Noorzai: a tribe of Pushtoon
(Afghan Research Forum)
oorzai is one of the bravest, the most courageous and strongest tribes of Pushtoon. According to Adamec (2006, p.282), Noorzai tribe is primarily located in Kandahar, Sheendand, Lashgar-Gah, Farah and Herath in Afghanistan. However, a large number of Noorzai clans live in Hilmand, Nimroz and some parts of Ghazni adjacent to Hazara-Jat areas. In some parts of Pakistan, that are Quetta, Chaman, Nushki, Kalat and Mastung; Noorzai are settled, who are mostly emigrants from Afghanistan. Some families are settled in Multan, Shikarpur and other cities of Punjab and Sindh, who are reported to have settled there from the time of Ahmed Shah Durrani. Ahmed Shah Durrani was the king and founder of Afghanistan who expanded the boundaries of Afghanistan to the areas presently comprising Pakistan (Adamec, 2006, p.).
The word Noorzai is a combination of Arabic and Pashto denoting son of light. The word "NUR" derives from the Arabic word for the light. While the word "ZAI" is from the Pashto word for son. It is the sub branch of Panjpai, which is from Abdali- Durrani. Historically Abdali known as Durrani are the descendants of Abdaal, who was the son of Tareen. Tareen had three sons: Tor, Spin and Bor. Bor is also known as Abdaal and hence Abdali. In 1747, Pir Sabir Shah, a sofi Sheikh, proclaimed Ahmed Shah Abdali as Durr-e-Dauran, which meant the pearl of the age and a king, which Ahmed Shah later changed to Durr-e-Durran(Pearl of Pearls). The Abdali tribe henceforth became known as Durrani (Adamec, 2006).
Abdaal had two sons: Zeerak and Punjpai. Noorzai is the descendant of Punjpai, which is genealogically as under:
Source: The Pathans: 550 B.C- A.D 1957, by Olaf Caroe.
In parts of Kandahar, Quetta and Chaman; in the recent past, there arose an historical misconception that Noorzai is the branch of Ghalzai. Ghalzai is one of the two major branches of Pushtoon, viz. Durrani and Ghalzai (Adamec, 2006).
Pushtoon traces its origin from Qais Abdur-Rasheed, who is said to be the father of all Pushtoons. Qais Abdur-Rasheed had three sons, i.e. Saraban, Betan and Ghorghust (Caroe, 1957, pp. 10-11). Ghalzai belongs to the Betani branch of Pushtoons, whilst Noorzai is the descendant of Sarabani Pushtoons. The historical misconception happened due to the longstanding tribal rivalry between Noorzai and Achakzai tribes. Since Achakzai tribe is also from Durranis, the Noorzai of Kandahar, particularly Spin Boldak and Chaman attached themselves to Ghalzai tribes in order to keep themselves detached from Achakzai. It had no historical and genealogical background rather was based upon the rivalry between the two tribes of Durrani. With time, the misconception developed and was perceived as historically true. The misconception was removed by a prominent scholar of the time, Maulana Niaz Muhammad Durrani, who was the head of Noorzai in Pakistan and was largely venerated by the Noorzai clans. Maulana Niaz Muhammad Durrani was from Safozia branch of Noorzai, who started writing Durrani with his name as title name and propagated the historical truth among the masses through facts and figures and, henceforth, the misconception was removed (Khan, 2013).
In the early 1930s, the Noorzai tribe was estimated to number about 30,000 fighting men (Adamec 2006, p. 282). According to Hayat-e-Afghani (Khan, p.188), the Noorzais are almost equal to the Barakzai tribe of Durrani in number. Presently, the exact number of this tribe is not known. They are largely cultivators, business community and live in rural areas with exception of a small number residing in towns and cities of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some sub tribes of Noorzai live in nomadic style migrating from one place to another: from Kandahar to Hirat. They are brave fighters known for their chivalry and famous for their hospitalities.
