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The Tanoli (Hindko/Urdu: تنولی‎; Pashto: تنولي‎) might be a Pashtun tribe,[1] connected to the larger Ghilji confederacy of the Pashtun people.[2]

The Tanolis mostly inhabit the Tanawal Valley in the eastern part of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, which they took over around the 14th century and named after their tribe.[citation needed] Although Tanawal is today part of the Hazara division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, in the past its larger portion comprised the two semi-independent native states or principalities of Amb and Phulra, ruled over by Tanoli chiefs of the same family, from about the 1840s to 1969. Prior to that, the area or 'Ilaqa' of Tanawal remained an independent tribal territory from around the 14th to the 19th century.[3] The English writer Charles Allen, citing from a draft manuscript written by Major James Abbott at the British Library, London, writes that the Tanolis were "extremely hostile, brave and hardy, and accounted the best swordsmen in Hazara".[4]


The Tanoli claim they originally lived in Dara Tanal,in the Ghazni region of present-day Afghanistan.[citation needed] In the year 971 AD The Tanoli joined the army of the Ghaznavid Emperor Sabuktigin[5] and traveled with it to Hindustan. After that, The Tanoli settled in Swat and Buner(Present-day Pakistan), previously known as Mahaban Area,[citation needed] formed their own state with its principal seat at Chamla[citation needed] and appointed Anwar Khan Tanoli, son of Behram Khan, as their first ruler or chief[citation needed]. The Tanoli ruled Swat and Buner until 1232 AD.[citation needed] Later, however, they came into conflict with the other Pashtun tribes who had newly migrated eastward into the region, most notably the Yusufzai.[citation needed] The Tanoli fought three battles, defeating the Utmanzai and Ummarzai tribes in the first two battles[citation needed], but in the third battle The Tanoli were defeated under their leader Ameer Khan[citation needed] at Topi[citation needed]; he was the apical ancestor of all Tanolis living in the Tanawal region.[citation needed] When The Tanoli were defeated, they migrated further eastwards and crossed the Indus River and settled on the eastern bank of the Indus River.[citation needed]

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, two of the main Tanoli clans, the Hindwal and the Pallal, fell into a feud and had a bitter struggle[citation needed]. The Hindwal clan gradually began to gain ascendancy under the command of their chief, Mir Gul Muhammad Khan[citation needed]. Gul Muhammad Khan was blessed with three sons: Haibat Khan, Mast Khan and Behram Khan.[6] After the death of Gul Muhammad Khan in 1772, the eldest son Haibat Khan (grandfather of Mir Painda Khan; well known in the history of the Tanolis) was declared to be the chief of the Tanoli Hindwal Tribe in Upper Tanawal[citation needed]. Whereas, Mast Khan established his Khanate at Pakhli with headquarter at Ghandhian[citation needed]. Later on, Mir Painda Khan of the Hindwal clan successfully united all Tanolis into one entity[citation needed], which eventually became the princely state of Amb.[citation needed] Mir Painda Khan also took the valley of Agror in 1833.[citation needed] The Swatis appealed to Sardar Hari Singh, who was unable to help them, but in 1841[citation needed] Hari Singh's successor restored Agror to Atta Muhammad, a descendant of the Mullah Akhund Saad-ud-din.[citation needed] In the 1830s, Painda Khan gave the territory of Phulra as an independent Khanate to his younger brother Maddad Khan[citation needed]. This was later recognised by the British as a self-governing princely state[citation needed]. The Amb State lasted until 1969, with its primary capital at Darband, and summer capital at Shergarh.[citation needed]

Amb and the adjacent areas have a significant history supposedly reaching back to the invasion of the region by Alexander the Great. The following excerpts taken from 'Memoranda on the India Estates'[7] suggest that:

“Amb and surrounding areas have a long history which can be traced to the time of the invasion of the region by Alexander the Great. Arrian, Alexander’s historian, did not indicate the exact location of Embolina, but since it is known that Aoronos was on the right bank of the River Indus, the town chosen to serve as Alexander’s base of supplies may with good reason be also looked for there. The mention in Ptolemy’s Geography of Embolina as a town of Indo-Scythia situated on the Indus supports this theory"

. The Memoranda continues:

“In 1854 General James Abbott, the British frontier officer from whom Abbottabad, administrative centre of Hazara, takes its name, discussed the location of Aornos on the Mahaban range south of Buner. He proposed, as M. Court, one of Ranjit Singh’s French generals, had done before him in 1839, to recognize Embolina in the village of Amb situated on the right bank of the Indus. This is the place from which the Nawabs of Amb took their title"


The construction of the Tarbela Dam reservoir in the early 1970s submerged Darband[citation needed], capital of the former state of Amb, under water.

