Pashtun, as they're most conventionally referred to in the Western press, constitute Afghanistan's largest ethnic and linguistic group. Mostly Sunni Muslim who live off agriculture, animal husbandry and trade, the 60-odd Pashtun tribes dominate the east and south of the country and account for about 40% of Afghanistan's 32 million people (2007 estimate). Pashtun also form the backbone of Taliban and al-Qaeda militancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Outsiders historically have confused Pashtun with the term "Pathans," or Afghans. The Pashtun themselves prefer to be known as Pakhtun. They speak Pashtu, or Pashto, an Indo-European language closely related to Persian.
Some Pashtun communities, swelled especially by the refugee outflow from Afghanistan following the 1979 Soviet invasion and the civil war of the 1990s, live in western Pakistan and in Kashmir.
Alternate Spellings: Pushtuns, Pakhtuns, Pakhtoons.