The following are the known branches of Noorzai:
Samezai, Durzai, Meer-Alizai, Karo-zai, Usman-zai, Meer-khan-zai, Bahadur-Zai, Jamal-zai, Mergai, Shadee-zai, Thorkosai, Sultan-zai, Gurg, Meerzai, Khawaja-zai, Safo-zai or Sapo-zai, Faqeerzai, Pathankhail, Kurezai, Hilalzai, Adenzai and Masheengzai.
Noorzai tribe is settled in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, but majority is from Afghanistan. Detail of the areas where they are settled is as under:
I. Zabul Province-Afghanistan: In Zabul province of Afghanistan Noorzai are settled for centuries. Zabul is a historic province in southern Afghanistan with Qalat its capital. Zabul borders Uruzgan in the north, Kandahar in the west and in the south Ghazni and Paktika in the east. It has an international border with Pakistan in the south. In Zabul province, a large number tribe is settled.
II. Urzgan Province: Urzgan is one the provinces of Afghanistan, which is in the center of the country. The area is culturally and tribally linked to Kandahar Province in the south. The capital of Uruzgan is Tarinkot. The population of the province is about 328,000, which is mostly a tribal society. In the lower part of Urzgan, the Noorzai tribe is settled. Mostly, they are settled in the capital city, Tarinkot. However, in other districts such as Chura, Gazab, Kajran, Shaheed-Hasas and Nesh, they are settled. According to an estimate, some more than 69000 are in Urzgan( Talibi, 1991).
III. Kandahar: Kanadahar is the second largest city in Afghanistan, with a population of about 512,200 as of 2011.It is the capital of Kandahar Province, located in the south of the country at about 1,005 m (3,297 ft) above sea level. The Arghandab river runs along the west of the city. It is adjacent to Pakistan at Chaman border. Noorzai tribe, in a large number, is located in Kandahar. In the centre of Kandahar; Damaan, Mewandh, Punjwai, Spin-Boldak and in Raig (Deserts) the Noorzais live. In Spin-Boldak; Sultanzai, Gurg and Meer-Alizai clans of Nurzai are settled in majority with few of other clans also. While in sandy deserts areas stretching from Spin-Boldak to Killa Abdullah in Pakistan and Shurawak in Afghanistan on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Spozai clan of Nurzai used to live, majority of whom migrated from this area in 18-19th century to Quetta, Killa Abdullah, Shurawak, Hilmand and Kandahar. However, their traces can still be found in SpinaTezha by the name of Safozai-Tangai. A clan of Nurzai called Pathan-Khail was settled in Shurawak district that later migrated to Mastung district in Balochistan and are presently settled there.
IV. Hilmand Province: Hilmand Province is located in the south-west of Afghanistan, bordered by Paktya, Ghor, Daikundy, and Uruzgan in the North-East, Kandahar in the East, Nimroz in the West, and Farah in the North-West. It also has a southern border with Pakistan. The province covers an area of 61,829 km2, representing about 9% of the total Afghan territory. More than a quarter of the province (28.9%) is mountainous or semi mountainous terrain while above three-fifths of the area (61%) is made up of flat land. In this province, Noorzai tribe is one of the major stakeholders after Alizai(Rodi-Alizai). They are settled in main city, in Lashkargah, Musa-Kala, Gramsail, Nawa Barakzai Nehrsiraj and some other areas in the suburbs of Hilmand. Some 80000 is their estimated population in Hilmand.
V. Farah Province: Farah is a city in western Afghanistan, situated at 650 altitude, and located on the Farah River. It is the capital of Farah Province, and has a population of approximately 109,409. Majority of the population of Farah is from Noorzai tribe. They are settled in the main city and in Bakwa, Gulistan, Anar-Dara, Khak-Safaid and other parts of the province.