Descent theories

There are two prominent theories about the descent of Tanolis; one relate them to Pashtun origin[1][5] and the other to Turco-Mongol.

British assessments

The British considered the Tanoli a martial race,[8] a term derived from the assumption that certain ethnic groups are inherently more militarily inclined than others and based on the observation that the Scottish Highlanders were more fierce in battle than other British races.[9]

The Tanolis have by close proximity adopted many Pashtun customs and take much pride in their dress, their language and appearance[citation needed]. They support themselves almost exclusively by agriculture, and their principal food is unleavened bread with buttermilk and butter; but fowls, eggs, fish, and game are also articles of their diet.[citation needed]

Of those who live in the hills, many are as fair as Italian, with eyes of light hazel or greyish blue, and frequently brown hair and reddish beards. Those who live on the low-lying lands near the Indus are darker. All are stout and active men, and have the reputation of being good soldiers.[citation needed]

They are hardy and simple in their habits, generally free from the vices of thieving and debauchery; but credulous, obstinate, and unforgiving.[citation needed]

Religiously, they are overwhelmingly Muslims of the Sunni sect.[citation needed]

Tanoli resistance against the Sikhs

Painda Khan, a renowned Tanoli Chief, who is famed for his rebellion against Maharaja Ranjit Singh's governors of Hazara, united the Tanolis under his authority.[citation needed] From about 1813, Painda Khan conducted a lifelong rebellion against the Sikhs. Hari Singh Nalwa, the Sikh Governor of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Hazara, took the initiative during his governorship of setting up forts at strategic locations to keep Painda Khan in check. George Scott in his book "Afghan and Pathan: A Sketch" mentions Painda Khan's struggle against the Sikhs in the following words:

"Painda Khan, the 'Silent Chief' held sway and spent most of his days making unexpected attacks on Sikh's outposts and detachments. When intending to start on a raid he gave one order: 'Saddle my charger'. It was a signal for his horsemen to don their armour and mount, and to follow their leader as he drove his horse into the river and swam him across, the rest following".[1]

Painda Khan's rebellion against the Sikh empire cost him a major portion of his fiefdom, leaving only the tract around Amb. This increased his resistance against the Sikh government. Eventually, General Dhaurikal Singh, commanding officer of the Sikh troops in Hazara, unable to subdue Painda Khan, hatched a conspiracy and had Painda Khan poisoned to death in September 1844[citation needed]. Painda Khan is still revered by many people in Hazara today for his role as a freedom fighter[citation needed].

Mir Jehandad Khan, son of Mir Painda Khan, also fought hard against the Sikhs. It was said, "Of all the tribal chiefs of Hazara, the most powerful [was] said to be Jehandad Khan of the Tanoli Tribe."[4]

When Sikh power was on the decline in 1845 Jehandad Khan blockaded the garrisons of no less than 22 Sikh posts in Upper Tanawal, and when they surrendered at discretion, he spared their lives, as the servants of a fallen Empire. Hari Singh, a Sikh ruler of Hazara from 1822 to 1837, inflicted severe chastisement on the Tanolis. Shingri, the headquarters of Sarbuland Khan, the Pallal Tanoli chief, was burnt, and the chief himself defeated near Banda Loharan, his son Sher Khan being slain by Hari Singh with his own hand.[citation needed]

Tanoli relations with the British Empire

The British Empire's first contact with the Tanolis was an unpleasant one, as in 1851, Jehandad Khan was summoned by the President of the Board of Administration in relation to an enquiry into the murder of two British officers supposedly killed in his lands, but he managed to show his innocence and consolidated his position with the British administration.[citation needed]

