taken during the Babylonian Exile and the later Persian Conquest. They then escaped to Afghanistan and converted to Islam at a later time.

Tajiks

The second-largest ethnic group, Tajiks, farm the mountains and herd sheep and goats. They are not divided into tribes, but prefer to be recognized by the area where they live. They speak Dari, for the most part.

Hazaras

Hazaras are a Shiite Muslim group living in central Afghanistan. They are thought to have some origins from the Xinjiang region of north-western China.

They are mostly farmers and sheepherders, and speak their own dialect of Dari. They have long been ostracized by other Muslims due to their Shia religion and somewhat Mongol appearance.

UzbeksUzbeks live among Tajiks along the northern borders of Afghanistan. They speak Turkic dialects such as Uzbeki. They are also farmers and herders and many are adept businessmen and artisans.

Turkomens

Turkomens also speak Turkomen Turkic dialects as well as Dari. They are nomadic herdsmen and live in tents. They are well known for their breeding and use of horses.

Baluchs

Baluchs are pastoral people who live in the desert and may be descended from the Kurds.

Nuristanis

Nuristanis are now Sunni Muslim, but at one time they were known as Kafirs (pagans). They are a separate branch of Indo-Iranian people. Many among them are blonde or lighly- colored. They speak Nuristani and Dardic languages.

There are many, many more ethnic groups in Afghanistan.

Languages of Afghans

Both Pashto and Dari (Persian) are official languages of Afghanistan.

While the majority of the population is ethnically Pashtun, more people speak a dialect of Dari (Persian), about 50% as a first language, with Pashto being a first language for about 35%, and Turkic languages (primarily Uzbek and Turkmen) are spoken by approximately 11%.

There are approximately 30 languages spoken in Afghanistan, many of which are Indo-European, which are related to Persian, Urdu and Hindi. Both Pashto and Tajik are Indo-European languages.

The Pashtuns have tried to make Pashto the main language, fining people for using Persian words instead of Pashto words, according to the BBCPersian.com.

This is just part of the ongoing conflict between ethnic Pashtuns and non-ethnic Pashtuns.

They have also tried to erase the Hazara Shiite populations in the east and replace them with Pashtun people.

There are many Indo-Iranian languages and dialects spoken in Afghanistan as well as Turkic languages.