History of the Tanoli tribe of Hazara

Majority of the Tanolis (or Tanaolis) insist on being of Pashtun origin but their rulers have accounted themselves to be of Barlas Mughal origin. Tanoli or Tanawali is actually an adjective denoting their abode Tanawal. They are divided into two divisions, Pul-Al and Hando-Al, the former occupies Lower Tunawal, and the latter occupy Upper Tunawal . In 1907 they numbered 58,700 [1]. Although not usually acknowledged as Pashtuns, the Tanolis had by long association become assimilated with the Pashtuns in manners, customs and character. The tribal and cultural practices of the Tanolis closely resembled those of Pashtuns and all of them appeared to have spoken Pashto in 18th century. Tanolis in Agror valley still speak Pashto language as their first language if not exclusively [2]. Captain E.G.Wase in 1868 reported that “majority of Tanolis have forgotten the Pashto tongue” but ‘those of the Tanoli villages on the bank of Indus, all speak Pashtu’. [3]

Tanawal in 16th century

H.G.Raverty, on the authority of Akhund Darweza, says that Tanawal or Tunawal was overrun by Khashi tribes of Pashtuns under the leadership of Ali Asghar in the latter part of Akbar’s reign, and its former inhabitants were expelled from some parts of Tunawal. [6]

Tanolis in 18th century

An Indian surveyor Syed Ghulam Muhammad visited Tanawal in 1780 and reported that Pashto language was spoken by its inhabitants and their chief Gul Sher Khan paid allegiance to Timur Shah Durrani. He writes: –

“Tunawal is the name of a small territory lying on the east bank of the Aba-Sin, about twenty kuroh in length, and about the same in breadth, through which the Siran river flows from north to south but inclining a little to the south-west. It is a very mountainous tract of country, and its inhabitants belong to different tribes, a number of whom are Afghans; and the Pushto language is spoken among them all. The chieftainship lies with the Tunawalis, who account themselves to be of Mughal descent; but, at present, they are scarcely distinguishable in their appearance from the Afghans and various other peoples of this part. Latterly, according to some accounts, they have laid claim to be descended from the tribe of Birlas –Amir Timur’s own tribe.”….

          …”Half a kuroh further you reach Derah-i-Gul Sher Khan, a large town, the seat of the government, and place of residence of Gul Sher Khan, the chief of Tunawal. This chief entertains a force of about 10,000 or 12,000 horse and foot, and rules over this part. He pays allegiance to the Badshah of Kabul”.

“The Tunawal’s number about 20,000 families, and consist of two septs or divisions, named respectively Pul Al, and Hando or Ando Al, the words being written both ways. The former hold the parts east of the Siran, or south-east portion of Tunawal, and the latter those on the west or north-west part. The latter tracts belong to Pa’indah Khan, and were held by his ancestors before him. Their chief places and seat of authority are Bir, Puhar, and Dera’h.” [4]

George Forester, an English traveler and a civil servant of East India Company, visited Tanawal in 1783 and mentions Gul Sher Khan (the chief of Tanolis) as ” Mahometan of the Afghan tribe”. [5]

In 1752 AD, Zabardast Khan Tanoli joined Ahmad Shah Durrani in his conquest of India. In 1761 AD he was granted the title of Suba Khan by Ahmad Shah Durrani for his bravery in the historic battle at Panipat. [7]

Tribally allied with the Pashtuns they participated in the wars against the Sikhs and the British, and in the Charles Allen’s analysis of those wars the Tanolis are described as being “extremely hostile, brave and hardy and accounted for the best swordsmen in Hazarah” [8].


1- Hazara Gazetteer 1907, p-29
2- “History of the Pathans”, By Haroon Rashid, Vol-6, p-34
3- Report of the Land Revenue Settlement of the Hazara District of the Punjab, 1868-74 , p-74
4- “Notes on Afghanistan and Part of Baluchistan”, Henry George Raverty, p-275
5- A journey from Bengal to England, vol-2 p-49.
6- “Notes on Afghanistan and Part of Baluchistan”, Henry George Raverty, pp-275-276
7- “History of the Pathans”, By Haroon Rashid, Vol-6, p-36
8- Ibid, p-34
9- A Tanoli Afghan, 1861

Tanoli tribe
A group of Tanoli tribesmen guarding a remote outpost on Amb States western boundary with the territory of the Salar Gadoons, October 1904
Tanoli tribe
Nawab of Amb and followers, Kaim Gulli, 1888 (c). Photo by ‘Bourne & Shepherd
Tanoli tribe
Nawab of Amb and followers, Kaim Gulli, 1888 (c). Photo by ‘Bourne & Shepherd
Tanoli Pathan
A Tanoli, Hazara, 1861. From Kaye and Watson collection.
Amb state
View of Mahaban range from Hazara (Tanawal region), 1858. A village in the distance and what appears to be ruins of a fort along the right bank of river Indus. Watercolour by Sir James Abbott.

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