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Ethnic groups in Afghanistan

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CIA map showing the territory of the settlement of ethnic groups and subgroups in Afghanistan in 2005

Afghanistan is a multiethnic and mostly tribal society. The population of the country consists of numerous ethnolinguistic groups: Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Aimaq, Turkmen, Baloch, Pashai, Nuristani, Gujjar, Arab, Brahui, Qizilbash, Pamiri, Kyrgyz, Sadat and others. The Afghan National Anthem and the Afghan Constitution each mention fourteen of them, though the lists are not exactly the same.[1]

National identity

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.

Ethnic groups


Aimaq, meaning "tribe" in Turkic-Mongolic (Oymaq), is not an ethnic denomination, but differentiates semi-nomadic herders and agricultural tribal groups of various ethnic origins including the Hazara, Tajik and Baluch, that were formed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They live among non-tribal people in the western areas of 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.[5] Population estimates vary widely, from less than 500,000 to around 800,000.[citation needed]


Baloch men in Nimruz Province, 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.[6] 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]


Hazaras of Afghanistan

The Hazaras are the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.[7] They reside mainly in the Hazarajat region in central Afghanistan. Linguistically the Hazara speak a dialect of Dari-Persian, known as Hazaragi, and sometimes their variant is interspersed with some Turkic and Mongolic words. They practice Islam, mostly the Shi'a of the Twelver sect, with significant Sunni, some Isma'ili and Non-denominational Muslim minorities. They are between 6 to 7 million.[8]

Some notable Hazaras of Afghanistan include: Abdul Ali Mazari, Commander Shafi Hazara, Ismael Balkhi, Karim Khalili, Sultan Ali Keshtmand, Habiba Sarābi, Sarwar Danish, Ustad Muhammad Akbari, 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, Fariba Rezayee, Wakil Hussain Allahdad and Dawood Sarkhosh.


Pashai boy

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), they converted to Islam during the rule of Amir Abdur Rahman and their country was renamed "Nuristan", meaning "Land of Light" (as in the light of Islam).[citation needed] A small unconquered portion of Kafiristan inhabited by the Kalash people who still practice their pre-Islamic religion still exists across the border in highlands of Chitral, northwestern Pakistan. Many Nuristanis believe that they are the descendants of Alexander the Great's ancient Greeks, but there is a lack of genetic evidence for this and they are more than likely an isolated pocket of early Aryan invaders.[citation needed] Physically, the Nuristani are of the Mediterranean sub-stock with about one-third recessive blondism.[9] They follow Sunni Islam like most of the other Afghans. The population in the 1990s was estimated at 125,000 by some; the Nuristani prefer a figure of 300,000.[6]


Pashtuns of Afghanistan

The Pashtuns make up one of the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, comprising between 38% and 50% (2018 sociological research data by The Asia Foundation)[10] of the country's population. The majority of Pashtuns practice Sunni Islam.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13] 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.[14] 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", propagated to be grandson of King Saul of Israel.[15]

According to scholars such as V. Minorsky and others, the name Afghan appears in the 982 CE Hudud-al-Alam geography book. Al-Biruni referred to a group of Afghans in the 11th century as various tribes living on the western frontier mountains of Ancient India and Persia, which would be the area between the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan and the Indus River in what is now Pakistan. According to other sources, some Pashtuns may be the Lost tribes of Israel who converted to Islam during the Arab Empire. Since the 13th century, some Pashtun tribes conquered areas outside their traditional Pashtun homeland by pushing deeper into South Asia.[15]

The modern Afghan national identity developed in the mid 18th century under the rule of Ahmad Shah Durrani‌, who was the founder of the Durrani Empire.[16]

The Karzai administration, which is led by Hamid Karzai, is dominated by the Pashtun ministers.[17]

Some notable Pashtuns of Afghanistan include: Hamid Karzai, Ashraf Ghani, Nazo Tokhi, Wazir Akbar Khan, Malalai of Maiwand, 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.


