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Nuristan Province


Nuristan Province

A river in Nuristan province
A river in Nuristan province
Map of Afghanistan with Nuristan highlighted
Map of Afghanistan with Nuristan highlighted
Country  Afghanistan
Provincial center Parun
 • Governor Hafiz Abdul Qayyum
Population [1]
 • Total 140,900
Time zone GMT+4:30
ISO 3166 code AF-NUR
Main languages Nuristani

Nuristan, also spelled Nurestan or Nooristan, (Nuristani/Pashto: نورستان) is one of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan, located in the eastern part of the country. It is divided into seven districts and has a population of about 140,900.[1] Parun serves as the provincial capital.

It was formerly known as Kafiristan (کافرستان, "land of the infidels") until the inhabitants were forcibly converted to Islam in 1895, and thence the region has become known as Nuristan ("land of light").[2]

The primary occupations are agriculture, animal husbandry, and day labor. Located on the southern slopes of the Hindu Kush mountains in the northeastern part of the country, Nuristan spans the basins of the Alingar, Pech, Landai Sin, and Kunar rivers. Nuristan is bordered on the south by Laghman and Kunar provinces, on the north by Badakhshan province, on the west by Panjshir province, and on the east by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan.


  • History 1
    • Early history 1.1
    • Recent history 1.2
  • Politics and governance 2
  • Healthcare 3
  • Education 4
  • Demographics 5
    • Districts 5.1
  • In popular culture 6
  • Notable people from the province 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External sources 11


Early history

The surrounding area fell to Alexander the Great in 330 B.C. It later fell to Chandragupta Maurya. The Mauryas introduced Hinduism and Buddhism to the region, and were attempting to expand their empire to Central Asia until they faced local Greco-Bactrian forces. Seleucus is said to have reach a peace treaty with Chandragupta by given control of the territory south of the Hindu Kush to the Mauryas upon intermarriage and 500 elephants.

Alexander took these away from the Indo-Aryans and established settlements of his own, but Seleucus Nicator gave them to Sandrocottus (Chandragupta), upon terms of intermarriage and of receiving in exchange 500 elephants.[3]
— Strabo, 64 BCE–24 CE
Some time after, as he was going to war with the generals of Alexander, a wild elephant of great bulk presented itself before him of its own accord, and, as if tamed down to gentleness, took him on its back, and became his guide in the war, and conspicuous in fields of battle. Sandrocottus, having thus acquired a throne, was in possession of India, when Seleucus was laying the foundations of his future greatness; who, after making a league with him, and settling his affairs in the east, proceeded to join in the war against Antigonus. As soon as the forces, therefore, of all the confederates were united, a battle was fought, in which Antigonus was slain, and his son Demetrius put to flight.[4]
Having consolidated power in the northwest, Chandragupta pushed east towards the Nanda Empire. Afghanistan's significant ancient tangible and intangible Buddhist heritage is recorded through wide-ranging archeological finds, including religious and artistic remnants. Buddhist doctrines are reported to have reached as far as Balkh even during the life of the Buddha (563 BCE to 483 BCE), as recorded by Xuanzang.
In this context a legend recorded by Xuanzang refers to the first two lay disciples of Buddha, Trapusa and Bhallika responsible for introducing Buddhism in that country. Originally these two were merchants of the kingdom of Balhika, as the name Bhalluka or Bhallika probably suggests the association of one with that country. They had gone to India for trade and had happened to be at Bodhgaya when the Buddha had just attained enlightenment.[5]

The region was historically known as Kafiristan (meaning "Land of the kafirs") because of its inhabitants: the Nuristani, an ethnically distinctive people who practiced a form of ancient Hinduism.[6] It was conquered by Emir Abdur Rahman Khan in the late 19th century and the Nuristani people began converting to Islam.

"The Kafirs are thought to be the original inhabitants of the plains country of Afghanistan in what is now Nuristan. They were driven back into the mountain areas by the arrival of Islam in the country about 700AD. They are thought to be the descendents of the old native population that used to occupy the region, and they did not convert to Islam with the rest of the population, remaining pagan for several more centuries."[7]
— Frank Clements, 2003

British Missionaries wrote:

"The Kafirs were largely independent until the late nineteenth century, when the region was attacked by the forces of Abdur Rahman and the population was more forcibly converted to Islam."[7]

The region was renamed Nuristan, meaning Land of the enlightened, a reflection of the "enlightening" of the pagan Nuristani by the "light-giving" of Islam.

Nuristan was once thought to have been a region through which Alexander the Great passed with a detachment of his army; thus the folk legend that the Nuristani people are descendants of Alexander (or "his generals").

