The difference between “Pathan” and “Pashtun”/”Pakhtun”

Pasting this from the old bloggie. (lolz @ the writing style … I’m pasting it as it was originally written for my own amusement.) P.S. There’s a vibrant discussion taking place under the original posting over at my blogger blog. Click here to read it.

A Formspring question! Yay! I edited it slightly by removing a part of it just because the public doesn’t need to know that.

What’s the difference between the terms pathan and pashtun? My dad’s side of the family is pathan, but they moved to India a long long time ago and then from there to Pakistan. Can I be cool too and call myself pashtun?

Of course you can be cool like me and call yourself Pashtun 😀 Even if you have less than .00001% Pashtun blood in you, you can call yourself that.

To answer your first question:

Pashtun = Pakhtun = Pukhtun = Pushtun = Afghan. (The term “Afghan” today, however, is more synonymous with someone from Afghanistan, or a citizen of Afghanistan, whether Pashtun or non-Pashtun (e.g., Hazara, Tajik, Uzbek). So, a lotta Pashtuns from Pakistan don’t like being called Afghans, especially if they don’t support the idea of Pashtuns’ independence from Pakistan.) On every Pashtun site you ever visit, you’ll see  lotsa debates on the term Pashtun and Pathan because many Pashtuns in Pakistan (and often in India) don’t have a problem referring to themselves as Pathan. The difference, however, is that “Pathan” is a term imposed on Pashtuns by outsiders/invaders, and many Pashtuns argue that it’s not their original name and is therefore not authentic. It’s also often used as a derogatory term against Pashtuns in Pakistan, so I’m personally not a fan of it either. So, just to make sure you don’t anger any Pashtuns, calling them Pashtuns instead of Pathans might be the safer thing to do.

Also, in case anyone’s wondering why the “kh” and “sh” seem to be used interchangeably in many Pashto words, here’s an explanation: the “sh” and “kh” in Pashto: On Pashto Dialects

8 thoughts on “The difference between “Pathan” and “Pashtun”/”Pakhtun”

    • Thanks for reading!
      I’ll have to verify your claim about BK’s niece’s marriage to a Punjabi Sikh (mainly because the Muslim family would be very unwilling to support their daughter’s marriage to a non-Muslim man). But even if that did happen, I don’t think it means necessarily that we should follow that tradition. People should marry whoever they want 🙂


    • I agree to some extent. Personally, I’m of both Pashtun and Punjabi descent. (My ancestors were Hindu Pashtuns who fled to India during the 1800’s before eventually converting to Sikhism) I dont really care if Pashtuns and Punjabis intermarry but I think that both ethnic groups should set aside age old differences.


    • What? Surprised. Well.. I had “to put my noose” on that..
      It’s too difficult pashtuns allow marriages with others ethinic groups . When it happens , a number of things are meticulously sighted and often this exception is given to men.even then the woman needs to be Muslim. When is not..things can be complicated.
      ( of course like in every other patriarchal people structured by tribes/clans the man carry the name of family)
      To become easier to get the agreement from family the religion is a main matter.
      Hummm, it’s not necessarily my own opinion about intermarry differents ethinic and/or religion.. But what I see happening and let’s assume… happened with myself.


  1. Aaahhh! Now i understand why the biography of Ghaffar Khan used “Pathan” and Malala’s Book used “Pashtun”.

    You answered my question that i had had for a while now 🙂 Thank you for the knowledge!


  2. How did he conclud that the questioner has .00001% Pashtun blood in him? Assuming his mother may not be pashtun but his father and grand fathers were. So he would atleast have 50% pashtun blood in him.
    BTW a lot of Pashtuns from northern India marry amongst their own clan.
    I believe a Pashtun is a descendent of Qais Abdur Rasheed and interestingly a lot of the tribes of KPK are not.


You're welcome to share your thoughts - but I don't accept bigotry and don't publish all comments <3

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