VI. Hirath: The Noorzai tribe can also be found in Hirath, one of the famous provinces of Afghanistan (Talibi 1991).
VII. Shurawak: Shurawak is part of Spin Boldak district in Kandahar where mostly Barech tribe is settled. However, a branch of Noorzai called Pathan-Khail lived there for centuries. They were one of the original people of Shurawak. They had land in the area; however, due to some tribal enmities they migrated to Mastung; a district of Balochistan, Pakistan and are still settled there. Some families of Spozai also lived there, who are originally from Speena-Taizha.
VIII. Balochistan-Pakistan: Though Noorzai tribes originally are from Afghanistan, they are also settled in Quetta, Killa-Abdullah, Nushki, Kalat, Mastung and Chagai. In Quetta, they are settled in large number in Pushtoonabd, Kharotabad, Kuchlak and main city. Most of them are migrants from Killa Abdullah and Afghanistan, particularly Spin-Boldak. In Killa-Abdullah, in Chaman and Speena-Taizha, the Noorzai clans have been settled for centuries. Historically, main Chaman belongs to Meer-Alizai-Noorzai along with some Achakzai clans. Similarly, the desert areas of Speen-Taizha stretching from Spin Boldak to Shorawak and Gulistan in Pakistan originally belong to Safozai or Sapozai clan of the Noorzai, where presently Ghaibizai tribe is settled. Besides Quetta and Killa Abdulla, Noorzai tribe can also be found in Kalat, Mastung, Chagai, Pishin and Nushki districts of Balochistan. In Anaam-Bostan of Distrcit Nushki, some families of Noorzai are settled. They are from Faqirzai and Safozai branches of Noorzai. They originally came from Afghanistan through Shorawk district of Kandahar and settled in Anam-Bostan-Nushki. The Noorzais living in Kalat, Mastung and Chagai speak Brahvi and Balochi languages. However, in Nushki they still speak Pushto.
Famous and Influential Tribesmen/Personalities:
Some influential Noorzai tribesmen hold key positions in the Kandahar Provincial government that include Arif Noorzai and his brother Brigadier Mirwais Noorzai who formerly served as Kandahar’s Provincial Chief of Police. Similarly, Haji Wali Muhammad Maywand Noorzai and Haji Isa Jan Noorzai of Punjwai hold key positions in Afghan Government. General Nazar Muhammad Noorzai was in Afghan Army in the time of Dr. Najibullah, who fled to Pakistan when Mujahiddin took over Kabul. He was assassinated by unknown gunmen in Quetta in 1990s, when Taliban were ruling major parts of Afghanistan. General Jabbar khan Noorzai is another influential personality, who was General in Afghan-Army in Dr. Najibullah time. He stayed in Pakistan after the Mujahiddin took over and went back to Afghanistan after the collapse of Taliban Government in 2001 and is reportedly in Afghan Government. Other influential Noorzai include the former commander Ustad Abdul Halim, whose detail will come in the following pages. Haji Bashir Noorzai, a former Hezb-i-Islami (Khalis) commander and supporter of the Taliban gained worldwide fame in the recent years being the major financer of Taliban in Afghanistan. He was incarcerated in the United States in 2008 on drug trafficking charges. Another famous personality from this tribe is Akhundzada Jalal Noorzai, who is from Quetta Pakistan and is a well known journalist and is article writer for different newspapers and dailies. Qari Abdul-Rehman Noorzai is also an influential and popular personality from Quetta Pakistan, who is a religious cleric and Khateeb at a mosque in the city. Qari Abdul-Rehman is considered an authority on Pak-Afghan and Pak-Iran relations. He is a good writer and orator of eminence.
According to Adamec (2006, p. 284), Mulla Umar, the supreme commander of Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, is also from Noorzai tribe. But this is not correct, and Adamec himself mentions that Mulla Umar is from Noorzai or Uthak(Ghalzai) tribes. All the sources, similarly including Ahmed Rasheed (Taliban, 2000) endorse that Mulla Umar is from Uthak branch of the Ghalzai tribe. However, his family lived in the neighborhood of Noorzai and Mulla Umar imbibed the traits and traditions from the Noorzai and, during Taliban movement, he received great support from this brave tribe of the Afghans. Mulla Muhammad Umar started his movement from village Sangehsar of Tehsil Zarai and Noorzais are reported to be in majority in this area. It is necessary to mention that Zarai is one of the districts of Kandahar province (Hunar, p. 53).
