Afghanistan - Mirwais Hotak & Nazo Tokhi


Sign up for the email list to get extra information on the podcast and free bonus episodes! 

This episode is on Afghanistan and how a mother and her son helped give it it's start. The Podcast Intros goes into some options for learning more about Afghanistan and these people. Give them a listen/read

Links to other resources as well as the transcript are below the pictures.

Picture of Mirwais Hotak

By <a href="//;action=edit&amp;redlink=1" class="new" title="User:Cyrous76 (page does not exist)">Cyrous76</a> - <span class="int-own-work" lang="en">Own work</span>, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

A map of the larger region of this part of Asia

Map of The Hotakids.png
By <a href="" class="extiw" title="wikipedia:User:Arab Hafez">Arab Hafez</a> at <a href="" class="extiw" title="wikipedia:">English Wikipedia</a> - <span class="int-own-work" lang="en">Own work</span>, Public Domain, Link

A map of the Kandahar area from this time.

Map of Afghanistan during the Safavid and Moghul Empire.jpg
By <a rel="nofollow" class="external text" href=",klpmap,ww2map:@OR(@field(AUTHOR+@3(Bowen,+Emanuel,+d++1767++))+@field(OTHER+@3(Bowen,+Emanuel,+d++1767++)))">Bowen, Emanuel, d. 1767.</a> - This map is available from the United States <a href="//" title="Library of Congress">Library of Congress</a>'s <a rel="nofollow" class="external text" href="//">Geography &amp; Map Division</a> under the digital ID <a rel="nofollow" class="external text" href="">g7620.ct001185</a>. This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See <a href="//" title="Commons:Licensing">Commons:Licensing</a> for more information., Public Domain, Link

Other Resources(Clickable links on the titles)

BBC podcast episodes on the two empires that were jostling for power in Afghanistan  when our Mirwais Hotak was making his moves 

Safavid Empire -

Mughal Empire -

Anthology of Heroes: A-Z style podcast like this one. A 1-hour episode on Ahmad Durrani, the other Father of Afghanistan.

Why Do Countries Exist: A-Z style podcast like this one but it's focus is on a brief outline of the country's entire history. 24 minute episode that covers the entirety of the history up until today.

Green and White:For some more recent history on Afghanistan, lots of good info

If you want to go way back where Afghanistan will be mentioned off and on you can go for the following podcasts:

  1. The History of the Mongols Podcast has an episode specifically about the Mongol conquest of the middle east including Afghanistan here  they also have a freshly released episode on Timur.
  2. The Timur Podcast: is getting to Afghanistan although, as of this episodes release they are in the 1370s and Timur doesn't get to Afghanistan until the 1380s so it's coming soon 
  3. Ancient Military History Podcast: has a 24 minute round-table episode on Alexander the great in Afghanistan, a good bit on alexander around this time period but also has some good info on Afghanistan around his time

Other Resources:I found Afghanistan, a cultural and political history by Thomas Barfield very helpful. But other books on this time period were difficult to find in English.

The Diplomat also had a very good article on Mirwais and the DIA has a nice general history presentation, I'll link to all of those on the site as well.


If you didn't notice I switched music around to something I prefer and will be likely using that going forward. Last time we saw the founding of a tiny country by a giant of Europe, Charlemange. This week we will take a look at the country that has been a perpetual reminder to empires that they are mortal and one of the men who took part in this and helped setup what we know today as Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is a land-locked country that sits at the intersection of some big sections of Asia. South Asia and India are to the southeast, Iran is to the west, China to the east, and central Asia to the north with Turkik cultures and the Mongols. It is filled with many different tribes who entered the land over successive invasions, they often integrated but because of the large number of mountains and remote areas it was also easy for pockets of people to not integrate and so we get a large number of people groups that are very distinct from their neighbors. A short list of the major tribes includes the Pashtuns who are the largest population wise, followed by the Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmen, and Aimaqs. These tribes can be further divided into many different types and places in Afghanistan.

This is a defining feature of Afghanistan and it makes figuring out the founding father of Afghanistan based on conversations with afghans difficult. In my conversations I was finally able to come to an even split between two men, one named Ahmad Shah Durrani and the other, Mirwais(mir-weise) Hotak. The former is called baba "father" and the latter neeka(ne-ka) "grandfather". Looking at external sources it becomes a bit more obvious as Durrani is commonly seen as the main founder of Afghanistan because he founded a longer lasting and larger dynasty. But remember this podcast chooses founders based on who is commonly thought of as the founder as we are primarily looking to understand people a little better. So I had the choice of doing both in one 30 minute episode, or choosing one. 30 minutes for both is a bit too brief for my tastes so I chose to do Mirwais(mir-weise) Hotak, for a few reasons. 1. most of the aghanis that I'm friends with gave him as their answer and 2. because the Anthology of Heroes recently did an episode on Durrani so you can definitely head over there to get a good take on him. I'll have that link and any others I can scrounge up listed on the Podcas Intros mini-sode as well as on the episode webpage at Now I said I would be doing Mirwais but open further research I have found that his mother, who is a big part of his story obviously, is referred to as "grandmother" of the Afghans so we will be including a good chunk on her as well!

