Pashtun people (Pashto: پښتانه Pax̌tānə; also spelled Pushtun, Pakhtun or Pukhtun), also known as ethnic Afghans or Pathans are an Iranic ethnic group belonging to Afghanistan and Pakistan. They are typically characterised by the usage of the Eastern Iranian Pashto language and practice of Pashtunwali, which is a traditional set of ethics guiding individual and communal conduct. Their origins are unclear but historians have come across references to various ancient peoples called Pakthas (Pactyans) between the 2nd and the 1st millennium BC, inhabiting the region between the Hindu Kush and Indus River, who may be the early ancestors of the Pashtun people. Since the 3rd century AD onward, they have been referred to by the ethnonym "Afghan".
Often characterised as a warrior and martial race, their history is spread amongst various countries of South, Central and Western Asia, centred around their traditional seat of power in medieval Afghanistan. During the Delhi Sultanate era, the Pashtun Lodi dynasty replaced the Turkic rulers in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. Other Pashtuns fought the Safavids and the Mughals before obtaining an independent state in the early-18th century, which began with a successful revolution by Mir Wais Hotak followed by conquests of Ahmad Shah Durrani. Pashtuns played a vital role during the Great Game from the 19th century to the 20th century as they were caught between the imperialist designs of the British and Russian empires.
Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and reigned as the dominant ethno-linguistic group for about 300 years, with nearly all rulers being Pashtun. The mujahideen who fought against the pro-Soviet Afghan government in the 1980s were also dominated by Pashtun fighters. Abdul Ahad Mohmand became the first Afghan and 4th Muslim to journey into outer space, spending nine days aboard Mir space station in 1988. Zalmay Khalizad became the first Muslim and first Afghan to become Ambassador of the United States. Many famous Bollywood superstars in India are of Pashtun descent. Some became high-ranking officials working for the World Bank, the United Nations and other international organizations.
They made up the majority of the Taliban and the current Afghan government. They are also an important community in Pakistan, which has the largest Pashtun population and constitute the second-largest ethnic group, having attained presidency there and high rankings in sports. They are the world's largest (patriarchal) segmentary lineage ethnic group. According to Ethnologue, the total population of the group is estimated to be around 50 million but an accurate count remains elusive due to the lack of an official census in Afghanistan since 1979. Estimates of the number of Pashtun tribes and clans range from about 350 to over 400.