Afghan: Ethnicity or citizenship


A statement of Mehmood Khan Achakzai has tremored both Pakistani social and electronic media and the aftershocks of this statement continue and will remain for sometime in media. Mehmood Khan, a veteran Pashtun nationalist politician, cited Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as a part of Afghan homeland and called himself Afghan.

His statement fumed self-proclaimed uncles and aunties of the state. This is not a single time that Pashtun nationalists quote themselves as Afghans. From eulogizing Abdul Ghaffar Khan with title of Fakhr-e-Afghan (Pride of Afghan nation) to frequent use in our literature and folk songs, the word Afghan is making a good show around us.

I recall when my father was filling the caste blank in my domicile certificate with the word “Afghan”, I was quite anxious.  Blimey, why did my father put Afghan in my identity certificate? Where did this word come from? God forbid, we are too Maajar (A slang used for Afghan refugees)? Why am I surrounded by the rhetoric of Afghan?

Loathing the words Afghan and Maajar was fruit of our media’s depiction. Unlike others, my hatred put me on the road to search and study my origin or the history of Afghan. The history of Pashtuns (Afghans) is as older and complex as the nature of Pashtuns is. Here narrating the tale of “Afghan” in a few lines is like almost an impossible task.

The origin of the word “Afghan” is too much obscure. The traces of Afghanistan history could be sought in texts based on prehistoric civilizations. Excavation of some sites suggests that early humans were dwelling in Afghanistan at least 50,000 years ago. A clear hint comes from the conspicuous Greek historian Herodotus in his book (The History of Herodotus), who cited some people called Pactyan residing in area which is presently Afghanistan, in first millennium BCE. An ancient book of Indian collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns “Rigveda” which dates back to 1700-1100 BC, mentions word Pakhta for people inhibiting Eastern Afghanistan. Majority of scholars adhere this word to modern Pakhtun (Pashtun) people. Some trace back to a paradoxical evidence of Alexander’s commendation of a military group in Darius’ army. That group comprised of soldiers who were called Paktyans of the now a days Afghanistan.


During the 3rd century CE, the earliest authentic reference of the name Abgan (Afghan) was coined by Sassanid Emperor Shah Pur I, The great. Later, recording of word “Avagana” in the 6th century is done by the Indian polymath Varahamihira his book Brihat Samhita. Encyclopedia Iranica adverts Brihat Samhita and converges that this name was used for Pastun (Pashtuns were anciently called Pastun in Persian documents) residing in present day Afghanistan. In early Persian scripts, “Afghan” was only stipulated for Pashtuns.

The correct word “Afghan”, however, is documented in an anonymously written Persian book Hudud Al Alam (Boundaries of World), written in the 10th century CE. As the name indicates, it’s a book about geography in anthropological context. After this, the word Afghan has become the core subject of prominent historians’ interest and is substantiated in their text. For example, in Alberuni’s Tarikh Ul Hind (History of India); Ibne Battuta’s Travelogue Manuscripts; Amir Karor’s Pata Khazana (Hidden treasure); Khushal Khan Khattak’s Diwan (Poetry collection); Muhammad Qasim Hindu Shah Farishta’s Tarikh e Farishta (Narratives of Farishta); Naimat Ullah Harvi’s Shajara e Afghan (Family tree of Afghans); Hafiz Rehmat Khan’s Tawarikh e Hafiz Rehmat Khani (History narrated by Rehmat Khan, compiled by Khan Roshan Khan); and many more to date.

The history of origin of this race, however, is quite a mystery for historians and some say that the different theories are mere conjectures. For example, some advocate their Indo Aryans ethnicity; some have Turkish tales about their origin; some present them descendants of Greeks; but the unique one is, reckoning them the lost children of Israel. This theory clings Afghans to the Jewish bloodline. This theory was presented by Mullah Naimat Ullah Harvi at behest of Afghan Government and elders. His main aim was to give an auspicious touch to this race; however, there are many holes in his story.

All these theories may differ about Afghan origin but are on same page about their existence and residence for millennia. The historical evidences cited above, has displayed a group of people who were referred as Pactyan, Paktyan, Pakhta, Abgan, Avagana, Pastun, Patan, Pathan, Pashtun or Afghan, were dwelling in a region between Amu River and Indus River. In simple words, from Amu River to Abassin (Indus River) is the region which homes and cradles Afghan race for centuries. Thus this region is known as Pashtuns’ homeland.

