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 im-ported 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 sought.
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 Mir Wais 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 Mir Wais, credited with master-minding the rebellions, was sent to Isfahan tagged as a highly dangerous prisoner. Imagine Gurgin's surprise and dismay when Mir Wais returned to Kandahar shortly thereafter clothed in lustrous robes of honour, symbols of respect and trust. The Shah of Persia thus declared the influence of Mir Wais, not Gur-gin, at the Persian court. Mir Wais 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.
Mir Wais 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 assas-sination are varied, this discussion recounts the version popular among Kandaharis today who say that Mir Wais 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 de-bauch." This was the moment. Mir Wais struck, killing Gurgin, and his followers killed the Georgian's escort. The rebels then marched to take possession of the citadel.
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 Mir Wais extended his authority throughout the Kandahar region.
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 Mir Wais. He died in 1715. An imposing bluedomed mausoleum at Bagh-i-Kohkran, next to the orchard where Gurgin was assassinated, is a fitting monu-ment to Afghanistan's first great nationalist.
The qualities which enabled Mir Wais to lead the tribes toward a meaningful unity were not, unfortunately, inherited by his ambi-tious 18 year old son, Mahmud, whose visions only encompassed conquest and power. Killing his uncle, elected successor to Mir Wais, Mahmud gathered his followers and marched across Persia and seized the Safavid throne (1722). Mahmud 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.