Afghanistan is a mountainous, land-locked Central Asian land with a proud, several-thousand- year history of struggle for independence from foreign influence. Afghanistan is 99% a Muslim nation (approximately 80% Sunni, 19% Shi’a), but within that there are several major ethnic groups. Learning a bit about them can shed some light on Afghan’s intricate internal politics:
— the Pashtuns:
the most populous and powerful ethnic group, they are primarily Pashto-speakers and have historically been most prominent in central government. The Pashtun traditionally live by “Pashtunwali,” an intricate code of ethics. Most Taliban are Pashtun, though certainly not all Pashtun are Taliban.
— the Tajiks:
primarily Dari-speakers, some Afghan-Tajiks are farmers and herders from the north, others of whom live in Kabul and are part of the upper-middle class. Tajiks were most prominent in Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, which received international support against the Taliban before and, especially, after the U.S.-led war began in 2001, gaining more clout than ever in Afghanistan’s national politics.
— the Hazaras: most speak a dialect of Dari, legendarily the descendants of the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan, the Hazaras live mainly in central Afghanistan. They have a rocky historical relationship with the Pashtun, especially the Taliban-Pashtun, under whose rule they faced much violence.
— the Uzbeks:
Uzbek-speakers, most of whom live rurally and semi-autonomously in Afghanistan’s north.