Zabul - Program for Culture and Conflict Studies

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Zabul Data - Content

Zabul Province

Governor: Bismillah Afghanmal

Population Estimate: 304,126

Area in Square Kilometers: 17,343

Capital: Qalat (formerly known as Qalat-i Ghilzai)

Districts: Arghandab, Baghar, Day Chopan, Jaldak, Kaker, Mizan, Now Bahar, Qalat, Shah Joy, Shamulza'i, Shinkay.

Ethnic Groups: Majority Pashtun.

Tribal Groups: Tokhi & Hotaki Ghilzais, Noorzai & Panjpai Durranis.

Religious Groups: Sunni majority.

Occupation of Population: Agriculture (including Opium), Animal Husbandry, Labor, some Trade, Manufacturing, Smuggling.

Crops/Livestock: Poppy, Wheat, Maize, Barley, Almonds, Grapes, Apricots, Potato, Watermelon, Cumin.1

Literacy Rate: 1%2

Total # of Educational Institutions: 80

Primary and Secondary Schools: More than 97% male.

Colleges/Universities: None. Training centers do exist for vocational skills.

Active NGOs in the Province: Ibn Sina, Vara, ADA, Red Crescent, CADG.

Transportation: 1 Airstrip in Qalat ("PRT Air" with 2 flights per week);3 Primary Roads- The Ring Road from Ghazni to Kandahar passes through Qalat and Shah Joy; Mizan District has virtually non-existent roads.

Access to Electricity: Extremely rare, only 2% have acces.4

Hospitals: 3

Clinics: 18

Availability of Potable Water: 89% of the population lives reasonably close to their primary source of water, but 83% have reported shocks to drinking water supply recently.5

Rivers: Arghandab River (flows from Arghandad to Diachopan to Shah Wali Kot to Kandahar), Tarnak River (flows from Moqor to Navar to Shah Joy through Walat to Shahr-i-Safa, andntually joins the Arghandab River), there are also a number of seasonal rivers.6

Topographical Features: 28.1% Flat, 22.7% Mountainous, 29.1% Hilly.7

Tribal Map - Thumbnail
Tribal Map Thumbnail
Zabul - Content

Zabul Provincial Overview

Zabul Province is located in southern Afghanistan; it is the main gateway for insurgent fighters between southern and eastern Afghanistan. Zabul borders Pakistan and Kandahar in the south, Uruzgan in the northwest, Ghazni and Paktika in the east. The topography is distinguished by both mountainous and flat terrain with The Arghandab and Tarnak rivers flowing throughout.

The population of over 249 thousand are primarily Pashtun, sprinkled throughout around 2,500 remote villages. Major tribal groups include the Tokhi and Hotaki Ghilzai and the Noorzai and Panjpai Durrani. Primary occupations within Zabul are agriculture and animal husbandry. Their are 600 provincial aid projects planned in the area with over $US 30 million in planned costs. As of March 2010, there were around 1,000 U.S. troops in Zabul.

Governor Bismillah Afghnmal took the Governor's position in March 2016. Previously, he served as the director of Rishta Magazine and as part of the Meshrano Jurga. 

Current Taliban Shadow GovernorMullah Mati - Mati was reported to have been killed in November 2015. His replacement is not known.


Zabul Map


Human Terrain

Alikozai (Durrani)

The Alakozai (Alikozai; Alokzai) belong to the Durrani confederation, and can be further divided into the Khalozai (or Khan Khel), the Yarizai, the Surkani, the Kotezai, the Dadozai, the Khanizai, the Daolatzai (which are also found in the North of Afghanistan due to forced relocations in centuries previous), the Nasozai, and the Bashozai. The Alokzai people stretch from Farah to Zabul.

