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Mirwais Hotak

Mirwais Hotak

Mirwais Khan Hotak (Pashto/Dari: مير ويس خان هوتک),[1] (1673–1715), was a Pashtun from the Ghilji tribe[2][3] from Kandahar, Afghanistan and the founder of the Hotak dynasty that ruled from 1709 to 1738.[4]

In 1709, after overthrowing and assassinating Gurgin Khan, the Safavid Persian governor, Mirwais Hotak, declared independence of the Loy Kandahar (“Greater Kandahar”) region, which is now southern Afghanistan.[5] Mirwais Hotak is widely known as Mīrwais Nīkə (ميرويس نيکه) or Mīrwais Bābā (ميرويس بابا)—”Mirwais the Grandfather” in the Pashto language.[6][7]


Gurgin Khan was a Georgian-Safavid general, defeated by the Safavid Empire for trying to revolt in Georgia; he led his services to the Safavids. Gurgin Khan was ordered to put down a suspected rebellion and to govern in Kandahar. Sultan Husayn strongly suspected the Ghilzais had revolted and so sent Gurgin Khan to Kandahar ahead of a large Persian army. When he arrived, he saw that the Ghilzais were not revolting, but committed to not submitting easily to oppression. Although the Ghilzais were loyal to Gurgin Khan, he did not want this and preferred instead to strike fear into the Afghan tribes.[8] So Gurgin Khan massively oppressed the Afghans and treated the land as if he had conquered it. With many high ranking officials sacked, Gurgin Khan treated the Afghans like slaves. The Ghilzais appealed to Sultan Husayn for proper representation, but he ignored them so the Ghilzais resorted to planning a revolt. However, the situation was unfavorable to them, because the best Persian general at the time was entangled with a large Persian army occupying Kandahar at that moment.[9] The Greater Kandahar region (Candahar) during the Safavid dynasty and Mughal period

Rise to power

Prominent amongst the Ghilzai chiefs during these events was Mirwais Hotak – as head of one of the tribes, he was intelligent, and well mannered, one of the richest and most influential people in Kandahar.[10] Mirwais had taken a lead role in the chain of events and signed a petition to Sultan Husayn, as well as boosting the morale of his countrymen for a future revolt if necessary. After the petition failed, Mirwais advocated submission to the Safavids for the time being.[11] Gurgin Khan/George XI of Kartli

Gurgin Khan noticed Mirwais’s great influence in the Kandahar region, and viewed him as the only thing keeping the Ghilzais from revolting in Kandahar. As a result, Gurgin Khan was determined to strip Mirwais of his influence and power. Thus, Gurgin Khan ordered the arrest of Mirwais for conspiring against the government. Mirwais was arrested along with many other fellow compatriots and sent to Isfahan. Gurgin Khan, now feeling safe in his governorship of Kandahar, then allowed the greater part of his army to return to Persia. Mirwais arrived at Isfahan, and immediately noticed the weak state of the Persian court – with corrupt officials in the court for their own greed. Mirwais appealed to them, and rather than showing himself as an enemy, Mirwais portrayed Gurgin Khan as an enemy to the Persian court. Mirwais also demanded that Sultan Husayn investigate the charges against him. Sultan Husayn acknowledged Mirwais was innocent, and allowed him to retain his influential position at the court.[12]

Mirwais explained to the court that Gurgin Khan would be a ferocious enemy if he ever revolted, with the governorship of Kandahar, Georgia, and Kerman all falling to his rule if he decided to revolt. He respectfully talked about Ghurghis’ power, arousing suspicion amongst the entire court. Sultan Husayn fell for this, and saw the possibility of Ghurghis’s ambitions growing too big. Having achieved his goal, Mirwais requested a pilgrimage to Mecca, which the court could not decline, and therefore allowed. Mirwais wanted to obtain support and approval from religious leaders, and so he asked multiple questions:

  • “Is it lawful for Muslamans to take up arms to free themselves from the yoke?”[13]
  • “In the case of which the chief men of several tribes having been forced to take the oath of allegiance to a sovereign who was a heretic, are not the members of the tribe released from the oath when the sovereign ceases to observe the convention he had sworn to?”[14]

The replies were in the affirmative, so Mirwais returned to Isfahan. He planned to depart to Kandahar, however fearing it would cause suspicion, he stayed at his post of influence in the court of Isfahan.[15]

