Nuristan Province

Coordinates: 35°15′N 70°45′E / 35.25°N 70.75°E / 35.25; 70.75
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Nuristan Province
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; 70.75
Country Afghanistan
Provincial centerParun
 • GovernorHafiz Muhammad Aagha
 • Deputy GovernorSheikh Ismatullah[1]
 • Total9,225.0 km2 (3,561.8 sq mi)
 • Total166,676
 • Density18/km2 (47/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+4:30 (Afghanistan Time)
Postal Code
ISO 3166 codeAF-NUR
Main languagesNuristani languages

Nuristan, also spelled as Nurestan or Nooristan (Dari: نورستان; Kamkata-vari:[a] Nuriston), is one of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan, located in the eastern part of the country. It is divided into seven districts and is Afghanistan's least populous province, with a population of around 167,000.[2] Parun serves as the provincial capital. Nuristan is bordered on the south by Laghman and Kunar provinces, on the north by Badakhshan province, on the west by Panjshir province, and on the east by Pakistan.

The origins of the Nuristani people traces back to the 4th century BC. Some Nuristanis claim being descendants of the Greek occupying forces of Alexander the Great. It was formerly called Kafiristan (Pashto: كافرستان) ("Land of the Infidels") until the inhabitants were forcibly converted from an animist religion,[3][4] a form of ancient Hinduism infused with local variations,[5][6][7] to Islam in 1895, and thence the region has become known as Nuristan ("land of illumination", or "land of light").[8] The region was located in an area surrounded by Buddhist civilizations which were later taken over by Muslims.[9] The origin of the local Nuristani people has been disputed, ranging from being the indigenous inhabitants forced to flee to this region after refusing to surrender to invaders, to being linked to various ancient groups of people and the Turk Shahi kings.[10][11]

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 Alingar, Pech, Landai Sin, and Kunar rivers. Most of Nuristan is covered by mountainous forests and it has a rich biodiversity with a domestically unique monsoon climate by air coming from the Indian Ocean.[12] As of 2020, the entirety of Nuristan is now a protected national park.[13][14]


Early history[edit]

The surrounding area fell to Alexander the Great in 330 BC. It later fell to Chandragupta Maurya. The Mauryas introduced Buddhism to the region, and were attempting to expand their empire to Central Asia until they faced local Greco-Bactrian forces. Seleucus is said to have reached a peace treaty with Chandragupta by giving control of the territory south of the Hindu Kush to the Mauryas upon intermarriage and 500 elephants.[15]

Before their conversion to Islam, the Nuristanis practiced a form of ancient Hinduism infused with locally developed accretions.[5][6][7][4] They were called "kafirs" due to their enduring paganism while other regions around them became Muslim, after fear of consequences. However, the influence from district names in Kafiristan of Katwar or Kator and the ethnic name Kati has also been suggested.[16]

The area extending from modern Nuristan to Kashmir was known as "Puritan", a vast area containing a host of "Kafir" cultures and Indo-European languages that became Islamized over a long period. Earlier, it was surrounded by Buddhist areas. The Islamization of the nearby Badakhshan began in the 8th century and Peristan was surrounded by Muslim states in the 16th century with the Islamization of Baltistan. The Buddhist states temporarily brought literacy and state rule into the region. The decline of Buddhism resulted in it becoming heavily isolated.[9]

There have been varying theories about the origins of Kafirs including the Arab tribe of Quraish, or Gabars of Persia, the Greek soldiers of Alexander as well as the Indians of eastern Afghanistan. George Scott Robertson considered them to be part of the old Indian population of Eastern Afghanistan and stated they fled to the mountains after the Muslim invasion in the 10th century. He added they probably found other races there whom they killed off and enslaved or amalgamated with them.[10]

Oral traditions of some of the Nuristanis place themselves to be at the confluence of Kabul River and Kunar River a millennium ago. These traditions state they were driven off from Kandahar to Kabul to Kapisa to Kama with the Muslim invasion. They identify themselves as late arrivals in Nuristan, being driven by Mahmud of Ghazni who after establishing his empire forced the unsubmissive population to flee.[4]

The name Kator was used by Lagaturman, last king of the Turk Shahi. Apparently due to its usage by the last Turk-Shahi ruler, it was adopted as a title by the ruler of the north-west region of the Indian subcontinent, comprising Chitral and Kafiristan. The title "Shah Kator" was assumed by Chitral's ruler Mohtaram Shah who assumed it upon being impressed by the majesty of the erstwhile pagan rulers of Chitral.[11] The theory of Kators being related to Turki Shahis is based on the information of Jami- ut-Tawarikh and Tarikh-i-Binakiti.[17] The region was also named after its ruling elite. The royal usage may be the origin behind the name of Kator.[18]

The high god of the pre-Islamic Nuristani religion was the god Imra, derived from the Hindu god Yama, and was also called Mara.[19] Another god was Indr, derived from Indra. He was seen as the brother of the god Gisht and father of Pano and the goddess Dishani.[20] There were also many other minor gods worshiped in the region.[21]

The region was invaded by forces of Afghan Amir Abdur Rahman Khan in 1896 and most of the people were converted either by force or did so to avoid the jizya:[22]

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 descendants of Alexander (or "his generals").

