The Bactra Review   Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response
``Afghan'' does not mean any one ethnic or linguistic group, so much as to the inhabitants of the territory. The majority group, from whom the ruling dynasty has been drawn since the days of Ahmad Shah Durrani, are the Pashtuns (or, as the British said in the last century, the Pathans), who speak Pashto, a language in the Iranian family, and are also the main inhabitants of the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan. (Afghanistan's border dispute with Pakistan concerns the rightful affiliation of these Pashtuns.) The second largest ethnic group are the Tajiks, i.e. native speakers of Dari, the Afghan dialect of Persian. There are numerous smaller ethnic groups, notably the Turkic-speaking Uzbeks and the Shi'ite Hazzaras (almost all other Afghans are Sunni Muslims). These minorities are concentrated in the north, and in the more remote parts of the Hindu Kush and the Pamirs. Prior to the last few decades, ethnic separatism was not a significant factor in Afghanistan, for many reasons. Positively: traditional division of labor between ethnic groups, and so economic interdependence; common adherence to Sunni Islam, and usually the Hanafi school of interpretation; the use of Dari as a literary language; a high degree of intermarriage among the elites (my Pashtun grandfather is partly Uzbek, for example). Negatively, and Gellner would say most importantly: modern education, occupational mobility and the central government were all comparatively unimportant, so the language and cultural forms they used were not pressing issues. The Kabul regime encouraged ethnic separatism as a way of attempting to get at least some of the country detached from the muhjahideen; the other foreign parties encouraged it to help weaken whatever state formed in Afghanistan after the Soviets left.