Nuristan Province

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This article is about the province in Afghanistan. For the province of Pakistan proposed to be named Nuristan Province, see Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
The village of Aranas in Nuristan
The village of Aranas in Nuristan
Map of Afghanistan with Nuristan highlighted
Map of Afghanistan with Nuristan highlighted
Coordinates: 35°15′N 70°45′E / 35.25°N 70.75°E / 35.25; 70.75Coordinates: 35°15′N 70°45′E / 35.25°N 70.75°E / 35.25; 70.75
Country Afghanistan
Provincial center Parun
 • Governor Hafiz Abdulqaium
Population [1]
 • Total 112,000
Time zone GMT+4:30
ISO 3166 code AF-NUR
Main languages Kamkata-viri, Wasi-wari, Askunu, Kalasha-ala, Tregami, Pashayi, Pashto

Nuristān (Persian/Nuristani/Pashto: نورستان‎), also spelled Nurestān or Nooristan, is a region in Afghanistan embedded in the south of the Hindu Kush valleys. Its administrative center is Parun. It was formerly known as Kafiristan ("land of the unbelievers") until the inhabitants were converted to Islam in 1896, and thence the region has become known as Nuristan ("Land of Light").[2]

Today it is one of the thirty-four provinces of Afghanistan, formed in 1989 and officially established in 2001 from the northern parts of Laghman Province and Kunar Province. Its administrative center, Parun, is located in the Parun valley. Before 2001 its administrative center was situated in Laghman province due to Mujahideen control over Nuristan province.

The primary occupations are agriculture, animal husbandry, and day labor. Located on the southern slopes of the Hindu Kush mountains in the northeastern part of the country, Nuristan spans the basins of the Alingâr, Pech, Landai Sin, and Kunar rivers. It is bordered on the north by Badakhshan Province, on the south by Laghman and Kunar provinces, on the west by Panjshir Province, and on the east by Pakistan.


Until the 1890s, the region was known as Kafiristan (Persian for "Land of the non-believers") because of its inhabitants: the Nuristani, an ethnically distinctive people (numbering about 60,000) who practiced animism, polytheism and shamanism.[2]

Advent of Islam[edit]

The region was conquered by Emir Abdur Rahman Khan in 1895–96 and the Nuristani were then converted to Islam.

British Missionaries wrote:

The region was renamed Nuristan, meaning Land of the Enlightened, a reflection of the "enlightening" of the pagan Nuristani by the "light-giving" of Islam.

Nuristan was once thought to have been a region through which Alexander the Great passed with a detachment of his army; thus the folk legend that the Nuristani people are direct descendants of Alexander (or "his generals").

Abdul Wakil Khan Nuristani is one of the most prominent figures in Nuristan's history. He fought against the British army and drove them out of the eastern provinces of Afghanistan. His monument stands in Chahrahi Dehmazung in the capital Kabul, Afghanistan. He is buried on the same plateau where King Amanullah Khan is buried.

Nuristan was the scene of some of the heaviest guerrilla fighting during the 1979–89 invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by Soviet forces. For a period of time during this era, the eastern area of Nuristan was a semi-autonomous region called the Islamic Revolutionary State of Afghanistan, or Dawlat. It was a Salafi Islamic state run by anti-Soviet warlord Mawlawi Afzal and was recognized by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The Dawlat dissolved under Taliban rule.[4]

A U.S. soldier conducts a patrol through the village of Kowtalay in the Nuristan province.

Nuristan is one of the poorest and most remote provinces of Afghanistan. Few NGO's operate in Nuristan because of a poor security situation. Largely in response to a publicity campaign by Nuristan's second (and current) governor, Mohammad Tamim Nuristani, road construction projects were launched linking Nangarej to Mandol and Chapa Dara to Titan Dara.[5] Nuristani also worked on a direct road route to Laghman province, in order to reduce dependence on the road through restive Kunar province to the rest of Afghanistan. Other road projects were started aimed at improving the primitive road from Kamdesh to Bargamatal, and from Nangalam in Kunar Province to the provincial center at Parun. Another ambitious road project was started which was to connect Parun to the Landi Sin via Papruk. Due to lack of security and problems with contractors, these road projects have either been canceled or suspended.

