Name of Afghanistan

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The name Afghānistān (Persian: افغانستان‎‎, [avɣɒnestɒn])[1] means "land of the Afghans",[2] which originates from the ethnonym "Afghan". Historically, the name "Afghan" mainly designated the Pashtun people, the largest ethnic group of Afghanistan.[2][3][4] The earliest reference to the name is found in the 10th-century geography book known as Hudud ul-'alam.[5] The last part of the name, -stān is a Persian suffix for "place".

In the early 19th century, Afghan politicians adopted the name Afghanistan for the entire Durrani Empire after its English translation had already appeared in various treaties with Qajarid Persia and British India.[6]

In 1857, in his review of J.W. Kaye's The Afghan War, Friedrich Engels describes "Afghanistan" as:

"an extensive country of Asia ... between Persia and the Indies, and in the other direction between the Hindu Kush and the Indian Ocean. It formerly included the Persian provinces of Khorassan and Kohistan, together with Herat, Beluchistan, Cashmere, and Sinde, and a considerable part of the Punjab ... Its principal cities are Kabul, the capital, Ghuznee, Peshawer, and Kandahar."[7]

Afghanistan was officially recognized as a sovereign state by the international community after the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1919 was signed.[8][9]


Main article: Pashtunization
Tents of Afghan nomads in Badghis Province of Afghanistan. They are known in Pashto language as Kuchans, who migrate from region to region depending on the season.

It is widely acknowledged that the terms "Pashtun" and Afghan are synonyms,[3] a fact that is mentioned in the 17th-century poetry of Pashtun national poet Khushal Khan Khattak:

"Pull out your sword and slay any one, that says Pashtun and Afghan are not one! Arabs know this and so do Romans: Afghans are Pashtuns, Pashtuns are Afghans!"[10]

Pashtunization (Afghanization) has been going on in the region (between modern Afghanistan and Bangladesh) since at least the 8th century. It is a process of a cultural or linguistic change in which something non-Pashtun (non-Afghan) becomes Pashtun (Afghan).

"In the eighth and ninth centuries ancestors of many of today's Turkic-speaking Afghans settled in the Hindu Kush area (partly to obtain better grazing land) and began to assimilate much of the culture and language of the Pashtun tribes already present there."[11]

Afghan dynasties[edit]

The Afghan Lodi dynasty of North India

According to Ta'rikh-i Yamini (author being secretary of Mahmud of Ghazni), Afghans enrolled in Sabuktigin's Ghaznavid Empire in the 10th century[12] as well as in the later Ghurid Kingdom (1148–1215).[13] From the beginning of the Khilji dynasty in 1290, Afghans are becoming more recognized in history among the Delhi Sultanate of India. The later Lodi dynasty and Sur dynasty of Delhi were both made up of Afghans, whose rule stretched to as far as what is now Bangladesh in the east.

Early references to Afghanistan[edit]

The word Afghan is mentioned in the form of Abgan in the third century CE by the Sassanians[14] and as Avagana (Afghana) in the 6th century CE by Indian astronomer Varahamihira.[3] A people called the Afghans are mentioned several times in a 10th-century geography book, Hudud al-'alam, particularly where a reference is made to a village: "Saul, a pleasant village on a mountain. In it live Afghans."[15]

Al-Biruni referred to them in the 11th century as various tribes living on the western frontier mountains of the Indus River, which would be the Sulaiman Mountains.[16] Ibn Battuta, a famous Moroccan scholar visiting the region in 1333, writes: "We travelled on to Kabul, formerly a vast town, the site of which is now occupied by a village inhabited by a tribe of Persians called Afghans. They hold mountains and defiles and possess considerable strength, and are mostly highwaymen. Their principle mountain is called Kuh Sulayman."[17]

The name "Afghanistan" is mentioned in writing by the 16th century Mughal ruler Babur, referring to a territory south of Kabulistan.

"The road from Khorasān leads by way of Kandahār. It is a straight level road, and does not go through any hill-passes... In the country of Kābul there are many and various tribes. Its valleys and plains are inhabited by Tūrks, Aimāks, and Arabs. In the city and the greater part of the villages, the population consists of Tājiks* (Sarts). Many other of the villages and districts are occupied by Pashāis, Parāchis, Tājiks, Berekis, and Afghans. In the hill-country to the west, reside the Hazāras and Nukderis. Among the Hazāra and Nukderi tribes, there are some who speak the Moghul language. In the hill-country to the north-east lies Kaferistān, such as Kattor and Gebrek. To the south is Afghanistān.[18]

— Babur, 1525

The name "Afghanistan" is also mentioned many times in the writings of the 16th century historian, Muhammad Qasim Hindu Shah (Ferishta), and many others.

"The men of Kábul and Khilj also went home; and whenever they were questioned about the Musulmáns of the Kohistán (the mountains), and how matters stood there, they said, "Don't call it Kohistán, but Afghánistán; for there is nothing there but Afgháns and disturbances." Thus it is clear that for this reason the people of the country call their home in their own language Afghánistán, and themselves Afgháns. The people of India call them Patán; but the reason for this is not known. But it occurs to me, that when, under the rule of Muslims, they first came to the city of Patná, and dwelt there, the people of India (for that reason) called them Patáns—but God knows!"[19]

— Ferishta, 1560-1620

Last Afghan empire[edit]

Main articles: Hotaki dynasty and Durrani Empire
A Lithography collection made by James Rattray in the early 1800s shows the name Afghaunistan on the front cover.