The British Government thereafter considered Upper Tanawal a chiefship held under the British Government, but in which, as a rule, they only possessed limited internal jurisdiction. The Chief managed his own people in his own way without direct regard to British laws, rules or system, unless these were in major conflict[citation needed]. Thus, this tenure resembled that on which the Chiefs of Patiala, Jhind, Nabha, Kapurthala and others held their lands.[citation needed]

After the death of Jehandad Khan, Khan of Amb, who had been given the temporary and personal title of 'Nawab' by the British government, the title was given formally and in perpetuity to his descendants of Amb state until 1972. The head of the smaller state of Phulra was designated as 'Khan Bahadur'[citation needed]. Thereafter the Amb and Phulra Tanoli families continued to rule their respective areas under overall British suzerainty until 1947, when an independent Pakistan emerged on the map of Asia[citation needed].

Role in the Kashmir Conflict of 1947-48

Nawab Muhammad Farid Khan sent an army of 1500 Amb State soldiers[citation needed] to take part in the Kashmir Liberation Movement from 1947 to 1948 (Kashmir Conflict)[citation needed]. The Amb State force carried its own artillery to the battle. They fought bravely alongside other frontier tribesmen and came under fire by the Indian air force just three kilometers from Baramulla sector. Around 200 Amb State soldiers lost their lives in the battle.


In most of the Hazara region, the language of the Tanolis is Hindko. Those living in Afghanistan, of course, speak Pashto just as the local Pushtuns do[citation needed]. Tanolis living in other parts of Pakistan have adopted Urdu as an additional language due to its status as the national language, as is the case with all other native ethnicities of Pakistan.

Hereditary Tanoli rulers of Amb Princely State

Tenure Rulers of Amb (Tanawal)[10]
unknown date - 1772 (Mir) Gul Muhammad Khan (Father of Haibat Khan, Mast Khan & Behram Khan)
1772 - 1803 (Mir) Haibat Khan
1803 - 1805 (Mir) Hashim Ali Khan (son of the above and brother of the following)
1805 - 1809 (Mir) Nawab Khan
1809–1844 (Mir) Painda Khan
1844–1868 (Nawab) Jahandad Khan
1868–1907 (Nawab) Muhammad Akram Khan
1907 - 26 February 1936 (Nawab) Khanizaman Khan
26 February 1936 - 1971 (Nawab) Muhammad Farid Khan
1971–1972 (Nawab) Muhammad Saeed Khan
1972/73 (Nawabzada) Salahuddin Saeed Khan[11]


  1. ^ a b c Scott (1929), pp. 71-72.
  2. ^ JW Spain 'The Pathan Borderland' 1969 ed
  3. ^ Dr Sher Bahadur Panni, "Tarikh i Hazara" (Urdu) 2nd ed. pub. Peshawar, 1969, pp. 103-122
  4. ^ a b Allen (2001), p. 139.
  5. ^ a b Kamran Azam Sohdroi, "Pashtun Tribes"(Urdu) pub.Lahore,2013, pp.52
  6. ^ Syed Murad Ali,"Tarikh-e-Tanawaliyan"(Urdu), Pub. Lahore, 1975, pp.84
  7. ^ Memoranda on the India Estates, Delhi: Manager of Publications, 1934, pp. 150–153 
  8. ^ Watson, JF & Kaye, JW 1872, People of India: a series of photographic illustrations of the races and tribes of Hindustan, originally prepared under the authority of The Government of India, volume Five, W.H. Allen and CO., Waterloo place, pp.
  9. ^ The People of India: A Series of Photographic Illustrations, with Descriptive Letterpress, of the Races and Tribes of Hindustan, Originally Prepared Under the Authority of the Government of India, and Reproduced by Order of the Secretary of State for India in Council By John Forbes Watson, John William Kaye, Meadows Taylor, Great Britain. India Office Published by India museum, 1872 Item notes: v. 5
  10. ^ Ben Cahoon, WorldStatesmen.org. "Pakistan Princely States". Retrieved 2007-10-03. 
  11. ^ Pakistan Election Commission - Unique Stats: http://www.ecp.gov.pk/content/uniquestats.html[dead link]


  • Allen, Charles (2001), Soldier Sahibs: The Men Who Made the North-west Frontier, New York: Abacus, ISBN 0-349-11456-0 .
  • Scott, George Batley (1929), Afghan and Pathan: A Sketch, London: Mitre Press .
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