Around the same time that Mirwais returned from Mecca, he learned of an Armenian named Israel Orri, sent to Isfahan as an ambassador under diplomatic authority of Peter the Great. The ambassador had an unusual number of followers to support him, hundreds of followers supporting him to move toward the court. His goal was more influence over Persian import and export duties. The story was expanded upon and greatly exaggerated. Once it reached the court at Isfahan, many rumors added to the alarm, and Sultan Husayn had asked Mirwais for counsel on what to do.[16] Mirwais took this to his advantage, and replied:Kandahar against us, and strike a blow at the heart of the empire”.[17][18]

These and similar arguments sent Sultan Husayn into a panic. In fear of provoking Russia, he allowed Israel Orri to travel to Isfahan, and suspicion of Gurgin Khan plagued both the court and the Shah. As a result, Sultan Husayn had reappointed Mirwais to his position, to spy on Gurgin Khan, and by any means, to remove him from power if he was thought to have started anything suspicious.[19] Mirwais then returned to Kandahar, enraging Gurgin Khan, who had to appoint Mirwais back to his positions. Gurgin Khan, plotted to advure[check spelling] things toward him and demanded that Mirwais hand over his daughter to be his concubine. Mirwais, insulted by this, communicated with the heads of many other tribes. They met in Mirwais’ tent and consulted on plans for revolt. Mirwais asked to lead any revolt and askef the tribes to follow him, which they respected, waiting for him to give the signal.

Mirwais disguised a young-looking girl and dressed her to take the place of his daughter and sent her to Gurgin Khan, which worked. Mirwais was now ready for revolt, but had one obstacle in his way. When Gurgin Khan allowed the Persians to return to Persia, he kept the Georgians of the army as his bodyguards. Mirwais had gone around this by informing the Tarins – tribal governors of the Pishin Valley – to stop paying tribute to Gurgin Khan. Gurgin Khan, not tolerating plans for rebellion, dispatched the majority of his Georgian troops to the region. Mirwais meanwhile had been arranging members of the branch of the Ghilzais tribe, with him being the chief and marched out to approach within a few miles of Kandahar. Mirwais then invited the marching Georgians, including Gurgin Khan, to a banquet, expressing his distaste for the Tarins acting out.[20][21][22]

Gurgin Khan, unsuspicious of treachery, was welcomed and respected, attended with a few friends of his. With everything going well, Mirwais gave the signal to slaughter the Georgians and Gurgin Khan.[23] With Ghurhis Khan slain, they turned their attention to the remainders of the Georgian army, which was unaware of what had happened. Mirwais ordered Gurgin Khan and all his men stripped and he and his men disguised themselves in their armor as Gurgin Khan and his men and set out for Kandahar, their appearance preventing suspicion. They entered the gates and turned on the Georgian army, cutting down the guards and admitting the awaiting Afghans from the rear. The Georgian army then was completely slaughtered by Mirwais and his followers.[24]

Hotak Dynasty

With the coup succeeding, Mirwais assembled the inhabitants of Kandahar, and made a speech about how the loss of Ghurghis Khan had weakened Persia, and the opportunity for freedom and liberty was now available to Afghans. Mirwais declared the infamous words:

The reply left nothing to be desired, with every Afghan hearing the speech now inspired to defend the liberty granted to them. Mirwais then assembled leading men of the different tribes and presented the situation to them: that the Persians likely would send a punitive expedition. Mirwais was then given complete executive power. Mirwais began arming his forces and also spread the word of his successes to other tribes to encourage them to join the revolt.[26] Map of the Hotak Empire 1715

Soon after, on the fourth day after Gurgin Khan’s murder, the rest of the Georgian dispatch returned from their campaign to suppress the Tarins, numbering around 600 disciplined Georgian men. Mirwais allowed them to approach within range of musket shot fire, then directed the guns to open up on the Georgian army. Mirwais opened up from another gate with over 5,000 cavalrymen of his own to cut off the Georgian retreat. However, 600 Georgians managed to slash their way through the cavalry. Mirwais then pursued the Georgian army for days; though repelled, he inflicted heavy casualties on them.