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).[18][19]

President Ashraf Ghani decreed mentioning 'Sadat tribe' in the electronic national identity on 15 March 2019.[20]

Sayyids of the north are generally located in Balkh and Kunduz; while in the east they can be found in Nangarhar. While most are Sunni Muslims, some in the Bamiyan province are Shi'a Muslims.[21]


Tajiks of Afghanistan

Tajiks form the second largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.[22] They are a native Persian-speaking people.[23] 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.[24] 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").[25]

Like the rest of the ethnic groups in Afghanistan, the origin of Tajiks is a mystery. They were only able to rule and at the same time legitimize their rule as second- or even as immediate sub-rulers with some significant influence on the foreigners – with the exception of the short 10-month rule of Habibullah Kalakani in 1929.[26] The total number of Tajiks in Afghanistan was around 4.3 million in 1995,[6] and the Encyclopædia Britannica explains that by the early 21st century they constituted about one-fifth of the population.[23][27]

Tajiks are the major ethnic group in neighboring Tajikistan, a country that was created north of Afghanistan in 1991.[27] 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.[28][29]

In Afghanistan, Tajiks are the majority in the city of Herat.[30] The city of Mazar-e-Sharif is 60% Tajik, the city of Kabul is approximately 45% and the city of Ghazni 50%.[30] Many are known to be in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) while some in the major cities are bureaucrats, doctors, teachers, professors, traders, and shopkeepers. Others live in rural areas, particularly in Badakhshan, and engage in agriculture. 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.


The Turkmens are a smaller Turkic-speaking ethnic group in Afghanistan. They are 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).[9] In the 1990s their number was put at around 200,000.[6]


Uzbeks of Afghanistan

The Uzbeks are the main Turkic people of 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 Iranian tribes over time to become the ethnic group they are today. The Uzbeks of Afghanistan are Sunni Muslims and fluent in Southern Uzbek language.[9] Uzbeks living in Afghanistan were estimated in the 1990s at approximately 1.3 million[6] but are now believed to be 2 million.[31]

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 groups

Smaller groups include the Pashai, Pamiri, Kyrgyz, Arabs, Gujjar, Moghol, Ormur, Wakhi, Dards, Sikhs, Hindus, and others.


Of the major ethicities, 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.[32] Tajiks are highly concentrated in the north-east, but also form large communities elsewhere such as in western Afghanistan.[33] Hazaras tend to be mostly concentrated in the wider "Hazarajat" region of central Afghanistan,[34] while Uzbeks are mostly populated in the north.[35] 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.[36][37] The provinces of Ghazni, Kunduz, Kabul and Jowzjan are noted for remarkable ethnic diversity.[34]

Ethnic composition

The population of Afghanistan was estimated in 2017 at 29.2 million.[38] Of this, 15 million are males and 14.2 million females. About 22% of them are urbanite and the remaining 78% live in rural areas.[39] 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 at around 33,332,025, and its current growth rate is 2.34%.[40]

The Afghan government announced it will begin issuing e-ID cards (e-Tazkiras) in which the ethnicity of each citizen is to be provided in the application. This process is expected to reveal the exact figures about the size and composition of the country's ethnic groups.[41]

An approximate distribution of the ethnic groups is shown in the chart below:

Ethnic groups in Afghanistan
Ethnic group World Factbook / Library of Congress Country Studies (recent estimate)[42][43] World Factbook / Library of Congress Country Studies (pre-2004 estimates)[6][44][45]
Pashtun 42% 38-50%
Tajik 27% 25.3%
Hazara 9% 12-19%
Uzbek 9% 6-8%
Aimak 4% 500,000 to 800,000 individuals
Turkmen 3% 2.5%
Baloch 2% 100,000 individuals
Others (Pashai, Nuristani, Arab, Brahui, Pamiri, Gujjar, Qizilbash and etc.) 4% 6.9%

The recent estimate in the above chart is supported by the below recent national opinion polls, which were aimed at knowing how a group of about 804 to 13,943 local residents in Afghanistan felt about the current war, political situation, as well as the economic and social issues affecting their daily lives. Ten surveys were conducted between 2004 and 2018 by the Asia Foundation (a sample is shown in the table below; the survey in 2015 did not contain information on the ethnicity of the participants) and one between 2004 and 2009 by a combined effort of the broadcasting companies NBC News, BBC, and ARD.[46][3]

