Afghanistan developed out of a Pashtun kingdom that was founded in the middle of the eighteenth century. The Pashtuns form an ethnic group, known in India and Pakistan as the Pathans, which still constitutes the majority population of the modern Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The appellation 'Afghan' is often still used, in its restricted meaning, to only some of the Pashtun tribes.
The country as we know it today, however, was created in the late nineteenth century as a buffer state between the British Indian Empire to the east and the Tsarist Russian realm to the north. This was the time of what is often called “The Great Game,” in which Britain and Russia vied for the domination of the highlands of Iran and Afghanistan. After Britain and Russia had decided to divide their mutual spheres of influence, the borders of modern Afghanistan were eventually laid out by officials from both countries, and these lines (the so-called Durand line) cut straight through the land of the Pashtuns. With the independence from Britain of Pakistan, in 1947, the majority of the Pashtuns now live in Pakistan.
Today the borders of Afghanistan enclose a large number of other groups. Afghanistan is, in fact, a country that is home to more than fifty different ethnic groups, many of them with their own language and cultural characteristics, including a wide variety of textile and dress traditions.
The somewhat artificial configuration of the country, however, does not mean that modern Afghanistan is a loose amalgamation of ethnic groups. Despite a civil war that started in the late 1970s, Afghanistan passed through a period of gradual nation building from the end of the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. It may one day develop again into a more politically homogeneous state, because of the history shared by its inhabitants, their many common cultural characteristics, and the continuous threat from neighbouring countries.
For further reading, see: M. Catherine Daly, 'Afghan dress and the diaspora'; Willem Vogelsang, 'Regional dress of Afghanistan'; Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 'Afghan embroidery', and idem, 'The chadari/burqa of Afghanistan and Pakistan'. These articles are included in: Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood (ed.), Berg Encyclopedia of World Fashion and Dress, Vol. V: Central and Southwest Asia. London/Oxford/New York/New Delhi/Sydney: Berg Publishers (Bloomsbury Publications) 2011.