AFGHAN (afḡān), in current political usage, any citizen of Afghanistan, whatever his ethnic, tribal, or religious affiliation. According to the 1977 constitution of the Republic of Afghanistan (1973-78), all Afghans are equal in rights and obligations before the law. In an attempt to alleviate the inevitable tensions and conflicts of an ethnically diverse state, the republic discouraged reference to ethnic or tribal origin and prohibited the use of personal names that evoke an ethnic group (such as Afrīdī, Aḥmadzay, Ōrmuṛ, Nūrzay, Pōpalzay, Wardak, etc.).

From a more limited, ethnological point of view, “Afḡān” is the term by which the Persian-speakers of Afghanistan (and the non-Paṧtō-speaking ethnic groups generally) designate the Paṧtūn. The equation Afghans = Paṧtūn has been propagated all the more, both in and beyond Afghanistan, because the Paṧtūn tribal confederation is by far the most important in the country, numerically and politically. The Afghans or Paṧtūn are characterized by: (1) Their language, Paṧtō, the most important Iranian language of the east, with a remarkably rich literature. (2) Their clan structure, which clearly distinguishes them from the Tajik of Afghanistan who generally have none at all (see Paṧtūn). (3) Their social code, paṧtūnwalī (see Paṧtūn) or simply paṧtō, that governs relations among some Paṧtūn, as a code of honor, and defines the essential principles of the individual ethic and the national virtues. (4) Certain characteristics, both social and cultural, extinct or living, (e.g., wēš, the periodic redistribution of lands; nomadism, etc.). The term “Afḡān” has probably designated the Paṧtūn since ancient times. Under the form Avagāṇa, this ethnic group is first mentioned by the Indian astronomer Varāha Mihira in the beginning of the 6th century A.D. in his Bṛhat-saṃhitā.

See Afghanistan: iv. Ethnography; v. Languages.


D. M. Dōst, Da Afḡānestān žəbē aw tōkəmuna, Kabul, 1354 Š./1975.

L. Dupree, Afghanistan, Princeton, 1973.

ʿA. Ḥabībī, “Afḡān va Afḡānestān,” Afḡān, Kabul, 22 Sonbola 1350/13 September 1971, pp. 1-3.

W. Kraus, ed., Afghanistan, Zurich, 1974.

W. Steul, Paschtunwali. Ein Ehrenkodex und seine rechtliche Relevanz, Wiesbaden, 1981.

(Ch. M. Kieffer)

Originally Published: December 15, 1983

Last Updated: July 22, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 5, p. 481

Cite this entry:

Ch. M. Kieffer, “AFGHAN,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition, 1982, available at