Since Nuristan is a highly ethnically homogeneous province, there are few incidents of inter-ethnic violence. However, there are instances of disputes among inhabitants, some of which continue for decades. Nuristan has suffered from its inaccessibility and lack of infrastructure. The government presence is under-developed, even compared to neighboring provinces. Nuristan's formal educational sector is weak, with few professional teachers. Due to its proximity to Pakistan, many of the inhabitants are actively involved in trade and commerce across the border.

Operation Enduring Freedom[edit]

A map from the Ministry of the Interior produced on August 5, 2009 showed the western region of Nuristan to be under “enemy control”. There have been numerous conflicts between the Taliban, at times in tandem with other militias, and coalition forces. On 6 April 2008 elements of the 3rd Special Forces Group led Afghan soldiers from the Commando Brigade into the Shok valley in an unsuccessful attempt to capture the leader of the insurgent group Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. On July 13, 2008 approximately 200 Taliban guerrillas attacked a NATO position just south of Nuristan, near the village of Wanat in the Waygal District, killing 9 US soldiers.[6] In the following year, in early October, more than 350 Taliban fighters backed by members of the Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin and other militia groups fought US soldiers and Afghan police in the Battle of Kamdesh at Camp Keating in Nuristan. The base was nearly overrun; more than 100 Taliban fighters, eight US soldiers, and seven Afghan security officers were killed during the fighting.[7][8][9][10] Four days after the battle, in early October 2009, U.S. forces withdrew from their four main bases in Nuristan, as part of a plan by General Stanley McChrystal to pull troops out of small outposts and relocate them closer to cities.[11] The U.S. has pulled out from some areas in the past, but never from all four main bases.[12] A month after the U.S. pullout the Taliban was governing openly in Nuristan.[13] According to The Economist, Nuristan is "a place so tough that NATO abandoned it in 2010 after failing to subdue it."[14]


Jamaluddin Badar, on the left with glasses and a Pakul hat, is the current Governor of Nuristan

From 2005 Mohammad Tamim Nuristani was governor of Nuristan Province but was fired by Afghan president Hamid Karzai in July 2008. His replacement as governor, Hazrat Din Noor, was killed in a car crash on September 5, 2008.[15] He was replaced by Jamaluddin Badar. Mohammad Tamim Nuristani was reappointed governor in 2011.


The percentage of households with clean drinking water increased from 2% in 2005 to 12% in 2011.[16] The percentage of births attended to by a skilled birth attendant increased from 1% in 2005 to 22% in 2011.[16]


The overall literacy rate (6+ years of age) fell from 17.7% in 2005 to 17% in 2011.[16] The overall net enrolment rate (6–13 years of age) increased from 8.7% in 2005 to 45% in 2011.[16]


In 2002 the first gender assessment of women’s conditions in Nuristan was completed. [17]


99.3% are Nuristani, 0.6% Gujar (seasonal).[18][19] 90% speak the following Nuristani languages:[20]

The Pashayi language is spoken or known by about 15% people.[20]

The main Nuristani tribes in the province are:

Pashto or Persian, the two official languages of Afghanistan, are also commonly used by Nuristanis.


Districts of Nuristan.
Districts of Nuristan Province
District Center Population[20] Area[21] Notes
Bargi Matal
Du Ab Est. 2004 formerly part of Nuristan District and Mangol District
Kamdesh Kamdish
Mandol Lost territory to Du Ab District in 2004
Nurgram Est. 2004 formerly part of Nuristan District and Wama District
Parun Est. 2004 formerly part of Wama District
Wama Lost territory to Parun District and Nurgram District in 2004