So anyways off we go into some background information:
Around the 13th century mongol invasions hit Afghanistan and they were under Mongol rule until the mid 14th century when Timur took over. You can find sweet podcasts on both those empires. The timurids lasted until the early 16th century when the rise of the gundpower empires forced their collapse. At that point 3 empires split up the land that we now know as Afghanistan. The Safavids from Iran, Mughals from India and Uzbeks from the north.

It seems like the pashtun tribe mostly rose along with the safavids and mughals in the 16th century. there had formerly been a lot of infighting between the tribes and even the pashtuns but with these empires now ruling in the south. The abdali and ghilzai pashtuns had achieved a higher level of prominance. They could get resources and legitimacy from the empire that ruled them. Taking control of a region as governor elevated many of these petty chieftains to higher power that they had ever had before. This gave them valuable administrative experience that would come in handy later.

Into this time our founder steps. The Ghilzai were in the Safavid area, specifically Kandahar, but they had maintained good relations with the Mughals and Safavids. The safavids were in what seemed like an endless series of wars with the Ottomans to the west and this along with other problems was causing them to go into terminal decline. In Kandahar, it is said the Ghilzai had a specific noble family that had been working for centuries to help the Pashtuns. They were from a branch of the Ghilzai clan called "Hottaki" and so that's where we get this last name. Sometime in the mid-late 17th Century a man named "Salim Khan Hotak" married a women "Nazo Tokhi". These two were both from families that were heads of their respective tribes. The husband doesn't have a lot of background that I can find, but the wife, Nazo was highly educated and is remembered to this day as "Nazo Ana" which means Nazo the grandmother.

She was born in 1651 to a tribal leader who ensured she was well educated. She is remembered for many things. She is seen as a prototype of an Afghan woman. Described as courageous, kind, generous, and sophisticated. Mothers in Afghan culture are revered and I found a number of stories of women who were famous, who will get an episode in the future if I get back around to Afghanistan. Back to Nazo, she contributed to many things in Pashtun and Afghan culture and nowadays has many schools named after her in Afghanistan.
Here are some things we know about her. One of the driving forces behind all the things she is known for was seemingly a hope to unite the Pashtun tribes against the Safavids. One way Nazo did this was being one of the forces pushing for the Pashtunwali code to be made into an inner-tribe set of laws to help join them together.

Another story about her is, when her father was killed in a battle and her brother went to avenge him, Nazo was left in charge of the fortress and put on a sword and defended the fortress along with the men against raiders.

She is also known for a 2000 verse collection of poetry that is famous among Pashtuns especially. I'll read a bit an excerpt here, which just so happens to be the only excerpt I can find in English, this excerpt is about the shortness of life:

---Dew, drops from an early dawn floweras a tear, drops from a melancholy eye;O beauty, I asked, what makes you cry?Life is too short for me, it answered,My beauty blooms and withers in a moment,as a smile which comes and forever fades away.---

The final thing Nazo was known for was the dream she had on the night her son was born in 1673. An old Pasthun hero of legend Shaykh Bet Neeka (ne-ka) told her to care for her son as he would rise up to bless his country.

This son, as you may have guessed, would be Mirwais(mir-weise) Hotak later given the title neeka(ne-ka), the grandfather, born 1673. He was highly educated as the son of two tribal leaders and it is said his mother told him about the dream and his destiny. He is said to have been basically a perfect gentleman ruler, similar to how Charlemagne is represented as we talked about last time on the Andorra episode. Wise, honorable, convincing, strong and handsome he would have all the tools needed to succeed at whatever he did.

His father and other tribal leaders in the area had done their best to use trade to build up their tribes and this meant keeping up good relations with the Safavids(their current overlords) and the Mughals. Mirwais grew up and continued on with this policy when he became the tribal leader. This was all going well until 1704 when the Safavid ruler sent a new governor, Gorgin, to the province who is said to have been brutal in his governorship. It's recorded that Mirwais was looked to as the leader among different tribes to help rectify this situation. He contacted the Safavid court 4 times about this but was not able to get anything done and eventually, either after a rebellion or just because Gorgin found out about his messages to the Safavid court, Mirwais was arrested and sent to the court.

