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The Ghilzai (Pashto: غلزی), also known historically as Ghilji (Pashto: غلجي), Khilji (Pashto: خلجي) and Gharzai (Pashto: غرزی, ghar literally means "mountain" and zai "born of"), are the second-largest Pashtun tribal confederacy found in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Ghilzai are today scattered all over Afghanistan but mainly in and around the regions between Zabul and Kabul area, and extending into eastern Suleiman Mountains in Balochistan, Pakistan. During the 14th and 15th centuries, various Khilji dynasties took control in the Indian subcontinent, including the Khilji dynasty of Delhi, the Khilji dynasty of Bengal, Lodhi dynasty of Delhi and the Tanoli Princely State of Amb. Many of the migrating Kochi people of Afghanistan belong to the Ghilzai confederacy.
History and origins
The Ghilzais are a confederation of Pashtun tribes whose origin is disputed. Some oriental scholars hold that the Ghilzais are the descendants of a mixed race of Hephthalite and Pakhtas who have been living in Afghanistan since the Vedic period. The most plausible theory suggests that they descended at least in part from the Ghurids.
Ḡalzī tribal genealogies in general trace their early descent from the union of either Shah Ḥosayn, a Ghurid (q.v.) prince, and Bībī Mātō ), a granddaughter of Qays ʿAbd al-Rašīd, the putative ancestor of all Pashtuns, or Mokarram Shah, a Pashtun prince from Ḡūr, and the daughter of a Persian notable...—M. Jamil Hanifi
Ghilzai, son of Mato, was blessed with three sons: Ibrahim, Toor (Tuan) and Poor (Buran). Ibrahim had two sons; Haijub and Sahbak.
Others suggest that they descended from the Khalaj or Khilji dynasty, who entered Afghanistan in the 10th century. According to Elphinstone, the Khilji, "though Turks by descent...had so long settled among the Afghans that they had almost identified with that people."
According to Minhaj al-Siraj Juzjani, a 13th-century historian, "there were over 15 great Khalji personalities who ruled from 1203 A.D. onwards over India and were spreading Khorasanian and Islamic culture all over northern India and the highlands of North Bengal." The Lodi dynasty ruled over the Delhi Sultanate during its last phase. The dynasty, founded by Bahlul Khan Lodi ruled from 1451 to 1526 when the last Lodi ruler, Ibrahim Lodi died. Other Ghilzai dynasties included the Suri dynasty who was founded by the powerful medieval conqueror, Sher Shah Suri (Shere Khan), who defeated the Mughal Emperor Humayun in Chausa in June 1539 and again in Bilgram in May 1540.
When the Hotak tribe, under the leadership of Mir Wais Hotak revolted against the Safavids in 1709, the Ghilzai came into conflicts with their western neighbors. Mir Wais, an influential Afghan tribal leader and founder of the Hotaki dynasty, had visited the Persian court and studied their military weaknesses. The Afghan tribes rankled under the ruling Shia Safavids because of their continued attempts to convert the Pashtuns from Sunni to Shiaism Spawning Afghan nationalism, Mir Wais succeeded in expelling the Safavids from Kandahar. His eldest son, Mahmud, effected a successful invasion of Persia (now Iran) which culminated in the conquest of Isfahan and the deposition of the Safavid Shah Sultan Husayn. Mahmud was then crowned Shah and ruled for a brief period before being deposed by his own clansmen. His cousin and successor (Ashraf Hotaki) reigned for nearly five years before being killed by Baloch tribes while fleeing towards Kandahar. Their rule ended after the Siege of Kandahar in 1738.
In more recent times, three of the pro-communist presidents were Ghilzais, Nur Muhammad Taraki (of the Taraki tribe), Hafizullah Amin (of the Kharoti tribe), and Mohammed Najibullah (of the Ahmadzai sub tribe of suleimankhail). Although the Khalq was dominated mostly by Ghilzais, many of the mujahideen were also Ghilzais during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, including warlords Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. The Taliban leadership, such as the spiritual leader Mullah Omar and most of the Taliban functionaries have been likewise of the Ghilzai tribal confederacy, generating much ill will and disrepute for the Ghilzais.
Location and economy
The Ghilzai are scattered all over Afghanistan but mainly around the regions between Zabul and Kabul provinces. They are predominantly a nomadic group unlike the Durranis who are usually found in permanent settlements. The Ghilzai regularly cross over between Afghanistan and Pakistan often being exempted from customs due to the acceptance of their nomadic traditions by officials from both countries. Population estimates vary, but they are most likely around 20% to 25% of the population of Afghanistan and probably number over 9 million in Afghanistan alone with 4 million or more found in neighboring Pakistan mostly in Quetta. The Ghilzais are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school, often devout to their faith and intensely follow the Pashtun code of honor known as Pashtunwali.
Ghilzais mostly work as herdsmen as well as construction workers and in other jobs that allow them to travel. Often possessing great mechanical aptitude, the Ghilzai nonetheless have an extremely low literacy rate hovering below 10% in Afghanistan but this improving especially in Pakistan where their literacy rate is fast approaching the national average of 58%.
The Afghan province of Paktika is considered to be a heartland of the Ghaljai tribe. Ghilzai sub-tribes in Paktika include the Kharoti, especially in the Sar Hawza and Urgon districts, the Andar and the largest single Ghilzai sub-tribe, the Suleimankhel, who are the majority in northern and western areas of Paktika such as Katawaz.
Many members of the Ghilzai tribe, such as the Kharoti sub-tribe and particularly the Nasher clan were exiled from Loya Paktia (Paktia, Paktika and Khost) to Kunduz in the north by Amir Abdur Rahman Khan due to political reasons.
The tribesmen own several, tightly bound carpet and fabric businesses in the Middle East and Pakistan, especially in the major city of Karachi. The Ghilzai remain a somewhat divided family, with the Kharoti and the Suleimankhel being traditional rivals.
- Kuchi people
- Khalaj people
- Gill (clan)
- Mahbub Ali
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- Title The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers Peter Tomsen, PublicAffairs, 2011