Afghanistan, also officially acknowledged as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country, which is located in the parts of Southern and Central Asia. With an approximated population of 31million people, Afghanistan is the 42nd most populous country in the world. Its neighbors include Pakistan in the south and east, Iran on the west, and then in the north it borders Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. China borders Afghanistan from the far northeast.
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Afghanistan is the 41st largest country in the world. Human inhabitants began living in the country since the Middle Paleolithic Era. The country’s location along the Silk Road was strategic for connecting it o the cultures of the Middle East. The power dynasties of the 18th and 19t centuries are responsible for the modern Afghan state and that is where its political history began (Alikuzai, 2013).
Afghanistan comprises of a multiethnic society, consisting of fourteen ethnic groups as mentioned in the national anthem. The huge population of the country is divided into ethno-linguistic groups. Among the fourteen groups, Pashtun is the country’s largest ethnic group with a population of 12.5 million people, which is a 42 percent of the whole population (Alikuzai, 2013).
The Pashtun people are also referred to as ethnic Afghans or Pathans, are a well-known Iranic ethnic group that belongs o Afghanistan and Pakistan. The major typical characteristic of this ethnic group is their use of Iranian Pashto language as well as they practice of Pashtunwali; which is a traditionally practiced code of conduct that guides people and both their individual and community conduct.
History of the Pashtun
The history of the Pashtuns goes back to many thousand years ago. However, not even the people themselves know pretty much about their origin. It is interesting to note that the ethnic group does not have a single credible origin myth. However, DNA evidence shows that the central parts of Asia were among the first places n the world that people went to after leaving Africa. However, the Pashtuns might have been there longer than that, long enough that even the ancestors do not tell of any origin from any other place. However, there is a Hindu story that is often told, about the origin of people who lived in the area that is currently Afghanistan as early as 1700BC known as the ‘Paktha’.
This shows that the Pashtun people might have inhabited the area for at least four thousand years, or even much longer (Minahan, 2012). Historians also have referred to material about the ‘Pakthas’ between the 1st and 2nd millennium BC. Historians believe that these people inhabited areas along the Hindu Kush and Indus River. These people are hence believed to have been the ancestors of the Pashtun people. Since the third century AD, these people have been referred to as the ‘Afghans’. This ethnic group has reigned as the most dominant ethno-linguistic group for a period of about three hundred years, with nearly all rulers in Afghanistan having been from the group. The Pashtun fighters also dominated the Mujahideen who fought in the 1980’s against the pro-Soviet Afghan government.
The Pashtun boast of a rich history, with the first man to go to space from Afghan, and the fourth Muslim having come from the ethnic group. The first Afghan and Muslim to become an Ambassador to the United States also came from the ethnic group. Some of the best and most populous actors in Bollywood come from the ethnic group, as well as very important people in high positions. This tribe is an important part of governance, for the current Afghan government constitutes mainly of people from this group. The ethnic group comprises of sixty tribes, which are further broken into clans.
To define and judge on whom a real Pashtun is, the widely used prominent criteria is that of ethnio-linguistic definition. Generally, most hold a common view that all Pashtuns fall in the parameters that that they have mainly eastern Iranian ethnic origins, share a common language, a common culture, share a common history, live in areas of close geographic proximity, and acknowledge one another as kinsmen. Concisely, the tribes that speak disparate languages, but those that are mutually intelligible Pashto dialects acknowledge one another as ethnic Pashtuns. Most Pashtuns, both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan tend to use that criterion as the method of defining themselves.
Geographic location and distribution
The majority of the Pashtuns living in Afghanistan are found in their traditional homelands. These homelands are found in the southern areas of the Oxus River in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, the Pashtuns are still found accumulated in their traditional homeland in the west of Indus River. In Afghanistan, there are more areas where this ethnic group is found. In northern and western parts of Afghanistan, there are several Pashtun natives. In addition, Pakistan has them spread in several other areas too, apart from their traditional homelands. In ther areas like India, there are sizeable numbers of Muslim Pashtuns, and in areas of the Middle East, Arab Peninsula, Iran, Europe, and in America; North America in particular (Minahan, 2012).
The Pashtun people use Pashto as their primary language. Pashto is an Indo-European language, which mainly belongs to the Iranian sub-group in the Indo-Iranian branch, which is found within the Southeastern and Eastern Iranian areas. In writing, the Pashto language uses the Perso-Arabic script, and divides in into two dialects, that is, the northern Pukhtu, and the southern Pashto. The language, Pashto, has its ancient origins, which bear some similarities with languages like Bactrian and Avestan, which became extinct.
In the modern days, the language can draw close relations to languages like Pamir languages such as Shugini, Ossetic, and Wakhi. The Pashto language has a legacy from the ancient days, from its habit of borrowing vocabularies from other languages from neighboring communities, like Persian and Vedic Sanskrit. During the era of the invasions in Afghanistan, the language borrowed words from Arabic, Ancient Greek and Turkic. In modern days, the primary borrowings have been from English (Barfield, 2010).
Fluency in this particular language, Pashto, serves as the main determinant, as to whether one really belongs to the Pashtun ethnic group. Nationalism in Pashtun emerged after the rise of Pashto poetry, which was critical in linking language with identity, right from the era of the works done by Khan Khattak, and that of his grandson Afzal Khan. Pashto has gained a national status in Afghanistan, as well as a regional status in Pakistan, where many Pashtuns live and use the language. In addition to their mother-tongue Pashto, Pashtuns also speak Dari, which is an Afghan Persian language, besides fluent English.
Characteristics of the Pashtun
In spite of the geographic location within the country, there are several shared traits and characteristics of the Pashtun ethnic group. The culture of these people has been formed as times go by over the centuries. The Pre-Islamic traditions practiced date from as far back as 330BC during Alexander’s conquest (Clements, 2003).
These traditions have survived over time, through the use of things like traditional dances, with literary styles like music have had a strong influence from the Persian regional and traditional musical instruments, which are fused with localized variants and interpretation.