Hotak (Ghilzai)

This is Mullah Omar of Taliban fame’s tribe. One of the main divisions of Ghilzais, the Hotak, or Ohtak, often lived next to and competed with the Popalzai and Tokhi for resources. Controlling the more mountainous areas of “Pashtunistan,” they often got income from trading snow, wood, and higher altitude crops with their lowland compatriots. As the tribe of Mir Wais, in olden times they received a special stipend from the king in Kabul as the “Badshah Khel” (“the king’s sub-tribe”). They have had a long rivalry with the Popalzai Durranis, dating to the 1729 destruction of the Hotaki dynasty at the hands of the Persian Nadir Shah and his Abdali (later renamed Durrani) allies.


Descended from Qais through Gurghust, the Kakar are primarily found in present-day Baluchistan, where they still make up the majority of indigenous Pashtuns. In the sixteenth century, the most famous Kakar to-date, Sher Khan (“Lion King;” later to coronate himself Sher Shah, or “Lion Emperor”) served the first Mughal emperor Babur as governor of Bihar in present-day India before rising against Babur’s son, Humayun, and essentially taking over the Mughal Empire. Only after Sher Shah died was Humayun’s son Akbar able to restore the Mughal dynasty. Thus Sher Shah was arguably the most powerful Pashtun in history. The Kakar divisions include Musa Khel (including Shamsheer Khel), Zulfo Khel, Ya’qub Zai, Jadraam, Sargarai, Saam Khel, Taaran, Jalal Khel, Khatan Khel, Charmi Khel, Targharai, Yunus Khel, Isa Zai, Da Marhbado Khel, Hussain Khel, Surani, Makran, Tafoot, Pandaar (Pindaar), Zanakh Zai, and Sher Dad. In Zabul they primarily inhabit the Southern districts.

Kharoti (Powindah Ghilzai Kuchi)

The Kharoti Powindah Ghilzais are Kuchi nomads. The Kharoti clan is the second largest Ghilzai Pashtun tribal group. Generally, they do not cooperate with anti-coalition militias or participate in their activities. Their political stance and support for the government is in part, at least, due to their rivalry with the Suleimankhel and the Waziris. Notable members of the Kharoti clan include Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Harakat, both of Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HIG). Overall, however, the Kharoti are not supportive of HIG. Former Paktika provincial governor, Ghulab Mangal, considered the Kharoti among the most reliable of Ghilzai tribal groups.9

To be a Kuchi is not who one is, or what one does, but what one is. More than a vocation and less than a race, the Kuchi are more appropriately thought of as a caste of nomadic herdsmen. Their four main animals are sheep, goats, camels and donkeys. They cross boundaries with ease. They have a very high illiteracy rate.10 Involved in a constant and centuries old range war with the Hazara, the Kuchis have moved across Afghanistan and Pakistan for generations. 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 and over 100,000 displaced in the South of Afghanistan due to drought in the past few years.11

In Zabul, the Kuchi population frequents the Southern districts of the province, including Shamalzai, Day Chopan, and Shah Joy, in numbers slightly over 50,000 in winter, and slightly under the same in summer.


Shinwari are Paktu speakers. They have a history of opposing the British and the central government in Kabul. They are known to have been a major thorn in the side of Amir Abdur Rahman Khan during the 1880s. Shinwaris are classified as Eastern, Sarbani Pashtuns. Their tribal brethren are found much further south, in the Baluchistan area. They are very esteemed, proper Afghans. Historically they have formed alliances with the Mohmand, Safi and Afridi tribes and feuded with the Khogiani.12 The Shinwaris can also be found in the Khyber Agency in Pakistan.

Suleiman Khel (Ghilzai)

Part of the Ghilzai confederation, the Suleimankhel is one of the largest sub-tribes. The bias of some sub-tribes toward the Taliban in part may be explained by their proximity to the Pakistan border and the influx of insurgents and the radical politics. They have been allied with the Hotaki in the past, and their traditional rivals include the Karoti.13 Principal sub-divisions of the Suleimankhel include the Alizai, Sulemanzai, and Jalalzai. Other sub-divisions include the Alikhel, the Nizamkhel, and the Shakhel. It is interesting to note that the Alikhel sub-tribe, which primarily lives in the northwest of Paktika, has been more cooperative with the central government and coalition forces. The Nizamkhel and Shakhel also remain more supportive of the government, which may be explained in part by their rivalry with the Jalalzai.14


