Panjshiris are not always classified as a separate community because they are considered as falling within the Tajik ethnic grouping. However, they display certain distinct characteristics from their ethnic cousins that often identify them as a specific minority in their own right.  It can be speculated that their name comes from the Panjshiri valley, where they were living. They practice Sunni Islam and speak a language known as Panjshiri, which is a dialect of Dari (Farsi dialect). They inhabit the mainly mountainous areas north of Kabul in and around the Panjshir valley.

Like Nuristanis, they live at relatively high altitudes in mountainous areas with limited access to land. They have traditionally derived their livelihood from animal husbandry. With increasing migration to Kabul for work, Panjshiris have gradually begun to provide a source of unskilled labour that is only second to the Hazaras. A significant number have also traditionally worked in semi-skilled professions, as drivers and mechanics.

Socially and politically, Panjshiris fall into the same category as other suppressed ethnic groups such as the Hazaras and Nuristanis, with very few people in high-ranking positions in the army and the government in Kabul.

Historical context

Panjshiris played an important role in providing resistance against the Soviet occupation. Like the Hazaras and Nuristanis, they initially remained independent, without affiliation to any political party during the war with the Soviet Union. However, Panjshiris gradually achieved prominence in the resistance under the command of Ahmad Shah Masoud, when their army came to control vast areas of northern Afghanistan.

During a period of heightened ethnic tensions under the Taliban in 1998, non-Pashtun Afghans were denied free movement within the country, solely based on ethnicity. Many Panjshiris, mainly men and boys as young as 12, along with Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks were captured by the Taliban guards, sent to Qandahar and imprisoned. Due to their distinctive ethnic features, they could not hide from the Taliban and as a consequence suffered greatly.

After the fall of the Taliban regime, Panjshiris, along with other Tajiks, formed the core of the Northern Alliance and gained power in some important ministries, as well as some control of the military. A number of Panjshiris have however been articulating the view that the community should give up some of the control if it is to achieve a more diverse and ethnically equally representative government.

Current issues

Pansjhiri participation in politics has increased dramatically in recent times, and members of the community have been able to run as presidential candidates. The current politics of Afghanistan shows that the Panjshiris have taken a great share of administrative and political power since the overthrow of the Taliban, which has raised some concerns given how small a minority they represent. This accusation has been particularly targeted at their pervasive role in the Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS).