Pashtun, also known as Pathan, refers to an ethnic group primarily residing in the region commonly known as Pashtunistan, which straddles parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Estimated to be over 50 million in population, Pashtuns are considered the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and have a significant presence in parts of Pakistan.
Pashtuns are traditionally recognized for their unique Pashto language and adhere to Pashtunwali, a code of conduct that includes hospitality, honor, and revenge. They usually identify themselves as descendants of eastern Iranian tribes who migrated to the region thousands of years ago.
Archaeological and historical evidence suggests that Pashtuns have a rich and ancient history, with references dating back to the Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BCE. Throughout history, Pashtuns have been influenced by various empires, including the Persians, Mauryas, Greeks, and Mongols.
Pashtun society is often characterized by a tribal structure, where tribes are headed by a male elder, or malik, who oversees disputes and presides over tribal affairs. Despite the prevalence of tribalism, modern Pashtun society also includes urban dwellers who primarily engage in business, education, and government roles.
Due to their location and history, Pashtuns have long been associated with geopolitical developments and conflicts in the region, including the Soviet-Afghan War and the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Their culture, tradition, and martial history have influenced their interaction with various political powers, shaping their identity as a distinct ethnic group.
The word "Pashtun" (also spelled Pushtun or Pakhtun) is derived from the Afghan language Pashto. The Pashtuns themselves refer to their ethnic group as "Pashtana" in the Pashto language. The word "Pashtun" is believed to come from the Avestan language, an ancient Iranian language, where it is derived from the term "Parsawā" or "Pāraskavāya", meaning "of the Parsa" or "having Pashtos", referring to the ancient region of Parsa or Parthia. Over time, the term evolved into its modern form "Pashtun".