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(self-designation Pashtani, singular Pushtun; among the eastern Afghans, Pakhtani and Pukhtun, respectively), a people constituting more than half of the population of Afghanistan (more than 8 million people, according to a 1967 estimate). They speak the Afghan language (Pashto or Pushtu), which is divided into a number of dialects and sub-dialects. In religion, most of the Afghans are Muslim Sunnites, and a small number are Muslim Shiites. The sedentary Afghans are engaged chiefly in farming based on artificial irrigation (wheat, barley, millet, rice, cotton, and fruit cultivation); in the southern and eastern regions of Afghanistan they are engaged in the lumber industry. Some are engaged in construction and other industries. The nomadic and seminomadic Afghans (approximately 2 million people) breed sheep, cattle, horses, and camels. Many patriarchal and feudal characteristics have survived among the Afghans; tribal confederations, the largest of which are the Durrani and Ghilzai, still exist.
The racial origin of the Afghans is still unclear. Indian (especially in the south), Tajik, and perhaps Turkish elements have contributed to their origin. The first mention of the Afghans dates back to the sixth century. Early sources indicate that they lived originally in the region of the Sulaiman Mountains; later, the Afghans began to settle in the north and east, and in the 14th and 15th centuries they reached the Peshawar Valley, and subsequently the regions of Dir, Swat, and Bajaur. In the Middle Ages the Afghans migrated in great numbers to India, where they established a number of states. The Afghan nation was basically formed by the 16th-17th centuries through the feudalization of various Afghan tribes, which began relatively late and progressed unevenly. One of the first states established by the Afghans was the principality of Akora (16th to the beginning of the 18th century), among whose best-known maliks (rulers) was the general and poet Khushhalkhan Hattak. In 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani founded an independent Afghan state (the Durrani State). Owing to the retarded development of capitalism in Afghanistan, the formation of the Afghan nation took place over an extended period of time. Among the factors which slowed the development of the Afghan nation was the colonial policy of England. The retention of the Farsi language as the only official language of Afghanistan (Pashto, also a national language of the Afghans, was declared official in 1936) was also of great significance.
REFERENCESNarody Perednei Azii. Moscow, 1957.
Masson, V. M., and V. A. Romodin. Istoriia Afganistana, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1964–65.
M. G. ASLANOV