Herat - Program for Culture and Conflict Studies

Nested Applications
Herat Data - Content

Herat Province

Governor: Mohammad Asif Rahimi

Population Estimate: 1,890,000

Area in Square Kilometers: 54,778

Capital: Herat

Districts: Adraskan, Chest-e Sharif, Enjil, Farsi, Ghuryan, Golran, Gozareh, Herat, Karokh, Kuhestan, Kushk, Kushk-e Kohneh, Owbi, Pashtun Zarghun, Shindand, Zendeh Jan.

Ethnic Groups: Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Taimuri, Qala Nau, Chahar Aimak, Firozkohi, Jamshedi, Karkar, Kuchis.

Tribal Groups: Pashtun: Durrani, Zirak, Nurzai, Alizai, Panjpai, Barakzai, Alikozai, Achakzai, Ghilzai.

Religious Groups: 15% Shia, 84% Sunni.

Occupation of Population: Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Day Labor, some Urban Commercial and Industrial ventures in the City of Heart (although, 70% of city's population is unemployed).

Crops/Livestock: Wheat, Opium, Peas, Carrots, Melons, Fruit, Nuts, Sheep, Cows, Camels, Donkeys, Fisheries, Horses, Poultry.

Literacy Rate: 36%

Total # of Primary Schools: 361 Male, 33 Female

Secondary Schools: 109 Male, 41 Female

Colleges/Universities: University of Herat.

Active NGOs in the Province: CARITAS, UNICEF, World Vision, IOM, Action Contre la Faim, WFP, WHO, MSF, MDM, Order of Malta, CHA, IbniSina, HRS, ICRC, UNHCR, Iranian Red Crescent, Ockenden Int’l, IMC, DACAAR, NPO/RRAA, UN Habitat, Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee.

Primary Roads: 56% of provincial roads accessible year round; 9% of the province has no road access; The main East-West road runs from the border with Iran, following the course of the Hari Rud, to the border with Ghowr; The major North-South road runs from Turkmenistan through the cities of Kushk, Herat, and Adraskan, before it forks near the district border between Adraskan and Shindand; The Southeast fork runs through the city of Shindand before exiting into Farah while the Southwestern fork runs in that direction and exits into Farah.

Estimated Population with Access to Electricity: 22% Total, 74% Urban, 6% Rural; Electricity is provided from a single station which uses imported energy from Iran and Turkmenistan.

Hospitals: 5

Clinics: 24

Sources/Availibility of Drinking Water: 85% have access to water, 31% have access to safe water (36% in urban areas, 30% in rural areas) via Rivers and Wells.

Rivers: Harirud, Harut, Gushky.

Topographical Features: Herat is bounded by the Khorasan deserts in the west, the Hindu Kush in the east, and the Band-i-Baba mountains in the North; The central feature of the province, and most populous region within it, is the fertile tract that contains the districts of Heart, Ghuryan, Owbi, and Karokh; 39% of the province is either mountainous or semi-mountainous, and the remainder is flat or interspersed with gently rolling hills.

Maps - Thumbnail
Maps Thumbnail
Tribal Map - Thumbnail
Tribal Map Thumbnail
Provincial Profile - Map
Provincial Profile Thumbnail
Herat - Content

Herat Provincial Overview

Herat Province is located inwestern Afghanistan on the Afghanistan - Iran border. Herat borders the desolate Afghan provinces of Farah to the south, Badghis to the north and Ghor to the east, and also shares part of its northern border with Turkmenistan. Herat City is the largest and most significant urban area in western Afghanistan, home to an estimated 400,000 Heratis, and is connected to Kandahar City and Kabul via Highway 1, also referred to as the "ring road" highway.

The population of approximately 1.8 million is situated mainly in the rural areas with only 23% of Herat's residents living in urban areas. Agriculture and animal husbandry are the primary occupations found in Herat although urban commercial and industrial ventures dominate Herat City's economy. Cotton, tobacco, and sesame are among the largest crops produced. Trade is intimately linked with Iran who shares a 400-mile border with Afghanistan.  

Herat's Governor, Mohammad Asif Rahimi spent a large portion of his life in the United States, graduating from Omaha University in Nebraska. He returned to Afghanistan in 2005 to join the ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development. He was appointed to be the provincial governor in April 2015.10

Current Taliban Shadow Governor: Mullah Yaseen - Mullah Yaseen was detained by Afghan National Army forces in July 2016. His replacement is unknown.11

