Afghan Ethnic Groups: A Brief Investigation


Ethnic groups often form an individual's perceptions, behaviours and interactions in society. Afghans have historically identified or associated with ethnic groups, however specific data as to the composition and role continues to be disputed. As the Afghanistan prepares to enter another phase of transition and various areas of the country move to Afghan-led security, it is important to understand the groups affected and their place in society.

Understanding Afghan Ethnic Groups

According to 2010 data from the US Department of State, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan is the Pashtun (including Kuchis), comprising 42% of Afghans.1 The Tajiks are the second largest ethnic group, at 27% of the population, followed by the Hazaras (9%), Uzbeks (9%), Aimaq (4%), Turkmen (3%), Baluch (2%) and other groups that make up 4%. This section will take a closer look at each of the main groups identified above, although the reader should note that other groupings may exist in the country as demographic data for Afghanistan tends not just to be unreliable and/or difficult to verify, but figures about the ethnic composition of the population are also disputed among ethnic groups.2 Figure 1 presents the general geographic location of ethnic groups in Afghanistan.

When discussing ethnicity, it often proves difficult to draw clear distinctions between terms such as social, ethnic and minority groups. For the purposes of this paper we are using the term ethnic group, which is generally defined as a social group of a larger society that is bound together by common ties of race, language, nationality, culture or other common values. According to the definition by the Minority Rights Group International (MRG), minorities, more specifically, are “disadvantaged ethnic, national, religious, linguistic or cultural groups who are smaller in number than the rest of the population and who may wish to maintain and develop their identity.”