Hindus and Sikhs live mostly in urban centers throughout Afghanistan.
They are merchants and moneylenders. In 1978 they numbered about
30,000. Many left in 1992, but are slowly returning to such cities
as Ghazni and Jalalabad. The Jewish community of Kabul is totally
depleted. One family remains in 1996 to care for the synagogue
which partially remains in an area otherwise pulverized.
Afghanistan's ethnic mosaic has no precise boundaries; nor is
its national culture uniform. Few of its ethnic groups are indigenous;
few maintain racial homogeneity. Many zones overlap and interactions
broadened as the economic infrastructure improved and educational
Resentment rising out of wars and conquests remains long after
the power of conquerors dissipates. This is true with regard to
the Uzbeks. The distrust and discrimination between Hazara and
Pushtun set during late nineteenth century confrontations is still
abundantly present. The causes of prejudice against the Qizilbash
go back to the eighteenth century.
Kabul's political policies also had long-term effects in aggravating
ethnic tensions. This is most evident in the successive movements
of thousands of Pushtun into the northern areas, beginning with
the forced relocations of Amir Abdur Rahman's Pushtun opponents
in the late nineteenth century and again employed as late as 1947-1949
following revolts among the Safi Pushtun in eastern Afghanistan.
Competition with local populations occasioned considerable stress.
Equally significant were the effects of successful land reclamation
projects, beginning in the 1930s, which offered attractive incentives
to new settlers. These invariably favored the Pushtun over local
populations. The land settlement schemes in the Hilmand in the
southwest, begun in 1910 and massively extended after 1946, were
similarly disruptive. Settlers from all parts of Afghanistan were
recruited into this predominantly Pushtun and Baluch area, creating
new tensions not only among the new disparate groups, but also
among new and old Pushtun groups.
Local conflicts in all areas, within all groups, most often erupt
over disputes concerning property or access to resources, whether
it be land, water, money, business or government opportunities,
bridewealth or inheritance. Naturally evolving demographic pressures
accompanied by competition form the basis of other conflicts.
Also, the tendency of past governments to initiate policies enhancing
Pushtun prominence, increased the traditional Pushtun military
and numerical dominance which allowed them to assert their will
over other ethnic groups and maintain their status as the nation's
most prestigious group.
Thus, there have always been tensions between groups, from petty
squabbles to feuds lasting for generations, rising from a variety
of causes but rarely from intrinsic attitudes of ethnic discrimination.
Considering the disparate and volatile ingredients that exist,
Afghanistan's history records remarkably few internal explosions
that are specifically focussed on ethnicity.
During the Soviet-Afghan War, the shared goals of the mujahidin--opposition
to nonbelieving atheist invaders and group solidarity--were reminiscent
of familial, tribal, and ethnic group construction. As such, the
appeal of the mujahidin was a strong and familiar rallying
cry and source of solidarity for Afghans in their struggle for
Afghan ethnic identities emerged more clearly during the Soviet-Afghan
War. Five groups could be easily distinguished: Tajik, including
all Sunni Dari speakers; Hazara; Uzbek; Durrani Pushtun; Ghilzai
Pushtun and Eastern Pushtun. Fighting among Afghans in the years
following the fall of Najibullah's government in 1992 exceeded
levels of violence experienced even during the wars of Amir Abdur
Rahman against the Hazara and the Nuristani between 1891 and 1896.
Some would say that these conflicts are evidence that Afghan society
must now be fragmented between groups identified by religious,
ethnic, or regional labels. There is no doubt that the Soviet-Afghan
War severely disturbed the delicate social infrastructure constructed
over many centuries, yet according to many Afghans the present
turmoil is driven more by political greed and external interference
than by ethnic, religious or regional considerations. While traditional
structures were not equitable for all Afghan citizens, they did
permit extended periods of civic stability. Even in the mid-1990s,
there was ample evidence in a number of areas outside the present
arenas of conflict to suggest that a return to the old order could
Elements of material culture are used by all ethnic groups to
build pride and a sense of social superiority, particularly in
mixed ethnic zones. The Nuristani are the most unique in dress,
diet and architecture. In other areas distinctions have softened
over the years as the improved infrastructure encouraged greater
The most striking differences are noted in dress, particularly
in headgear. Turbans are characteristic of the Pashtun. The shape
of caps, round, conical or peaked, their material and decoration
are distinctive indicators between and within many groups. Chapan,
loose sometimes quilted coats of cotton or silk with stripes of
varied colors to indicate specific regions, are worn in the north;
pattu, shawls, are preferred in the south. For women,
color, the width of the skirt, and the type of embroidery are
Diet also changes from group to group, although bread and tea
are dietary staples everywhere. Some bread is round, some oval;
some prefer black tea, others green. The Uzbek include many pasta
dishes in their cuisine. Dwellings of sedentary groups, mostly
made from pressed mud or sun-dried brick, may be domed or flat-roofed,
modestly enclosed behind walls or hidden within towering fortress-like
enclosures, although open villages do exist in the Hazarajat.
Tents used by the nomads vary in shape, material and structure
from group to group.
Each group uses folktales to reinforce the uniqueness and superiority
of the one over the other, as well as to describe their individual
Data as of 1997