What is now perceived as the pre-Islamic period ended with the conquest of northern Afghanistan by Arab Muslims (651-661 AD). Lee describes this period as one in which the area “turned into a vast battlefield as the two great Arab and Persian cultures battled for not only political and geographical supremacy but ideological supremacy.” It took a full century for Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Nestorian Christianity and indigenous pagan cults to be finally swept away by the Arab-Islamic armies. Various Islamic dynasties dominated Faryab and surrounds for six centuries.
The Chingizid Empire
Life was greatly altered with the destructive invasion of Ghengis Khan and his “Mongol Horde” from 1220 AD. As he moved into the area from the north, cities and towns including Maimana were razed, populations massacred, grain, fields and livestock stolen or burnt and ancient irrigation systems obliterated. This Turco- Mongol rule over what was to be named Balkh was to last 500 years; this covered the modern provinces of Faryab, Jauzjan, Balkh, Samangan, Kunduz and Baghlan. British officials were later to name this area Afghan Turkestan. Control by the descendants of Ghengis Khan (Chingizids) stemmed from the alternating capitals of Bukhara or Samarkand north of the Amu Darya River. They ruled in a decentralised manner, however, allowing local amirs in Maimana and elsewhere considerable autonomy, a legacy which was to last until the end of the 19th century.
Uzbek occupation of the north began within the Chingizid period. In 1500, Uzbek princes (themselves a Turco-Mongol product) swept across the Amu Darya, reaching Faryab and related areas around 1505. They joined a substantial and largely pastoral Arab population.
As tsarist Russia and Britain began to fight for hegemony over the region, northern control of Balkh gave way, leaving around ten small and mutually hostile Khanates, of which Andkhui and Maimana were two. Expansionism into the north by the Afghan amirs (Pushtun amirs) occurred during this period in the hands of Durrani Ahmad Shah in 1722. His control of the north was uncertain and following his death in 1747, local Uzbek amirs largely reasserted their internecine autonomy with weak Afghan (Pushtun) dominance from the south.
It was not until a century later that the north was thoroughly annexed by the south and brought into what thereby evolved into the modern Afghanistan state. This arose not only from the personal vision of Amir Abd al-Rahman (1880-1901) but from the longstanding ambitions of the British India colonial state for the creation of a buffer state between it and Russia. The path towards this was mixed, the important Mingid principality of Maimana being the last of the Uzbek Khanates to resist Afghan control (1893/94). Nonetheless, it did fall, and under Abd al-Rahman, the subjugation of the north in general and its “Pushtunisation” began in earnest.
This policy of “Afghanisation” (as it was in fact described in the 1880s) was to have an enormous impact upon all social relations in the north, land relations included. Up until 1880 Pushtuns in the north numbered less than 3,500 households or under five percent of an estimated population of 87,000 families. Most were Pushtuns who had remained in the area following a century of ambivalent control by Muhammadzai Amirs. Pushtun numbers first accelerated with Abd al-Rahman’s exiling of political prisoners to “Afghan Turkestan” in 1882. Loyal Aimaq were also sent to border areas to help limit incursions from Russian-dominated territories. Following an important incident in which the Aimaq were unable to prevent the loss of several thousand square miles of territory (the Pandjeh incident of March 1885), the British urged Abd al-Rahman to replace these settlers with more loyal settlers from his own tribe (Durrani Pushtun). This catalysed formally planned mass colonisation of the north, to last throughout Abd al-Rahman’s reign, on both a voluntary and coerced basis. Abd al-Rahman saw this as a means to both extend Pushtun hegemony and deal with the increasingly recalcitrant Durrani Pushtuns at home.
Both Tapper (1973) and Lee (1996) provide detailed accounts of the process, based upon meticulous examination of India Office and other records. Their accounts differ to the extent that, while acknowledging the role of the British in prompting and supporting the amir, Tapper perhaps too uncritically accepts the much recorded justifications made by both British officials and the amir that the valuable lands of what are now Badghis and Faryab were essentially vacant lands, following Turkomen attacks and enslavement of Uzbek populations. In the process, Tapper does, however, elaborate the economic drivers in Abd al-Rahman’s ambitions: not only had he grown up in the north and badly wanted it to be part of his kingdom, he regularly pronounced himself delighted with the obvious fertility of the north and espoused his vision of turning the area “into a vast cultivated and inhabited place” that would yield much wealth for the royal purse. British officials helpfully concurred. Lee provides a very detailed account of the political to-ing and fro-ing from the British as they steadily manoevered Abd al-Rahman towards their own interests.
In any event, Afghanisation was launched on November 1, 1885, with the deportation of Aimaqs and the occupation of their lands by Pushtun nomads, told to become cultivators. Firman (land grants) were systematically issued to the colonists. Clashes with the still many existing local populations predictably arose, especially as they were forced to build shelters for the arrivals and to sell their produce to the nomads (who had no experience of settled agriculture) when drought occurred. In addition they had to pay taxes to help cover the costs the assisted colonisation. By the end of 1888 some 18,000 Pushtun families were settled in the north. Volunteers were well supported by the king, with free land, tools, tax concessions on yields and travel expenses. The “strongest” were sent to Maimana but colonies spread throughout Afghan Turkestan, with concentrations in Baghlan, Balkh and Sar-i Pul.
