The most well known ethnic groups that make up the people of Afghanistan

by S. Ghilzai / February 12, 2014

An ethnic group is defined as a social group that is ‘set apart and bound together by common ties of race, language, nationality, customs, beliefs, or culture,’ within a larger population. The people of Afghanistan are a very diverse group of people, belonging to many different and distinct ethnic groups.

Pashtun (also spelled Pashtoon)

About 42% of the country’s population are Pashtuns, making Pashtuns the largest ethnic group in the country. Pashtun people are tribal people, who are Sunni Muslims, and speak Pashto. They follow a code of life called Pashtunwali. Pashtuns are the founders of the Afghan monarchy, and have been the most influential ethnic group, politically, for many centuries. Pashtuns can be sub-divided even further by tribe (which then affects dialect and place of habitat), with each tribe having its own leaders. Pashtuns mainly live in Southern and Western Afghanistan, along the Pakistani border. Pashtuns have been known inside, and outside of Afghanistan as warriors, as well as being fierce, brave and loyal.

Kuchis are nomadic people who have been following the weather and crop patterns of Afghanistan for centuries. They are typically ethnic Pashtuns, speak Pashto, and have specific tribes. Because of the wars, and less grazing land for their livestock, more and more Kuchis have been settling down, and migrating into cities.

Famous Pashtuns

  • Ahmad Shah Durrani, the founder of modern Afghanistan
  • Hamid Karzai, former President of Afghanistan
  • Kushal Khan Khattak, a famous 17th century poet
  • Sharbat Gula, the famous ‘Afghan Girl’ who appeared on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic

Tajik (also spelled Tajek)

Tajiks are the second most populous ethnic group in Afghanistan. They are a Central Asiatic people that are typically Sunni Muslim (but some living in dominantly Hazara areas could be Shi’a), and speak Dari (Persian/Farsi), or a variant, Tajiki. Tajiks tend to live near the border of Tajikistan and western Afghanistan, with a lot in urban areas. Tajiks group themselves with other Tajiks from the same province, city or village, and have last names that relate to where they are from. Tajiks were a substantial force in the rebels fighting in the past 40 years of war; specifically the Mujahideen during the Soviet-Afghan war, and the Alliance (United Front) helping to take back control of the country from the predominantly Pashtun Taliban. There has been an underlying tension between Tajiks and Pashtuns for many years. Tajiks make up almost 30% of the country’s population.

Famous Tajiks


Hazaras comprise about 10% of Afghanistan’s population, making them the third most populous ethnic group in the country. Most Hazara people live in Hazarajat, in the center of the country. Hazara people are Shi’a Muslims, with a small percentage being part of the Ismaili sect. Hazara people speak Dari, or a variant called Hazaragi, that is specific to them. It is thought that the ethnic group is leftover from the time of Genghis Khan, when he and his Mongol troops took over the country and inter-married. Hazaras face racism because of the way they look, and because they are Shi’a Muslims and not Sunni.

Famous Hazaras


Uzbeks are generally found in the northern provinces of Afghanistan. The Uzbeks, like Hazaras, can trace their heritage to the Mongols, but have considerably mixed with Mediterranean blood.  Uzbeks speak Uzbeki, a central Turkic dialect, and are Sunni Muslim.

Famous Uzbeks

  • Abdul Rashid Dostum, General and Politician
  • Dilbar Nazari, Politician – former Minister of Women’s Affairs
  • Wahidullah Sharani, Politician – former Minister of Mines


Turkmen are similar to Uzbeks, in that they are of Mongloid stock, and speak a Turkic dialect very similar to Turkish. They also live in the northern regions of the country, along the borders of the ex-Soviet Union states.


Nuristani people live only mostly in Nuristan, an 8,000-kilometer square area of land near the border of Pakistan. Nuristani people speak Nuristani, a completely different language dissimilar to any other language spoken in Afghanistan. They were forced to convert to Islam in the 19th century, but have maintained their cultural differences, mostly because of the secluded, rugged terrain of Nuristan, which makes coming and going very difficult.


Baloch people typically live in southern and southwestern Afghanistan. Baloch have their own language of Balochi, similar to Dari. Estimates of the number of Balochis vary between 500,000 and 100,000. They are Sunni Muslim.


“Afghanistan – Ethnic Groups.” Afghanistan – Ethnic Groups. U.S Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 01 Aug. 2014.

“Ethnic Group.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web.

Lamer, Wiebke, and Erin Foster. Afghan Ethnic Groups (2011): n. pag.CIMIC. CIMIC. Web. 31 July 2014