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.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Arif Ghouseat flips through his work binder in his office conference room Paine Field on Monday, Dec. 10, 2018 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Paine Field Airport director departing for Sea-Tac job

Arif Ghouse, who oversaw the launch of commercial air travel at Paine Field, is leaving after eight years.

NO CAPTION. Logo to accompany news of education.
Public school enrollment still down, even as rural districts grow

Smaller districts in Snohomish County seem to be recovering more quickly — and gaining students — than their urban counterparts.

Josiah Degenstein
Lake Stevens man with alleged white supremacist ties faces gun charges

Storage units belonging to Josiah Degenstein contained multiple arsenals, according to police.

Maricel Samaniego, center, teaches English to Liedith Espana, left, and Nemecio Rios, right, at Liberty Elementary School in Marysville, Washington, on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. Marysville schools partner with Everett Community College to offer free English classes to parents of multilingual students. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Free English class helps Marysville parents lower language barrier

The school district partners with EvCC to teach practical classes on pronunciation, paperwork and parent-teacher conferences.

Firefighters works through rescue drills during the Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue’s annual Water Rescue Academy on the Skykomish River Thursday afternoon in Index, Washington on May 5, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Snohomish Regional Fire asks voters for two more commissioners

The district currently has seven commissioners, but it can keep only five. A Feb. 14 special election could change that.

Photo by David Welton
A federal grant will help pay for the cost of adding a charging station to the Clinton ferry terminal.
Federal money to help electrify Clinton ferry dock

The Federal Transit Administration awarded state ferries a $4.9 million grant to help electrify the Mukilteo-Clinton route.

News logo for use with stories about coronavirus COVID-19 COVID
5 things to watch in Snohomish County as COVID public emergency ends

Snohomish County health care leaders shared what they’re concerned about when the federal emergency expires May 11.

Angelica Montanari and daughter Makena, 1, outside of the Community Health Center of Snohomish County Everett-Central Clinic on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Amid patient woes, CHC of Snohomish County staffers push for a union

Doctors and nurse practitioners are worried about providers being shut out from clinical decisions, which hurts patient care.

Students make their way after school at Edmonds-Woodway High School on March 12, 2020. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
After Edmonds schools internet outage, staff ‘teaching like it’s the 1900s’

“Suspicious activities” on the district’s network delayed classes and caused schedule havoc. “Kids are using pencil and paper again.”

Most Read