Nuristan Province

Last updated
A river in Nuristan Province
Nuristan in Afghanistan.svg
Map of Afghanistan with Nuristan highlighted
Coordinates: 35°15′N70°45′E / 35.25°N 70.75°E / 35.25; 70.75 Coordinates: 35°15′N70°45′E / 35.25°N 70.75°E / 35.25; 70.75
Country Flag of Taliban.svg Afghanistan
Provincial center Parun
   Governor Abdul Ghafoor Malikzai
  Total9,225.0 km2 (3,561.8 sq mi)
 (2021) [1]
  Density18/km2 (47/sq mi)
Time zone UTC+4:30 (Afghanistan Time)
ISO 3166 code AF-NUR
Main languages Nuristani languages

Nuristan, also spelled as Nurestan or Nooristan (Pashto/Dari: نورستان; Kamkata-vari: [lower-alpha 1] Nuriston), is one of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan, located in the eastern part of the country. It is divided into seven districts and is Afghanistan's least populous province, with a population of around 167,000. [1] Parun serves as the provincial capital. Nuristan is bordered on the south by Laghman and Kunar provinces, on the north by Badakhshan province, on the west by Panjshir province.


It was formerly called Kafiristan (كافرستان) until the inhabitants were forcibly 'converted' from an animist religion; [2] a form of ancient Hinduism infused with local variations, [3] to Islam in 1895, and thence the region has become known as Nuristan ("land of illumination", or "land of light"). [4] The region was located in an area surrounded by Buddhist civilizations which were later taken over by Muslims. [5] The origin of the local Nuristani people has been disputed, ranging from being the indigenous inhabitants forced to flee to this region after refusing to surrender to Muslim invaders, to being linked to various ancient groups of people and the Turk Shahi kings. [6] [7]

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. Most of Nuristan is covered by mountainous forests and it has a rich biodiversity with a domestically unique monsoon climate by air coming from the Indian Ocean. [8] As of 2020, the entirety of Nuristan is now a protected national park. [9] [10]

In 2021, the Taliban gained control of the province during the 2021 Taliban offensive.


Early history

The surrounding area fell to Alexander the Great in 330 BC. It later fell to Chandragupta Maurya. The Mauryas introduced 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 reached a peace treaty with Chandragupta by giving control of the territory south of the Hindu Kush to the Mauryas upon intermarriage and 500 elephants. [11]

Before their conversion to Islam, the Nuristanis or Kafir people practiced a form of ancient Hinduism infused with locally developed accretions. [3] They were called "kafirs" due to their enduring paganism while other regions around them became Muslim. However, the influence from district names in Kafiristan of Katwar or Kator and the ethnic name Kati has also been suggested. [12]

The area extending from modern Nuristan to Kashmir was known as "Peristan", a vast area containing host of "Kafir" cultures and Indo-European languages that became Islamized over a long period. Earlier, it was surrounded by Buddhist areas. The Islamization of the nearby Badakhshan began in the 8th century and Peristan was completely surrounded by Muslim states in the 16th century with Islamization of Baltistan. The Buddhist states temporarily brought literacy and state rule into the region. The decline of Buddhism resulted in it becoming heavily isolated. [5]

There have been varying theories about the origins of Kafirs including the Arab tribe of Quraish, or Gabars of Persia, the Greek soldiers of Alexander as well as the Indians of eastern Afghanistan. George Scott Robertson considered them to be part of the old Indian population of Eastern Afghanistan and stated they fled to the mountains after the Muslim invasion in the 10th century. He added they probably found other races there whom they killed off and enslaved or amalgamated with them. [6]

Oral traditions of some of the Nuristanis place themselves to be at the confluence of Kabul River and Kunar River a millennium ago. These traditions state they were driven off from Kandahar to Kabul to Kapisa to Kama with the Muslim invasion. They identify themselves as late arrivals in Nuristan, being driven by Mahmud of Ghazni who after establishing his empire forced the unsubmissive population to flee. [3]

