The Banner in Afghanistan


Abdul Hai Habibi


The people of Afghanistan have been familiar with the flag from ancient times. In the Avestan language it was known as darafsha and in Dari the word was converted to darafsh. Khudanama and Shahnama of Firdowsi provide information on ancient flags.

  1. The Zal flag of Zabul ruler was a white flag with an emblem of a phoenix.
  2. Rustamís flag had the figure of dragon and a golden lion at the tip of its mast.
  3. The flag of Faramerz, son of Rustam, had a dragon with 7 heads.
  4. The Kawinian flagís story is that a blacksmith, by the name of Kawa, became agitated with the tyranny of the Zohak king. He took his leather apron, attached it to a wooden mast and started his campaign until the people started following him and they killed the cruel king. This flag, hailed as a symbol of success over tyranny, was decorated with gold and jewels. It was raised during peaceful times and at war and it existed until the beginning of the Islamic period. Firdowsi notes its color to be yellow, red and violet.
  5. Avesta (written around 1000 B.C.) considers Balkh to be the city of high flags. These banners existed until the time of Yaqut (about 600 A.D.). According to Yaqut these flags were also seen along the banks of the Oxus river. The color of these flags was probably green and it is not clear what kind of marking they had. An example of these flags is the Sakhi Janda of Mazar-e Sharif.

In Mahabaharta, the ancient Indian book, mention has been made that the daughter or the ruler of Bacteria had a flag with the color of peacockís feathers with a mast with the tips of three spears. This flag carried the markings of the sun and moon. The marking, in the form of a round ray, was adopted during the Islamic period for government symbols. The sun and moon symbols were also used during the Kushanid period in Afghanistan as gods and statues in the pantheon of Kushanid culture. These symbols are also seen on the coins of Kushanid kings and manifested as religion and not politics or nationalism.


The Banner in Islamic Period

Arab conquerors reached Khorasan during the 8th century and rulers such as Shers, Kabul Shahs, Ratbels, Shars, Shansabids, Ferigonids, Bayan Joran, Tagins etc. ruled over the land. These rulers were the remnants of the Kushanid and Hepthalite princes. They had joint affiliation with Khorasani, Hindi and Greek culture. Their flags were mentioned in the era before the establishment of Islam.

The first national banner in free Khorasan, during the Islamic period, was raised in Lashkargah by Abu Muslim, the great leader of Khorasan, on 25 Ramadan 129 H., 726 A.D. First on a spear name Zul, representing 14 sowings of the seed and then on a spear named Sahab, representing 13 sowings.

The black Zul flag, a symbol of the Abbasid dynasty, was sent by Ibrahim Imam to Abu Muslim. This flag was made up of several yards of black cotton material, embedded with the letters Allah and Mohammad. Such flags were sent for the next 500 years, until the Ghorid period, by the Baghdad caliphate to the rulers of Khorasan as a symbol of recognition of the rulers with titles such as Amir-al-Moímeneen (the leader of the faithful) and Malik-al-Sharq (king of the east).

The Samanid (around 900 A.D.), Ghaznavid (around 1000 A.D.) and Saljokid (around 1100 A.D.) flags were black or green in color. The Ghaznavid flag carried a symbol of the head of a lion and several swords. Similar to the Kushanid period, it had the symbol of a moon on top. The poet Farukhi eulogizing Sultan Mahmud says:

The shining moon is the emblem of your flag,

The bright light is the shadow of your black tent.

Menhaj Seraj, the historian of the Ghorid period states the Ghorid kings had two flags. They carried a black one with the left hand and a white one with the right hand. After the period of Ahmad Shah Durrani (18th century) Afghan flags were black, green, red and white in color carrying the symbols of a sword and star and the letters Allah, Mohammad or the kelema (God is one and Mohammad is his Prophet) or verses from the Koran were inscribed on them. After the first Afghan-Anglo war, Amir Sher Ali Khan, adopted the symbol of sun between two lions wielding swords as the symbol of the government. This symbol can be seen on coins and postage stamps of the time. However, on the black flags the soldiers wrote the kelema and the names of the four disciples of the prophet. Toward the end of the 19th century Amir Abdur Rahman Khan adopted a black flag with a symbol of a mosque alter, with a sword and the Koran illuminated by the rays of the sun, a symbol of the state of Khorasan and representation of the sun. His coin also carries the same symbol. The shape of the alter was selected from the shrine of Hazrat Ali in Mazar-e Sharif. This symbol was in use until the time of time of Amir Amanullah. The color of the state flag was black while that of the royal flag was red.

In 1928 when Amanullah Khan, the reformist king of Afghanistan, gathered the Loya Jirgah (grand council) of 1928, he changed, with the consent of the Jirgah, the symbol of the state. This symbol was composed of wreaths of wheat, representing the state of agriculture in the nation, and the crown of Ahmad Shah Durrani, together with the rays of sun illuminating over a mountain. It represented both the Khorasani symbol and the dawn of the new reform movement in the mountainous country of Afghanistan. The words Allah and Mohammad were also embedded between the rays of the sun.

At the Loya Jirgah meeting King Amanullah Khan explained the reasoning for the three colors of the banner, black, red and green. Black represented the dark era of colonialism, red symbolized the struggle for independence, and green signified the period of independence and a new movement. Unfortunately this change, like his other reforms, was not to the liking of the people and it was one reason for his demise from power.

The Loya Jirgah of 1930 once again adopted the symbol of alter with the three colors, black, red and green for the flag. This flag was in use until the downfall of the royalty in Afghanistan in 1973. Much to the dislike of the people, Mohammad Daud Khan in 1974 adopted the eagle as the flagís symbol instead of the alter. In disgust the people used to say the vulture has bitten Daudís head.

It is the belief of the writer of this article the people of Afghanistan did not like the adoption of the symbol of lion by Amir Sher Ali Khan resulting in his removal. The changing of the symbol of alter by Amanullah Khan also raised mistrust and even the rebellion of the people resulting in his removal from power. I personally witnessed the opposition of the people during that period. After this I also witnessed the result of the changing of the state symbol by Mohammad Daud. Each one of these moves had additional repercussions. It can be concluded the change in the symbol and color of the flag has, in a passive way,manifested the disapproval of the people from the government over historical time.