(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
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.
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
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
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.