Now I don't know if you were paying attention just now but Mirwais(mir-wiese) had tried contacting the court 4 times already and now Gorgin thought the best idea was to send him to the court. This is where I would usually put in my clip of the week because it takes me back to a skit where a comedian said his wife sent him to his room, which where he wanted to be in the first place but since that comedian has ended up doing some terrible things and is in prison I will not sully Mirwais' episode with that. Suffice to say Mirwais was happy to be sent to the Safavid court.

Anyways...back to Mirwais, so in his early 30's he found himself at the court of the Safavid Shah(a shah is a king). Mirwais quickly set about winning the Shah and his court over to his side. With all the talents we talked about earlier he was able to get that done pretty quickly. One of his main goals in doing this, it seems, was to be permitted to go on the Hajj(the pilgrimage to Mecca all muslims should make if possible during their life). Now there were undoubtedly religious notions behind this Hajj but the political motives must certainly had to have been a part. While in Mecca he had extensive talks with religious leaders and secured a Fatwa against the Safavids and specifically Gorgin. A fatwa is basically a document that is required anytime a muslim wants to go to war against other muslims. He then returned to the Safavid court and somehow failed to mention this document's existence there and soon after, around 1708 he was sent back to Gorgin to advise him on Afghan issues.

When he arrived back he immediately began organizing resistance by secretly setting a meeting of the national assembly of tribal leaders. At this meeting Mirwais showed the fatwa and used it along with a persuasive speech to get a united army together, fulfilling what his parents had wanted. In Spring 1709 he lead the rebellion and they disposed of Gorgin and his army. There are a few different stories about how this happened, so I'll tell one. He invited Gorgin to have a feast at a countryside estate and after filling them with wine and food assassinated Gorgin and his entourage. He then marched on Kandahar and the Citadel there. After this he gave a pretty good speech that we have a snippet of that I enjoyed:

quote - If there are any among you who have not the courage to enjoy this precious gift of liberty now dropped down to you from Heaven, let him declare himself; no harm shall be done to him: he shall be permitted to go in search of some new tyrant beyond the frontier of this happy state - end quote

He took the title "Prince of Kandahar and General of the National Troops" but would not take the name King. Soon after this the, I'm sure stunned, Safavid Shah sent an army to retake the region around Kandahar. Mirwais and the tribes soundly defeated this and another force sent in after it. A 3rd force was sent in numbering around 30,000 men and lead by Khusraw, Gorgin's nephew. This force seems to have gotten the best of them but in the spirit of his uncle Gorgin, Khusraw refused to negotiate, I guess hoping to totally annihilate these people. Well the whole "if I win I'm killing everyone" plan backfires once again, if there's something that must be learned it's never make your enemy afraid of extermination as for some reason that usually seems to light a fire under people. So a little later in 1711 the Afghan army defeated this army handily and it's said that only around 700 of the invading army escaped not including Khusraw.
After this, one more army was sent but was also defeated and Afghan rule of the area was solidified. It seems Mirwais did much work to bring the tribes together from this point on but unfortunately suffered the same fate as Charlemagne's brother, he died too early. In 1715, after less than a decade in power he died of natural causes.

This wouldn't have been too bad but his brother, Abdul Aziz, who took the reigns after Mirwais death, wanted to make a treaty with the Safavids and was promptly assassinated by the tribes, or Mirwais son Mahmud, we aren't certain. Mahmud was able to militarily dominate the region and actually took over the Safavid capital and became Shah of the Safavids for a time but through a series of difficulties and mistakes he ended up going mad and either died or was killed by his own men. There were two other rulers after this but none could hold things together as by 1738 it had all fallen apart.

So what was the legacy of this woman Nazo, and her son Mirwais? A short-lived kingdom? No, it was the uniting of the tribes, a few decades of free reign, and his son's knock-out punch of the Safavid's. These things were instrumental in tilling the ground for the soon-coming and "final empire" of Afghanistan. So were they the founders? Depending on who you talk to, but are they Ana and Neeka(Ne-ka) , grand-founders? Definitely.
To find out what happens next to Afghanistan go listen to the sister podcast "Anthology of Heroes" episode on Ahmad Shah Durrani, the other man vying for the title of father of Afghanistan. Also don't forget to listen to the "Podcast Intros mini-sode if you want to find some more information on these things,

Next time we'll learn about another country in the A's! Until then I'll be doing a bit of after-show thoughts with some other interesting things to learn about Afghanistan and what I learned from Mirwais. So if you want to stick around for those great, if not head out and I'll see you on country number 4!

Musical Interlude
One thing I definitely didn't know before starting all this was Afghani people's deference towards their mothers. I think most cultures have special places for mom's but it definitely seems like traditional Afghan culture has an especially high view of mothers and that seems to go back a very long way.

