Pashtuns (/ˈpʌʃˌtʊn/, /ˈpɑːʃˌtʊn/ or /ˈpæʃˌtuːn/; Pashto: پښتانه, Pəx̌tānə́), also called Pakhtuns or Pathans and historically known as Afghans, are an Iranian ethnic group who are native to Central Asia and South Asia. Pashtuns are the 26th-largest ethnic group in the world, and the largest segmentary lineage society. There are an estimated 350–400 Pashtun tribes and clans with a variety of origin theories.

The Pashtun people are indigenous to a historical region known as Pashtunistan, which stretches across southern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan and hosts the majority of their global population. Significant and historical communities of the Pashtun diaspora exist in the Pakistani provinces of Sindh and Punjab, particularly in the cities of Karachi and Lahore; and in Rohilkhand, a region in northern India, as well as in major Indian cities such as Delhi and Mumbai. A recent diaspora has formed in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf (primarily in the United Arab Emirates) as part of the larger South Asian diaspora in that region.

The group’s native language is Pashto, an Iranian language in the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. The Dari dialect of Persian serves as the second language of Pashtuns in Afghanistan, while Pashtuns in South Asia speak Urdu and Hindi (see Hindustani language) as their second language.

The total population of the Pashtun people worldwide is estimated to be around 49 million; however, this figure is disputed due to the lack of an official census in Afghanistan since 1979. Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, constituting around 48 percent of the country’s total population, and have been the dominant ethnolinguistic group in the country since its founding. Additionally, Pashtuns are the second-largest ethnic group in Pakistan, constituting 15.4 percent of the country’s total population, and are considered to be one of the five major ethnolinguistic groups of the Pakistani nation. Prominent Pashtun figures include Aamir Khan, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Abdul Ghani Khan, Ahmad Shah Durrani, Alauddin Khalji, Ayub Khan, Bahlul Lodi, Imran Khan, Irrfan Khan, Khushal Khan, Madhubala, Malala Yousafzai, Malalai of Maiwand, Mirwais Hotak, Mohammed Daoud Khan, Pir Roshan, Rahman Baba, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Shahid Afridi, Sher Shah Suri, and Zakir Hussain, among others.

Geographic distribution

Traditional homeland

The majority of Pashtuns are found in the native Pashtun homeland, located south of the Hindu Kush which is in Afghanistan and west of the Indus River in Pakistan, principally around the Sulaiman Mountains. It is believed that the Pashtuns emerged from the region around Kandahar and the Sulaiman Mountains, roughly around the ancient region of Arachosia, and expanded from there between the 13th and 16th centuries to the adjoining areas of modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan. Starting in the 1880s, various Pashtun-dominated governments of Afghanistan have pursued policies, called Pashtunization, aimed towards settling more ethnic Pashtuns in non-Pashtun regions, particularly the northern region of Afghanistan. Metropolitan centres within Pashtun dominated areas include Kandahar, Quetta, Jalalabad, Mardan, Mingora and Peshawar.

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