The name Kator was used by Lagaturman, last king of the Turk Shahi. Apparently due to its usage by the last Turk-Shahi ruler, it was adopted as a title by the ruler of the north-west region of the Indian subcontinent, comprising Chitral and Kafiristan. The title "Shah Kator" was assumed by Chitral's ruler Mohtaram Shah who assumed it upon being impressed by the majesty of the erstwhile pagan rulers of Chitral. [7] The theory of Kators being related to Turki Shahis is based on the information of Jami- ut-Tawarikh and Tarikh-i-Binakiti . [13] The region was also named after its ruling elite. The royal usage may be the origin behind the name of Kator. [14]

The high god of the pre-Islamic Nuristani religion was the god Imra, derived from the Hindu god Yama, and was also called Mara . [15] Another god was Indr, derived from Indra. He was seen as the brother of the god Gisht and father of Pano and the goddess Dishani. [16] There were also many other minor gods worshiped in the region. [17]

The region was invaded by forces of Afghan Amir Abdur Rahman Khan in 1896 and most of the people were converted either by choice or did so to avoid the jizya : [18]

In the end, Kafiristan was subdued, most of its residents either by choice or for economic reason - namely to avoid the jizya poll tax - were converted to Islam and the region later became known as Nuristan (Land of Light). [18]

Nile Green, 2016

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 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 Village of Aranas, Nuristan province.jpg
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 Wadawuvalley.jpg
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, Afghan politicians (particularly Mohammed Daoud Khan) have been focused 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. [19]

Nuristan was the scene of some of the heaviest guerrilla fighting during the 1980s Soviet–Afghan War. 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. [20]

Nuristan is one of the poorest and most remote provinces of Afghanistan. Few NGO's operate in Nuristan because of the Taliban insurgency and the 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. [21] 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 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. [22] In the following year, in early October, more than 350 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. [23] [24] [25] [26] 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. [27] The U.S. has pulled out from some areas in the past, but never from all four main bases. [28] A month after the U.S. pullout the Taliban was governing openly in Nuristan. [29] According to The Economist , Nuristan is "a place so tough that NATO abandoned it in 2010 after failing to subdue it." [30]


The percentage of households with clean drinking water increased from 2% in 2005 to 12% in 2011. [31] The percentage of births attended by a skilled birth attendant increased from 1% in 2005 to 22% in 2011. [31]


In 2002 the first gender assessment of women's conditions in Nuristan was completed. [32] The overall literacy rate (6+ years of age) fell from 17.7% in 2005 to 17% in 2011. [31] The overall net enrolment rate (6–13 years of age) increased from 8.7% in 2005 to 45% in 2011. [31]


Ethnolinguistic groups in Afghanistan US Army ethnolinguistic map of Afghanistan -- circa 2001-09.jpg
Ethnolinguistic groups in Afghanistan

As of 2021, the total population of the province is about 166,676. [1] According to the Naval Postgraduate School, 87% are Nuristanis, 10% Pashtuns and less than 3% Gujars and ethnic Tajiks. [33] [34]

Approximately 90% of the population speak the following Nuristani languages: [35]

The main Nuristani tribes in the province are:

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


Districts of Nuristan Nurestan districts 2014.png
Districts of Nuristan
Districts of Nuristan Province
DistrictCenterPopulation [1] Area [36] Notes
Barg-i Matal 17,843
Du Ab 9,057Established in 2004, formerly part of Nuristan District and Mandol District
Kamdesh Kamdesh 29,064
Mandol 22,710Lost territory to Du Ab District in 2004
Nurgram 37,174Established in 2004, formerly part of Nuristan District and Wama District
Parun Parun 15,546Established in 2004, formerly part of Wama District
Wama 12,707Lost territory to Parun District and Nurgram District in 2004
Waygal 22,575