Gorgin made a fatal mistake that we all need to avoid really in almost every situation which was that he seems to have convinced his enemies that if he won they would cease to exist. I can't tell you how many stories there are from history of small groups fighting to the bitter end and causing delays, massive casualties, and even defeats to larger armies, all because they were convinced there was no retreat available to them. A good leader can put that kind of fire in his soldier's bellies but it's a terrible mistake to put that fire in your enemies bellies by your actions. Of course in real life we aren't often dealing with that kind of situation but you can be sure that it is the same application in business and life. If you convince people that you are out to do something that would drastically affect their life you can be sure you will be giving them motivation to fight back hard. You must convince your adversaries that things are going their way or at least that there is still hope of their escaping this situation. As the old proverb says "if you want to boil a frog you must turn up the water slowly". I have experience with this with my family. If I introduce something slowly and try to help my wife see why it might be beneficial it goes a lot better than just saying "I think we should ____".

On the other end of the spectrum from terrible was Mirwais. Scanderbeg, the Albanian founder, and Mirwais remind me a lot of each other. Their countries were dealing with similar situations when they came to power and both of them managed to unite independent groups to defeat much larger empires. That uniting of the groups proved to be even more important thing that the military victories in the long-term as they are both seen as the "uniter of their peoples".
Past that, Mirwais' seemingly steady temper and long-term thinking were something I aspire to. Thinking about how he was able to adapt his trials into advantages for his cause rather than having a knee-jerk reaction speaks volumes about how to deal with those things in our own lives. So, though you will likely not be arrested and sent to the Safavid court, when those setbacks come look for the way you can twist it in the right direction.

This idea of turning a seemingly insurmountable problem into something great really hits me hard as it gets to the heart of what I believe as a Christian. That Jesus, the son of God, would be killed on a tree seems like a terrible thing but God was using that as the pinnacle of everything, destroying death and sin. It always gets me excited to think about.
This also leads to how he is a good example of Afghanistan's most famous trait, at least in America, Russia, and Britain, their ability to struggle against foreign invasions. They just don't know when to quit and eventually, as I said before, they become the great humbler of empires. I feel like the American Revolution flag with the snake on it that says "don't tread on me" was well used by us Americans but I feel like it's about a thousand years and still going in Afghanistan. So please when you plan on invading places remember "never start a land war in Russia...or Afghanistan.

Hello and welcome again to this Podcast Links mini-sode. Today we will be talking about some podcast resources on Afghanistan and surrounding areas. I'll also include some books and other resources if you want to go deeper. You can find the direct links to all this at the website, if that's too complicated to spell just head over to the facebook group "The Founders of Nations Podcast" or on Twitter @FoundersNations.

For information about the surroundings of my story today there are two good BBC podcast episodes on the Safavid and the Mughal Empires, I can't do snippits of those but I'll post the links on the website.
I'd say you could listen to those before listening to my main episode as a way to get some extra background on the subject, just subscribe to mine first please so you don't forget to come back. Of course you don't have to do that you can just dive in to mine and it has enough background to get a handle on the founder's story.

On to the other resources:
These first two podcasts are doing the same A-Z style through the countries as this one but different focuses. Anthology of Heroes looks at the most interesting/hero type person from a country. The episode from him on Afghanistan is on Ahmad Durrani, it's a 1-hour episode that's basically like a continuation of this episode's story but better produced. It takes off from where we ended and goes through Durrani's life and reign. -

The next one is "Why Do Countries Exist" it's the second of the similar podcasts but it's focus is on a brief outline of the country's entire history. The afghan episode is about 24 minutes long and is a good follow up to the Durrani episode if you want to get an idea of up to current times. -

For some more recent history on Afghanistan you can find hundreds if not thousands of books on understanding contemporary culture and the Soviet-Afghan War and the American-Afghan War but if you'd like a podcast the Green and White podcast seems to be well done and covers the recent history well
If you want to go way back where Afghanistan will be mentioned off and on you can go for the following podcasts:

  1. The History of the Mongols Podcast has an episode specifically about the Mongol conquest of the middle east including Afghanistan here they also have a freshly released episode on Timur.
  2. The Timur podcast is getting to Afghanistan although, as of this episodes release they are in the 1370s and Timur doesn't get to Afghanistan until the 1380s so it's coming soon
  3. Ancient Military History Podcast has a 24 minute round-table episode on Alexander the great in Afghanistan, a good bit on alexander around this time period but also has some good info on Afghanistan around his time -

As far as books go, I found "Afghanistan, a cultural and political history" by Thomas Barfield very helpful. But other books on this time period were difficult to find in English.
The Diplomat also had a very good article on Mirwais and the DIA has a nice general history presentation, I'll link to all of those on the site as well.