Regarding the modern sovereign state of Afghanistan, the Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Iranica, and others explain that the political history of Afghanistan begins in 1709 with the rise of the Hotaki dynasty,[20][21][22] which was established by Mir Wais Hotak who is regarded as "Mirwais Neeka" ("Mirwais the grandfather").[23]

"The modern Afghan kingdom begins with the rise to supremacy first of the Ghalzais and shortly afterwards of the Durranis under Ahmed Shah."[24]

The Encyclopaedia of Islam states:[25]

"The country now known as Afghanistan has borne that name only since the middle of the 18th century, when the supremacy of the Afghan race became assured: previously various districts bore distinct apellations, but the country was not a definite political unit, and its component parts were not bound together by any identity of race or language. The earlier meaning of the word was simply "the land of the Afghans", a limited territory which did not include many parts of the present state but did comprise large districts now either independent or within the boundary of British India."[26]

— M. T. Houtsma

British India eventually became Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cowan, William and Jaromira Rakušan. Source Book for Linguistics. 3rd ed. John Benjamins, 1998.
  2. ^ a b Banting, Erinn (2003). Afghanistan: The land. Crabtree Publishing Company. pp. 4, 32. ISBN 978-0-7787-9335-9. Archived from the original on 2013-12-31. 
  3. ^ a b c Ch. M. Kieffer (15 December 1983). "Afghan". Encyclopædia Iranica (online ed.). Columbia University. Archived from the original on 2013-11-16. 
  4. ^ "General Information About Afghanistan". Abdullah Qazi. Afghanistan Online. Retrieved 2010-09-27. 
  5. ^ Vogelsang, Willem (2002). The Afghans. Wiley Blackwell. p. 18. ISBN 0-631-19841-5. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  6. ^ E. Huntington, "The Anglo-Russian Agreement as to Tibet, Afghanistan, and Persia", Bulletin of the American Geographical Society, Vol. 39, No. 11 (1907).
  7. ^ Friedrich Engels (1857). "Afghanistan". Andy Blunden. The New American Cyclopaedia, Vol. I. Archived from the original on 2014-04-27. Retrieved 25 August 2010. 
  8. ^ M. Ali, "Afghanistan: The War of Independence, 1919", 1960.
  9. ^ Afghanistan's Constitution of 1923 under King Amanullah Khan (English translation). Archived October 6, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ Extract from "Passion of the Afghan" by Khushal Khan Khattak; translated by C. Biddulph in Afghan Poetry Of The 17th Century: Selections from the Poems of Khushal Khan Khattak, London, 1890.
  11. ^ "Islamic Conquest". Craig Baxter. Library of Congress Country Studies on Afghanistan. 1997. 
  12. ^ "AMEER NASIR-OOD-DEEN SUBOOKTUGEEN". Ferishta, History of the Rise of Mohammedan Power in India, Volume 1: Section 15. Packard Humanities Institute. Retrieved 2012-12-31. The Afghans and Khiljies who resided among the mountains having taken the oath of allegiance to Subooktugeen, many of them were enlisted in his army, after which he returned in triumph to Ghizny. 
  13. ^ Houtsma, M. Th. (1993). E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam 1913-1936. BRILL. pp. 150–51. ISBN 90-04-09796-1. Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  14. ^ "History of Afghanistan". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Archived from the original on 2012-11-20. Retrieved 22 November 2010. 
  15. ^ Vogelsang, Willem (2002). The Afghans. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 382. ISBN 978-0-631-19841-3. Archived from the original on 2013-12-31. 
  16. ^ Morgenstierne, G. (1999). "AFGHĀN". Encyclopaedia of Islam (CD-ROM v. 1.0 ed.). Koninklijke Brill NV. 
  17. ^ Ibn Battuta (2004). Travels in Asia and Africa, 1325–1354 (reprint, illustrated ed.). Routledge. p. 416. ISBN 978-0-415-34473-9. Archived from the original on 2014-04-05. 
  18. ^ John Leyden, Esq. M.D.; William Erskine, Esq., eds. (1921). "Events Of The Year 910 (1525)". Memoirs of Babur. Packard Humanities Institute. p. 5. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  19. ^ Muhammad Qasim Hindu Shah (1560–1620). "The History of India, Volume 6, chpt. 200, Translation of the Introduction to Firishta's History (p.8)". Sir H. M. Elliot. London: Packard Humanities Institute. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  20. ^ Louis Dupree, Nancy Hatch Dupree; et al. "Last Afghan empire". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  21. ^ D. Balland. "AFGHANISTAN x. Political History". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  22. ^ Otfinoski, Steven Bruce (2004). Afghanistan. Infobase Publishing. p. 8. ISBN 0-8160-5056-2. Retrieved 2010-09-27. 
  23. ^ Bleaney, C. H.; María Ángeles Gallego (2006). Afghanistan: a bibliography. BRILL. p. 216. ISBN 90-04-14532-X. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  24. ^ Houtsma, Martijn Theodoor (1987). E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936. 2. BRILL. p. 157. ISBN 90-04-08265-4. Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  25. ^ M. Longworth Dames, G. Morgenstierne, R. Ghirshman, "Afghānistān", in Encyclopaedia of Islam, Online Edition
  26. ^ Houtsma, Martijn Theodoor (1987). E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam 1913-1936. 2. BRILL. p. 146. ISBN 90-04-09796-1. Retrieved 2010-08-23.