JABBĀR ḴĒL (or Jabar Ḵēl or Khan Ḵēl), the leading lineage of the Solaymān Ḵēl Paxtun tribe of the Ḡalzi/Ḡilzi tribal confederation of eastern and southeastern Afghanistan. Ḵēl in Pashtu generally means a small (minimal lineage, 3-4 generations) or large (maximal lineage, 5 or more generations) segment of a tribe that may occasionally refer to a whole tribe and its constituent lineages, as in the Solaymān Ḵēl (cf. zay “lit. descendant” in Aḥmadzay, tribe, and Bārakzay, lineage).

During the past three centuries the Jabbār Ḵēl maximal lineage has provided political and military leadership for the eastern Paxtuns, especially eastern and southeastern Ḡalzi tribes. This leadership role was triggered by increased contacts between the tribal Paxtuns of Afghanistan and the expanding Persian and Mughal empires during the first quarter of the 17th century, corresponding roughly to the reigns of Shah ʿAbbās I (1588-1629) in Persia and Emperor Jahāngir (1605-27) in India.

The Jabbār Ḵēl lineage has played military and political roles in opposition to and, occasionally, in collaboration with the state structures centered within and outside Afghanistan. On occasion, they have participated in joint resistance and organized military operations with Western Ḡalzi, Hōtak, and Tōḵi Paxtuns against Persians, Mughals, and, during the first and second Anglo-Afghan wars, British encroachments into Paxtun tribal territories.

The tribal Paxtuns of Afghanistan have been engaged with centralized polities at least as far back as the rule of Sultan Maḥmud Ghaznavi (998-1030) and his Ghaznavid successors (1030-87; see ʿOtbi, pp. 467-71). During these early periods and, continuing throughout the 16th century, Paxtun tribes generally remained marginal to state structures, but, by virtue of proximity to trade routs and/or other state-controlled strategic locations, some tribal segments, especially in the aftermath of European colonialism and global capitalism during the past three centuries, experienced regular close political and economic contacts with these structures. These relations induced segmentation (and occasionally fusion) and political and economic rankings in the otherwise egalitarian and cohesive organization of tribal societies. An important outcome of this process of transformation has been tribal access to state power structure and resources, triggering the emergence of dominant tribal segments and individuals.

Among western Ḡalzis of Afghanistan, Khan Ḵēl lineages emerged among the Hōtak and Tōḵi tribes during the late 17th and early 18th centuries leading to the conquest of Isfahan in 1722 by Shah Maḥmud and his cousin Shah Ašraf (q.v.) of the Shah ʿAlam Ḵēl (Khan Ḵēl) lineage of the Hōtak tribe. The prominence of Hōtak and Toḵi Ḡalzis in western Afghanistan began to decline with the rise of Nāder Shah Afšār (q.v.) and his invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent emergence of the Dor-rāni (q.v.) consortium of lineages (mainly Sadozay and Bārakzay) among the Popalzay tribal Paxtuns of southwestern Afghanistan. These Dorrāni lineages have had a long-standing collaborative relationship with the Persian and Mughal empires as far back as the early 16th century. As the Dorrāni state structure in Afghanistan was gradually being consolidated during the 19th and 20th centuries, the Ḡalzi opposition to this structure, led by their Khan Ḵēl segments, assumed increased intensity and frequency.

The emergence of the Jabbār Ḵēl as a dominant lineage among the eastern Ḡalzi was an outcome of tribal contacts with the Persian, Mughal, British imperial structures, and the Dorrāni state in Afghanistan. After the decline of the Hōtak Ḡalzis in western Afghanistan during the 1730s and the ascendance of the Dorrānis a decade later, the leadership of Ḡalzi Paxtuns passed on to the eastern Ḡalzis, among whom the Jabbār Ḵēl evolved as the leading lineage. During the reign of Aḥmad Shah Dorrāni (1747-73), Moḥammad-ʿAli Khan Jabbār Ḵēl was appointed the head of the Ḡalzi tribes. Timur, Aḥmad Shah’s son (r. 1773-93), appointed Ṣafā Khan Jabbār Ḵēl and later his son, Aḥmad Khan, to the leadership of the Ḡalzis. Aḥmad Khan died near Herat in a battle against the Persian forces. His son, ʿAbd-al-ʿAziz Khan, became chief of the Ḡalzis during the 1790s and early 1800s.