The retreating Georgians carried news of the revolution at Kandahar. The Persian court then tried to solve the issue diplomatically due to fear of the Hotaks calling in the Mughal Empire. The Persians sent an ambassador, Jani Khan, to assure Mirwais that the murder of Gurgin Khan would be forgiven if they allowed a Persian garrison in Kandahar. (The Persians also made war-time preparations just in case the plan failed.) The ambassador arrived in Kandahar and delivered his message, Mirwais imprisoned him in order to stall for time, and delay Persia’s preparations by not replying to the court. Mirwais had guessed the court’s moves correctly. After it heard nothing from Jani Khan, it sent another ambassador to Kandahar. This time, they sent the governor of Herat, Muhammad Khan, as he had good ties with the Ghilzais, and they believed that he could de-escalate the situation. Muhammad Khan was informed that he should “never make base proposals to men who are free.”[27][28] When the ambassador returned, the Persian court realized that war was the only option to bring Mirwais and his followers to subjugation.[29]

Clashes with the Persian Army

In 1710 the Persians dispatched a force under the governor of Herat to march on Kandahar to put down the Hotaki Rebellion. Mirwais, having heard that the army was mostly made up of Persians, advanced with over 5,000 cavalrymen, and completely defeated the Persian army.[30] In the course of another 18 months, the Persians dispatched another four armies to try to quell Mirwais and his followers, but time after time were defeated again. On the last attempt, the Persians advanced with over 5,000 men, commanded by Mahammad Khan, governor of Tabriz. Yet, the Persian army was completely repelled by the 500-man Afghan army, with the Persians suffering over 1,000 killed and wounded.[31] Amongst the prisoners from the battle was the governor of Tabriz himself and his three sons.[32]

In the wake of these defeats, the Persian court now focused all the imperial resources of the Persian empire on the Hotaki Rebellion. Gurgin Khan’s nephew Khusru Khan marched with a large Persian army to Kandahar against Mirwais and his followers. Khusru scouted ahead after advancing as far as Farah, and Mirwais taking up heavy positions near Ghirisk on the banks of the Helmand River, leaving the passes unguarded. Khusru led his army of 42,000 through the pass where he met Mirwais and his army. The Afghans, inferior in numbers, were defeated by Khusru, and with this victory, Khusru began marching on Kandahar.[33] Khusru demanded that Kandahar surrender to him, but the Afghans decided to resist. Mirwais hastened to the south of Kandahar, mobilizing a force of Balochs and Tarins. With this force, Mirwais marched toward Kandahar to lift the siege. He cut off enemy supply lines, laid waste to the land around Kandahar, and threatened enemy communications. Khusru tried to keep up the siege as long as he could, attempting multiple assaults; however, his army bled away, and he lost two-thirds of his force to scorched earth tactics and enemy counterattacks. With this, Khusru called for a retreat, but too late. Mirwais closed in on Khusru’s exhausted and wounded force with over 16,000 Afghans; the Persian army was destroyed and Khusru Khan was killed.[34]

The Persians tried again in 1713-1714, with an army led by Muhammad Rustum Khan, but after all these attempts, the Persian armies were still defeated in every encounter with Mirwais. Muhammad Rustum Khan was forced to withdraw in 1714 from the Afghan armies. This was the last attempt by Sultan Husayn and his court to put down Mirwais’s rebellion.[35]

Death and legacy

The mausoleum of Mirwais Hotak in the Kokaran section of Kandahar, Afghanistan

Mirwais remained in power until his death in November 1715 and was succeeded by his brother Abdul Aziz, who was later killed by Mirwais’ son Mahmud, allegedly for planning to give Kandahar’s sovereignty back to Persia.[36] In 1717, Mahmud took advantage of the political weakness of the Persian Shah (Sultan Husayn) and briefly conquered large parts of Persia.

Mirwais is buried in his mausoleum in the Kokaran section of Kandahar, which is in the western end of the city.[37] He is regarded as one of Afghanistan’s greatest national heroes and admired by many Afghans, especially the Pashtuns. Steven Otfinoski referred to him as Afghanistan’s George Washington in his 2004 book Afghanistan.[7]

There is a neighborhood called Mirwais Mina as well as a hospital called Mirwais Hospital, a high school and a business center named after him in Kandahar. There are also schools and a number of institutions or places across Afghanistan built to honor him. A few direct descendants of Mirwais are living today among the Hotak tribe.


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