Pashtuns are an ethno-linguistic group that consists of several populations that mainly live in the area of southeastern Afghanistan, northwestern Pakistan and eastern Iran. There are also important Pashtun communities in India, composed of Afghan refugees, and in Europe and North America, as well. The main metropolitan centers of Pashtun culture are Peshawar and Kandahar. It is estimated that Pashtun in Afghanistan represent 42% of the national population, with 13 million people, and about 15%of Pakistan population.
Pashtun group is the largest and most politically powerful ethnic group in Afghanistan. The origins of the Pashtuns are eastern Iranian. It is believed that they moved to the area around Kandahar, where they were in close contact with other Iranian tribes such as Persians, and with Indian, Zoroastrians, Shamanists, and later Buddhists communities, until the invasion of Muslim Arabs who brought Islam, in the seventh century.
'Pashtun' has always been considered a synonym of 'Afghan', until the rise of the modern Afghanistan and the arrival of the British, who divided the Pashtun territory. Pushtuns have provided the central leadership for Afghanistan since the eighteenth century. They played an important role in defending the independence of the country in the nineteenth century, during the so-called Great Game between British Empire and Russia- the rivalry for the supremacy in Central Asia. The second largest Pushtun tribe, the Ghilzai, dominated the leadership of the secular Democratic Republic of Afghanistan after 1978. Pashtuns gained world-wide attention with the rise and fall of the Taliban regime, because they were the main ethnic group in the movement. In fact, Taliban movement was a Pashtun nationalist movement that established a scrict interpretation of Sharia Law and Pashtun tribal code.
Pashtun society is composed of tribes and clans which were rarely politically united. The most important tribal groups are seven: the Durrani, Ghilzai, Jaji, Mangal, Safi, Mamund, and Mohmand. There are an estimated 60 major Pashtun tribes and more than 400 clans. The Pashtuns still identify themselves with various clans, but the worldwide trend of urbanization has begun to alter their society. The tribal system has several levels of organization: the tribe, is divided into kinship groups called, each consisting of extended families. An important Pashtun institution is the Jirga or 'Senate' of elected elder men, that make decisions in many aspects of tribal life.
Pashtuns speak Pashto, an Indo-European language, which belongs to the Iranian sub group of the Indo-Iranian branch. Pashto is written in the Perso-Arabic script and is divided into two main dialects, the northern ‘Pukhtu’ and the southern ‘Pashto’.
Pashtun society is not homogenous by religion: they are Muslim, but most Pashtuns are Sunni Muslims, while some follow Shia Islam or other sects.
Pashtun culture is based on Pushtunwali, a code of behavior that determines social order and responsibilities. It regulates all aspect of Pashtun life, including tribal affairs and individual behavior. It establishes a set of rules that focus on some fundamental values, such as honor, solidarity, hospitality, mutual support, shame and revenge. The central element is honor, and every Pashtun has to defend it. According to this code, men has to protect women and land. Pashtuns usually practice a form of hypergamy which for a man consists in marrying a person within his ethnic group or below it. Women marry only other Pashtuns who belong to their group or to groups that have a higher status in the society.