In the 19th century, the Emirate of Afghanistan incorporated Nuristan into its territory via military conquest; this occurred around the same time as the beginning of European influence in Afghanistan. During this period, one of the most well known Afghan generals from this period, Abdul Wakil Khan, was born in Nuristan. He fought against the insurgent forces of Habibullāh Kalakāni and was buried on the same plateau where Afghan king Amanullah Khan is buried.[citation needed]

Recent history[edit]

A U.S. soldier moving along a path overlooking the mountainside village of Aranas while on patrol in 2006
Members of the Afghan National Army (ANA) during a U.S.-led patrol in Wadawu valley during Operation Silver Creek in August 2009

Since the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Afghan politicians (particularly Mohammed Daoud Khan) have been focused on re-annexing Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of what is now Pakistan. This has led to militancy on both sides of the Durand Line.[23]

Nuristan was the scene of some of the heaviest guerrilla fighting during the 1980s Soviet–Afghan War. The province was influenced by Mawlawi Afzal's Islamic Revolutionary State of Afghanistan, which was supported by Pakistan nationalists and Saudi Arabia. It dissolved under the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Taliban rule) in the late 1990s.[24]

Nuristan is one of the poorest and most remote provinces of Afghanistan. Few NGO's operate in Nuristan because of the Taliban insurgency and the lack of safe roads. Some road construction projects were launched linking Nangarej to Mandol and Chapa Dara to Titan Dara.[25] The Afghan government 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 Barg-i Matal, and from Nangalam in Kunar province to the provincial center at Parun.

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.

A map from the Afghan Ministry of the Interior produced in 2009 showed the western region of Nuristan to be under "enemy control". There have been numerous conflicts between militants and U.S.-led Afghan security forces. In April 2008 members of the 3rd Special Forces Group led Afghan soldiers from the Commando Brigade into the Shok valley in an unsuccessful attempt to capture warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. In July 2008, approximately 200 Taliban guerrillas attacked a NATO position just south of Nuristan, near the village of Wanat in the Waygal District, killing 9 U.S. soldiers.[26]

In the following year, in early October, more than 350 insurgents backed by members of the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin and other militia groups fought U.S.-led Afghan security forces in the Battle of Kamdesh at Camp Keating in Nuristan. The base was nearly overrun; more than 100 Taliban fighters, eight U.S. soldiers, and seven members of the Afghan security forces were killed during the fighting.[27][28][29][30] 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 major towns.[31] The U.S. has pulled out from some areas in the past, but never from all four main bases.[32] A month after the U.S. pullout the Taliban was governing openly in Nuristan.[33] According to The Economist, Nuristan is "a place so tough that NATO abandoned it in 2010 after failing to subdue it."[34]

In 2021, the Taliban gained control of the province during the 2021 Taliban offensive.


The percentage of households with clean drinking water increased from 2% in 2005 to 12% in 2011.[35] The percentage of births attended by a skilled birth attendant increased from 1% in 2005 to 22% in 2011.[35]


In 2002 the first gender assessment of women's conditions in Nuristan was completed.[36] The overall literacy rate (6+ years of age) fell from 17.7% in 2005 to 17% in 2011.[35] The overall net enrolment rate (6–13 years of age) increased from 8.7% in 2005 to 45% in 2011.[35]


Ethnolinguistic groups in Afghanistan

As of 2021, the total population of the province is about 166,676.[2] According to the Naval Postgraduate School, 87% are Nuristanis, 10% Pashtuns and less than 3% Gujars and ethnic Tajiks.[37][38]

Approximately 90% of the population speak the following five Nuristani languages, as well as one Indo-Aryan language:[39]

The main Nuristani tribes in the province are:

Dari/Pashto are used as second and third languages in the province.


