Pashtuns (Pashto: پښتون Paṣ̌tun, Pax̌tun, also rendered as Pushtuns, Pakhtuns, Pukhtuns), also called Pathans (in Urdu: پٹھان and Hindi: पठान Paṭhān) or (ethnic) Afghans (in Persian: افغان; see also origin and history of the term), are an Eastern Iranian ethno-linguistic group with populations primarily in Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan, which includes Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan. The Pashtuns are typically characterized by their usage of the Pashto language and practice of Pashtunwali, a traditional set of ethics guiding individual and communal conduct. Their origin is unclear but historians have come across references to a people called Paktha (Pactyans) between the 2nd and the 1st millennium BC, which is speculated to be the ancestors of today's Pashtuns. Since the 3rd century AD and onward, they are mostly referred to by the name "Afghan" ("Abgan", "Avgan" or "Awgan").
During the Delhi Sultanate era, a number of Pashtun Emperors (Sultans) have ruled the Indian subcontinent. Other Pashtuns fought the Safavids and the Mughal Empire before obtaining an independent state in the early-18th century, which began with a successful revolution by the Hotaki dynasty followed by military conquests by the Durrani Empire. Pashtuns played a vital role during the Great Game from the 19th century to the 20th century as they were caught between the imperialist designs of the British and Russian empires. For over 300 years, they reigned as the dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan with nearly all rulers being Pashtun. More recently, the Pashtuns gained global attention during the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan and with the rise of the Taliban, since they are the main ethnic contingent in the movement. Pashtuns are also an important community in Pakistan, where they have attained the presidency and high positions in the military, and are the second-largest ethnic group in that country.
The Pashtuns are the world's largest (patriarchal) segmentary lineage ethnic group. The total population of the group is estimated to be as high 49 million according to Ethnologue, but an accurate count remains elusive due to the lack of an official census in Afghanistan since 1979. There are an estimated 350 to over 400 Pashtun tribes and clans.
The vast majority of Pashtuns are found in an area stretching from southeastern Afghanistan to northwestern Pakistan. Additional Pashtun communities are found in the Gilgit-Baltistan territory, the Mianwali and Attock districts of Punjab province in Pakistan, as well as in the Khorasan province of Iran. There is also a sizeable community in India, which is of largely putative ancestry. Smaller Pashtun communities are located in the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, Europe and the Americas, particularly in North America.
Important metropolitan centers of Pashtun culture include Kandahar, Quetta, Peshawar, Jalalabad, Kunduz and Swat. Kabul and Ghazni are home to around 25% Pashtun population while Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif has at least 10%. With as high as 7 million by some estimates, the city of Karachi in Pakistan has one of the largest Pashtun populations in the world. In addition, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, and Lahore also have sizable Pashtun populations.
Pashtuns comprise roughly 15.42% of Pakistan's 174 million population. In Afghanistan, they make up an estimated 42% of the 29 million population according to the CIA World Factbook. Some sources give 50-60% because the exact figure remains uncertain in Afghanistan, and are affected by the 1.7 million Afghan refugees that remain in Pakistan a majority of which are Pashtuns. Another 937,600 Afghans live in Iran according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). A cumulative population assessment suggests a total of around 49 million individuals all across the world.
History and origins
The history of the Pashtun people is ancient and much of it is not fully researched. Since the 2nd millennium BC, cities in the region now inhabited by Pashtuns have seen invasions and migrations, including by early Aryan tribes, the Mediian and Persian empires of antiquity, Greeks, Mauryas, Kushans, Hephthalites, Sassanids, Arab Muslims, Turks, Mongols, and others. In recent age, people of the Western world have explored the area as well.
There are many conflicting theories about the origin of Pashtuns, some modern and others archaic, both among historians and the Pashtuns themselves. According to most historians and experts, the true origin of the Pashtuns is unknown.
...the origin of the Afghans is so obscure, that no one, even among the oldest and most clever of the tribe, can give satisfactory information on this point.
Looking for the origin of Pashtuns and the Afghans is something like exploring the source of the Amazon. 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.
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 Maghzan-e-Afghani who compiled a history for Khan-e-Jehan Lodhi in the reign of Mughal Emperor Jehangir in the 17th century.
Another book that corresponds with Pashtun historical records, Taaqati-Nasiri, states that in the 7th century BC a people called the Bani Israel settled in the Ghor region of Afghanistan and migrated later to the southeast areas. These references to Bani Israel agree with the commonly held view by Pashtuns that when the twelve tribes of Israel were dispersed (see Israel and Judah and Ten Lost Tribes), the tribe of Joseph, among other Hebrew tribes, settled in the region. This oral tradition is widespread among the Pashtuns. 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 the 16th century Persian historian, 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.
Other Pashtun tribes claim descent from Arabs, including some even claiming to be descendants of the Islamic prophet Muhammad (referred to as Sayyids). Some groups from Peshawar and Kandahar claim to be descended from Ancient Greeks that arrived with Alexander the Great.