Abdul Wakil Khan Nuristani is one of the most prominent figures in Nuristan's history. He fought against the British-led Punjabi army and drove them out of the eastern provinces of Afghanistan. He is buried on the same plateau where King Amanullah Khan is buried.

Recent history

A U.S. soldier moving along a path overlooking the mountainside village of Aranas while on patrol in 2006.
Members of the Afghan National Army (ANA) during a U.S.-led patrol in Wadawu valley during Operation Silver Creek in August 2009.

Since the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Pakistani politicians have been focusing on connecting what is now Tajikistan with Pakistan. This requires weakening Afghan rule in Nuristan and Badakhshan provinces by secretly funding anti-Afghan rebel forces, similar to Kashmir conflict with India. In the meantime, Afghan politicians (particularly Mohammed Daoud Khan) have been focusing on re-annexing Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of what is now Pakistan. This has led to militancy on both sides of the Durand Line border.[8]

Nuristan was the scene of some of the heaviest guerrilla fightings during the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan. The province was influenced by Mawlawi Afzal's Islamic Revolutionary State of Afghanistan, which was supported by Pakistan nationalists and Saudi Arabia. It dissolved under the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Taliban rule) in the late 1990s.[9]

Nuristan is one of the poorest and most remote provinces of Afghanistan. Few NGO's operate in Nuristan because of Taliban insurgency and lack of safe roads. The United States and the Afghan government are jointly working to solve these issues. Some road construction projects were launched linking Nangarej to Mandol and Chapa Dara to Titan Dara.[10] The Afghan government also worked on a direct road route to Laghman province, in order to reduce dependence on the road through restive Kunar province to the rest of Afghanistan. Other road projects were started aimed at improving the primitive road from Kamdesh to Barg-i Matal, and from Nangalam in Kunar province to the provincial center at Parun.

Since Nuristan is a highly ethnically homogeneous province, there are few incidents of inter-ethnic violence. However, there are instances of disputes among inhabitants, some of which continue for decades. Nuristan has suffered from its inaccessibility and lack of infrastructure. The government presence is under-developed, even compared to neighboring provinces. Nuristan's formal educational sector is weak, with few professional teachers. Due to its proximity to Pakistan, many of the inhabitants are actively involved in trade and commerce across the border.

A map from the Afghan Ministry of the Interior produced in 2009 showed the western region of Nuristan to be under "enemy control". There have been numerous conflicts between anti-Afghanistan militants and U.S.-led Afghan security forces. In April 2008 members of the 3rd Special Forces Group led Afghan soldiers from the Commando Brigade into the Shok valley in an unsuccessful attempt to capture warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. In July 2008 approximately 200 Taliban guerrillas attacked a NATO position just south of Nuristan, near the village of Wanat in the Waygal District, killing 9 U.S. soldiers.[11] In the following year, in early October, more than 350 anti-Afghanistan militants backed by members of the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin and other militia groups fought U.S.-led Afghan security forces in the Battle of Kamdesh at Camp Keating in Nuristan. The base was nearly overrun; more than 100 Taliban fighters, eight U.S. soldiers, and seven members of the Afghan security forces were killed during the fighting.[12][13][14][15] Four days after the battle, in early October 2009, U.S. forces withdrew from their four main bases in Nuristan, as part of a plan by General Stanley McChrystal to pull troops out of small outposts and relocate them closer to major towns.[16] The U.S. has pulled out from some areas in the past, but never from all four main bases.[17] A month after the U.S. pullout the Taliban was governing openly in Nuristan.[18] According to The Economist, Nuristan is "a place so tough that NATO abandoned it in 2010 after failing to subdue it."[19]

Politics and governance

Jamaluddin Badar, on the left with glasses and a Pakul hat, is the former governor of Nuristan. He was convicted by the Afghan government for political corruption.[20]

The current governor of the province is Hafiz Abdul Qayyum.[21] His predecessor was Jamaluddin Badar, who was sacked and convicted in Kabul for political corruption.[20] The town of Parun serves as the capital of Nuristan province.

All law enforcement activities throughout the province are controlled by the Afghan National Police (ANP). The border with neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is monitored by the Afghan Border Police (ABP). A provincial police chief is assigned to lead both the ANP and the ABP. The Police Chief represents the Ministry of the Interior in Kabul. The ANP and ABP are backed by the Afghan Armed Forces, including the NATO-led forces.