By no means were all Afghans/Pushtuns who were sent north volunteers. Even many Durrani Pushtuns had to be flattered, cajoled, bribed and eventually heavily taxed to be forced from their home areas. Once they arrived in the north, few made attempts at cultivation as instructed, and famine and drought resulted initially in mass losses of sheep. Uzbek-Pushtun tensions soared when the king recruited 12,000 Uzbeks to put down the Ghilzai rebellion in the south (1886). Many Ghilzai in the north fled to Persia or attempted to return south. Turmoil and oppression continued, and not surprisingly, exiled Afghans were among those who supported the (failed) rebellion of the Pashtun leader in the north, Ishaq Khan in 1888 against his cousin, King Abd al-Rahman.
Conditions became more settled and during the 1890s, Pushtuns who had no intention of cultivating also began moving voluntarily into the north, at first seasonally. These Kuchis were “delighted” with the potential wealth of the pastures compared to those of their homeland. Increasingly they settled down there. Invaluable local karakul sheep were added to their fat-tailed flocks, dramatically boosting values. Leading Pushtun maldars especially flourished economically and laid claim to ever-increasing areas of both pasture and arable lands, helped with formal grants over large estates owned by amirs and leading families. Land disputes with local Uzbek and Arab populations multiplied, but with Pushtun interests officially steadfastly supported. Tapper records that the amir made it clear that it was the job of the Durrani Pushtuns to establish clearly that they were the dominant and superior ruling race.
Pushtun Kuchis were also quick to take up trading opportunities, encouraged by expanding populations and low transit taxes. Groups like the Hazarbuz Kuchis became especially prominent in trading along the Silk Route and establishing “shops” at key points like Andkhui and Maimana.
Entrenchment of Ethnic Tensions over Property: 1901-1978
The death of Abd al-Rahman in 1901 did not end Pushtun settlement into the north. A report of 1907 records at least 11,000 Durrani Pushtun families and 9,200 non-Durrani Pushtun families in accessible areas. At least 6,000 were in Faryab Province. By this time, Pushtun ideas of ethnic superiority were well established, “reinforced by government support and by the grant of both formal and informal privileges over the other ethnic groups.” British foreign subsidy and weapons also continued up until the First World War, with the holding of the northern boundary a sustained focus.
Abd al-Rahman’s grandson, the reformist King Amanullah (1919-1929) did attempt to limit the worst of the predatory and human rights abuses of one people against another in such areas, including bringing allocation of land rights to settlers under more scrutiny, but his efforts were not lasting. Uzbeks and Tajiks rose in support of the Tajik leader Bacha-i Saqau, who seized the throne in Kabul in 1929 but were routed following the restoration of the Durrani monarchy by Nadir Shah. Under Nadir Shah’s rule (1931-1933), the Afghanisation policy was firmly revived and then sustained by his son, King Zahir Shah, throughout the 1930s and after. Many thousands of new Pushtun settlers were encouraged to move to Balkh and Faryab Provinces. The improvement of trading conditions from the 1920s further stimulated Pushtun Kuchi expansion into the north, where they established dominant rights over areas like Dasht-i-Laili. As wealth and social change advanced, many of these Kuchis invested in farm land, hiring poorer Uzbeks as sharecroppers.
A contributing factor to Pushtun dominance over pastures was the mid-century emergence of the concept of “state land.” With each new Constitution and land law, the definition of public land became increasingly synonomous with state land or government land. Although both the 1965 Land and Statistics Survey Law and the 1970 Pasture Law described pasture as “public land” only administered by the government, this empowered the government to allocate access rights to those of their choice, in practice, to mainly Pushtun Kuchis. Although these entitlements were technically use rights only, holders treated these as evidence of their exclusive ownership. Grazing taxes had been paid on these lands from the 1930s, a fact that became a prime indicator of this tenure. USAID-supported land registration during 1965-1974 embedded these rights further, with many near pastures being registered as the private lands of leading livestock-owning families, including one or two wealthier Uzbek and Arab landlords. Notions of community pasture were in the process severely undercut.
The War Years: 1978-1989
In areas like Faryab where livestock-keeping was as important as cultivation, and transhumance traditionally practiced (by early Arab and Uzbek stock owners as well as by the later Pushtun maldar), competition for pasture within and among ethnic groups increased, with only temporary relief in the dramatic drought of 1970-72 and the death of up to 80 percent of herds (to be repeated in 1998- 2002). Inter-ethnic tension over land was never far from the surface, and although already of long standing, Pushtun claims were contested right up until the time of the 1978 revolution and subsequent Russian occupation (1979-1989). This was especially so in the districts of Dawlatabad, Shirin Tagab and Gurziwan, where settled Pushtun communities were numerous and where Pushtun khans had been the recipient of estates previously owned by the amirate of Maimana and related Uzbek landlords.
The communist Land Reform of 1978 did not reach deeply into Faryab. Although some khans had their arable lands redistributed (such as recorded later in respect of Qala-yi Shaikhi Village), this was not lasting. Gurziwan District in Faryab was one of the first areas to openly rebel against the government of Taraki and put to death numerous teachers and officials. One of the first acts of Tajik and Uzbek mujahidin after the arrival of the Russians was not to attack Communist-held Maimana but to expel or execute a number of Pushtun khans. Land grievances were core to these actions. As in many other areas, nomadic Pushtuns (Kuchis) were told not to come to the area and semi-sedentary Kuchis living to the east and west of the Dasht-i-Laili were forcibly expelled by Tajik and Uzbek mujahidin.