It is also quite well documented fact that Pashtuns were zealots about their Afghan ethnicity for centuries; Qasim Shah Farishta narrates in his book (Tarikh e Farishta) written in 16th century that when they (Pashtuns) were inquired (in India) about their fellow Muslims in Kohistan (Land of mountains- Afghanistan). They replied: Don’t call our homeland Kohistan; it’s Afghanistan and we are Afghans.

Khushal Khattak categorically wrote that Afghans are Pashtuns, Pashtuns are Afghans. In his famous verse, he says “I have taken up the sword to defend the pride of the Afghan; I am Khushal Khattak, the gallant man of the age.”

Khushal baba

Pashtuns or Pathans living all over the globe have a same Afghan background and they have been referred in all historical text of India with the word Afghan. Writing this word Afghan in domicile certificate is practiced since British colonial times. In 1933, in renowned pamphlet “Now or Never”; Chaudray Rehmat Ali came up with the name of Afghania for Pashtun region in North West of India and made it an integral part of the word “Pakistan”.

The huge enigma about the word Afghan was created in 1964, when Afghanistan’s constitution delineated it and referred it to citizens of the Kingdom of Afghanistan irrespective of their ethnicity. This diversification of Afghan resolved many ethnic grudges in Afghanistan and was a pivotal step towards their national reconciliation and harmony. This move, on the other hand, has created a mass confusion about Afghan ethnicity and citizenship. Asfandyar Wali Khan acknowledging Afghanistan’s constitution mentioned that every Pashtun is Afghan but every Afghan is not a Pashtun.

All these evidences and quotations elucidate that Afghan is a race having a peculiar origin and genetic composition. The fact remains that Afghan is a nation like other nations i.e. Balochi, Sindhi or Punjabi, not a citizenship of any particular state. Supporting the significance of genetic makeup in demarcation of nations, United Nations defines Nation as: “A group of people living in a geographical area sharing same genome, language, culture, socio-economic interest and religion.” This definition guides the seekers where they belong to.

Mehmood Khan Achakzai, in my opinion, is very naïve. Being Pashtun leader with already considered hazy loyalty, his statement is very inappropriate in this delicate and paranoid country because here such statements are strictly denounced. Achakzai may have anticipated that like Pervez Ilahi and Nawaz Sharif, calling himself Afghan will be applauded; they have both frequently in past verbalized that Pakistani and Indian Punjabis have one heart and Indo-Pak border is merely a line which cannot keep Punjabi people apart. It was a utopian thought and Achakzai should now firmly deduce that here some people have some discrete rights not all.

After his this statement people including some geek Pashtuns, started demonizing him and queried about his loyalty again. His press conference was called as a part of a sinister plan and argued to expunge him from Pakistan. We live in a society where our mental state always remains critical. Contrary to acceptable Pervez Ilahi and Nawaz Sharif, words of some people like Achakzai are considered more pernicious. Our social paranoia incited hate campaign against him which was quite a good pretense of a jingoistic ideology now called Trumpism.

Achakzai like his forefathers is inhabitant of this land for millennia. This land belongs to him and he belongs to this land. Nobody can undone his bond with his homeland or judge his loyalty to it. He is a partisan of odds and he cannot be panicked by few buffoons with keyboards or few cameras distributing certificates of treason and apostasy.

The only thing that was matter of immense regret was active Pashtuns involvement in this wave of hate against Achakzai forgetting which blood runs in their veins. Allah has created us Afghan with Afghan genome in our creation. If someone is ashamed of his origin then he should change his Afghan DNA.

I believe that a Pashtun should be proud of his Afghan origin and pronounce it. Cursing Afghan will go nowhere but will fall upon that Pashtun. It’s a famous hadith that “the one who castigates his nation (caste) is none of us.”

Afghan is not a citizenship; it is a race which lives in this region.Dr. Kalim Ullah Khan

Writer: Dr. Kalim Ullah Khan

The writer is a doctor by profession and working as a lecturer in a medical college in Peshawar. He can be reached at