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Provinces of Afghanistan on Statoids.
  2. ^ a b Klimberg, Max (October 1, 2004). "NURISTAN". Encyclopædia Iranica (Online ed.). United States: Columbia University. 
  3. ^ a b Conflict in Afghanistan: a historical encyclopediaBy Frank Clements, Ludwig W. Adamec Edition: illustrated Published by ABC-CLIO, 2003 Page 139 ISBN 1-85109-402-4, ISBN 978-1-85109-402-8
  4. ^ Daan Van Der Schriek Nuristan: Insurgent Hideout in Afghanistan at the Wayback Machine (archived September 27, 2007), Terrorism Monitor, Volume 3, Issue 10 (May 19, 2005)
  5. ^ Nuristan governor, contractor, and Afghanistan engineer district sign partnership agreement at the Wayback Machine (archived July 8, 2007), Headquarters US Central Command, News Release, June 13, 2006
  6. ^ "Taliban fighters storm US base". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  7. ^ Taliban govern openly in Nuristan, Bill Roggio, Long War Journal, 2009-11-12
  8. ^ Taliban Claim to Seize American Arms, Robert Mackey, New York Times, 2009-11-12
  9. ^ Eight U.S. Troops Die in Attack on Afghan Outpost, Joshua Partow, Washington Post, 2009-10-04
  10. ^ Heavy US losses in Afghan battle, Martin Patience, BBC News, Kabul, 4 October 2009
  11. ^ Kamdesh ambush played out like Wanat battle, Matthew Cox and Michelle Tan, Army Times, November 3, 2009
  12. ^ Asia Times Online :: South Asia news, business and economy from India and Pakistan. (2009-10-29). Retrieved on 2011-02-07.
  13. ^ Taliban govern openly in Nuristan, Bill Roggio, Long War Journal, 2009-11-12
  14. ^ "Pakistan’s border badlands: Double games". The Economist. Jul 12, 2014. Retrieved 17 July 2014. 
  15. ^ [1][dead link]
  16. ^ a b c d Archive, Civil Military Fusion Centre,
  17. ^
  18. ^ Nuristan Province on
  19. ^ Nuristan Tribal Map on
  20. ^ a b c Nuristan provincial profile profile compiled by the National Area-Based Development Programme (NABDP) of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD)
  21. ^ Afghanistan Geographic & Thematic Layers
  • Dupree, Nancy Hatch (1977): An Historical Guide to Afghanistan. 1st Edition: 1970. 2nd Edition. Revised and Enlarged. Afghan Tourist Organization. LINK
  • Richard F. Strand. (1997–present) Richard Strand's Nuristan Site LINK. The most accurate and comprehensive source on Nuristan, by the world's leading scholar on the languages and ethnic groups of Nuristan.
  • M. Klimburg. NURISTAN in Encyclopedia Iranica. LINK
  • Edelberg, Lennart (1984) "Nuristani Buildings" Jutland Archaeological Society Publications, Vol. 18, 1984.
  • Edelberg, Lennart & Schuyler Jones (1979) "Nuristan" Akademische Druck und Verlagsanstalt, Graz, Austria
  • Jones, Schuyler (1992) "Afghanistan" Vol. 135 of the World Bibliographical Series, Clio Press, Oxford.
  • Jones, Schuyler (1974) "Men of Influence in Nuristan: A Study of Social Control & Dispute Settlement in Waigal Valley, Afghanistan." Seminar Press, London & New York.
  • Wilber, Donald N. (1968)Annotated Bibliography of Afghanistan. Human Relations Area Files, New Haven, Conn.
  • Jones, Schuyler (1966) An Annotated Bibliography of Nuristan (Kafiristan) and the Kalash Kafirs of Chitral, Part One. Royal Danish Academy of Sciences & Letters, Vol. 41, No. 3.
  • Kukhtina, Tatiyana I. (1965) Bibliografiya Afghanistana: Literatuyra na russkom yazyka. Nauka, Moscow.
  • Akram, Mohammed (1947) Bibliographie de l'Afghanistan, I, ouvrages parus hors de l'Afghanistan. Centre de Documentation Universitaire, Paris.

External sources[edit]