The Jahangiri Sultans of Swat were Dardic people not Tajiks

In an article published on the Friday Times a certain Akhundzada Arif Hasan, asserts that the Jahangiri Sultans who ruled Swat and surrounding areas before the arrival of Yousafzais in early 16th century, were Tajiks (Farsiwans). This an absurd claim and is made based on the loose application of the term ‘Tajik’ and poor understanding of the term ‘Gabar’. A careful and honest study of the Jahangiri Sultans and Swati people, reveals that they were in fact Dardic people. The “cover-up conspiracy spanning centuries” is figment of Akhundzada’s imagination. 

Gabaris of Swat and their connection with Gabar-kot (گبر کوٹ) of Bajaur

The pre-16th century rulers of Swat were known as Gibari or Gabari as well as Jahangiri. They were referred to as Gabari on account of them being originally from the town of Gabar or Gabar-kot in Bajaur. Hafiz Rahmat Khan in his Khulastul-Ansab (written in 1770 AD) writes: “the Gibaris are so named, because Gibari is the name of a place in Bajaur, where they had been settled” [1].H. G. Raverty (1825 –1906), a renowned historian and scholar of Pashto and Persian, also stated, “I find, in an old geographical work, and in a Persian lexicon of old and difficult words, that Gabar—گبر— with the pronunciation written, is the name of a town [shahr] in the country of Bajawr” [2]. That Gabar town was most likely the same Gabar-kot (the fort of Gabars) mentioned in Babur-nama. The name Gabr (گبر) and its variants appear at various places in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. A region in Indus-Kohistan (populated by Dardic people) is named Gabaral (گبرال). Similarly, an area in Tank subdivision (inhabited by Baitani tribe of Pashtuns) is named Gabar (گبر), indicating that centuries ago the term Gabr was used in the general meaning of kafir/unbeliever in this region. 

Gabr (گبر) does not exclusively mean Zoroastrian

Now the term Gabr was also used for Zoroastrians in Persia and on that basis Akhundzada strongly believes that Swatis were once Zoroastrians and hence Tajiks/Iranians. However, there is not a shred of evidence to support the claim that Swat valley was hub of Zoroastrianism before Islam. The term Gabr was not exclusively used for Zoroastrians. Encyclopedia Iranica says: “Moreover, although gabr has been sometimes used to denote infidel (kāfer) by semantic extension”…. [….] …”The term has also been used by the Muslim Kurds, Turks, and some other ethnic groups in modified forms to denote various religious communities other than Zoroastrians, sometimes even in the sense of unbeliever” [3]. The only ‘kafirs’ that Muslims found in northern districts of KPK and in Nuristan and Laghman, were either ‘Siah-posh Kafirs’ (black-clad Kafirs) and Safaid-posh Kafirs (white-clad Kafirs). The latter were the Dardic people, popularly referred to as Kohistanis, and are still found in Indus-Kohistan, Upper Swat and Upper Dir. The “Lost Tajiks” of Akhundzada are none other than the Dardic-speaking people who are still found in above-mentioned districts and are not lost by any stretch of imagination. 

People of Swat valley and surroundings were largely Buddhists before Islam

The Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hsien, who visited the Swat valley around 403 A.D, mentions 500 Buddhist monasteries. After him, Sun Yan (519 AD), Hsuan-tang (630 A.D) and Wu-kung (752 A.D) would visit Swat and praise the respect in which Buddhism was held in Swat [4]. Al-Beruni alludes to Dardic and Nuristani ethno-linguistic groups of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Afghanistan when he writes, “In the mountains which form the frontier of India towards the west there are tribes of Hindus, or of people near akin to them -rebellious savage races – which extend as far as the farthermost frontiers of the Hindu race” [5] The Hindus mentioned by Al-Beruni were the Indians associated with the Hindu-Shahi dynasty. The people akin to Hindus as described by Al-Beruni, were none other than the Dardic Buddhists and followers of religions like those of pre-Islamic Nuristan or Kalasha of Chitral. 


Dardic people were much more widespread in present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and eastern Afghanistan than today. This may come as surprise to many but even the Tirah valley was once inhabited by Dardic people. Tirahis were driven out of Tirah by Bayazid Ansari, the Pir-i-Roshan, in the sixteenth century [6]. At the present day, the chief seat of the Tirahis is in the Shinwari country in Nangarhar. The small communities of unknown origin were often styled as Tajiks by Pashtuns, so they were incorrectly reported to as Tajiks by some British authors in 19th century who did not have access to them. However linguistic evidence firmly shows that the Tirahi speak a Dardic language [7]. The author of Hayat-i-Afghani writes that Tirahis were once idol-worshipers and were forcibly converted to Islam by Sultan Shahabuddin of Ghor [8]. Like the Gibari chieftains/rulers, the Tirahi chieftains also styled themselves as sultan. Baburnama mentions Sultan Bayazid of Tirah who in 1519 attempted to convince Babur to attack the Afridis, who were camped at Bara with their flocks. [9]. After reading my article on Tirahis, Akhundzada Arif Hasan has silently dropped the claim of them being Tajiks. 

In 19th century and before, Pashtuns used the term Tajik in very loose sense and also used it for their Dardic neighbors (including Chitralis and Pashayis). So, the use of term Tajik for Swatis or Tirahis in Raverty’s “Notes on Afghanistan” should not mislead some into thinking that they were Tajiks in the meaning of Farsiwan. The same British author use the term Tajik for Chitralis. 