Notable people from the province

See also


  1. The Kamkata-vari language is the largest of the Nuristani languages.

Related Research Articles

Muslim conquests of Afghanistan Overview of Muslim conquests in Afghanistan

The Muslim conquests of Afghanistan began during the Muslim conquest of Persia as the Arab Muslims migrated eastwards to Khorasan, Sistan and Transoxiana. 15 years after the Battle of Nahāvand, they controlled all Sasanian domains except southern and eastern Afghanistan. Fuller Islamization wasn't achieved until the period between 10th and 12th centuries under Ghaznavid and Ghurid dynasty's rule who patronized Muslim religious institutions.

Kafiristan Historical region of Afghanistan

Kāfiristān, or Kāfirstān, is a historical region that covered present-day Nuristan Province in Afghanistan and its surroundings. This historic region lies on, and mainly comprises, the basins of the rivers Alingar, Pech (Kamah), Landai Sin river and Kunar, and the intervening mountain ranges. It is bounded by the main range of the Hindu Kush on the north, Pakistan's Chitral District to the east, the Kunar Valley in the south and the Alishang River in the west.

This index list around 14% of all Afghanistan-related articles on Wikipedia.

Nuristanis Ethnic group native to the Nuristan region of eastern Afghanistan

The Nuristanis, also known as Kafiristanis, are an ethnic group native to the Nuristan Province of northeastern Afghanistan, whose languages comprise the Nuristani branch of Indo-Iranian languages. A small community of Nuristanis are also settled in the neighbouring Chitral region of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.

Nuristani languages Language group of the Indo-Iranian language family

The Nuristani languages, formerly known as Kafiri languages, are one of the three groups within the Indo-Iranian language family, alongside the much larger Indo-Aryan and Iranian groups. They have approximately 130,000 speakers primarily in eastern Afghanistan and a few adjacent valleys in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Chitral District, Pakistan. The region inhabited by the Nuristanis is located in the southern Hindu Kush mountains, and is drained by the Alingar River in the west, the Pech River in the center, and the Landai Sin and Kunar rivers in the east. The languages were previously often grouped with Indo-Aryan or Iranian until they were finally classified as forming a third branch in Indo-Iranian.

Chitral District District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan

Chitral District was the largest district in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, covering an area of 14,850 km², before splitting into Upper Chitral District and Lower Chitral District in 2018. Part of the Malakand Division, it is the northernmost district of Pakistan. It shares a border with Gilgit-Baltistan to the east, with Kunar, Badakshan and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan to the north and west, and with the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa districts of Swat and Dir to the south. A narrow strip of Wakhan Corridor separates Chitral from Tajikistan in the north.

Kunar Province Province of Afghanistan

Kunar is one of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan, located in the northeastern part of the country. Its capital is Asadabad. Its population is estimated to be 508,224.

Pashayi people

Pashayi or Pashai are a Dardic ethnolinguistic group living primarily in eastern Afghanistan. They are the descendants of an Indo-Aryan group and have been isolated until recent times. Their total population is estimated to be 500,000. They are one of the oldest known ethnic minorities in Afghanistan.

The Kom or Kam are a Nuristani tribe in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Northern Alliance 1996–2001 anti-Taliban military front in Afghanistan

The Northern Alliance, officially known as the United Islamic National Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, was a military alliance of groups that operated between late 1996 to 2001 after the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Taliban) took over Kabul. The United Front was originally assembled by key leaders of the Islamic State of Afghanistan, particularly president Burhanuddin Rabbani and former Defense Minister Ahmad Shah Massoud. Initially it included mostly Tajiks but by 2000, leaders of other ethnic groups had joined the Northern Alliance. This included Karim Khalili, Abdul Rashid Dostum, Abdullah Abdullah, Mohammad Mohaqiq, Abdul Qadir, Asif Mohseni, Amrullah Saleh and others.

The Katir also are a Nuristani tribe in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Dameli is a Dardic language spoken by approximately 5,000 people in the Domel Valley, in the Chitral District of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.