Subdivided into six khels: the Firoz, Suhail, Gurbuz, Badin, Saki, and Na. The most famous Taraki, of course, has been Nur Mohammad Taraki, president of Afghanistan from April 1978 until his death by acute asphyxiation in September 1979. He was the leader of the PDPA (People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan) and within that, the Khalq (“Masses”) faction,15 in opposition to the Parcham (“Banner”) faction. Their powerbase has traditionally been Southern Ghazni.16

Tokhi (Ghilzai)

A Ghalji (Ghilzai) tribe found throughout southern and western Afghanistan, although most heavily concentrated in Zabul and Uruzgan. Two main sub-tribes are the Muhammadzai (the largest) and Shamulzai (Shimalzai); other divisions include the Jalazai, Babakrzai, Miranzai, Jaffri, Pirozai (Pir Khel), and Kishaini.

Wardak (Ghilzai)

Some leaders of the Wardak Pashtun were notorious for their opposition to the British in 1879-1880. The Wardak tribe is subdivided in the Mayar, Mirkehl (which may be the same as the Amir Khel), and the Nuri.17 There is some disagreement whether the Wardaks are Karlanri or Ghilzai Pashtun. Most evidence suggests they are Karlanri. Currently several Wardak Pashtuns hold important posts in the central government, including the Ministry of Defense (General Abdur Rahim Wardak), the Ministry of Information, Culture and Youth (Abdul Karim Khoram), and the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs. It is also important to note that “several Islamic radicals emerged from Wardak who helped to promote and implement Taliban’s conservative interpretation of Islam."18


Composition of Fighting Forces

There are roughly 1,000 U.S. troops in Zabul, down from 1,800 in 2009 after the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team was moved from Zabul to Helmand to prepare for Operation Moshtarak in Marjah. There are 800 Romanian soldiers patrolling Highway 1, and a Jordanian special operations unit in the province.

There are roughly 2,000 Taliban fighters in Zabul operating in more than 100 groups. The district Khak-e-Afghan is predominately controlled by Taliban.


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References - Menu

1 Regional Rural Economic Regeneration Strategies (RRERS), Provincial Profile for Zabul, (2006), at Link.

2 Afghanistan Human Development Report 2007, United Nations Development Program, 2007, 164.

3 USAID, "First Airstrip in Zabul Province", US AID Afghanistan, September 1, 2006, at Link.

4 "Provincial Profile," Zabul, Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and the National Area Base Development Programme, 2006, at Link.

5 This figure seems extremely high (Altai Public Opinion Info, Altai Consulting, 2007).

6 Profile," Zabul, Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and the National Area Base Development Programme, 2006, at Link.

7 Regional Rural Economic Regeneration Strategies (RRERS), Zabul Provincial Profile.

8 "Provincial Profile," Zabul, Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and the National Area Base Development Programme, 2006, at Link.

9 US State Department Gardez Provincial Reconstruction Team Political Officer Reporting, 2004.

10 Afghanistan,” 2007 CIA World Factbook, at Link; Marc Herold, “War and Modernity: Hard Times for Afghanistan’s Kuchi Nomads,” Cursor, at Link.

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

12 Olaf Caroe, The Pathans, London: Kegan Paul International, 2000, 234.

13 US Department of State Gardez Provincial Reconstruction Team Political Officer Reporting, 2004.

14 Ibid.

15 “Afghanistan: Focus on nomads and the drought,” IRIN, March 20, 2002, at Link.

16 David B. Edwards, Before Taliban: Geneologies of the Afghan Jihad, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002, pp. 32.

17 Adamec, Vol. 6, 802-803.

18 Mirwais Wardak, Idrees Zaman, and Kanishka Nawabi, “The Role and Functions of Religious Civil Society in Afghanistan: Case Studies From Sayedabad & Kunduz,” Cooperation for Peace and Unity, (July 2007): 9, at Link.

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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.