The language spoken by Jahangiri Sultans of Swat

According to Tawarikh-i-Hafiz Rahmat Khani, the Gibari rulers of Swat spoke Gibari language, and their subjects spoke Yadri (یادری) language. Gibari was a distinct language which is mentioned by Babur as one of languages spoken in Kabulistan. It is most likely the same Gawri language which is spoken in Upper Dir and in Upper Swat (“B” is often interchangeable with “w” in languages of our regions). As far as Yadri is considered, Joseph Theodore Arlinghaus states that it is a Dardic language (without citing any source) [10]. 

Now Akhundzada misinformed his readers by dishonestly removing “y” (ی) from Yadri, turning it into Dari, and ran amok with it, saying that people of Swat were Farsiwans. Peasants of Swat speaking the courtly Persian? If common peasants of Swat spoke Dari i.e., courtly Persian in 16th century, then why on earth it is non-existent in Swat-Kohistan which was also under rule of Jahangiri Sultans and which Pashtuns did not conquer? A little application of common-sense dictates that if people of Upper Swat are still Dardic, then the people of Lower Swat were also most likely Dardic before the conquest of the region by Yousafzais۔ 

Not all the Swatis were Dardic non-Pashtuns

Any one from Swat was referred to as Swati; they were not homogenous people. Some of them were in fact of Pashtun descent. They were comprised of three major tribes: Gibari, Mutravi and Mumiali. According to Tarikh-i-Afghana of Khwaja Malezai, written in around 1623 AD, the Mitravi section of Swatis reckoned themselves to be descended from Yousafzais in the days when Malik Ahmad invaded Swat, and contended that they were separated from parent tribe of Yousafzais in ancient times when the latter lived in the environs of Kandahar [11]. To this day, many Swatis (the former inhabitants of Swat who moved to east of the river Indus) assert their connection with the Yousafzai tribe. 

Gibaris claimed descent from Alexander the Macedonian, not Cyrus

Abu Fazal, the courtier of Mughal emperor Akbar informs us that Jahangiri sultans of Swat claimed to be descended from a daughter of Sultan Sikander-i-Zulqarnain. In Akbarnama he writes, “in this land (Swat and Bajaur) there was a tribe that had the title of ‘sultani’ and claimed to be descended from a daughter of Sultan Sikander-i-Zulqarnain. The Yousafzai for some time zealously served them and then became ungrateful and took possession of the choice lands” [12]. Sikandar is Alexander of Macedon. Some modern writers in 20th century began to opine that Sikandar also refers to Cyrus the Great of Persia; however, there is no historical evidence in which Cyrus the Great is referred to as Sikandar. As Alexandar the Great was depicted with two horns in ancient Greek depictions of Alexandra, so Muslim chroniclers attached the name Zulqarnian (meaning ‘he of the two horns’) to Sikandar i.e., Alexandar. Interestingly, Akhund Darweza (1549 –1638), who was a descendant of Jahangiri sultans from his mother’s side, claims that Sikandar-i-Zulqarnain was a Yousafzai [13]. He was spiritual guide of Yousafzais and the aforementioned claim probably stems from his relationship with Yousafzais. The rulers of Badakhshan also asserted that they were descendants of Alexander the Great. 

British authors read an 18th century translation of Akabrnama, and on the basis of that passage about Jahangiri sultans in it, they speculated that it was talking about the ‘Kafirs’ of Kafiristan (Nuristan) and assumed that they must be of Greek descent on account them being of fair complexion and hair. That British mistake still lingers on, and people still attribute Greek descent to Kalasha on the basis of those 19th century British sources. 

Gibaris and Babur

Due to lack of knowledge about Gibaris, many modern historians incorrectly assume that the large number of people which Babur put to sword at Bajaur in 1519, were Afghans or Pashtuns. They were actually Gibari Dardic people. Babur attacked the afore-mentioned Gibar fort of Bajaur and conquered it on the 7th of January 1519. Its independent ruler, Sultan Haider Ali Gibari, committed suicide. The entire male Gibari population, numbering 3,000, including their ‘sultans’ (chieftains), were cruelly put to sword by the Mughals, and a pillar of their heads was erected. Their women and children were taken as slaves. [14]

Bajaur is now largely inhabited by the Tarklanri tribes of Pashtuns but the names of some sites are reminders of the former inhabitants of Swat. A spring in Bajaur, a popular tourist spot, is named Gabar-chena (گبر چینه). 


1- “History of Afghans’ by B.Dorn”, Vol-II, p-131
2– “Tabakat-i-Nasiri’, English translation by H.G.Raverty”, p-1043
3- GABR – Encyclopaedia Iranica (
4-“Hudu al Alam’, translated by Minorsky and Bosworth, p-92
5- Al-Beruni’s India, Sachau Dr. Edward’s translation, Vol-1, page-208]
6- ” The transformation of Afghan tribal society”, Joseph Theodore Arlinghaus, pp.302-303
7“Notes on Tirahi” by Georg Morgenstierne
8- Hayat-i-Afghani, p-470
9- “Baburnama”, English translation by A.S.Beveridge, p-411
10- ” The transformation of Afghan tribal society”, Joseph Theodore Arlinghaus, pp.302-303
11- Tawarikh-i-Hafiz Rahmat Khan, Urdu translation by Roshan Khan, p-122
12- Akbarnama, English translation by H.Beveridge, Vol-III, p-716
13- Tazkiratul-Abrar wa ashrar, p-113
14Baburnama”, English translation by A.S.Beveridge, p-411

swati tribe
Gabar Chena (a spring) in Bajaur district
 Jahangiri Sultans
Manglawar, State of Swat, December 1937. Caption: “View of peasant wading Swat river downstream from distant fort with four towers in the Swat valley.” Photo by Margaret Bourke-White.
The Chumla Valley, 1863. Watercolour by John Miller Adye. Source
Jahangiri sultans
Swati tribesmen (Yousafzais), 1890 (c). From ‘The tribes on our frontier’ series of photos by Bourne & Shepherd.



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