The Ismailis of Afghanistan: AFGHANS OF AFGHANISTAN
The Afghan government divided the country into 7 major provinces (wilayat) and 7 minor provinces (hukumat-i a’la). These are further sub-divided into 28 provinces, all technically of equal rank. Afghanistan has five major cities, such as Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-i Sharif and Kunduz; with 309 towns (shahr) and 14205 villages (qaryah).
The inhabitants of Afghanistan consist of different races and nationalities. The only common bond of union is that of Islam, but even this is weakened by the distribution of the people between the two great sects of Islam, the Sunnis and Shiahs. The latter, of whom the Kizilbashis and the Hazaras are the chief representatives, are greatly in the minority, and are from time to time subjected to persecution by the dominant Sunnis.
The races of Afghanistan may be classified as Afghan and non-Afghan, of whom the former predominate in power and character, if not, in actual number. The Afghans claim to be Bani Israel and insist on their descent from the tribes who were carried away from Palestine to Media by Nebuchadnezzar. This theory is however regarded by modern ethnologists as a mere legend. There is good reason to suppose that the Afghans are mainly Turko-Iranian, the Turkish element predominating, while there must have been some infusion of Semitic blood, at any rate after the early Islamic conquests.
The Durranis or Abdalis are the ruling race, and with the other great Afghan clan, the Ghilzais, probably number a million and a half. The country of the Durranis may be regarded as comprising the whole of the south and southwest of the Afghan plateau, and mainly the Kandahar province and the tract between Kandahar and Herat.
The Ghilzais, with whom may be grouped the Shinwaris are the strongest of the Afghan clans. They occupy the high plateau north of Kandahar, and extend east to the western ranges of the Suleman mountain and north to the Kabul river. A popular theory of the origin of the Ghilzais traces them to the Turkish tribe of Khilji. They however claim themselves as the descent from Ghal-zoe (thief’s son), the result of a prenuptial connection between Shah Hussain, the Ghorid and Bibi Mato, the granddaughter of Kais Abdur Rashid. Major McMahon, who has made a special study of the question, says that he has never heard any doubt cast on this origin of the clan, which is, however, in no way inconsistent with subsequent Turki accretions.
Of the non-Afghan races, the most numerous are the Tajiks (strangers), estimated over 900,000. They are intermingled with the Afghan through out the country, though their chief localities are in the west, especially in Herat. They are regarded as the descendant of the old Iranian race, the original occupants of that part of the country; they call themselves Parsiwan and speak a dialect of Persian. They are chiefly agriculturists, accept the Afghans as their masters, and aspire to no share of the government. In the towns they follow mechanical trades and the like, which the Afghan seldom does.
Next in numerical importance are the Hazaras, numbering half a million. They are mainly descended from Mongol tribes and generally speak a Persian dialect. Their habitat, known as the Hazarajat, may be described as the race south of the Band-i Baba, bounded by the Wardak country on the east and the Taimani plateau on the west. On the south, Zamindawar and other districts of Kandahar bound their land. The Hazaras, who are Shiahs, are a sturdy race of mountaineers.
The Chahar Aimaks, the collective name given to the Jamshedis, Firoz Khohis, Taimuris and Taimaris, belong to the Herat province, and number close upon 180,000. All are semi-nomadic in their habits, and speak dialect of Persian.
The Uzbeg population is estimated to number about 300,000, chiefly in Afghan-Turkistan, about one-third is to be found in Kataghan and as many more are scattered in parts of Badakhshan.
An important class, numbering less than 50,000 is the Kizilbashis, the Persianized Turks, whose immigration into Afghanistan dates from the time of Nadir Shah in 1737. They are the Shiahs, chiefly to be found in Kabul, employed as traders, doctors, and writers and latterly as clerks in the offices of government.
Among the ethnic groups, there are 47 percent Pushtun, 35 percent Tajik, 8 percent Uzbeg, Torkman and Kirghiz, 7 percent Hazara, 2.5 percent Baluchi and 0.5 percent Hindu, Shikh and Jews. Among the Muslim population, there are 80 percent Sunnis and 20 percent Shiahs.
The national tongue of the Afghans is Pushtu (or Pukhtu), classed by the most competent critics as an Aryan or Indo-Iranian language, hence the name Pathan (pakhtan or pukhtun), which is sometimes used as a synonym for Afghan. Persian is the vernacular of a large part of the non-Afghan population.
The Afghans are ignorant of everything connected with their religion beyond its most elementary doctrines. In matter of faith, they confine themselves to the belief in God, the Holy Prophet, a resurrection, etc. They are much under the influence of their mulla. They are very superstitious in regard to charms, omens, astrology, and so forth, and are addicted to the veneration of local saints, whose shrines (ziarats) are found on every hilltop, sometimes in the form of a domed tomb, sometimes as a mere heap of stones within a wall. In the mind of the tribesman, the saint or pir is invested with the attributes of a god. It is he who can avert calamity, cure, disease, procure children for the childless, or improve the circumstances of the dead; the underlying feeling, apparently, being that man is too sinful to approach God direct, and that the intervention of some one more worthy must therefore be sought.