  1. Dr. Kalim Ullah Khan’s article is deep digging in history to find himself and the process he found the gene of his race. His struggle was triggered by a small incident and he decided to find himself and to prove his father’s words, to write Afghan as his race or ethnicity. Being a doctor of medicine and a lecturer he deserve all our praise for such a diversified and comparative study of history. The social sciences are the subjects of brainy and intelligent people. Because of two reasons; one like physical science it cannot be reproduced, secondly for its reasonable authenticity one has to go through many authors and then decide. For this great job, he should be commended.
    All i can remember from my school days, race was Afghan and tribe Yusufzai. The other thing i remember that some of our property stamps were countersigned by the Amir of Afghanistan; in addition to the ruler of Ex Swat State.
    According to Afghanistan constitution any Afghan residing on Eastern side of Duran Line with its testimonial bearing its identity has the same rights as those living in the boundaries of the present “truncated” Afghanistan.
    We have no Choudhri tribe in Pashtun/Afghans. Reference of the writer to Ch Rahmat Ali, to call it Afghania in the word of Pakistan is a proof that we are all racially Afghan, unless the name of Pakistan is changed.
    According to oxford dictionary, patriotism is one’s intense attachment to his ancestry, land, history, culture , habits and language. In Afghanistan; Afghans are referred to those who speak Pashto/ Afghani. The other nation Tajak ,Uzbek have the right to retain their identity.I am sure of myself that I don’t share my ancestry with Ch parvez Elahi.
    Let the dogs bark but we should not be naive to our present state, national body in pieces, and national awareness is on rise but steeply & not to create problems which may damage our growing awareness. Pervaz Elahi should be forgiven for his short memory that his father used to take asylum in Fakhre Afgan house. The problem with Pakistanis is that don’t understand the difference between Patriotism and Allegiance to a state. They have the same problem on religious issues like they can’t differentiate between Secularism and Atheism even the people of the caliber of Prof. Khurshid Of J.I. One can feel pity for their ignorance.
    According to Pakistani law every resident of Pakistan is entitled for dual nationality.
    East and west Punjab are twin brothers this is what we read in national press when the C.Ms of the two meet. Their pilgrims are treated as official guests. We welcome it; as religion is no base of nationhood.
    The intensity of patriotism can be judged from the fact that when their was uprising in East Punjab, apart from help in cash and Kind; Gen. Zia was so emotional to go himself and lead the fight. He was begged not to go, in case he is captured alive.( Ref. Memoirs of Gen. Gul Hassan).
    Without any feeling of guilt or hesitation; we are racially Afghans and now tired to prove our allegiance to every Punjabi in the street.
    In 1962 in Lea market Karachi Bacha Khan (Fakhre Afghan0 was asked by Motia Choudhri President of East Pakistan students Union & Hassan Baqar President of national students federation,” when Pashtun or Afghan will ask for independence”? Bk replied; your question is wrong from a wrong person. You better go and ask Pakistani rulers how long they want to keep them as a part of Pakistan. Motia; is there any chance for them to revolt. Bk; replied this chance is with every nation, not only with Pashtun; when they feel that their is no place for them in any country that they have no human dignity and national rights.

    • Tariq Khan Sapi

      Sir, Dr Kalimullah has written well-researched and based on reality article, but your comments is not less than that. Salute.

    • Kalim Ullah Khan

      thank you so much for your words. you will be always source of my guidance. i wish i could have consulted you before publishing it.

  2. Well researched and interesting article.

  3. 1) Patriotism is rejected or criticised by the thinkers so that person do not think narrowly. Being Patriotic is not intellectually higher position, its quite right.
    On the same line exagerated emphasis on ones race, tribe and origin also fall in to the same category. Morally you have to reject both to be logically right because tribes, races and country are used to exploit opponents.

    2) Nations are not always mean to be based on races nor it should be like that. Canada, USA even Afghanistan is not belongs to only one race. So its not logical nor the ideal objective to strife for the country for any one particular race. people and socities needs diversity to be creative and survive.

    3)If I talke extreme Any race Pathan or baloch can be separated from Pakistan, any one can talk about it there is nothing fixed or God words. However nationalist needs to prove that within Pakistan they are oppressed people, the laws are different for Pathan and Punjabi or sindhi. In their locality they dont have their representatives, they are not allowed to go, do business in Hyderbad, Karachi, Lahore. I mean nationalist case should be strong. If they are not in a power positions of the federation then they have to collect such arguments and start movement. If this is not the case then merely based on the love of their race and orgin making anti residence country is not ethically a right choice. it is irresponsibility.
    It will be unfair to ask masses to think on those lines with out having prior authenticated home work. and with out clearly imagining the consequences and well being of the subjected people. Its irresponsibility and intellectually laziness.

    4) Finally please do not compare India with afghanistan, My own Maternal Grand Father and Grand Mother both are pure Yousuf Zai pathan from Reysat TOnk in India. They are more indians than Afghans. This region of Pakistan including reasat Sawat is always nearer to india then afghanistan. Rulers of Afghanistan have influence here but Mughals and Sikhs and before Hindu Raja also reach to those western areas.

    60Lastly I dont know that much as it seems the writor knows, but common sense says since there are two separate words AFGHANS and PASHTUNS definetly there must be some difference and what I know is that I can tell by meeting with pathan that is he Afgahni or a Pakistan.

