Hindko is a dialect of Western Punjabi (Lahnda) spoken in Northern Pakistan. Hindko follows the standardized Punjabi Shahmukhi script for writing. The name Hindko simply means "Indian" (of the Indus), and has been applied to various dialects spoken in northern Pakistan, in the areas of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (including Hazara), Punjab, especially Pothohar Plateau, Pakistan Administered Kashmir, including by some Pashtun tribes, as well as by the Hindki people of Afghanistan. The name of Hindko is found in Greek references to the mountainous region in eastern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan as Caucasus Indicus, or the Hindu Kush.
Hindko is spoken mainly in the Hazara Division in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Potohar region of Punjab province. The language is spoken by people of different ethnic backgrounds. The relationship between Hindko and Pashto is not one of stable bilingualism. In the northeast, Hindko is the dominant dialect both in terms of domain of usage and in terms of the number of speakers, whereas in the southwest, Pashto seems to be advancing in those same areas.
Testing of inherent intelligibility among Hindko dialects through the use of recorded tests has shown that there is a northern (Hazara) dialect group and a southern group. The southern dialects are more widely understood throughout the dialect network than being the northern dialects. The dialects of rural Peshawar and Talagang are the most widely understood of the dialects tested. The dialect of Balakot is the least widely understood.
The speakers of Hindko live primarily in seven districts: Mansehra, Abbottabad, Haripur, Peshawar, Nowshera, Akora Khattak, Swabi and Kohat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Attock and Rawalpindi in Punjab, and parts of Pakistan-administered Kashmir including Muzaffarabad; Jonathan Addleton states that "Hindko is the linguistic majority in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, represented in nearly one-third of the province's total households." (Pakhtunkhwa referring to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province). In Abbottabad District 88 per cent of households reported speaking Hindko, in Mansehra District 77 per cent, in Peshawar District 35 per cent, and in Kohat District 40 per cent.
Hindkowans are an ethnolinguistic subgroup of Punjabi people native to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Pothohar Plateau, and Azad Kashmir regions. Hindkowans have mixed origins and almost all speak the Hindko dialect of Punjabi. They were originally settled in the northern regions of Pakistan primarily concentrated near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
At present, Hindkowans mainly inhabit Peshawar, Nowshera, Swabi, Mansehra, Abbottabad, Haripur and Attock. Those who live in Afghanistan are known as Hindkis. Most of the Tribes residing in Hazara Division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa such as; Tareen, Tanoli, Jadoon, Tahirkheli, Dilazak, Mashwani, Swatis, and Utmanzais, despite having a Pashtun descent, speak Hindko and constitute an integral part of Hindkowans. Those who reside in urban centers in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan such as Peshawar, Kohat, Nowshera, and Swabi are alternatively termed as "Kharian/Kharay" or city-dweller. Some Hindkowans have left the region and now live in other parts of South Asia, such as; Indian-controlled Jammu & Kashmir and Pakistani-controlled Azad Kashmir.
There is no generic name for these people because they belong to diverse ethnic groups and tend to identify themselves by the larger families or castes. However, the people of the largest group in the districts of Haripur, Abbottabad, Mansehra, Battagram and Kohistan are sometimes recognized collectively as Hazarawal, named after the defunct Hazara Division that comprised these districts. In Peshawar city, they are called Peshawari or "Kharay" by Pashtuns meaning City-dwellers.
Almost all linguists classify Hindko as a dialect of Punjabi, and only very few consider it a distinct language, especially in modern times. In recent years, the migration of the people from the Hazara region to the plains of Punjab and intermarriages has brought Hindko even closer to standard Punjab. Punjabi has, like Sindhi, Urdu, and Hindi, also, been exposed to the dialect-versus-language question. Each of these languages has a central standard on which its literature is based, and from which there are multiple dialectal variations.
Hindko could be classified into four sub-dialects: Hazara Hindko, Peshawari Hindko, Chachi, and Kohati. The Hindko of Peshawar is prestigious and the basis for an emerging literature. Due to the ambiguous nature of the name "Hindko", much of the literature on the language is confused, and much of the material below concerns all dialects called "Hindko" rather than Hindko proper. Hindko is closely related to few other dialects of Punjabi, especially with the Dhani dialect of Chakwal.
The Gandhara Hindko Board is a leading organization that has been active in the preservation and promotion of the Hindko and culture since 1993. The board was launched in Peshawar in the year 1993 to preserve and promote Hindko —the second most spoken in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan. It brings out four regular publications— Hindkowan, The Gandhara Voice, " Sarkhail" and "Tarey" and a number of occasional publications. Late professor Zahoor Ahmad Awan of Peshawar city, the author of 61 books and publications, was the founding chairman of the board. Now the board is headed by Ejaz Ahmad Qureshi. The board has published a first Hindko dictionary and several other books on a variety of topics. With head office in Peshawar, the organization has regional offices in other cities of the province where Hindko is spoken and understood. The organization has arranged a number of mega events to raise awareness among the Hindkowans about the importance of their language and culture. The board seeks respect for and due attention to all the languages spoken in Gandhara.
In 2003 the Gandhara Hindko Board published first a Hindko dictionary which was compiled by a prominent linguist from Abbottabad, Sultan Sakoon. The board published a second more comprehensive Hindko dictionary in 2007 prepared by Elahi Bakhsh Awan of the University of London. He is the author of Sarzamin e Hindko and Hindko Sautiyat. His three booklets on Hindko phonology were published by the University of Peshawar in the late 70's.
The Idara-e-Faroghe Hindko based in Peshawar is another body that is promoting the Hindko. Riffat Akbar Swati and Aurangzeb Ghaznavi are main people of this organization. The Idara has published the first Hindko translation of the Quran by Haider Zaman Haider and the first Ph.D. thesis on Hindko by E.B.A. Awan. A monthly magazine Faroogh is also published regularly from Peshawar under the supervision of Aurangzeb Ghaznavi. In Karachi, Syed Mehboob is working for the promotion of Hindko. His articles are frequently published in Farogh monthly. He is the organizer of the Hindko Falahi Forum.
Many organizations like Bazm-e-Ilm-o-Fun Abbottabad and Halqa-e-Yaraan Shinkyari are contributing in their own way to the cause of promoting Hindko and literature. Asif Saqib, Sufi Abdur Rasheed, Fazal-e-Akbar Kamal, Sharif Hussain Shah, Muhammad Farid, Yahya Khalid, Nazir Kasalvi, and Muhammad Hanif have contributed a lot in this regard. Sultan Sakoon has written the First Hindko dictionary that has been published by the Gandhara Hindko Board. Sultan Sakoon stands out for his literary contribution as he is a prolific writer and his books, including those on Hindko proverbs and Hindko riddles have been published.