The Ḡalzis, led by the Hōtaks and Jabbār Ḵēls, posed regular opposition to the Dorrāni rule in Afghanistan. In 1801, a western Ḡalzi force, led by ʿAbd-al-Raḥim Khan Hōtak, captured Kandahar and then, joined by eastern Ḡalzi contingents led by the Jabbār Ḵēl, defeated the governor of Ḡazni (October 1801). Then the combined army advanced through Lōgar to within ten miles of Kabul but was defeated by the Dorrāni’s Qezelbāš force. (Malleson, p. 317; Elphinstone, II, p. 329; Ḡobār, p. 392)

Jabbār Khan, the eponym of the Jabbār Ḵēl, lived during the first quarter of the 17th century and died at an unknown date in a military operation against the Safavid. He is buried in the village of Ḵāk-e Jabbār, about 30 miles southeast of Kabul. The village is the center of the ʿalāqadāri, the smallest unit of a provincial government in Afghanistan, of the same name in Kabul Province. The locality is mentioned in non-Paxtun Kabuli and Fārsiwān lore for its harsh winters, robbery, and molestation of strangers by local Paxtuns (Gazetteer of Afghanistan VI, p. 315).

Most available written Paxtun tribal genealogies were originally produced by outsiders in Persian. British authors, while making modifications of their own and adding augmentations from local sources, have reproduced these genealogies in available English versions. In these genealogies, Jabbār Khan is usually linked through five ascending generations to the putative Ḡalzi ancestor: Jabbār Khan, nested in the Aḥmadzi tribe, nested in the Solaymān Ḵēl tribe, descendants of Izab, descendant of Ebrāhim, son (or descendant) of Ḡalzi, eponym of Ḡalzi tribal confederation. Three minimal lineages are nested in the Jabbār Ḵēl section: Aḥmad Ḵēl (descendants of Aḥmad Khan, Jabbār Khan’s eldest son), Maryam Ḵēl (descendants of Maryam, Jabbār Khan’s daughter; unusual for the patrilineal Ḡalzi, and hence their claim to Jabbār Ḵēl identity is considered dubious), and Ḵogiāni Ḵēl. Aḥmad Ḵēl, the senior lineage of the Jabbār Ḵēl, has in turn branched into three sections, each headed by one of the three great grandsons of Aḥmad Khan: Ṣafā Khan, Langar Khan, and Moḥammad Khan whose descendants have been prominent in the modern political history of Afghanistan. A descendant of these individuals who lived through the first half of the 20th century would be usually linked in eight ascending verifiable generations to Jabbār Khan. For example, Moḥammad Jān Khan (d. 1956, a high ranking government official in Kabul), son of Mehrdel Khan, son of Moḥammad Hanif Khan, son of Moḥammad-ʿAli Khan, son of Moḥammad Khan, son of Sarmast Khan, son of Esḥāq Khan, son of Ahmad Khan, son of Jabbār Khan.

The Jabbār Ḵēl are mostly engaged in growing wheat and other cash crops. They live in an area stretching from Ḵāk-e Jabbār eastward along the Sorḵrōd River, roughly paralleling the northern foothills of Spin Ghar mountain, to the western vicinity of Jalālābād, and from there northward throughout the southern part of Laḡmān Province. Leading families live in the villages of ʿAziz Khan Kats, Ka Kats, Moḥammad-ʿAli Khan Kats (all in southern Laḡhmān), and the districts of Ḥesārak and Sorḵrōd, all along major historical trade routs in this part of Afghanistan.

The Jabbār Ḵēl led the armed opposition during the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-42, q.v.) to the installation of Shah Šojāʿ by the British as the ruler of Kabul. During winter 1842 the Jabbār Ḵēl were prominent in (save for a few women and a medical doctor) the total destruction of the retreating British force consisting of about 700 Europeans, over 3,800 Indian infantry and cavalry, and over 12000 camp followers between Ḵāk-e Jabbār and Gandomak, a distance of about 45 miles. During his second reign (1843-63), Amir Dōst Mo-ḥammad and his sons fought several battles against the Ḡalzis, led, in the east, by the Jabbār Ḵēl. To cope with the Ḡalzi opposition, the Dorrāni rulers made marital alliances with the Jabbār Ḵēl (e.g., Amir Dōst Mo-ḥammad married a sister of ʿAbd-al-ʿAziz Khan, grandson of Ṣafā Khan) and encouraged intermarriages between the latter and the Qezelbāš community in Kabul, a major base of Dorrāni support in Afghanistan (e.g., ʿAbd-al-ʿAziz Khan Jabbār Ḵēl married a daughter of Esmāʿil Khan Bayāt, a leading member of the Qezelbāš community in Kabul). During the reign of Amir Šēr ʿAli (1868-79), several leading Jabbār Ḵēl were appointed to high positions at his court in Kabul. They included ʿEṣmat-Allāh Khan, son of ʿAbd-al-ʿAziz Khan, as a member of the state council and Arsala Khan, son of Langar Khan, as vizier and governor of Zormat. Three grandsons of Arsala Khan, Amin-Allāh Khan, ʿAbd-al-Jabbār Khan, and Fāteḥ Moḥammad Khan were high-ranking officials in the Afghan government during the middle years of the 20th century. Virtually all their descendents have now migrated to the United States. Wazir Tāj Moḥammad, a khan of Jabbār Ḵēl, commanded Afghan troops at the battle of Maywand in 1879 (Adamec, pp. 253-54).