Districts of Nuristan
Districts of Nuristan Province
District Center Population[2] Area[40] Pop.
Barg-i Matal 17,537 1,731 10 100% Nuristani.[41]
Du Ab 8,902 652 14 99% Nuristani, 1% Gujar.[42] Established in 2004, formerly part of Nuristan District and Mandol District
Kamdesh Kamdesh 28,564 1,452 20 100% Nuristani.[43]
Mandol 22,320 1,996 11 99% Nuristani, 1% Gujar and Tajik.[44] Lost territory to Du Ab District in 2004
Nurgram 36,536 943 39 100% Nuristani.[45] Established in 2004, formerly part of Nuristan District and Wama District
Parun Parun 15,279 1,509 10 100% Nuristani.[46] Established in 2004, formerly part of Wama District
Wama 12,489 389 32 100% Nuristani.[47] Lost territory to Parun District and Nurgram District in 2004
Waygal 22,187 907 24 100% Nuristani.[48]
Nuristan 163,814 9,267 18 99.9% Nuristani, 0.1% Gujars, <0.1% Tajiks.[note 1]
  1. ^ Note: "Predominantely" or "dominated" is interpreted as 99%, "majority" as 70%, "mixed" as 1/(number of ethnicities), "minority" as 30% and "few" or "some" as 1%.

In popular culture[edit]

Notable people from the province[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Kamkata-vari language is the largest of the Nuristani languages.


