Census of Wazir and Mahsud tribes in 18th century

Screenshot from “A concise history of Afghanistan” by Wahid Hamid Alikuzai, p-291

Its a local myth that Ahmad Shah Abdali conducted census of Wazir and Mahsud tribes. They were not part of his empire so number of their fighting men did not need to be estimated. Syed Ghulam Muhammad surveyed Waziristan during the reign of Timur Shah Durrani and reported: “This great tribe is wholly independent , and they have neither tax nor tribute to pay , and own allegiance to no one ” [1]. Moreover Mahsuds had not yet branched off from the parent tribe of Wazirs in 18th century and were referred to as Wazirs as late as 1897 [2]. So its odd that in 1760s Mahsuds would be recognized as a distinct tribe and were censused separately from Wazirs.

Akbar S. Ahmed writes, “Two population indexes, rather than actual figures, are part of Waziristan demographic mythology and are said to date back to Ahmed Shah Abdali, the founder of the Durrani dynasty in Kabul in the eighteenth century. It is not clear whether the numbers refer to the entire population, the males, or the warriors, but probably they include only the male fighting population. It is also not clear to what exact dates in history the numbers refer. The Wazirs suggest that they encompass a broad period in the late eighteenth century, whereas the Mahsuds say that their figures refer to the late nineteenth century. Both tribes have a tendency to quote these figures as current and contemporary.” [“Religion and Politics in Muslim Society: Order and Conflict in Pakistan”, Akbar S. Ahmed, pp.17-18]

Pashtun fighters of Waziristan (most probably khassadars) pose with their weapons, 1919 (c).

British commanders speak with tribesmen of Waziristan following the end of the conflict of 1919-1920.


Leave a comment