History of the Yousafzai tribe

The ancient home of Yousafzais and other Khashis was countryside of Kandahar, southern Afghanistan. After wanderings they settled down near Kandahar where they divided the territory by lots that was their custom from the remotest times. After some time, the Khashis made a cut in the Arghandab river and thus reduced the share of their neighbors the Tarins. This led to a conflict with Tarins in which Khashis were defeated and driven from their pastures and lands. They requested their kinsmen; the Ghoria Khels for a piece of land who granted them a tract called ‘Ghawara Margha’ located on the bank of Tarnak river, between its source at the Mukur hills and its passage in the Kalat-i-Ghilzai. According to Akhund Darweza, it was owing to a serious inundation of their lands on the plains, caused by excessive unusual summer rains. The flood had completely washed away all the foliage from the face of the lands. The Ghoria Khels took back their lands from the Khashis who went over to Naushki near Ghazni. Owing to their numerical weakness and general poverty, they were unable to maintain themselves against their hostile neighbors. In the fourteenth century, they moved on, and after a period of wandering, settled in the hilly country near Kabul. It was during their wandering that the Utman Khels (Karlanris), who had been driven out from their holdings in Tank and Gomal, joined them. The Gigyanis and Tarklanris, and Muhammadzai joined them near Kabul hills. From the hills, they slowly and gradually encroached upon the lands in the plains, and settled down in the vicinity of Kabul city that was then ruled by Mirza Ulugh Beg, son of Abu Said. Abu Said was the most powerful of the Timurid princes in the middle of the fifteenth century, and Babur’s grandfather. He is thus the the direct ancestor of the Mughal house of Dehli. In 1469 he conferred on his son, Ulugh Beg, the territories which Timur Lang had conquered towards Indus, namely Kabul, Ghazni, and their dependencies. These, with the capital at Kabul, Ulugh Beg was able to hold until his death in 1501.

The fertile pastures and green valleys, in due course of time, made the Khashi tribes prosperous and their numbers also increased. Malik Suleiman and his brothers, Painda from Gigyani tribe, Shibli and Hasan from the Musazai clan, became powerful chiefs. Malik Sulieman Shah son of Taj-ud-din was the chief of Yousafzai, the major tribe of the Khashis. He cultivated friendship with the minor Prince Ulugh Beg. He gave the Mirza his daughter in marriage. Elphinstone is of the view that the Yousafzai helped Ulugh Beg in gaining power.  Gradually the wealth and strength turned Yousafzais head strong. Their youth started plundering the caravans through their settlements, attacked their neighbors and carried off their cattle. Tarikh-i-Hafiz-Rahmat-Khani gives the example of Mir Gat, an Ismaelzai Nurzai Yousafzai, who drank heavily and threatened the merchants of Kabul Bazaar, insisting on purchasing items beneath the market price. No one was able to restrain or stop him.

Ulugh Beg’s court nobles resented the Khashis’ entry into Kabul valley and their depredations in the area.  Ulugh Beg resolved to rid himself of these turbulent allies. Mughal sawars pursued the Afghans into the various darahs of Kabul vilayat, but fighting in the darahs was indecisive. Mirza Ulugh Beg began fomenting dissensions between the Yusufzais and their less powerful Khashi cousins, the Gigyanis, and attacked them at the head of that tribe and his own army. The battle is known as ‘Ghwarah Marghah’, because it was rendered slippery from the blood of the slain. In this battle Ulugh Beg suffered defeat and was constrained to conclude an insidious peace. The military prowess of the Yousafzai greatly exasperated Ulugh Beg. He realized the Yousafzai could only be eliminated through deceit and treachery. He invited the elite of the Yousafzai for a feast in Kabul. About seven hundred Yousafzai came to Kabul. While entering the city, they were disarmed at the Mughal check posts. Ulugh Beg warmly received them and distributed them with various Mughal notables for lodging and boarding purposes. The Mughal nobles caught them at night while they were asleep. In the morning, with their hands tied at their backs, they were handed over to the Gigyanis to kill them.

Ulugh Beg spared the life of his ex-friend and head of the Yousafzai namely, Malik Sulieman, who asked for the life of his nephew Malik Ahmad in lieu of his own. Except for Malik Ahmad and Kausar, a religious leader; and the latter’s four men, the remaining six hundred and ninety-four men were massacred. After the holocaust, Ulugh Beg commanded that the bodies be taken outside the city and buried. This was done at a place three arrow-flights from Kabul to the north-east under the hill of Siah Sang. The burial ground still bears the name of the Shahidan, Martyrs, and it is said that there also may be seen the tomb of Shaikh Usman (Malazai branch of the Yousafzai), to whose resting-place until recently pilgrimages were made. The date of this massacre is not given in the sources but having regard to the reign of Ulugh Beg in Kabul, we may set it between 1480 and 1499. The Khashis’ backbone was broken, and they became leaderless. They were driven out from Kabul.

They for some time wandered in the glens and defiles of Nangarhar. Here they became divided; the Tarklanri clan moved to Laghman, whereas the remainder settled in Nangarhar. Here arose a quarrel between the Muhammadzai and Yusufzai, in which the latter were victorious.  Soon after this would seem to have occurred the important migration of the Yousafzai to Peshawer. Yousafzais under the able leadership of Malik Ahmed, came to Peshawer via Khyber Pass in early 16th century AD. It is said that the whole Yusufzai tribe accommodated under the shadow of a single tree, at the very mouth of Khyber Pass.

At that time, Peshawar valley was inhabited by a Karlanri tribe of Pashtuns called Dilazak. The Yousafzai, having passed through Khyber Pass and reached the western extremity of Peshawar valley, halted at Sufed Sang, and sent to Dilzak a deputation, begging for an assignment of land for the support of the tribe. This was generously granted, and the Yousafzai entered peacefully upon their new lands. The newcomers gradually spread to the Doaba and felling themselves strong enough, held the whole of Hashtnagar from another tribe, Shalmani,  by means of force. But Yousafzais were not content with Hashtnagar and laid hands-on parts of Bajaur, which had, up to then, belonged to the Dilazaks.

Yousafzais settled in Doaba and Hastnagar while their kinsmen in Kabul followed them to the land in Peshawar. Settling in Doaba and Hastnagar , Yousafzais again turned to their earlier ways of life. They looted and plundered the villages of Dilazaks. A fierce battle took place between Yousafzais and Dilazaks and combined forces of the former under Malik Ahmed utterly defeated the old occupants i.e Dilazaks in Peshawar valley and drove them across the east to the Indus.

History of Yusufzai
A Yousafzai, c.1810. From Mountstuart Elphinstone’s “An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul”, 1815.
History of Yousafzai
An Utmanzai Yousafzai (Mandanr), 1861. From Watson and Kaye collection (People of India).
History of Yousafzai
Infantry of the Yousafzai tribe, c.1840. Credit: Farrukh Husain
Yousafzai history
Yousafzai horseman, 1840 (c)


1- “History of Pathans”, volume II, Haroon Rashid
2- “Hayat-i-Afghani”, Muhammad Hayat Khan
3- “Kingdom of Caubal”, Mountstaurt Elphinstone
4- “Pakhtana Tarikh pa ranra kshe”, Syed Bahadur Shah Zafar
5- “Tawarikh-i-Hafiz Rahmat Khani”, Pir Muazam Shah
6- “Kalid-i-Afghhani”, Hughes and Plowden
7- “Notes on Afghanistan”, Raverty



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