They speak the Pashto language and adhere to Pashtunwali, which is a traditional set of ethics guiding individual and communal conduct.The ethnogenesis of the Pashtun ethnic group is unclear but historians have come across references to various ancient peoples called Pakthas (Pactyans) between the 2nd and the 1st millennium BC, who may be their early ancestors.A recent Pashtun diaspora has also developed in the Arab Gulf states, primarily in the United Arab Emirates.
Their history is mostly spread amongst the countries of Pakistan and Afghanistan, centred on their traditional seat of power in that region.
Globally, the Pashtuns are estimated to number around 50 million, but an accurate count remains elusive due to the lack of an official census in Afghanistan since 1979.
Local Pashtuns have attained presidency there and high rankings in sports and are generally well-integrated in the society.
However, Afghan refugees, who are mostly ethnically Pashtuns, have faced widespread discrimination in Pakistan.
The tribal system has several levels of organisation: the tribe, tabar, is divided into kinship groups called khels, in turn divided into smaller groups (pllarina or plarganey), each consisting of several extended families called kahols.
Since the 2nd millennium BC, cities in the region now inhabited by Pashtuns have seen invasions and migrations, including by Ancient Indian peoples, Ancient Iranian peoples, the Medes, Persians and Ancient Macedonians in antiquity, Kushans, Hephthalites, Arabs, Turks, Mongols, and others.
There are a number of smaller Pashtun-dominated towns such as Chaman, Zhob, Pishin, Harnai, Ziarat, Loralai, Mardan, Mingora, Swabi, Batkhela, Dir, Khwazakhela, Besham, Battagram, Kohat, Hangu, Karak, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Landi Kotal, Parachinar, Miramshah, Razmak, Wanna, Khost, Gardez, Asadabad, Mihtarlam, Kunduz, Maidan Shar, Ghazni, Qarabagh, Sharana, Urgun, Qalati Ghilji, Tarinkot, Farah, Shindand, and others.
With estimates as high as 7 million, the city of Karachi in Sindh, Pakistan has the largest Pashtun population in the world.
The Pashtuns remain a predominantly tribal people, but the trend of urbanisation has begun to alter Pashtun society as cities such as Kandahar, Peshawar, Quetta and Kabul have grown rapidly due to the influx of rural Pashtuns.
Despite this, many people still identify themselves with various clans.
The exact figure remains uncertain in Afghanistan, which is also affected by the 1.3 million or more Afghan refugees that remain in Pakistan, a majority of which are Pashtuns. A cumulative population assessment suggests a total of around 49 million individuals all across the world.