Afghanistan has an ethnically and linguistically mixed population. Because of the country’s geographic centrality across historic trade and invasion routes between Central Asia and South and Southwest Asia, its peoples are diverse. The Middle Eastern influences brought by Persian and Arab invasions have defined modern Afghanistan, while the Greek, Central Asian nomadic, and Zoroastrian/Pagan/Hindu/Buddhist elements of its past have long since vanished.
According to 2013 estimates, the population of Afghanistan is approximately 33,108,000. While population data is unreliable for Afghanistan, Pashtuns make up the largest ethnic group at 42% of the population, followed by Tajiks (27%), Hazaras (9%), and Uzbek (9%), with the remainder comprised of Aimaq, Turkmen, Baloch, and other small groups. The most common languages spoken in Afghanistan are Eastern Persian (also known as Dari; roughly 50%) and Pashto (roughly 35%). Smaller groups throughout the country speak more than 70 other languages and numerous dialects.
Afghanistan is an Islamic country. Approximately 80% of Afghans are Sunni Muslim, and the remaining 20% is predominantly Shi'a Muslim. Islamic practices pervade all aspects of life. The religious traditions and codes of Islam, together with traditional tribal and ethnic practices, have an important role in personal conduct and dispute settlement. Afghan society is largely based on kinship groups, which follow traditional customs and religious practices, though somewhat less so in urban areas.
Although literacy levels are very low, classic Persian poetry plays an important role in Afghan culture. Poetry has always been a significant educational pillar in Afghanistan. Private poetry competition events known as “musha’era” are common even among ordinary people. Almost every homeowner owns one or more poetry collections, even if they are not read often.
For statistics related to life in Afghanistan today, please see our PDF fact sheet About Afghanistan, which you may print and distribute.
Sources: US Department of State; CIA World Factbook; Embassy of Afghanistan, Washington DC.