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Ethnic groups in Pakistan

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Ethnic groups in Pakistan

About 98% of languages spoken in Pakistan are of the Indo-Iranian branch (sub-branches: 75% of the Indo-Aryan branch and 20% of the Iranian branch), a branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Most languages of Pakistan are written in the Perso-Arabic script, with significant vocabulary derived from Persian and Turkish, as well as those Arabic words found in Persian. Due to Persian mediation, the pronunciation of Arabic loan-words in the native languages of Pakistan follows the Persian model and is not based directly on the Arabic of Arabia. Punjabi (Shahmukhi), Saraiki, Sindhi, Pashto, Urdu, Balochi, Kashmiri (Koshur) are the general languages spoken within Pakistan. The majority of Pakistanis belong to various Indo-Aryan-speaking groups, while large minorities are from various Iranian and Dardic language groups. In addition, small groups of language isolates such as Burusho and Dravidian Speakers like the Brahui people also live in the country. The major ethnic groups of Pakistan in numerical size include: Punjabis, Pashtuns, Sindhis, Saraikis, Muhajirs, Balochis, Hindkowans, Chitralis and other smaller groups.

Following are the major languages spoken in Pakistan. The percentage of Pakistanis who are native speakers of that language is also given.

Numbers of speakers of larger languages
Language 2008 estimate 1998 census Main areas spoken
1 Punjabi 76,367,360 44.17% 58,433,431 44.15% Punjab
2 Pashto 29,342,892 16.97% 20,408,621 15.42% Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA, Karachi and Balochistan
3 Sindhi 21,755,908 12.64% 18,661,571 14.10% Sindh
4 Saraiki 18,019,610 10.42% 13,936,594 10.53% South Punjab
5 Urdu 13,120,540 7.59% 10,019,576 7.57% Karachi, Sindh
6 Balochi 6,204,540 3.59% 4,724,871 3.57% Balochistan
7 Others 8,089,150 3.59% 6,167,515 4.66% Gilgit Baltistan and Kashmir
Total 172,900,000 100% 132,352,279 100% Pakistan

Smaller ethnic groups, such as Kashmiris, Hindkowans, Kalash, Burusho, Brahui, Khowar, Shina, Balti and Turwalis are mainly found in the northern parts of the country. The people of the Potohar Plateau in Northern Punjab and Western Azad Kashmir (called Potoharis), were historically distinct from Punjabis because of the difference in language. However, over time both Punjabi and Potohari have been largely replaced by the national Urdu language and consequently Potohari's are seen as Punjabi by the Punjabi community.

Pakistan's census does not include the registered 1.7 million Afghan refugees from neighbouring Afghanistan, who are mainly found in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) areas, with small numbers in the cities of Karachi and Quetta.[1] Many of them were born inside Pakistan in the last 30 years and are counted as citizens of Afghanistan, and most of them are ethnic Pakhtuns from southeastern Afghanistan.[2] In 1995, there were more than 1.6 million Bengalis, 650,000 Afghans, 200,000 Burmese, 2,320 Iranians and Filipinos, and hundreds of Nepalis, Sri Lankans and Indians reported to be living in Karachi.[3][4]


  • Ethnic groups of Pakistan by region 1
    • Punjabis 1.1
    • Pashtuns 1.2
    • Sindhis 1.3
    • Baloch 1.4
    • Urdu speaking/Muhajirs 1.5
      • Saraikis 1.5.1
      • Hindkowans 1.5.2
  • Minor ethnic groups 2
    • Ranghar and Meo 2.1
    • Hazara 2.2
    • Pamiris 2.3
    • Baltis 2.4
    • Chitralis 2.5
    • Kalash 2.6
  • See also 3
  • References 4

Ethnic groups of Pakistan by region

Ethnic Groups by Region
Ethnic Groups in Urban Pakistan


Punjabis in Pakistan are multi-ethnical group of people, and can be divided into sub-groups. Punjabis speak the language called Punjabi. Punjabis have many different dialects and that depends in what region of Punjab they are from. They make up 78.7 million (45%) of Pakistan's total population.


Pashtuns or Pukhtuns (sometimes Pathans) are Pakistan's second largest ethnic group that are native to the land principally west of the Indus River but can also be found in many major cities of Pakistan. They make up an estimated 27.7 million (15%) of Pakistan's total population.[5] The largest urban population of Pashtuns is interestingly found in the southern coastal city of Karachi with a fluctuating population estimated up to 7 million. This is then followed by Peshawar, Quetta, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, and Lahore in descending order. They make up the largest ethnic group in neighboring Afghanistan, forming anywhere between 42 to 60% there. Pashtuns practice a unique code of conduct referred to as Pashtunwali and are known for their tribal structure. They are an indigenous group from the land south of the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan and west of the Indus River in Pakistan.


