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Afghanistan - Other Groups

In 1996, approximately 40 percent of Afghans were Pashtun, 11.4 of whom are of the Durrani tribal group and 13.8 percent of the Ghilzai group. Tajiks make up the second largest ethnic group with 25.3 percent of the population, followed by Hazaras, 18 percent; Uzbeks, 6.3 percent; Turkmen, 2.5 percent; Qizilbash, 1.0; 6.9 percent other. The usual caveat regarding statistics is particularly appropriate here. Some sources report that more recent surveys showed the Pashtuns and Tajiks were about equal (40% Pashtun versus 38% Tajik), contrasry to previous assumptions that Pashtuns were 38-42% and Tajiks were around 27-33%.


Kabuli is an ambiguous term which provides a sense of identity for Afghanistan's largest heterogeneous urban population without designating distinct ethnic associations. The city of Kabul has drawn members of all ethnic groups in growing numbers since 1776 when it was declared the capital in favor of Kandahar; generations of intermarriages have also taken place. Nevertheless, ethnic roots and regional links have always also remained important. This is reflected in the spatial layout of the city which, before two-thirds of the city was reduced to rubble after 1992, consisted of ethnic, geographic or religious-oriented wards and suburbs. Social stratification along occupational lines was also clear although over the past few decades lines tended to blur significantly.

A typical Kabuli speaks Dari in addition to his mother tongue and, whether male or female, is urbane, favors European fashions, is secularly educated, and most probably works as a bureaucrat, shopkeeper/owner or in the service sector. Many have had professional education or experience abroad, live in apartments or single-family dwellings, are Western-oriented in outlook and enjoy cosmopolitan lifestyles. It is this image which conservatives, especially those such as the rural Taliban find unpalatable, a symbol of moral degradation which must be eradicated if a truly Islamic state is to be established in Afghanistan.

Many Kabuli who remained in Kabul during the Soviet-Afghan War have since left because they find the attitudes of the new leadership incompatible. They are now displaced in cities inside Afghanistan, living as refugees in Pakistan or resettled abroad. Their absence will severely hinder the reestablishment of viable administrative and economic systems necessary for the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan.


Aimaq, meaning tribe in Turkish, is not an ethnic domination, but differentiates seminomadic herders and agricultural tribal groups of various ethnic origins, including the Turkic Hazara and Baluch, that were formed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They live among nontribal people in the western areas of Badghis, Ghor and Herat provinces. They are Sunni, speak dialects close to Dari and refer to themselves with tribal designations. Population estimates vary widely, from less than 500,000 to around 800,000. A group of about 120,000 live in Iranian Khorasan.


Large groups of Sunni Arab living in the vicinity of Bokhara in Central Asia fled to northeastern Afghanistan following Russian conquests in the nineteenth century. By the 1880s they were, with the Uzbek with whom they established close ties, the second most populous ethnic group in present day Kunduz, Takhar and Baghlan provinces. Smaller groups settled in scattered communities as far west as Maimana, Faryab Province. The Arab are pastoralists who raise sheep and grow cotton and wheat. Some among the eastern groups make summer migrations of up to 300 kilometers to reach the lush high pastures in Badakhshan. Government development schemes, especially those which brought large numbers of Pushtun to the area in the 1940s, relegated the Arab to a small proportion of the population and the Arab ceased to hold a monopoly on long distance migration. Bilingual in Dari and Uzbeki, but speaking no Arabic, they continue to identify themselves as Arab although they have had no contact with the Arabs of the Middle East since the late fourteenth century.


The homeland of the Sunni Baluch in southwestern Afghanistan is in the sparsely settled deserts and semi-deserts of Hilmand Province, although Baluch enclaves are also found in northwestern Faryab Province. These semisedentary and seminomadic populations are famed for camel breeding. They number perhaps around 100,000, although other estimates are lower. Seventy percent of the Baluch live in Pakistan; others reside in Iran. The Baluch speak Baluchi, an Iranian branch in the Indo-European language family; most speak Dari and Pashto as well. Baluch society is tribal, highly segmented and centrally organized under powerful chieftains known as sardars.


The Sunni Brahui is another distinctive group settled in the desert areas of southwestern Afghanistan. They numbered about 200,000 in 1970 according to an estimate by Louis Dupree; estimates in the 1990s run lower. The basic Brahui physical type is Veddoid of South India, and they speak Brahui which is allied to Dravidian, a major language of South India, with a heavy mixture of Balulchi and Pashto. Brahui mostly work as tenant farmers or hired herders for Baluch or Pushtun khans. Larger communities of Brahui reside in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province.