Herat Map


Human Terrain


The Hazara, a distinct ethnic and religious group within the population of Afghanistan; they have often been the target of discriminatory and violent repression.  Most likely descended from the Mongols of Genghis Khan, (there is also a strong argument that they are of Eastern Turkic origin), the Hazara are noticeably different in physical appearance when compared to the Pashtun majority.  In terms of religion, the vast majority of the Hazara are of the Shia Muslim faith, again in contrast to the Pashtuns who are Sunni Muslim.  Due to these differences, “the Hazara have experienced discrimination at the hands of the Pashtun-dominated government throughout the history of modern Afghanistan."1  As the traditional underclass of Afghan society, Hazara were exploited and made to work as servants and laborers.  As a result, there tends to be an anti-government and anti-Pashtun bias among the Hazara.  In present day Afghanistan, the Hazara are divided geographically into two main groups: the Hazarajat Hazara and those who live outside the Hazarajat.  The Hazarajat is located in the Hindu Kush Mountains in central Afghanistan and is “centered around Bamiyan province and include[s] areas of Ghowr, Uruzgan, Wardak, and Ghazni province."2 The Hazara living outside of the Hazarajat live in and around Kabul, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif and Samangan province.  Due to atrocities committed against them by the Taliban, the Hazara by and large are opposed to the Taliban.  In August 1998, the Taliban massacred approximately 4,000 Hazara in Mazara-e-Sharif; this massacre was followed by another the next month when the Taliban killed another 500 Hazara in Bamiyan.  The Hezb-e Wahdat (Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan) is an umbrella political organization which commands the support of large numbers of Hazara.  The Hazara are also often at odds with the Kuchi population within the Hazarajat. View the Hazara Tribal Tree


Tajiks are the second largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, after the Pashtuns and comprise between 25-30% of the population. The Tajiks in Afghanistan tend to live in settled communities as opposed to a nomadic lifestyle. They are of Iranian descent and primarily speak Dari. The majority of Tajiks are Sunni Muslims. Tajiks made up the majority of the Northern Alliance, both in terms of membership and leadership. Tribal ties have largely broken down among the Tajiks; therefore, social organization is defined primarily by geography. Despite their lack of cohesiveness the Tajiks are often brought together due to the perceived common threat posed by the Pashtuns. View the Tajik Tribal Tree


Involved in a constant and centuries old range war with the Hazara, the Kuchi are Pashtun nomads. Drawn primarily from the Ghilzai tribe, the Kuchis have moved across Afghanistan and Pakistan for generations, and only since Pakistani independence, were banned from Pakistani territory. Dispersed and well-traveled, they often receive news from distant relations in far-away provinces relatively quickly. The self-declared “leader” of the Kuchis is one Hashmat Ghani Ahmadzai. Partially settled by the king and the following socialist governments, they were strong supporters of the Taliban, both ideologically and pragmatically, as they came into possession of many Hazara lands thanks to the repression of the Shi’ite Hazara by the Taliban. There are estimated to be around three million Kuchi in Afghanistan, with at least 60% remaining fully nomadic.3


The largest single ethnicity of Afghanistan, the Pashtun, and in particular the largest tribe of said, the Ghilzai, formed the backbone of the Taliban movement. Traditionally beholden to the moral code of Pashtunwali (“the way of the Pashtun”), they can easily be deeply offended by breaches of the code and carry the grudge for generations. The Pashtuns are fiercely independent and often view themselves, as the largest ethnicity in the country, as the rightful leaders of Afghanistan. That being said, they suffered much during the Soviet invasion, and must be included in any effort to secure and develop the country.


The largest single tribe of the Pashtun ethnicity, the Ghalji or Ghilzai, and in particular the Hotaki clan, formed the backbone of the Taliban movement. Long resentful of the power the Duranni tribe (of which Karzai and Zahir Shah are members), the Ghilzai are fiercely independent and often view themselves, as the largest grouping of Pashtuns in the country and the rightful leaders of Afghanistan. View the Ghilzai Tribal Tree


The Durrani constitute the dominant Pashtun tribe, and the one from which leaders of Afghanistan are traditionally drawn. Their origin is uncertain, but their likely foundation occurred in the mountains of Ghor. In 1747, under the leadership of Ahmad Shah Durrani, the Durrani confederation displaced the Ghilzai confederation from the Kandahar region into the mountainous areas along the eastern afghan border. The current Afghan regime under President Kharzai is represented disproportionally by men of Durrani lineage. View the Durrani Tribal Tree

Chahar Aimak

The Aimak are a Persian-speaking nomadic or semi-nomadic tribe of mixed Iranian and Mongolian descent who inhabit the north and north-west highlands of Afghanistan and the Khorasan Province of Iran.4 They are closely related to the Hazara, and to some degree the Tajiks. They live in western Hazarajat in the provinces of Ghor, Farah, Herat, Badghis, Faryab, Jowzjan and Sar-e Pol. The term Aimak derives from the Mongolian term for tribe (Aimag). They were originally known as chahar or (the four) Eimaks, because there were four principal tribes: the Taimani (the predominating element in the population of Ghor), the Ferozkhoi, the Temuri, and the Jamshidi. Estimates of the Aimak population vary between 250,000 and 2 million. They are Sunni Muslims, in contrast to the Hazara, who are Shi’a. The best estimates of the Aimak population in Afghanistan hover around 1-2 million. The tally is made difficult since, as a consequence of centuries of oppression of the Hazara people in Afghanistan, some Aimagh Hazaras are classified by the state as Tajik, or Persian instead of Aimaks.