Some of the famous personalities are recorded as under:
Boghra Khan Noorzai:
Ahmed Shah Abdali, the king of Afghanistan from 1747 to 1773, founded Afghanistan in 1747 after freeing it from Iran and established the Abdali(Durrani) dynasty (Adamec 2006, p. 22). After establishing an independent state, Ahmed Shah Abdali took over the expedition to expand the boundaries of Afghanistan. He entered into Sind (Presently the province of Pakistan) and vanquished it. After annexing Shikarpur-Sindh to his empire, Ahmed Shah Abdali left for Delhi. From 1775 to 1825, Shikarpur remained under the Durrani-Afghan rule run by Nawabs( Governors) appointed by Ahmed Shah Abdali. In Shikarpur, Noorzai Governors served for quite reasonable time and their descendants are still settled there. Among them was Boghra Khan Noorzai, who was a famous politician and military commander in the time of Ahmed Abdali. He was appointed as the Governor of Shikarpur in Sind. He served as Governor (Nawab) of Shikarpur for five years and his rule was liked by the common people for best delivery of services (Professor Khayal Jaffery 1985, p. 10).
Rehman Khan Noorzai:
In the rule of Durranis in Sind, another great commander, Rehman Khan Noorzai ruled Shikarpur as governor. In his time, Shikarpur was in troubles and people were not satisfied. Justice was not prevalent in the time of Nawab Rehman Khan Noorzai. He ruled for five years. After Rehman Khan Noorzai, Abdul Rahim Khan Bamzai, Mehrab Khan Sadozai remained Nawab(Governors) of Shikarpur. Rehman Khan Noorzai was a cruel ruler (Professor Khayal Jaffery, 1985).
Hafiz Abdul Rahim Noorzai:
Hafiz Abdul Rahim Noorzai belonged to Mashengzai branch of Noorzai. He was from Spin Boldak and migrated from Afghanistan to Pakistan during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. He was front line commander against the Russian troops. In Taliban Government, he held key position and contributed greatly in implementing the Islamic rule in Afghanistan. When the Taliban government was toppled by the US and NATO bombardment in 2001, Hafiz Abdul Rahim along with other Taliban leadership reportedly took refuge in Quetta Pakistan. According to Giustozzi ( 2009, p. 125), three months after the US invasion, Mulla Ghani and Mulla Rahim came to Spin Boldak with Hafiz Abdul Rahim Noorzai and the first insurgency against NATO troops was started from Spin Boldak in 2002. Hafiz Rahim Noorzai soon gained worldwide fame and the Taliban insurgency gained momentum. He was later killed in US airstrike and became the first martyr for Taliban.
Abdul Khaliq Khan Noorzai:
Abdul Khaliq Khan Noorzai is from Farah Province. His father Sultan Muhammad Khan of Farah was having a fiefdom in Farah Afghanistan. He was tribal chief in Farah province and lived like a king having his own forces and prisons. He remained member of the Afghan parliament. Abdul Khaliq khan has been the Afghan Consul in Quetta and Peshawar. He is presently the Chief of Noorzai tribe in Farah province. His brother, Naeem Khan Noorzai is a writer. Abdul Khaliq Khan Noorzai holds key position in Afghan Government. Abdul Khaliq was also active in Afghan Jehad.
In Pakistan, Hafiz Hamdullah Noorzai is a famous and influential personality, who has been minister of health, Balochistan and is presently member of Senate- Pakistan. He is a leader of Jamiat-Ulamae-Islam (a religious political party in Pakistan) and is also an influential tribal man. His father, Qari-Wali Muhammad was also an active political figure and active political activist of Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam. Hafiz Hamdullah is basically from Chaman; a bordering town near Quetta.