Farsiwan are Dari-speaking village agriculturalists of Mediterranean substock who live in the west near the Afghan-Iranian border or in districts of Herat, Kandahar and Ghazni provinces. Estimates for 1995 vary from 600,000 to 830,000. Most are Imami Shi'a; in urban centers some are Sunni.


The small marginal communities of occupational specialists based in eastern Afghanistan in provinces such as Laghman are commonly referred to as Jat, which is a generic term indiscriminately applied by others with derogatory connotations implying low descent and low occupations. The groups reject the term and refer to themselves by specific names. Of Mediterranean-Indian type physically, speaking Indo-Aryan dialects in addition to Pashto and Dari, they are primarily gypsy-like itinerant petty traders, bangle sellers, fortune-tellers, musicians, jugglers, snake-charmers and performers with animals such as bears and monkeys. Some are specialized craftsmen, working as weavers, potters, sievemakers, knife-makers, and leather-workers. Some hire out as seasonal itinerant farm laborers. They rank lowest on the social scale and are stigmatized by many in the society.


The Kirghiz are a Sunni Mongoloid group speaking Kipchak Turkic dialects who were originally from Central Asia. About 3,000 lived in the Pamir mountains east of the Wakhan Corridor, one of the more inaccessible regions in the world where relatively flat valleys suitable for habitation lie at altitudes over 10,000 feet between ranges rising over 16,500 feet. Only a small group remains. A majority moved to Pakistan in 1978 after Soviet and Afghan troops occupied the Wakhan; later, in 1983, resettled in Turkey. The Kirghiz lived in yurts, tended large flocks of sheep and utilized yak which are found only in this area of Afghanistan.


The Nuristani reside throughout a 5,000 square mile area in the east bordering Pakistan that is heavily forested and so rugged that much of it is accessible only by foot trails. The Nuristani designate themselves by the local geographical names of the five major north-south valleys and 30 east-west lateral valleys leading into the major valleys where they live. They speak Indo-Iranian dialects of Nuristani and Dardic called by village and valley names; many are mutually unintelligible from valley to valley. In 1990 the province of Nuristan was created from parts of the provinces of Laghman and Kunar. The population in the 1990s is estimated at 125,000 by some; the Nuristani prefer a figure of 300,000. The Nuristani are of the Mediterranean physical type with mixtures from Indian stocks on the fringes. Historians accompanying Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC described this group as differing culturally and religiously from other peoples in the area. They were forcibly converted to Sunni Islam in 1895 during the reign of Amir Abdur Rahman but retain many unique features in their material culture. The Nuristani are mountaineer herders, dairymen and farmers. They hold a respected place in the social order and many have risen to high government positions, particularly in the army.


The Qizilbash of Mediterranean sub-stock speak Dari, are Imami Shi'a, and scattered throughout Afghanistan, primarily in urban centers. There are perhaps 50,000 Qizilbash living in Afghanistan although it is difficult to say for some claim to be Sunni Tajik since Shia Islam permits the practice of taqiya or dissimulation to avoid religious discrimination. The Qizilbash form one of the more literate groups in Afghanistan; they hold important administrative and professional positions. The Qizilbash are traditionally considered to be the descendants of Persian Shia mercenaries and administrators left behind by the Safavid Emperor Nadir Shah Afshar (1736-47) to govern the Afghan provinces. Under Ahmad Shah Durrani, who served in Nadir Shah's bodyguard, and his successors, the Qizilbash acquired power and influence at court out of proportion to their numbers. This created resentment among the dominant Pushtun which hardened over the years, especially after the Qizilbash openly allied themselves with the British during the First Anglo-Afghan War (1838-1842). Amir Abdur Rahman accused the Qizilbash of being partisan to the enemy during his campaigns against the Shi'a Hazara in 1891-1893, declared them enemies of the state, confiscated their property and persecuted them.


The Wakhi, along with several thousand other Mountain Tajik who are physically of the Mediterranean substock with Mongoloid admixture, speak Dari and various eastern Iranian dialects. They live in small, remote villages located at lower altitudes in the Wakhan Corridor and upper Badakhshan. They are often Ismaili Shi'a, but some are Imami Shi'a and Sunni.

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Page last modified: 21-08-2012 12:37:42 ZULU