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Pashtun, also spelled Pushtun, or Pakhtun, Hindustani Pathan, Persian Afghan, Pashto-speaking people of southeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. They constitute the majority of the population of Afghanistan and bore the exclusive name of Afghan. In modern day Afghanistan the word Afghans could also denote any native of the present land area of Afghanistan. [1]

Pashtuns' Origin

The ethnic origin of the Pashtuns (Pakhtun or Afghan) has not been satisfactorily established. In the past, some authors traditionally ascribed a Jewish origin to the Afghan people. According to this tradition, the Pashtuns were the descendents of the Beni-Israel, who were deported by Buktanasar (Nebuchadnezzar) to Hazrajat, believed to be the Arzareth of the Bible. The western writers have accepted this theory and have tried to substantiate it by invoking several factors such as the Afghans legends and geneologies, common Afghan and Hebraic nomenclature such as Suleiman, Yusuf and Daud for Solomon, Joseph and David; physical resemblances between Afghans and Jews; certain tribal customs and occurrence of the name Kabul in the Old Testament. However this theory is considered very weak in the eyes of most Afghan scholars. The theory has no reference in the history books and for some reasons this theory is greatly supported by non-Afghans especially the western authors. [2]

Most modern day Afghan scholars trace the Pashtuns to the Irano-Afghan and Bakhler - Afghans branch of the Indo-Eurppean or Aryan peoples. Abdul Hai Habibi (1975:24-29) tells us that even before 4000 B.C., a group of tribal people called the Aryans were living in a place named Aryana-Vega, simply meaning the homeland of the Aryans, "noble men." There are four principle opinions as to the location of Aryana-Vega:

  • Baltic Ocean coast
  • Northern coast of the Black Sea
  • Northern coast of the Caspian Sea
  • The Pamir area where the Amu Darya (classical Oxus) originates.

The impetus for the initial migration has been attributed to either (a) population increase and consequent food scarcity; or (b) a climatic change resulting in a general cooling trend; or combination of these factors. The migration apparently began around 4000 B.C. and the people headed toward Bakhdai (بخدی) or Bakhtria, the present capital of Balkh Province in northern Afghanistan. There they developed the Aryan civilization and built up the very large and famous walled city of Bakhdi, Ommul-Belad meaning the "mother of cities." The arrival of these central Aryan people to Ommul-Belad is estimated at 2500B.C. Habibi (1975) and many other historians believe that the Central Aryans conducted another migration around 1400B.C. and separated into three major groups each following a separate migratory route.

The first group, Central and Bakhterian Aryans occupied the northern and southern foothills of the HinduKush. Their homeland is said to be the area between the Indus, Ouxus and the Khurasans deserts and included Bakhtria (present day Bulkh), Takharistan, Harat, Arakusia, Kabul, Kandahar, Sistan and Khorasan. The southern boundary was delimited by the Arabian Sea. The second group of immigrants, the Iranian Aryans, went toward the southwest and occupied the Fars Land, constituting 'present day Iran. Historians hold that this migration lasted from 1400 B.C. until 800 B.C. The first state created by them in Iran was called the Medic state. The third group of Aryans in Bakteria, Indian Aryans, passed the Hindu Kush range and via the Kabul and Khyber passes penetrated the Indus valley to the Ganga River.

Grostawlabon (in Habibi 1975:24) tells us that before dispersion and emigration from Aryana-Vega, the Aryans spoke a specific language called Aric. Sanskrit originated from this now extinct Aric language. As was mentioned earlier one group of the Aryan stock, the Sanskrit-speaking Indo Aryans, left Bakhtria and moved toward India. The second group spoke Old Persian, the predecessor via Pahlawi to present day Persian. A third group of people who remained in Bakhdi (Balkh), are called Bakht = Pakhal = Pashtun and they must have had their own distinct language. Since these people still have kept their historical name and speak Pashto, their language must have been Pashto (Habibi 1975:24).

The Rig-Veda, another Indo-Aryan religious book, composed around 1400 B.C., mentions the Pakhat name. By inference we may associate this central Bakhterian group with the Pashto language. This view is supported by the facts that there is no evidence for either a mother language to Pashto or for a prto-Pashto language.

There is historical evidence which indicates that after 1400 B.C. Bakherian Aryans or the Pakhat tribes went toward the eastern mountains of Afghanistan and settled along the Indus River. The Rig-Veda tells about a battle among ten tribes, one of which is the Pashtuns. Both the Awesta, another religious book written in Zand, and the writings of Herodotus, mention the Pakhat or Paktwees name and indicates their being on the Indus River Bank around 520 B.C. Reviewing all this historical evidence enables us to conclude that Pashtana (Pashto plural form of Pashtun) Aryans at the very beginning were living in Bakhteria (Bahhdi) and after their habitat name they were called Pakht (پخت) or Pakhat (پکهت). These people moved out from their original place from 1400 B.C. to 1000 B.C. and dispersed over Afghanistan's eastern mountains and reached the coast of the Indus River. Throughout they kept their nationality and nation's name Pakht or Pakhet = Pashtun and their language, Pashto till today (Habibi 1975:22-27).

According to Gregorian (1969:29-30) the earliest mention of Afghans (Pashtuns) in Muslim sources is to be found in the work of the Arab chronicler Ibn'l Athir (976) and in the anonymous Persian geography of Hudud al- Alan (982). In the Persian work the Afghans are described as a small population inhabiting the region of the Suleiman Range. Much later, al-Biruni identified various Afghan (Pashtun) tribes located along the frontier of western India (western present Pakistan). Ibn Battuta, who passed through Kabul in 1333, claimed that he met a tribe called Afghans who lived in the Suleiman Range, and possessed considerable strength. Gregorian believes that for the most part, the expansion of the Afghans (Pashtuns) from the area of the Suleiman Range between the eleventh and eighteenth centuries and the nature of early Afghan society remains unstudied.


  1. Encyclopedia Britanica
  2. Socio-economic and legal political process in a Pashtun village, souteastern Afghanistan by Alef Shah Zadran