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    Mirwais Khan Hotaki
Mirwais Khan Hotak
(1709 - 1715)

A picture of life in the old city of Kandahar under the Timurids, the Safavids and the Moghuls has begun to emerge since the British Institute began its excavations in 1974. Bronze ewers, imported glazed ceramics and ornate glass from Persia and imported porcelains from China speak of widespread trade. Locally made glazed wares in the Persian style speak of a cultural orientation toward the west.

On the whole the indigenous Pushtun tribes living in the Kandahar area were more attached to the Persians and, indeed, on those occasions when the Moghuls received the city by means other than conquest, it was disaffected Persian governors who instigated the transfer, not the tribes. The tribes were not above pitting foreigner against foreigner in order to further their attempts to better one another. However, siding sometimes with the Persians, sometimes with the Moghuls, but never with each other, they perpetuated tribal disunity and prolonged foreign domination.

The principal contenders in these tribal disputes came from the two most important Pushtun groups in the Kandahar area, the Ghilzai and the Abdali (later Durrani), between whom there was long-standing enmity. As a matter of fact, because of these quarrels, many of the turbulent Abdali had been forcibly transferred to Herat by the irritated Persians by the end of the 16th century. This left the Ghilzai paramount in Kandahar, but the dispute more hotly contested, the hatred more deeply entrenched, and revenge more fervently sought.

The Persians were adept at manipulating such machinations and their rule at Kandahar was tolerant until the court at Isfahan began to sink in decadence. Mirroring this, the Persian governors of Kandahar became more and more rapacious and, in response, the tribes became more and more restless. Mounting tribal disturbances finally caught the concern of the court and they sent Gurgin, a Georgian known for his uncompromising severity toward revolt, to Kandahar in 1704. Kandahar's mayor at this time was Mirwais Hotak, the astute and influential leader of the Ghilzai.

Gurgin, advocate of law by force, burnt, plundered, murdered and imprisoned, but the tribes would not be subdued; revolts were crushed only to break out anew and Mirwais, credited with master-minding the rebellions, was sent to Isfahan tagged as a highly dangerous prisoner. Imagine Gurgin's surprise and dismay when Mirwais returned to Kandahar shortly thereafter clothed in lustrous robes of honor, symbols of respect and trust. The Shah of Persia thus declared the influence of Mirwais, not Gurgin, at the Persian court. Mirwais had extricated himself from a very nasty situation but, more importantly, he had observed the depths of decay at Isfahan, much as Babur had observed it at Herat, and correctly determined that the Safavid Empire was on the brink of collapse.

Tomb of Mirwais Khan HotakiMirwais formulated plans for disposing of the hated Gurgin; only the difficult task of waiting for the right moment remained.

The moment came in April, 1709. Because details of the assassination are varied, this discussion recounts the version popular among Kandaharis today who say that Mirwais invited Gurgin to a picnic at his country estate at Kohkran on the outskirts of Kandahar city. Here the guests were fed all manner of rich dishes and plied with strong wines until "everyone was plunged in debauch." This was the moment. Mirwais struck, killing Gurgin, and his followers killed the Georgian's escort. The rebels then marched to take possession of the citadel.

Isfahan was astounded and sent emissaries to complain. The emissaries were imprisoned. Isfahan sent armies to take the city. The armies were defeated. The Persian court then sat in stunned idleness while Mirwais extended his authority throughout the Kandahar region.

If they were to remain free the tribes must be united and to this formidable task the venerable statesman devoted the rest of his life. But not many years were left for Mirwais. He died in 1715. An imposing blue domed mausoleum at Bagh-i-Kohkran, next to the orchard where Gurgin was assassinated, is a fitting monument to Afghanistan's first great nationalist.

The qualities which enabled Mirwais to lead the tribes toward a meaningful unity were not, unfortunately, inherited by his ambitious 18 year old son, Mahmood, whose visions only encompassed conquest and power. Killing his uncle, elected successor to Mirwais, Mahmood gathered his followers and marched across Persia and seized the Safavid throne (1722). Mahmood met an early death in 1725 and was succeeded by his cousin, Ashraf, who ruled until 1730 when a new soldier-of-fortune, the Turkoman Nadir Quli Beg, ended Ghilzai rule.

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