The Pashtuns (also Pushtun , Pakhtun , ethnic Afghan , or Pathan are an ethno-linguistic group of people, living primarily in eastern and southern Afghanistan , the Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa Province, and small communities in India. The Pashtuns are characterized by their indigenous code “religion” of honor and culture, Pashtunwali (pukhtoonwali). The Pashtuns are the world’s largest lineage (patriarchal) tribal group in existence. The total population of the group is estimated at ca. 40 million.
Pashtun culture is ancient and much of it is yet to be recorded in contemporary times. There are many conflicting theories, some contemporary, some ancient, about the origins of the Pashtun people, both among historians and the Pashtun themselves.
“The word Afghan… first appears in history in the Hudud-al-Alam, a work by an unknown Arab geographer who wrote in 982 AD.” Until the advent of the modern Afghan state in the 18th century, the word Afghan had been synonymous with Pashtun.
From the 1st century BC to the 5th century AD the regions where the Pashtuns lived saw immense migrations of peoples from Central Asia and the Middle East: the arrival of the Sakas, Kushans, Huns, Gujjars Hebrews and Greeks.
According to most anthropologists, the Pashtuns appear to be primarily of Aryan descent similar to the Persians, Kurds and Tajiks. The Pashtuns have eastern Iranian origins as the Pashto language is classified as an eastern Iranian tongue distantly related to Ossetic among other Iranian languages.
There are more mythological and romanticized origins for the Pashtuns. For example, according to the Encyclopedia of Islam, the Theory of Pashtun descent from Israelites is traced to Maghzan-e-Afghani who compiled a history for Khan-e-Jehan Lodhi in the reign of Mughal Emperor Jehangir in the 16th century AD. This reference is in line with the commonly held view by Pashtuns that when the twelve tribes of Israel were dispersed (Israel and Judah, Lost Ten Tribes), the tribe of Joseph among other Hebrew tribes settled in the region.
Hence the term “Yusef Zai” in Pashto (pukhto) translates to the ‘ sons of Joseph‘; the Yusefzai are the 8th largest tribe of the Pashtuns. Other Pashtuns claim descent from Arabs and some groups such as the Afridis claim to be descended from Alexander the Great’s Greeks as well. What may be the case is that the Pashtuns have been modified by various invaders, while maintaining their eastern Iranian base both linguistically and genetically overall.
The Pashtuns are intimately tied to the history of modern-era Afghanistan. The country’s founder, Ahmad Shah Durrani, was a Pashtun. He founded the state, as we know it today, in 1747 and the Pashtuns would rule it for the next 200 years. The Pashtuns/Afghans fought both the British and Russians to a standstill during the Great Game.