Zabul and its Leaders


Abdul Hai Habibi


The region known as Zabul, at one time, extended from Ghazni to the banks of the Helmand river and the Zawali tribe was an important vassal of the Kushanid empire. The region is named after the Zawali tribe.

After the third century of the Christain era, the Zawali were prominent people of the area and were led by strong and victorious leaders. These leaders were able to govern all of Khorasan as far as the Indus river and the highlands of Kashmir. They were know as Zawul Shah or ‘Zabul Khudai’ as, Firdowsi, the writer of Shahnama has named them.

The administrative centers of the Zabul kings were located in Ghazni, Uruzgan and Seistan. We do not have a record of their whole history. Historians have recovered their names from their coins and certain stone inscriptions. The present day province of Zabul, which is located between Ghazni and Kandahar, takes its name from the ancient Zawil region. We have at our disposal coins in three scripts dating back to the time of Zabul Shah. In coins with Greek script, this area has been called Zawul while in the Indian Brahimi script their name has been inscribed as Jawala and Jabola. The Zabuli people had reached the border of India during the fourth century AD. According to Professor Jonker, their coins were minted in Balkh. This same researcher states that some of their coins, which are in the Pahlavi script, may have been minted in Merv too.

The coins contain facial images of the kings also. They indicate that these rulers had large noses and eyes, muscular necks, broad shoulders and high brows. We see these traits among the people of the Taraki, Suleimankhel and Naser tribes who live in Zabul. The ancient families of these people were known as the Kedarian, Sheran, Loykan, Sakzian and Ratbelan. Their fiefdoms were in Ghazni, Gardez, Gharj, Bamian, Seistan and Rakhj.

From coins we know the following Zawali kings:

Keidara, who lived during the middle fourth century CE. Sher, son of Keidara  and Kang Khas, son of Keidara. War Haran, who became king after Sher. Akhswan, the great Haftali king who defeated the Sassani king, Peroz (Feroz), in 485 CE, and whose empire spread from Pars to India and Khutan.

Another great king of the Haftali family was named Turaman, who conquered India and declared Sialkot in Punjab as his capital. In Indian documents his name has been written as “Maharaja Turaman, king of Zawul.” He died in 502 CE and was succeeded by his son, Merakola, who extended his empire from Merv and Badghis to as far as India. It is said that he was in possession of 2000 war elephants. In the history of Kashmir he is famous for the bloodshed he created. He died in 542 CE.

The families of these kings were in power until the start of the Islamic conquests. When the Islamic conquerors came to the area during the 7th century some of the local people converted to Islam and were in power in Bamian, Ghor and Gharistan until the start of the Ghaznavi period.

Beside coins, there are stone tablets at our disposal, which contain inscriptions in Greek and Brahamani scripts. One such inscription has been scribed, in Greek letters, on a rock wall in the Uruzgan valley adjacent to the Achekzai fortress. Professor Beuwar, the English historian, has read the writing as: “Bag siri shah zawul mehroski.” But I am of the opinion that it is: “Bagi far zawul mehr zami.” It is possible that the inscription is related to a Zawul king who calls himself the owner of khudai far, the mehr zamin of Zawul.

Two inscriptions, in Greek script, have also been discovered in Ghajatu of Ghazni. One contains a famous Buddhist prayer. The other contains the inscription: “Bag sagzi  sha, feroyama sha ulug.” From this we know that these kings sometimes called themselves Sagzi Shah (meaning king of Seistan).

From the beginning of the Kushani period, i.e. the first century AD until the seventh century, the period of Zabuli kings, a language has been used in coins and writings which can be considered the grandmother of Dari language. A number of words used in this language are present in Pashto until the present time. For example they have written their titles as mir and bag. In a dialect of Pashto mir is lmar and in Dari it is mehr. In Kandahar, until the present time, bag is used to mean big and mighty. In Sanskrit and Avesta, God was called Bag. Bagi was God, and Pashtuns still use this name. Ahmad Shah Baba’s prime minister was called Bagi Khan. This name is a relic from the Zawali kings. Similarly in the Pashto names, Mirwais and Mir Zaman, we see the old mir and mehr words.