Gul Muhammad Noori Noorzai:
Gul Muhammad Noori Noorzai was the author of the classical stories or legendary stories book, “Milli-Hindara”, which is one of the best pieces in Pashto literature. Pushto Literature is incomplete if Mili-Hidara is not counted. It contains Pustho Classic epics and romantic short stories. In every Pashtoon house, Mili-Hindara is read and people gather around one of the elders listening stories from the said book. Gul Muhammad Noori Noorzai wrote this classic piece and became eternal in Pashtoon culture and literature. Gul Muhammad Noori Noorzai was from Kandahar. Very little is known about his personal life, however, it is known that he was Noorzai by caste.
Mehbub Khan Noorzai:
Mehbub Khan Noorzai was a famous tribal leader from Spin-Boldak. He belonged to Gurg branch of Noorzai and was very influential among his tribesmen. He was supported by Ghalzai tribes in Afghan elections against Achakzai tribe. Mehboob Khan’s son Wakil Abdul Samad Khan was also an active politician, who became member of the Afghan parliament. Wakil Abdul-Samad Khan was the head of Noorzai in Spin-Boldak, who was an active Jehadi Commander against Russia. He also played a key role in the transition process in 2001 after the Taliban government was toppled by USA. Another son of Mehboob Khan was Nadir Khan, who was also a famous tribal personality.
Maulana Niaz Muhammad Durrani Noorzai:
Maulana Niaz Muhammad Durrani was born in 1939. He was a theologian, Islamic Scholar, politician, social worker and tribal leader. He received education from great scholars of the time such as Maulana Abdullah Ajmeri, Allama Jaluddin Ghori and Maulana Abdul Aziz. After completion of education, he joined Pakistan Army as a religious teacher in early 1960s and in Pak-India war of 1965 he was posted in Lahore at the war front. Later he left Army and entered into the field of politics from the platform of Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam. In the political movement against the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (Pakistan People’s Party) government in 70s and in the movement against Qadianis, he played a key role. He also stood against the Martial Law of General Zia-ul-Haque and openly opposed the regime in Friday and Eid sermons (Khan, 2012).
Maulana Niaz Muhammad Durrani also played a key role in Afghan Jihad (holy war) against Russian occupation of Afghanistan. He served as member of the central moon sighting committee of Pakistan in 1990s and also rendered scholarly advices to the Pakistan Shariat court of Supreme Court on issues of Islamic Law and Jurisprudence. He was an exceptional public orator and writer. He gave Fatwa (Islamic Decree) on the rule of woman in Islam in the time of Benazir Bhutto, when religious parties of Pakistan declared the woman rule as un-Islamic and Maulana Niaz Muhammad declared it in accordance with Islam.
He was not only a politician, but also an influential tribal leader and was the member of Grand Jirga and Pushtoon-Ulesi Jirga. He was the Chief of the Noorzai tribe in Pakistan. He had command on Quran, Hadith, Islamic history and history of the Pushtoons (Rana 2012; Khan 2012).
Haji Bashir Noorzai:
The tribal leader, Haji Bashir Noorzai, whose case drew wide attention because of his prominent role in the drug trade and his ties to Mullah Mohammad Omar, the fugitive leader of the Taliban, was found guilty of taking part in a conspiracy that sent millions of dollars’ worth of heroin around the world, including into the United States(Weiser, 2009). Haji Bashir is basically from Kandahar, but his family lived in Quetta since the Soviet troops entered into Afghanistan. His father, Haji Musa Jan was a rich businessman and a powerful tribal leader. Haji Bashir Noorzai is famous for adding and financially supporting Taliban in 1990s. He is a multibillionaire and has been imprisoned in United States of America for his involvement in drug trafficking and supporting Taliban. Haji Bashir Noorzai’s father namely Haji Mus Jan was also an influential business man, who had a stake in Afghan Jehad.
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