    6) I am impress and agree on many points if one can show their love or affiliation with india then why not Afghanistan as we are neighbor but I think it should not on the expense of adding haterd against the country where we live because this haterd will cost innocent people later and such cost we can not measyre or ascertain or even quantify.

    Respect and Love


    • Kalim Ullah Khan

      My gratitude for your kind words and the way you have analyzed my article. its a matter of immense pleasure for me that you came forth with very positive criticism. one writes to be read and positively criticized.
      before i clear some points i want to add something. my point was afghan is a genome or genetic race not citizenship like English, Scottish etc. a person living in america with having German ethnicity is proud to call himself american than german. we are afghan by ethnicity and pakistani by citizenship like Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Armenia.
      i agree with you that pride is natural and a person should be proud of his roots but should not be that much that he starts considering others inferior. in urdu one is feeling is called Tafakhir (Pride) and other is Takabur (Arrogance). my article is about tafakhir. i am always against arrogance.
      i am also Yousufzai Pashtun. i belong to that area where the first Afghan ruler and leader of Yousufzai tribe Malak Ahmad Khan, spent his life and is buried. sir here in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa all consider themselves Afghan by ethnicity. Riasat Swat always had Khutba from Amir of Afghanistan and tomb of all yousufzai heroes buried in swat and malakand region have name of Afghan atalan (Afghan Heroes) on their tombs. i will be happy to host you in my home town.

  4. Awais Khan Marwat

    Such an amazing fact followed writing. looking forward to see more of your articles sir

  5. Dr.Kalimullah Khan your article is too much insightful and informative with authentic references, I had also written the article on same topic soon after Mahmood KHan Achakzai statement made controversial in Pakistani media, under title (Yes, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa belongs to Afghans) which was published in an online newspaper from Balochistan. What I have written in historical books regarding word Abagan, Abgan or its recent form Afghan, you have explained it broadly and intellectually. There is one mistake within article in the name of Book’s writer, “Pata Khazana” was written by Mohammad Hotak bin Dawood in 1729 (1141-42 H) and according to Pashto literary history Amir Karor was the first Pashto poet who lived in early second century Hijri and died in 154 H./771 A.D.

    • Kindly correct the mistake in my comment, it’s : (What I have ever read in historical books…)

    • Dr. Kalim Ullah Khan

      I am much obliged for your correction.
      Sir may be my resources were incomplete or poor due to which I commit this mistake. I counter consulted my article with a person currently working as director taxila museum and a historian. I wrote this for in 10 days and the books I consulted were
      Yousafzai by Allah Bakhsh Yousafi
      Tawarikh e Hafiz Rehmat Khan
      A manuscript of Afghan and British colonial relations
      Pakistan ki Siyasi Tarikh series volume no 8, Afghanistan ka tariki pas Manzar or Pukhtoon masla e khudmukhtari
      The history of pre historic caves and civilisations
      The history of the afghan
      The Pathan
      An articles by Saad Ullah Jan Saib about Pashtuns
      An old manuscript of afghan origin
      Sir, I am not a historian neither writer so for that very reason you will forgive me. My basic aim was to give Pashtuns awareness about themselves and their origin because they are losing themselves in void day by day. It was just a blunt effort. Once again I am much obliged for your kind words and correction. Kindly send me the article you mentioned in email given in this article.
      Regards and respect

  6. I have no words to express my gratitude to this young Doctor who did a good research spent cosiderable amount of time and collected historical information along with references to prove once again that truth can’t be covered by smear campaign of ignorant anchors on Pakistani Media.

    • Dr. Kalim Ullah Khan

      I am much obliged and immensely honoured with your kind words. I want that all Pashtuns should be aware of their origin and it was small effort.

  7. There is absolutely no difference between the words Afghan and Pashtun. Like someone above pointed out, in rural Afghanistan the words Afghan means Pashtun and Afghani implies Pashto. Lately, Afghanistan has declined significantly both militarily and economically, so some see it fit to abandon ship, mainly our brothers east of Khyber, but what they don’t realize is that their ancestors fully benefited from the words Afghan and Afghanistan for centuries, now that we are down you are running to the Punjabi. The day will come when Afghanistan rises and then will you run back like a pendulum? Be strong in your identity if you have an ounce of pride in yourself. Don’t feel proud because of someone else’s achievements. Afghanistan will rise that’s just a matter of time, but the black cast on your face will remain in history books.

  8. Its a shame that the pukhtoons of Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa, not all but most, haven’t protected their language which is an identity.

    We must see that it doesn’t die but flourishes in our land. Now the schools won’t take any steps for it so it must be taken by the parents to teach it to the next generation.

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