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

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road on Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Long live the Speedway! Mukilteo’s main drag won’t be renamed

The public shot down the mayor’s idea to change the name: 77% voted ‘No’ in an online survey, with 95% opposed on Facebook.

Motorcyclist dies in crash on East Marine View Drive in Everett

Around 8 p.m. Tuesday, a motorcycle and a vehicle crashed into each other at the intersection of 11th street and East Marine View Drive.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Darrington in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Motorcyclist dies in crash on Highway 530

Jeremy Doyle, 46, was riding east near Darrington when he crashed into the side of a car that was turning left.

The Marysville School District office on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Financially insolvent’ Marysville schools to get unprecedented oversight

Superintendent Chris Reykdal will convene a first-of-its-kind Financial Oversight Committee, he wrote in a letter Tuesday.

Woodside Elementary Principal Betty Cobbs on Monday, June 17, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett’s first Black principal retires after 51 years

In her office, Betty Cobbs kept a black-and-white photo of herself at age 5: “I am right there, with dreams of becoming an educator.”

Junelle Lewis, right, daughter Tamara Grigsby and son Jayden Hill sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during Monroe’s Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 18, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
On Juneteenth: ‘We can always say that there is hope’

The Snohomish County NAACP is co-sponsoring a celebration Saturday near Snohomish, with speakers, music and food.

Rep. Rick Larsen speaks at the March For Our Lives rally on Saturday, June 11, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Larsen kickoff in Everett canceled over fear of pro-Palestinian protesters

The event had been scheduled to take place at the Scuttlebutt Brewing Taproom on Monday night.

After 3 years in jail, Camano murder suspect’s trial delayed again

In February 2021, prosecutors allege, Dominic Wagstaff shot and killed his father, shot his brother’s girlfriend and tried to shoot his brother.

The access loop trail on the Old Sauk Trail on Monday, May 27, 2024 in Darrington, Washington. (Ta'Leah Van Sistine / The Herald)
10 accessible trails to explore this summer in Snohomish County

For people with disabilities, tree roots and other obstacles can curb access to the outdoors. But some trails are wheelchair-friendly.

Everett NewsGuild members cheer as a passing car honks in support of their strike on Monday, June 24, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett Herald newsroom strikes amid layoffs

“We hope that people who live in these communities can see our passion, because it’s there,” said Sophia Gates, one of 12 Herald staffers who lost jobs last week.

A person wears a pride flag in their hat during the second annual Arlington Pride at Legion memorial Park in Arlington, Washington, on Saturday, July 22, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Judge blocks parts of Washington’s new parental rights law

The South Whidbey School District is among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit over the law giving parents access to counseling records for their children.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Gold Bar in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Fire destroys Gold Bar home along U.S. 2

The sole resident was not home at the time of the fire. No one was injured.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.