The percentage of households with clean drinking water increased from 2% in 2005 to 12% in 2011.[22] The percentage of births attended to by a skilled birth attendant increased from 1% in 2005 to 22% in 2011.[22]


In 2002 the first gender assessment of women's conditions in Nuristan was completed.[23] The overall literacy rate (6+ years of age) fell from 17.7% in 2005 to 17% in 2011.[22] The overall net enrolment rate (6–13 years of age) increased from 8.7% in 2005 to 45% in 2011.[22]


As of 2013, the total population of the province is about 140,900.[1] According to the Naval Postgraduate School, around 99.3% are Nuristanis and 0.6% Gujjars.[24][25]

Approximately 90% of the population speak the following Nuristani languages:[26]

The Pashayi languages is used by about 15% of the population.[26]

The main Nuristani tribes in the province are:

Pashto and Dari are used as second and third languages in the province.


Districts of Nuristan
Districts of Nuristan Province
District Center Population[1] Area[27] Notes
Barg-i Matal 15,000
Du Ab 7,700 Established in 2004, formerly part of Nuristan District and Mangol District
Kamdesh Kamdesh 24,500
Mandol 19,200 Lost territory to Du Ab District in 2004
Nurgram 31,400 Established in 2004, formerly part of Nuristan District and Wama District
Parun Parun 13,200 Established in 2004, formerly part of Wama District
Wama 10,800 Lost territory to Parun District and Nurgram District in 2004
Waygal 19,100

In popular culture

Notable people from the province

See also


  1. ^ a b c d
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Historiarum Philippicarum libri XLIV, XV.4.19
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b Conflict in Afghanistan: a historical encyclopedia by Frank Clements, Ludwig W. Adamec Edition: illustrated Published by ABC-CLIO, 2003 Page 139 ISBN 1-85109-402-4, ISBN 978-1-85109-402-8
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Nuristan governor, contractor, and Afghanistan engineer district sign partnership agreement at the Wayback Machine (archived July 8, 2007), Headquarters US Central Command, News Release, June 13, 2006
  11. ^
  12. ^ Taliban govern openly in Nuristan, Bill Roggio, Long War Journal, 2009-11-12
  13. ^ Taliban Claim to Seize American Arms, Robert Mackey, New York Times, 2009-11-12
  14. ^ Eight U.S. Troops Die in Attack on Afghan Outpost, Joshua Partow, Washington Post, 2009-10-04
  15. ^ Heavy US losses in Afghan battle, Martin Patience, BBC News, Kabul, 4 October 2009
  16. ^ Kamdesh ambush played out like Wanat battle, Matthew Cox and Michelle Tan, Army Times, November 3, 2009
  17. ^
  18. ^ Taliban govern openly in Nuristan, Bill Roggio, Long War Journal, 2009-11-12
  19. ^
  20. ^ a b
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b c d Archive, Civil Military Fusion Centre
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ Nuristan Tribal Map on
  26. ^ a b Nuristan provincial profile profile compiled by the National Area-Based Development Programme (NABDP) of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD)
  27. ^ Afghanistan Geographic & Thematic Layers

Further reading

  • Dupree, Nancy Hatch (1977): An Historical Guide to Afghanistan. 1st Edition: 1970. 2nd Edition. Revised and Enlarged. Afghan Tourist Organization. LINK
  • Richard F. Strand. (1997–present) Richard Strand's Nuristan Site LINK. The most accurate and comprehensive source on Nuristan, by the world's leading scholar on the languages and ethnic groups of Nuristan.
  • M. Klimburg. NURISTAN in Encyclopedia Iranica. LINK
  • Edelberg, Lennart (1984) "Nuristani Buildings" Jutland Archaeological Society Publications, Vol. 18, 1984.
  • Edelberg, Lennart & Schuyler Jones (1979) "Nuristan" Akademische Druck und Verlagsanstalt, Graz, Austria
  • Jones, Schuyler (1992) "Afghanistan" Vol. 135 of the World Bibliographical Series, Clio Press, Oxford.
  • Jones, Schuyler (1974) "Men of Influence in Nuristan: A Study of Social Control & Dispute Settlement in Waigal Valley, Afghanistan." Seminar Press, London & New York.
  • Wilber, Donald N. (1968)Annotated Bibliography of Afghanistan. Human Relations Area Files, New Haven, Conn.
  • Jones, Schuyler (1966) An Annotated Bibliography of Nuristan (Kafiristan) and the Kalash Kafirs of Chitral, Part One. Royal Danish Academy of Sciences & Letters, Vol. 41, No. 3.
  • Kukhtina, Tatiyana I. (1965) Bibliografiya Afghanistana: Literatuyra na russkom yazyka. Nauka, Moscow.
  • Akram, Mohammed (1947) Bibliographie de l'Afghanistan, I, ouvrages parus hors de l'Afghanistan. Centre de Documentation Universitaire, Paris.

External sources

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