Tribal cultures, often at odds, rule in Afghanistan

Associated Press

Throughout Afghanistan’s 250-year history as a nation – and for centuries before that – the ferocity of fighting between its various ethnic groups was exceeded only by the bloodthirstiness of wars pitting ethnic brethren against brethren.

Afghanistan is home to more than a half dozen disparate peoples, each with its own customs, culture, language and political agendas.

Here is a look at some of Afghanistan’s main ethnic groups and their relationship to one another.

Pashtun: A tribal people, with a reputation for being both proud and pitiless. They have traditionally been Afghanistan’s dominant ethnic group, living in large numbers everywhere except a band of territory in the north. They are probably around 40 percent of the population, though some estimate 60 percent.

Traditional Pashtun culture has rigid codes of conduct, particularly for matters of honor. A perceived insult can never be laughed off; death is preferable to dishonor.

The Taliban leadership is largely Pashtun. Afghanistan’s exiled ex-king Zaher Shah – whom the United States and others hope would be a unifying force in a post-Taliban era – is a Pashtun.

Tajiks: The second-largest ethnic group, thought to account for around a fifth of Afghanistan’s population. Most speak Farsi. Education and relative affluence, rather than numbers alone, make them a highly influential minority.

Tajiks are a driving power behind the northern alliance, the rebel military coalition trying to topple the Taliban. Like the Pashtun, they are Sunni Muslims.

Hazaras: Thought to be of Mongol or Turkic origin, they have lived in Afghanistan since the 13th century. Unlike other, larger ethnic groups, the Farsi-speaking Hazaras are mainly Shiite Muslims, a minority Islamic sect and the traditional rivals of the Sunnis. Making up less than 10 percent of Afghanistan’s population, the Hazaras have long been a disadvantaged minority, living mainly in the hardscrabble central highlands.

Hazaras make up a large proportion of the thousands of refugees who have fled Afghanistan in recent weeks.

Uzbeks: Estimated at 10 percent of the population. Uzbeks are mainly Sunni Muslims living in the north of Afghanistan, many of them along the border with the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan. Between the two world wars, many Uzbeks fled to Afghanistan to escape Soviet repression.

Traditionally they are farmers, but these days many are fighters; they are heavily represented in the northern alliance.

Others: Turkic groups including Turkmen; mountain herders including the Nuristani, Kohistani and Gujar.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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