Identification. The Pathan inhabit southern and eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan. Their language is Pushto (Pashto) and, except for a small minority, they are Sunni Muslims. Pathan dynasties constituted and, until recently, have controlled the tribal kingdom of Afghanistan, and during some periods Pathan or Afghan monarchs established their rule on the Indian plains.
Location. The Pathan inhabit an area roughly bounded by Kabul in the northeast and Herat in the northwest. It extends as far east as the Indus River and in the south an approximate boundary can be drawn from Sibi through Quetta to Qandahar. Pathan tribes like the Mohmand, Wazirs, Sulemankhel, and Achakzais actually straddle the international border. The topography of the area is primarily mountainous, consisting of a part of the Alpine-Himalayan mountain range in central Afghanistan and the Sulaiman range in Pakistan. To the east Pathan territory extends onto the Indus Plain and in the south onto the Iranian Plateau. The climate of Afghanistan is semiarid with cold winters and dry summers. The eastern Pathan areas are affected by the humidity and rain of the Indian monsoons. In addition Pathan live in and contribute to social life in certain areas of Indian such as Rampur (Rohilla) and cities like Bombay.
Demography. The 1984 population of Pushto speakers was approximately 20 million. This includes 11 million native to Pakistan and 9 million originating in Afghanistan. Because of the civil war that has persisted in Afghanistan since 1979, roughly 2 million Pathans have left for Pakistan as refugees. The Pathan constituted from 50 to 60 percent of the population of prewar Afghanistan. As the largest and most influential ethnic group, the Pathan have dominated the society and politics of that country for the past 200 years. Other Important ethnic minorities in Afghanistan include the Hazaras, Tajiks, and Uzbeks. Since the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan, the Pathan constitute Pakistan's second-largest ethnic group. According to Pakistan's 1981 census 13 percent of the nation's households are Pushto-speaking. Punjabis make up the majority of Pakistan's population; other important linguistic groups are Sindhis, Baluchis, and Urdu speakers.
Linguistic Affiliation. Pushto is in the Iranian Branch of the Indo-European Language Family. The two principal dialects, which differ in pronunciation, are Southwestern or Qandahari Pushto and Northeastern or Peshawari Pukhto. Most Pathans in Afghanistan speak Dari, a dialect of Farsi or Persian, as a second language, and it has had a strong influence on Pushto. Both languages are written in the Arabic script, modified to accommodate consonants that do not occur in Arabic.