Pashto belongs to the Northeastern Iranian group of the Indo-Iranian branch, but Ethnologue lists it as Southeastern Iranian. Pashto has two main dialect groups, "soft" and "hard", the latter locally known as Pakhto or Paxto.
As a national language of Afghanistan, Pashto is primarily spoken in the east, south, and southwest, but also in some northern and western parts of the country. The exact numbers of speakers are unavailable, but different estimates show that Pashto is the mother tongue of 45–60% of the total population of Afghanistan.
In Pakistan, around 26 million people speak Pashto, according to the 2006 census, which was around 15% of Pakistan's population at the time. Most of these people are in the northwestern areas of the country, including the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, northern Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There are also many Pashtun speakers in the major cities of Pakistan.
Other communities of Pashto speakers are found in Tajikistan, and further in the Pashtun diaspora. There are also Hindu and Muslim communities of part Pashtun descent in India, including Bollywood families and Indian Film Cinema such as Khans and Kapoors. They are integrated into Indian languages, hold mixed races, ethnicities, religions and culture and do not hold cultural reverence to the ethnicity or their origins. Pashtuns are of ancient Iranian origin and lived in Afghanistan years before other ethnic groups in Afghanistan.
In addition, sizable Pashto-speaking communities also exist in the Middle East, especially in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, northeastern Iran (primarily in South Khorasan Province to the east of Qaen, near the Afghan border). The Pashtun diaspora speaks Pashto in countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Thailand, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Qatar, Australia, Japan, Russia, New Zealand, etc.