Sindhis are ancient people principally inhabiting the province of Sindh, Pakistan from where the river Indus (in ancient times revered to as Sindhus) runs and subsequently, from which they derive the name Sindh from. Believed to be the inheritors of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, Sindhis are heavily influenced by the adjacent Balochs in Pakistan. Sindhis can also be found in the southern part of Punjab, and there is significant Punjabi influence in the Sindhi population. Sindhis played an influential role in the development of Pakistan, by joining government services specifically in Sindh, however a large number of Sindhis clung to agricultural fields, land owning, politics and establishment. The prominent personalities of Pakistan that hail from Sindh are Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Pir Sahib Pagara, Benazir Bhutto, Muhammad Khan Junejo, Asif Ali Zardari.


The Baloch as an ethnic group are principally found in the east of Baluchistan province of Pakistan.[6] They have also settled in the adjacent provinces of Sindh and Punjab where their historical chief Mir Chakar Khan Rind lies buried in Satghara, Okara District in Central Punjab. The Baloch also inhabit the Iranian Baluchistan as a small ethnic minority and have settled in other areas of the Middle East, notably in Oman, Yemen, and the UAE. These Arabised Baloches are mostly descendants of the Baloches who were sold as slaves and were forced to migrate as labourers during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries A.D.. With the abolition of slavery, they are now free citizens of the countries they have "settled" in. The Arabised Baloches, are now believed to represent almost 30% of the local population of Oman.

Urdu speaking/Muhajirs

Muhajirs are a linguistic group of people. They can be sub-divide into small groups. Muhajirs are multi-ethnic group of Muslims who immigrated from the southeastern part of the undivided India sub-continent to the region now known as Sindh during the creation of Pakistan. Muhajir people consist of local Indian Muslims ethnic groups such as Beharis, Gujratis, Memon, Kokani etc. and also the foreign ethnic groups who migrated to India from mainly present day Afghanistan and Arabian countries. There are many Muhajirs who trace their origin to Pashtun people and there are also some families of muhajirs who are of Arab origin such as Syeds, Hashemis, Sheikhs, Quraishis but majority of the Muhajirs belong to Indian ethnic groups. All muhajirs regardless of their ethnic origin are united by their language Urdu. Although the term Muhajirs can also refer to the diaspora of Urdu speakers. Majority of Muhajirs are settled in Karachi But there are other parts of Pakistan, including cities like Lahore, Multan, Islamabad, Peshawar where muhajirs have sizable community, the vast majority tended to settle in Karachi where more than any other group. Muhajirs held official offices during the early years of Pakistani nation-building. They are credited with founding several governmental organizations, such as the State Bank of Pakistan, the Atomic Energy Commission, Kanup, as well as several other institutions and continue to hold influential positions in administration and politics.


The Saraiki people are a linguistic group, and not an ethnic group, from the south-eastern areas of Pakistan. The Seraikis maintain that they have a separate language and culture. It is mostly spoken in the southern and western districts of Punjab, which comprises Multan, Lodhran, Bahawalpur, Mianwali, Bhakkar, Layyah, Dera Ghazi Khan, Muzaffargarh, Rahim Yar Khan,Vehari, southern and western parts of Khanewal, southern parts of Bahawalnagar and western parts of Khushab districts. It is also spoken by the majority of the population of Dera Ismail Khan district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (خیبر پښتونخوا) province, kachi plain of Balochistan, northern parts of Sindh, and the cities of Hyderabad and Karachi. Saraiki, belongs to the Indo-Aryan branch of Indo-European language groups. According to a letter No 20-/R&D/09 dated 20-01-2010, of Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, Islamabad. The number speaker of Saraiki Language are more than 120 Millions.[7]


Hindkowans are believed to be the transitional group of people between Punjabis and Pashtuns. They are also known as Punjabi Pathans/Pathans of Punjab. Their traditional homeland are areas around Hazara division including Mansehra, Abbottabad, Haripur and Kohat as well.Hindko is a language which is widely understood in almost all regions of Pakistan.around 1.8 million people speak this language. This language has similarity with the Saraiki dialect as well which is spoken in Dera Isamail Khan and some parts of Sindh.