Primary Political Parties

Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HiG)5

This mujahideen party has been active since the Soviet invasion; and is led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. It is actively opposed to US-led and Afghan national forces and is politically active in the provence. Hekmatyar is a Kharoti Ghilzai and, therefore, less influential among other religious and ethnic groups in the region, particularly the Shi’a.

Hizb-e Harkat-e Inqilabi-ye Islami wa Melli-ye Afghanistan6

Ayatollah Muhsini established the Islamic Revolutionary Movement in 1978. A Shi’a party, “his followers played a conspicuous role in the uprising in Kabul in 1980,” and is known for having many Hazara as well as non-Hazara members. Muhsini does not espouse the domination of religious figures over the government, “hence the expulsion of his organization from Iran and his willingness to cooperate with the Afghan Sunni resistance organizations in Peshawar,” and refused to join the Hazara coalition Hizb-e Wahdat in the ensuing civil war.

Hizb-i Wahdat (Mohaqqeq)

The Islamic Afghan Society, reputed to have approximately 60,000 supporters, is primarily endorsed by Tajiks in the northern region of Afghanistan. The leaders of the Islamic Afghan Society are Burhanuddin Rabbani, past president of the Islamic State, Abdul Hafez Mansur and Munawar Hasan.

Jamiat-e Islami (Islamic Society of Afghanistan)

The Shi’ite umbrella party, Hizb-I Wahdat is composed of seven of the eight Shi’ite parties (minus the Harakat-e Islami) that existed in Afghanistan from the time of the anti-Soviet campaigns. Now led by Wolesi Jirga member (and former planning minister) Haji Muhammad Mohaqqeq, the party continues to represent both Shi’ites and Hazaras. During the period of Taliban rule, the party held fast in the Hazarajat whilst the Taliban tried through blockade to bring the Hazaras to their knees through starvation.

Islamic Council of Herat

The Islamic Council of Herat, which consists of scholars, religious figures, independent civic foundations and non-government bodies is a loose conglomeration created to voice concerns, particularly security issues, which they feel the provincial government is not adequately addressing.


General Security Landscape

Since the dissolution of Taliban control in the province, the security situation in Herat has been relatively quiet compared to the Southern and Eastern regions of Afghanistan. The current PRT is led by Italy. However, beginning in 2006 there has been a dramatic upswing in the number of incidents. The mass repatriation of afghan refugees from Iran has contributed to the number of criminal incidents such as armed robbery, but the Taliban also appear to be increasingly active in the region as well. The abduction of prominent political and business figures is becoming more common, and ambushes and attacks utilizing small arms, IEDS, and indirect fire are occurring with growing regularity.

One of the areas most affected is the Azizabad region of the Shindand district, where a series of insurgent attacks precluded the deadly Coalition airstrike on August 22, 2008 which killed at least 33 civilians initially thought to be Taliban fighters led by Mullah Siddiq.8 Locals, Afghan government officials and a UN investigation maintain up to 90 civilians perished in the airstrikes and cited video footage shot on video phones showing scores of dead bodies as evidence. It is important to note that two Italian intelligence officers were abducted by insurgents near the Azizabad in September, 2007.9 They were rescued during a daring commando raid two days later in Farah province.

Primary targets appear to be members of the afghan provincial government, with attacks on foreign aid workers and ISAF personnel occurring less frequently. The abduction of prominent civic figures is being used as a tactic for intimidating those who would co-operate with ISAF and foreign aid agencies.

Additionally, violence between smugglers and Iranian personnel is rising dramatically and seems to be linked to increased opium production. It is becoming difficult to discern organized criminal activity from operations conducted by the Taliban as the interests of the two are often overlapping.

The generally deteriorating security situation in Herat has inspired the formation of groups such as the Islamic Council of Herat (ICH) who are highly critical of the provincial government. Rampant government corruption seems to be an endemic contributor to the growing sense of insecurity many Heratis now experience, and is one of the primary issues driving such groups as the ICH.


Back to Western Afghanistan

References - Menu

1 US State Department Afghanistan Culture and Ethnic Studies, 2004.

2 US State Department Afghanistan Culture and Ethnic Studies, 2004.

3 “Afghan Nomads Say U.S. Bombing Killed Nine,” Associated Press, September 25, 2003 and Paul Garwood, “Poverty, violence put Afghanistan's fabled Kuchi nomads on a road to nowhere,” Associated Press, May 14, 2006.

4 Janata, A. "AYMAQ". Encyclopædia Iranica. Ed. Ehsan Yarshater. United States: Columbia University.

5 Chris Mason, Tora Bora Nizami Mahaz.

6 California Digital Library, Muhsini, Ayatullah Shaykh Mohammad Asif.

7 Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Country Fact Sheet Afghanistan.

8 “US admits higher Afghan raid toll,” BBC, October 8, 2008, at Link.

9 “Missing Italians freed in Afghanistan,” CNN, September 24, 2007.

10 Afghan Bios, at Link.

11 Bakhtar News, at Link.

CCS disclaimer
Material contained herein is made available for the purpose of peer review and discussion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Navy or the Department of Defense.  Most of the content available on this website was updated as of March 2017.