Three tablets, related to these Zawali kings, have been discovered in the Tuchi area of Waziristan. These tablets are now preserved in the Peshawar museum. They were written in Greek, Brahman and Kufi scripts. The tablets have not been fully evaluated until now.

During the Islamic conquests in the seventh century, the province of Zawul or Zabulistan, was captured by Moslems and a lot of people of the area converted Islam. However, in Ghazni, Gardez, Bamiyan and Uruzgan, the former chieftains remained in power for another two and a half centuries. In 872 CE Yaqub Lyce, the great Safavi king of Seistan, captured Kabul and Ghazni and added all of Zabul to his empire.

During the time of the Balkhi-Samani period, their domain extended to the west, as far as the banks of the Helmand river, and Seistan was also a part of their kingdom. But in Zabul, all the way to Ghazni, governors from the Hepthali-Kushano families, were the administrators. The area from Ghazni  to Gardez, was under the control of the Loykan family. In central Zabul, areas such as Uruzgan  and Jaghuri, were under the charge of Sheran of Bamian and the Sharan of Gharistan. But later when Alaptagin, Balkatagin and Subuktagin, ushered in their Tagin forces to Zabul, they managed to capture Ghazni, Bost, Seistan, Zamindawar and Rakhj, meaning the Arghandab and Helmand territory.

In 977CE Subuktagin established the Ghaznavi empire in the region. Later Sultan Mahmud, with the help of Zabul Shah, managed to bring all of Afghanistan under one political unit of the Ghaznavi empire. He managed to bring the Sharan of the mountainous areas, the Suri kingship of Ghor and the Safaris of Seistan under his kingdom. He extended the limits of his Zabuli kingdom, in the east, as far as the Ganges river and to Dajli, in the west.

Later Zabul fell into the hands of the Ghaznavi rulers and after that it became a part of the Ghori kings from 1155 to 1204 CE. Jeristan, which is now called Ajrestan, was an important province of the Zabuli-Ghori empire. After 1221 CE the province of Zabul came under the attack of Mongol hordes from the direction of Herat and Helmand, and like other productive regions of Afghanistan, Zabul also saw a lot of destruction. Remnants of the ruins can be seen in different parts of the province until the present time.

After the Mongol destruction, when the family of Amir Timur (Tamerlane) established their kingdom in Herat, the whole of Zabul, from Ghazni to Helmand, came under the influence of the Timuri kings. During his travels, emperor Babur criss-crossed Zabul several times, as indicated in a stone tablet, dedicated to the emperor, in the mountains of Wajiristan. It looks as though Babur came by way of Kandahar and Uruzgan to the Shali valley of Wajiristan.

The people of Zabul resisted the Mongol hordes for a long time. The Hotak tribesmen from Suri and Kalat and the Tukhi people had established a national movement and government in the area. The national leaders of Zabul, Baba Hotak, Malikyar and Sultan Malukhi and their families fought against foreign invaders. The national leader, Haji Mirwais Khan, was also a member of the Hotak tribe, who ended the Safavi domination of Kandahar and Zabul. His son, Shah Mahmud, extended his kingdom as far as Asfahan.

Leaders from Zabul were at the forefront of the national movement heralded by Mirwais, Shah Mahmud and Shah Ashraf. The army, which was led by Shah Mahmud to capture Asfahan, included five thousand Hazara residents from Uruzgan also. After Ahmad Shah’s empire, the valiant and brave people of Zabul, are among the intrepid warriors who defended their homeland with utmost audacity.[1]

[1]Kabul Magazine, 1353 (1975 AD) Solar Hijra year. Vol. 8, pp. 1-5.