Kalasha-mun Indo-Aryan language spoken in Pakistan

Kalasha is an Indo-European language in the Indo-Aryan branch spoken by the Kalash people, further classified as a Dardic language in the Chitral group. The Kalasha language is phonologically atypical because it contrasts plain, long, nasal and retroflex vowels as well as combinations of these.

Pakol Soft round-topped mens hat

Pakol is a soft round-topped men's hat, typically of wool and found in any of a variety of earthy colors: brown, black, grey, ivory or dyed red using walnut. It is also known as the Chitrali cap after Chitral, Pakistan, where it is believed to have originated.

Kaffir or Kafir may refer to:

Afghan Civil War (1992–1996) 1992–1996 civil war in Afghanistan

This article covers the part of contemporary Afghan history between 28 April 1992, the day that a new interim Afghan government was supposed to replace the Republic of Afghanistan of President Mohammad Najibullah, and the Taliban's conquest of Kabul establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan on 27 September 1996.

Kamdesh Town in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan

Kāmdēsh, or Kamdeish, is a town in the Landai Sin Valley, and the center of the Kamdesh District in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan. It is located at the general area of Yurmir (يورمير) which is beside the meeting place of two rivers, with one coming from Barg-i Matal, and the second flowing from Nechangal mountains.

Kalash people Indigenous ethnoreligious group residing in Chitral, Pakistan

The Kalasha, or Kalash, also called Waigali or Wai, are a Dardic Indo-Aryan indigenous people residing in the Chitral District of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.

The Landai Sin Valley, or the Bashgal Valley, is a geographical feature of Nuristan Province, eastern Afghanistan, formed by the Landai Sin River which empties into the Kunar River at Barikot, Kamdesh District in Nuristan, Afghanistan. The largest town in the valley is Kamdesh.

The Katoor Dynasty is a dynasty, which along with its collateral branches ruled the sovereign, later princely state of Chitral and its neighbours in the eastern Hindu Kush region for over 450 years, from around 1570 until 1947. At the height its power under Mehtar Aman ul-Mulk the territory controlled by the dynasty extended from Asmar in the Kunar Valley to Sher Qilla in the Gilgit valley. The Mehtar of Chitral was an influential player in the power politics of the region as he acted as an intermediary between the rulers of Badakhshan, the Yousafzai pashtuns, the Maharaja of Kashmir and later the Amir of Afghanistan.


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  17. Ludwig W. Adamec (1985). Historical and Political Gazetteer of Afghanistan, Volume 6. Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt Graz. p. 361.
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  19. Bowersox, Gary W. (2004). The Gem Hunter: The Adventures of an American in Afghanistan. United States: GeoVision, Inc. p. 100. ISBN   0-9747-3231-1 . Retrieved 2010-08-22. To launch this plan, Bhutto recruited and trained a group of Afghans in the Bala-Hesar of Peshawar, in Pakistan's North-west Frontier Province. Among these young men were Massoud, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and other members of Jawanan-e Musulman. Massoud's mission to Bhutto was to create unrest in northern Afghanistan. It served Massoud's interests, which were apparently opposition to the Soviets and independence for Afghanistan. Later, after Massoud and Hekmatyar had a terrible falling-out over Massoud's opposition to terrorist tactics and methods, Massoud overthrew from Jawanan-e Musulman. He joined Rabani's newly created Afghan political party, Jamiat-i-Islami, in exile in Pakistan.
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  32. "Wazhma Frogh".
  33. "Nuristan Province" (PDF). Program for Culture & Conflict Studies. Naval Postgraduate School . Retrieved 2014-10-21.
  34. Nuristan Tribal Map on
  35. 1 2 Nuristan provincial profile profile compiled by the National Area-Based Development Programme (NABDP) of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD)
  36. Afghanistan Geographic & Thematic Layers

Further reading

External sources