ʿEṣmat-Allāh Khan, the chief of the Jabbār Ḵēl during early 1880s, rose several times against the government of Kabul and attacked government communication lines. He and his eldest son, Moḥammad-Hāšem Khan, were executed by Amir ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān (r. 1880-1901), while other sons were exiled to India. The Ḡalzi rebellion of 1886-87 against Amir ʿAbd al-Raḥmān was also led by the Jabbār Ḵēl. Prominent in the leadership of the rebellion were four Jabbār Khel brothers: Mehrdel Khan, Purdel Khan, Sherdel Khan, and General Najm al-Din Khan commanded Sardār Moḥammad Es-ḥāq Khan’s army against his cousin, Amir ‘Abd al-Raḥman in 1888. After the rebellion was crushed, thousands of Jabbār Ḵēl families were forced to move to Afghan Turkestan, seeding the ethnic tensions that to date beset Afghanistan.

During the destabilization of Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s, large numbers, including many leading families of the Jabbār Ḵēl, migrated to Pakistan, some of whom joined the groups fighting the then government of Kabul.

See also AFGHANISTAN iv, vi, x; GHILZI.



Ludwig W. Adamec, Historical and Political Who’s Who of Afghanistan, Graz, 1975.

James Sutherland Broadfoot, Reports on Parts of the Ghilzi Country, and on Some of the Tribes in the Neighborhood of Ghazni . . . , ed. William Broadfoot, JRGS, Supplementary Papers 1, 1886, pp. 341-400.

Louis Dupree, “The Retreat of the British Army from Kabul to Jalalabad in 1842: History and Folklore,” Journal of the Folklore Institute, 1967, 4/1, pp. 50-74.

Idem, “The First Anglo-Afghan War and the British Retreat of 1842: The Function of History and Folklore,” in East and West, 26/3-4, 1976, pp. 503-29.

Mountstuart Elphinstone, An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul, 2 vols., Karachi and New York, 1972.

Fayẓ Moḥammad Kāteb, Serāj al-tawāriḵ, 3 vols., Kabul, 1333/1915.

Šēr Mo-ḥammad Khan Gandāpur, Tawāriḵ-e ḵoršid-e jahān, Lahore, 1894.

Gazetteer of Afghanistan VI, pp. 271-73. Mir Ḡolām Moḥammad Ḡobār, Afḡānestān dar masir-e tāriḵ, Kabul, 1967. Ḥafiẓ-Allāh Xād Jabbār Ḵēl, De Ḡaljāʾi ḥeṣārak zini farhangi arkhuna, Kabul, 1987.

W. Jenkyns, Report on the District of Jalalabad, Chiefly in Regard to Revenue, Calcutta, 1879.

Kabul News-letters, no. 135, 1886, National Archives of India. Mirzā Yaʿqub ʿAli Ḵᵛāfi, Pādšāhān-e motaʾḵḵer-e Afghānetsān, 2 vols., Kabul, 1957.

J. R. Leech, “An Account of the Early Ghiljaees,” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 14, 1845, pp. 306-28.

C. M. MacGregor, Central Asia (Part II): A Contribution Towards the Better Knowledge of the Topography, Ethnology, Resources, and History of Afghanistan, Calcutta, 1871, rep. 1995.

George Bruce Malleson, History of Afghanistan from the Earliest Period to the Outbreak of the War of 1878, London, 1879.

Moḥammad-Ḥayāt Khan, Ḥayāt-e afḡān, tr. H. Priestly as Afghanistan and its Inhabitants, Lahore, 1874.

Jamiat Rai, Rough Notes on the Nasar, Kharot, and Other Afghan Pawindas, Quetta, 1922.

Henry George Raverty, Notes on Afghanistan and Part of Baluchistan: Geographical, Ethnographical, and Historical, London, 1988, esp. appendix, pp. 2-75.

J. A. Robinson, The Powindahs, Peshawar, 1934; repr. as Notes on Nomad Tribes of Eastern Afghanistan, Quetta, 1978.

Percy Sykes, A History of Afghanistan, 2 vols., London, 1940.

R. Warburton, Report on the District of Lughman, Chiefly in Regard to Revenue, Simla, 1880.

(M. Jamil Hanifi)

Originally Published: December 15, 2007

Last Updated: April 5, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XIV, Fasc. 3, pp. 310-312