Minor ethnic groups

Ranghar and Meo

The Ranghar and related Meo are Muslim Rajputs (immigrants) from Haryana, East Punjab and Rajasthan. The Ranghar, though being part of the Punjabi diaspora in the undivided Punjab, speak the different dialects of East Punjab with the Punjabi accent and share common traditions, heritage and culture together with Punjabis. Ranghar Community speak Ranghari language which is itself a dialect of Haryanvi language. Meo speaks Mewati which is a dialect of Rajasthani language. They belonged to the Lahore Legislative Council in the pre-independence era and were forced to leave their homeland along with other Punjabis during the riots of East Punjab in consequence of the independence. In Areas of Pakpattan District, Okara District, Phullarwan of Sargodha District, Shujabad of Multan District and Bahawalnagar District(specially Dunga Bunga) which have the densest concentrations of Ranghar, they consist mostly of small peasants, with many serving in the army, police and Civil Services. They maintain an overarching tribal council panchayat in the Ranghari dialect, which deals with a number of issues, such as punishments for petty crime or co-operation over village projects. The renowned nationalities in the Ranghars are Chauhan, Panwar, Mandahar, Jatu & Rathor etc. The Ranghar use the titles of Rao (surname), Rana (title), & Kanwar prefixed to their given names, and use Khan as a Suffix . Some well Known personalities are Rao Sikandar Iqbal, Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, Rana Phool Muhammad Khan, Rao Muhammad Afzal Khan, Rana Muhammad Iqbal Khan, Rao Hashim Khan,& Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, Syed Qasim Mahmood, Ghulam Farid Sabri...


The Hazara people, natives to present-day central Afghanistan, are a Persian-speaking people mostly residing in all Pakistan and specially in Quetta. Some are citizens of Pakistan while others are refugees. Genetically, the Hazara are a mixture of Turk-Persian people and those of Middle East and Central Asia. The genetic research suggests that they are closely related to the Eurasian and the Uygurs. The Pakistani Hazaras estimated population is believed to be more than 550,000.[8][9]


The Pamiri peoples are a diverse group of inter-related people who are often and erroneously called Tajiks by negligence. They are speakers of many Northeast Iranian languages, which includes Wakhi, Sarikuli, Yidgha and Munji. The traditional homeland of the Pamiris is in northern Pakistan, eastern Afghanistan, eastern Tajikistan and western China (western highlands of Xinjiang). The Pakistani Pamiris are estimated to be over 1 million.


The Balti are an ethnic group of Tibetan descent with some Dardic admixture located in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan and Ladakh. In Pakistan they mainly live in the major urban centres of Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad/Rawalpindi. The Balti language belongs to the Tibetic languages and is a sub-dialect of Ladakhi.


The Chitrali people live in the northernmost part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa belong mostly to the Khow ethnic group, but there are more than ten other ethnic groups represented in Chitral. Despite their diverse ethnic, religious and linguistic backgrounds they have a strong unity and share a common culture and use Chitrali as a lingua franca. The State of Chitral used to be a Princely State until its amalgamation into Pakistan in 1969.


The Kalash or Kalasha, are a unique ethnic group of the Hindu Kush, settling in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. They speak the Kalash language, a member of the Dardic family. The culture of Kalash people is unique and differs drastically from the various ethnic groups surrounding them. They are polytheists and nature plays a highly significant and spiritual role in their daily life. As part of their religious tradition, sacrifices are offered and festivals held to give thanks for the abundant resources of their three valleys. The Kalash pantheon is the last untouched, living representative of Indo-European mythology.

See also


  1. ^ "UNHCR and Pakistan sign new agreement on stay of Afghan refugees". United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. March 13, 2009. Retrieved 23 January 2010. 
  2. ^ Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. page 27 (Security Concern about home link
  3. ^ Tohid, Owais; Mahmud, Arshad. "Homeless In Karachi". Outlook India. Retrieved 14 April 2014. 
  4. ^ Samia Saleem (July 7, 2011). "You wouldn’t want to pick a fight with ‘Grand Master’ Ashraf Tai’s family". The Express Tribune. Retrieved Dec 18, 2011. 
  5. ^ Livingston, Ian S. and Michael O'Hanlon (March 30, 2011). "Pakistan Index: Tracking Variables of Reconstruction & Security". Brookings Institution.
  6. ^ Blood, Peter, ed. "Baloch". Pakistan: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1995.
  7. ^ سرائیکی ساݙی قومی زبان ہے : Saraiki Language
  8. ^
  9. ^
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