Answers regarding ethnicity provided by 804 to 13,943 Afghans in national opinion polls
Ethnic group "Afghanistan: Where Things Stand" (2004)[3]
"A survey of the Afghan people" (2004)[10]
"Afghanistan: Where Things Stand" (2005)[3] "Afghanistan: Where Things Stand" (2006)[3] "Afghanistan: Where Things Stand" (2007)[3] "A survey of the Afghan people" (2007)[10] "Afghanistan: Where Things Stand" (2009)[3] "A survey of the Afghan people" (2012)[10] "A survey of the Afghan people" (2014)[10] "A survey of the Afghan people" (2018)[10] "A survey of the Afghan people" (2019)[10]
Pashtun 46% 40% 42% 38% 40.1% 40% 40% 40% 37% 39%
Tajik 39% 37% 37% 38% 35.1% 37% 33% 36% 37% 37%
Hazara 6% 13% 12% 6% 10.0% 11% 11% 10% 10% 11%
Uzbek 6% 6% 5% 6% 8.1% 7% 9% 8% 9% 8%
Aimak 0% 0% 0% 0% 0.8% 0% 1% 1% 1% <0.5%
Turkmen 1% 1% 3% 2% 3.1% 2% 2% 2% 2% 2%
Baloch 0% 0% 0% 3% 0.7% 1% 1% 1% 1% <0.5%
Others (Pashayi, Nuristani, Arab, Qizilbash.) 3% 3% 1% 5% 2.1% 3% 3% 2% 2% 3%
Don't know -% -% -% -% -% -% -% -% 1% -%

