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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.[1] The Ghilzai Tribes are today scattered all over Afghanistan and some parts of Pakistan but mainly in and around the regions between Zabul and Kabul area, and extending into eastern Suleiman Mountains. In Pakistan the Ghilzai Tribes are mostly settled in Balochistan[2] and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Many of the migrating Kochi people of Afghanistan belong to the Ghilzai confederacy.[1] 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.

Decent, origin and History[edit]

The Ghilzai is a super-tribe of Batani confederation of Pashtun tribes whose origin is somewhat controversal. Etymologically the word Ghilzai is derived from Gharzai (غلزې), meaning "son of mountain"[3] or "swordsman".[4] 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.[1] The first and the most plausible theory however suggests that they descended at least in part from the Ghurids:

" Ghalzaī 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 ḠGhūr, and the daughter of a Persian notable...".[5][6]

This theory of decent from Bibi Mato, daughter of Batani, is also supported by one of the oldest books on Pashtuns Makhzen-e-Afghani.[7] The book narrates that Ghilzai, son of Mato, was blessed with three sons: Ibrahim, Toor (Tuan) and Poor (Buran). Ibrahim had two sons; Haijub and Sahbak. Haijub was further blessed with thirteen sons; Tanoli (Tanokhel), Sulaimankhel, Ali Khel, Omerkhel, Karikhel, Hameerkhel, Varaki, Chani, Donver and Paroki.[7] As such, the tribes comprising decendents of Bibi Mato collectively constitute the Ghilzai confideration of Pakhtuns.

However, the other theory suggest that they descended from the Khalaj or Khilji dynasty,[8][9][10] who entered Afghanistan in the 10th century. According to Elphinstone, the Khilji:

"though Turks (Turco-Mongols) by descent...had so long settled among the Afghans that they had almost identified with that people." [11]

Ghilzai Dynasties, Ruling Entities and Personalities[edit]

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.".[1] A brief description of these dynasties and ruling entities is as under :

Lodi Dynasty[edit]

Lodi dynasty ruled over the Delhi Sultanate during its last phase. The Dynasty was founded by Bahlul Khan Lodi and it lasted from 1451 to 1526 when the last Lodi ruler, Ibrahim Lodi died

Suri Dynasty[edit]

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.

The Hotak Dynasty[edit]

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[12] 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.

The Tanoli Princely State of Amb[edit]

  • Amb (1772-1972),[13] Amb was a princely state of the former British Indian Empire ruled by the Pashtun Tanoli tribe of Ghilzai Super-Tribe. In 1947 by the Indian Independence Act 1947, the British abandoned their supremacy, and following the Partition of India Amb's Tanoli Nawab decided to give up his state's independence by acceding to the new country of Pakistan. However, Amb continued as a distinct state within Pakistan until 1969, when it was incorporated into the North West Frontier Province (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa). In 1972, the royal status of the Nawab was abolished by the Government of Pakistan.[1]

Modern Era Ghilzai Personalities[edit]

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.

Ghilzai Location and economy[edit]

Ghilzai in Afghanistan[edit]

Tents of Afghan nomads in Badghis Province who are known in Pashto language as Kuchans. They migrate from region to region depending on the season.[1] Early peasant farming villages came into existence in Afghanistan about 7,000 years ago.[14]

In Afghanistan the Ghilzai are scattered all over the country but mainly settled around the regions between Zabul and Kabul provinces.The Afghan province of Paktika is considered to be a heartland of the Ghalzai 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.[15] They are predominantly a nomadic group unlike the Durranis who are usually found in permanent settlements.The Ghilzai 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. 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.

Ghilzai in Pakistan[edit]

The Ghilzai super-tribe in Pakistan is usually recognized by its tribes and sub-tribes located in various parts of the country.In Quetta many members of Ghilzai tribe such as Kharoti, Suleimankhel, Andar are mainly concentrated in Northern and City Central Areas. Whereas in Khyber Pakhtunkwa, Ghilzai Sub-tribes like Niazi and Tanoli dwell both in plain and hilly areas. The Niazi are mostly settled in Bannu District Of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Mianwali district of The Punjab. Whereas, The Tanoli dwell mostly in Hazara Division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; primarily in the Tanawal region which is named after their tribe.

Ghilzai Religion and Customs[edit]

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.

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.

Ghilzai Tribes[edit]

  • Danver(Ghilzai Tribe)
  • Hotak

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Khaljies are Afghan". Abdul Hai Habibi. Retrieved 19 August 2012. 
  2. ^ Frye, R.N. (1999). "GHALZAY". Encyclopaedia of Islam (CD-ROM Edition v. 1.0 ed.). Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV. 
  3. ^ Morgenstierne, G. (1999). "AFGHĀN". Encyclopaedia of Islam (CD-ROM Edition v. 1.0 ed.). Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV. 
  4. ^ Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North West Frontier Province, H.A. Rose, pg. 241
  5. ^ Ḡalzī
  6. ^ M.J. Hanifi, in Encyclopædia IranicaTemplate:M. Jamil Hanifi
  7. ^ a b citation|last=Dorn|first=Bernhard|title=History of the Afghans: translated from the persian of Niamat Ullah|year=1836|location=London|publisher=Oriental Translation Fund for Great-Britain and Ireland, page-49
  8. ^ Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North West Frontier Province, H. A. Rose, p. 241
  9. ^ At the Court of Amîr: A Narrative, by John Alfred Gray, p. 203.
  10. ^ [1][dead link]
  11. ^ A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases: Hobson-Jobson, by C. Burnell, Henry Yule, p. 371
  12. ^ Ewans, Martin (2002) Afghanistan: A Short History of Its People and Politics HarperCollins, New York, P.30 ISBN 0-06-050507-9
  13. ^ citation|last=Lethbridge|first=Roper|title=The Golden Book of India: A Genealogical and Biographical Dictionary of the Ruling Princes, Chiefs, Nobles, and Other Personages, Titled or Decorated, of the Indian Empire|year=1893|location=London|publisher=Macmillan, page-328
  14. ^ Dupree, Nancy Hatch (1970). An Historical Guide to Afghanistan. First Edition. Kabul: Afghan Air Authority, Afghan Tourist Organization. p. 492. Retrieved 2012-06-17. 
  15. ^ Title The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers Peter Tomsen, PublicAffairs, 2011