  1. ^ "د نورستان مرستیال والي وانټ وایګل ته سفر وکړ" [Vice-Governor of Nuristan visited Vant Weigel].
  2. ^ a b c d "Estimated Population of Afghanistan 2021–22" (PDF). National Statistic and Information Authority (NSIA). April 2021. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 June 2021. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  3. ^ Ansary, Tamim (4 March 2014). Games without Rules: The Often-Interrupted History of Afghanistan. PublicAffairs. ISBN 9781610393195. Kafiristan, "Land of the Infidels," because the people there practiced an animist religion involving elaborate graves decorated with images carved of wood.
  4. ^ a b c Richard F. Strand (31 December 2005). "Richard Strand's Nuristân Site: Peoples and Languages of Nuristan". Archived from the original on 1 April 2019. Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  5. ^ a b Minahan, James B. (10 February 2014). Ethnic Groups of North, East, and Central Asia: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 205. ISBN 9781610690188. Living in the high mountain valleys, the Nuristani retained their ancient culture and their religion, a form of ancient Hinduism with many customs and rituals developed locally. Certain deities were revered only by one tribe or community, but one deity was universally worshipped by all Nuristani as the Creator, the Hindu god Yama Raja, called imr'o or imra by the Nuristani tribes.
  6. ^ a b Barrington, Nicholas; Kendrick, Joseph T.; Schlagintweit, Reinhard (18 April 2006). A Passage to Nuristan: Exploring the Mysterious Afghan Hinterland. I.B. Tauris. p. 111. ISBN 9781845111755. Prominent sites include Hadda, near Jalalabad, but Buddhism never seems to have penetrated the remote valleys of Nuristan, where the people continued to practise an early form of polytheistic Hinduism.
  7. ^ a b Weiss, Mitch; Maurer, Kevin (31 December 2012). No Way Out: A Story of Valor in the Mountains of Afghanistan. Berkley Caliber. p. 299. ISBN 9780425253403. Up until the late nineteenth century, many Nuristanis practised a primitive form of Hinduism. It was the last area in Afghanistan to convert to Islam—and the conversion was accomplished by the sword.
  8. ^ Klimberg, Max (1 October 2004). "NURISTAN". Encyclopædia Iranica (Online ed.). United States: Columbia University.
  9. ^ a b Alberto M. Cacopardo (2016). "Fence of Peristan – The Islamization of the "Kafirs" and Their Domestication". Archivio per l'Antropologia e la Etnologia. Società Italiana di Antropologia e Etnologia: 69, 77.
  10. ^ a b Ludwig W. Adamec (1985). Historical and Political Gazetteer of Afghanistan, Volume 6. Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt Graz. p. 348.
  11. ^ a b Dr. Hussain Khan. "The Genesis of the Royal Title". Journal of Central Asia. 14. Centre for the Study of the Civilizations of Central Asia, Quaid-i-Azam University: 111, 112.
  12. ^ "Afghanistan Bright Spot: Wildlife Thriving in War Zones". National Geographic Society. 14 July 2011. Archived from the original on 15 September 2019.
  13. ^ Reza Shirmohammad. "ولایت نورستان در افغانستان به عنوان پارک ملی اعلام گردید" [Nuristan province in Afghanistan was declared as a national park]. Deutsche Welle.
  14. ^ "Residents Welcome Designation of National Park in Nuristan".
  15. ^ Nancy Hatch Dupree / Aḥmad ʻAlī Kuhzād (1972). "An Historical Guide to Kabul – The Name". American International School of Kabul. Archived from the original on 30 August 2010. Retrieved 18 September 2010.
  16. ^ C. E. Bosworth; E. Van Donzel; Bernard Lewis; Charles Pellat (eds.). The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Volume IV. Brill. p. 409.
  17. ^ Deena Bandhu Pandey (1973). The Shahis of Afghanistan and the Punjab. Historical Research Institute; Oriental Publishers. p. 65.
  18. ^ Dr. Hussain Khan. "The Genesis of the Royal Title". Journal of Central Asia. 14. Centre for the Study of the Civilizations of Central Asia, Quaid-i-Azam University: 114.
  19. ^ Parpola, Asko (2015). The Roots of Hinduism: The Early Aryans and the Indus Civilization. Oxford University Press. p. 143. ISBN 9780190226923.
  20. ^ Jordan, Michael (14 May 2014). Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses. Infobase. p. 138. ISBN 9781438109855.
  21. ^ Ludwig W. Adamec (1985). Historical and Political Gazetteer of Afghanistan, Volume 6. Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt Graz. p. 361.
  22. ^ Nile Green (2017). Afghanistan's Islam: From Conversion to the Taliban. University of California Press. pp. 142–143. ISBN 9780520294134.
  23. ^ Bowersox, Gary W. (2004). The Gem Hunter: The Adventures of an American in Afghanistan. United States: GeoVision, Inc. p. 100. ISBN 0-9747-3231-1. Retrieved 22 August 2010. To launch this plan, Bhutto recruited and trained a group of Afghans in the Bala-Hesar of Peshawar, in Pakistan's North-west Frontier Province. Among these young men were Massoud, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and other members of Jawanan-e Musulman. Massoud's mission to Bhutto was to create unrest in northern Afghanistan. It served Massoud's interests, which were apparently opposition to the Soviets and independence for Afghanistan. Later, after Massoud and Hekmatyar had a terrible falling-out over Massoud's opposition to terrorist tactics and methods, Massoud overthrew from Jawanan-e Musulman. He joined Rabani's newly created Afghan political party, Jamiat-i-Islami, in exile in Pakistan.
  24. ^ Daan Van Der Schriek, ed. (26 May 2005). "Nuristan: Insurgent Hideout in Afghanistan, Terrorism Monitor, Volume 3, Issue 10". Jamestown. Retrieved 22 October 2014.
  25. ^ "Nuristan governor, contractor, and Afghanistan engineer district sign partnership agreement". Archived from the original on 8 July 2007. Retrieved 28 June 2006.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link), Headquarters US Central Command, News Release, June 13, 2006
  26. ^ "Taliban fighters storm US base". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 16 July 2008.
  27. ^ "Taliban govern openly in Nuristan | FDD's Long War Journal". 12 November 2009. Retrieved 22 January 2024.
  28. ^ Mackey, Robert (12 November 2009). "Taliban Claim to Seize American Arms". The Lede. Retrieved 22 January 2024.
  29. ^ Jaffe, Joshua Partlow and Greg (5 October 2009). "8 U.S. Troops Killed in Siege of Afghan Outpost". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 22 January 2024.
  30. ^ "Heavy US losses in Afghan battle". 4 October 2009. Retrieved 22 January 2024.
  31. ^ Kamdesh ambush played out like Wanat battle, Matthew Cox and Michelle Tan, Army Times, November 3, 2009
  32. ^ "South Asia news, business and economy from India and Pakistan". Asia Times Online. 29 October 2009. Archived from the original on 1 November 2009. Retrieved 7 February 2011.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  33. ^ "Taliban govern openly in Nuristan | FDD's Long War Journal". 12 November 2009. Retrieved 22 January 2024.
  34. ^ "Pakistan's border badlands: Double games". The Economist. 12 July 2014. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  35. ^ a b c d "Afghanistan Provincial Map".
  36. ^ "Wazhma Frogh".
  37. ^ "Nuristan Province" (PDF). Program for Culture & Conflict Studies. Naval Postgraduate School. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  38. ^ "Programs" (PDF).
  39. ^ a b "Nurstan Provincial Profile" (PDF). Archived from the original on 7 October 2010. Retrieved 14 September 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  40. ^ Afghanistan Geographic & Thematic Layers
  41. ^ Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 October 2006. Retrieved 22 January 2024. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  42. ^ Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 October 2005. Retrieved 22 January 2024. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  43. ^ Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 October 2005. Retrieved 22 January 2024. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  44. ^ Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 October 2005. Retrieved 22 January 2024. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  45. ^ Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 October 2005. Retrieved 22 January 2024. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  46. ^ Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 October 2005. Retrieved 22 January 2024. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  47. ^ Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 October 2005. Retrieved 22 January 2024. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  48. ^ Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 October 2005. Retrieved 22 January 2024. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)

Further reading[edit]

  • 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 Encyclopædia Iranica. LINK Archived 1 February 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  • Jettmar, Karl (1986) The Religions of the Hindukush: Vol 1: The Religions of the Kafirs: The Pre-islamic Heritage of Afghan Nuristan.
  • 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.
  • Robertson, Sir George S. (1900) The Kafirs of Hindu-Kush.
  • کشمکش های تاریخی و سرنوشت قبیله الکته (۱۴۰۰)

External sources[edit]