See also


  1. ^ "Article Four of the Constitution of Afghanistan". Archived from the original on 28 October 2013. Retrieved 23 May 2017. The nation of Afghanistan is comprised of the following ethnic groups: Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbak, Turkman, Baluch, Pashai, Nuristani, Aimaq, Arab, Qirghiz, Qizilbash, Gujur, Brahwui and others.
  2. ^ a b Kieffer, Ch. M. "Afghan". Encyclopædia Iranica. Archived from the original on 16 November 2013. From a more limited, ethnological point of view, "Afḡān" is the term by which the Persian-speakers of Afghanistan (and the non-Paṧtō-speaking ethnic groups generally) designate the Paṧtūn. The equation Afghans = Paṧtūn has been propagated all the more, both in and beyond Afghanistan, because the Paṧtūn tribal confederation is by far the most important in the country, numerically and politically.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "ABC NEWS/BBC/ARD poll – Afghanistan: Where Things Stand" (PDF). ABC News. Kabul, Afghanistan. pp. 38–40. Archived (PDF) from the original on 28 June 2011. Retrieved 29 October 2010.
  4. ^ "Afghanistan – Non-Muslims". Archived from the original on 3 November 2016. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  5. ^ "Library of Congress, Aimaq". Archived from the original on 11 August 2017. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Ethnic Groups". Library of Congress Country Studies. 1997. Archived from the original on 10 January 2009. Retrieved 8 October 2010.
  7. ^ "HAZĀRA". Arash Khazeni, Alessandro Monsutti, Charles M. Kieffer. Encyclopædia Iranica. 15 December 2003. Archived from the original on 17 November 2013. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  8. ^ "Hazara". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 17 November 2011. Retrieved 6 November 2011.
  9. ^ a b c "Afghanistan: (iv.) ethnocgraphy". L. Dupree. Encyclopædia Iranica. July 1982. Archived from the original on 10 March 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Afganistan in 2018. A Survey of the Afghan People (PDF). The Asia Foundation. 2018. p. 283.
  11. ^ See:
  12. ^ "Ethnic map of Afghanistan" (PDF). Thomas Gouttierre, Center For Afghanistan Studies, University of Nebraska at Omaha; Matthew S. Baker, Stratfor. National Geographic Society. 2003. Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 July 2011. Retrieved 24 October 2010.
  13. ^ Chapter 7 Archived 16 December 2006 at the Wayback Machine of The History of Herodotus (trans. George Rawlinson; originally written 440 BC) (retrieved 10 January 2007)
  14. ^ "Afghan and Afghanistan". Abdul Hai Habibi. 1969. Archived from the original on 7 July 2011. Retrieved 24 October 2010.
  15. ^ a b "Pashtun". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 30 October 2013. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  16. ^ "Afghanistan". CIA World Factbook. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  17. ^ "Afghan Government 2009" (PDF). Central Intelligence Agency. Southern Center for International Studies. 28 September 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 July 2011. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  18. ^ "President Ghani to Issue Legislative Decree on Recognizing 'Sadat' as Ethnic Group". Ariana News.
  19. ^ "'Sadat Ethnicity' to be Inserted in e-NIC". 13 March 2019.
  20. ^ Hamdard, Azizullah (15 March 2019). "Ghani decrees mentioning Sadat tribe in electronic ID card".
  21. ^ "Ethnic Identity and Genealogies". Program for Culture and Conflict Studies – Naval Postgraduate School.
  22. ^ Richard Foltz, A History of the Tajiks: Iranians of the East, London: Bloomsbury, 2019, p. 173.
  23. ^ a b Perry, John (20 July 2009). "TAJIK i. THE ETHNONYM: ORIGINS AND APPLICATION". Encyclopædia Iranica. Archived from the original on 17 May 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  24. ^ C.E. Bosworth; B.G. Fragner (1999). "TĀDJĪK". Encyclopaedia of Islam (CD-ROM Edition v. 1.0 ed.). Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV.
  25. ^ M. Longworth Dames; G. Morgenstierne; R. Ghirshman (1999). "AFGHĀNISTĀN". Encyclopaedia of Islam (CD-ROM Edition v. 1.0 ed.). Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV.
  26. ^ Richard S. Newell "Post-Soviet Afghanistan: The Position of the Minorities". Asian Survey, Vol. 29, No. 11 (Nov. 1989), pp. 1090–1108. Publisher: University of California Press
  27. ^ a b "Tajik". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 25 November 2011. Retrieved 6 November 2011. There were about 5,000,000 in Afghanistan, where they constituted about one-fifth of the population.
  28. ^ Wörmer, Nils (2012). "The Networks of Kunduz: A History of Conflict and Their Actors, from 1992 to 2001" (PDF). Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik. Afghanistan Analysts Network. p. 8. Archived (PDF) from the original on 4 November 2013. Retrieved 10 April 2014. While non-Pashtun settlers from inside Afghanistan such as Tajiks, Hazara or Baluch people moved to Kataghan during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as well, the most considerable wave of non-Pashtun immigration to the northeast occurred in the 1920s. By this time between one-and two-hundred thousand Tajiks and Uzbeks fled the conquest of their homeland by Russian Red Army and settled in northern Afghanistan
  29. ^ "Afghanistan: Glossary". British Library. Archived from the original on 2 July 2010. Retrieved 15 March 2008. tajiks An ethnic minority group migrated from former Russian Turkestan, ethnically and linguistically Persian, residing north of the Hindu Kush and around Kabul
  30. ^ a b "2003 National Geographic Population Map" (PDF). Thomas Gouttierre, Center For Afghanistan Studies, University of Nebraska at Omaha; Matthew S. Baker, Stratfor. National Geographic Society. 2003. Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 July 2011. Retrieved 11 April 2011.
  31. ^ "Uzbek". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 27 November 2011. Retrieved 6 November 2011.
  32. ^ Firdous, Tabassum (2002). Central Asia, Security, and Strategic Imperatives. ISBN 9788178350790.
  33. ^ "Tajikistan and Afghanistan". Institute for the Study of War.
  34. ^ a b
  35. ^
  36. ^ "The Significance of Taking Kabul". ABC News.
  37. ^ D, Hamid Hadi M. (24 March 2016). Afghanistan's Experiences: The History of the Most Horrifying Events Involving Politics, Religion, and Terrorism. ISBN 978-1-5049-8614-4.
  38. ^ "Afghan Population 29.2 Million – Pajhwok Afghan News". Archived from the original on 11 October 2017. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  39. ^ Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada, ed. (20 November 2011). "Afghanistan's population reaches 26m". Pajhwok Afghan News. Archived from the original on 1 January 2013. Retrieved 5 December 2011.
  40. ^ "Afghanistan". The World Factbook. Retrieved 19 May 2017.
  41. ^ Abasin Zaheer, ed. (26 May 2013). "Senators stress caution in ID cards issuance". Pajhwok Afghan News. Archived from the original on 12 June 2014. Retrieved 4 May 2013.
  42. ^ "Ethnic groups: Pashtun 42%, Tajik 27%, Hazara 9%, Uzbek 9%, Aimak 4%, Turkmen 3%, Baloch 2%, other 4%". The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Archived from the original on 14 October 2013. Retrieved 18 September 2010.
  43. ^ "Country Profile: Afghanistan" (PDF). Library of Congress Country Studies on Afghanistan. August 2008. Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 February 2005. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  44. ^ "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: Pashtun 50%, Tajik 25%, Uzbek 9%, Hazara 12-15%; minor ethnic groups include Chahar Aimaks, Turkmen, Baloch, and other
  45. ^ "PEOPLE – Ethnic divisions". The World Factbook/Central Intelligence Agency. University of Missouri. 22 January 1993. Retrieved 20 March 2011. Pashtun 38%, Tajik 25%, Uzbek 6%, Hazara 19%; minor ethnic groups include Chahar Aimaks, Turkmen, Baloch, and others
  46. ^ See:

External links