GŌMAL (Gōmāl), designation of four geographical entities: A sub-province (woloswāli) and village in the Paktiā province of eastern Afghanistan; a river originating in the Ḡazni (q.v.) province and flowing southeast through the Wazirestān tribal agency and the Dera Esmāʿil Khan district in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan; and of a passage linking the eastern foothills of the Solaymān mountain range with the Indus plains.

Gōmal, the southernmost district of Paktiā, covers an area of 1,850 square miles. In the late 19th century, it included about sixty villages, six of which had more than 500 inhabitants. Estimates of its settled rural population then ranged from 10,300 to 16,800 (Gazetteer of Afghanistan VI, p. 238)

The headwater springs of the Gōmal river’s main branch merge near the Bābakarḵēl fort in Katawāz, a district inhabited primarily by Ḵaroṭi and Solaymānḵēl Pashtuns (Gazetteer of Afghanistan VI, pp. 404-5). The river’s second branch, the Dwa Gōmal, joins the main channel at about 14 miles below its source (MacGregor, p. 308). The Gōmal flows southeast through eastern Ḡalzi/Ḡelzi (q.v.) country for approximately 110 miles before it merges with the Žōb River near Ḵajuri Kats. Roughly 100 miles further downstream it joins the Indus River at 20 miles south of Dera Esmāʿil Khan (MacGregor, pp. 308-9; Gazetteer of Afghanistan VI, p. 238).

The Gōmal River flows north of the Gōmal mountain pass, which is also known as the Ḡwālari Pass (Davies, p. 37), a term probably derived from the Pashtu ḡwa “cow” and lara “road.” The pass is approximately 13.5 miles long with width narrowing in places to 10 feet. The Gōmal Pass is bounded by the caravan stages of Pasta Kats and Gatkay in the west and Meškinay and Rammu on its east (Broadfoot, pp. 376-77). Its many outlets and access points and proximity to other passages, such as the Zao and Danasar (Robinson, p. 35), have created confusions similar to those concerning distinctions between the Ḵaybar, Āb-ḵāna, and Tārtāra passes between Peshawar and Jalālābād. The Gōmal, Ḵaybar, Kōhāt, and Bōlān passes, and their subsidiary routes, have long been the primary channels of commercial and cultural contact between Persia, India, and Central Asia.

An important segment of the Gōmal caravan road traverses both the Gōmal Pass and the river. The Gōmal road is used by nomads whose seasonal migrations carry them between and through South and Central Asia. These Afghan nomad traders are commonly referred to as powindah when associated with the Gōmal and Bōlān passes, and kuči farther north around and through the Kōhāt and Ḵaybar corridors. During the 19th century, eastern Ḡalzis, especially the Solaymānḵēl confederation and Ḵaroṭi and Naṣir tribes, comprised most of the powindahs who lived in tents (Pashtu, ḡeždāy) and pastured their animals during the fall and winter in such localities as Tānk, Kulāči, and Daraband (Davies, appendix XVI; Moḥammad-Ḥayāt Khan, pp. 18-19; Raverty, pp. 325-27; Robinson, pp. 35-44). From fall until spring a significant number of adult male powindahs left their dependents in the Dāman and Darajāt to engage the markets of the Punjab, North India, and Bengal for trade and labor opportunities. Prior to the international border closings of the 1940s, the permanent residents of the territories associated with the Gōmal region were also commercially active as local bankers, craftsmen, merchants, brokers, and financiers of the powindahs’ inter-regional trade, and as long distance carriers themselves. Local inhabitants of the Gōmal region in the modern period include Baluch, Hindu, Jat, and Sikh communities, and some non-Ḡalzi Pashtun tribal groups such as the Gandāpur (q.v.), Lōhāni (e.g., Babar and Dawlatḵēl), Baytāni, Dōtāni, Masʿud, Marwat, Miānḵēl, Šērāni, Tarin, and Waziri (Elphinstone, I, pp. 55-72; Gazetteer of the Dera Ismail Khan District; Raverty, pp. 325-27; Robinson, pp. 35-44).

Pashtun prominence in the local social structure grew markedly during the Mughal period. The region was nominally incorporated into Dorrāni (q.v.) domains, but it is more notable for maintaining relative autonomy from that polity and other surrounding states. Sarvar Khan Lōhāni of Tānk was the most visible local actor during the early 19th century, and he was a primary facilitator of early British incursions into the area (Elphinston, I, pp. 62-68; Masson, I, pp. 49-56; MacGregor, p. 309). British attention to the Gōmal Pass and its surroundings intensified around 1860 and 1890 (Caroe, p. 375; “Captain Grey’s Deputation on Special Duty”). Despite various tactics and strategies during this period, colonial authorities did not achieve their regulatory aims in the Gōmal region. Today the Gōmal Pass remains marginal to the State of Pakistan, while continuing to function as a central corridor of communication and exchange between South and Central Asia.



William Broadfoot, “Reports on Parts of the Ghilzi Country, and on Some of the Tribes in the Neighbourhood of Ghazni; and on the Route from Ghazni to Dera Ismail Khan by the Ghwalari Pass,” JRGS, Supplementary Papers 1, 1886, pp. 341-400.

“Captain Grey’s Deputation on Special Duty,” National Archives of India in New Delhi, Foreign Secret, September 1872, Proceeding nos. 60-83 (including “Memorandum of Conversation Between Mr. Grey and the Amir’s Men on Trade Routes,” “Note and Memorandum on the Gomul Route,” and “Note on Extension of Gomul Trade Route”).

Olaf Kirkpatrick Caroe, The Pathans: 550 B.C.- 1957 A.D., New York, 1958, repr., Karachi, 1992.

R. H. Davies, ed., Report on the Trade and Resources of the Countries on the North-Western Boundary of British India, Lahore, 1862.

Mountstuart Elphinstone, An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul and Its Dependencies in Persia, Tartary, and India, London, 1815, repr., 2 vols., Karachi, 1992.

Gazetteer of the Dera Ismail Khan District, Lahore, 1884, repr., Lahore, 1989.

Charles Metcalfe MacGregor, Central Asia, pt. 2: A Contribution Toward the Better Knowledge of the Topography, Ethnology, Resources, and History of Afghanistan, Calcutta, 1871, repr., Petersfield, 1995.

Charles Masson, Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan, and the Panjab, Including a Residence in those Countries from 1826-1838, 3 vols., London, 1842, repr., New Delhi, 1997.

Moḥammad-Ḥayāt Khan, Ḥayāt-e afḡāni, 1865, tr. Henry Priestly as Afghanistan and Its Inhabitants, Lahore, 1874, repr., Lahore, 1981.

Henry George Raverty, Notes on Afghanistan and Parts of Baluchistan, Geographical, Ethnographical and Historical, London, 1878, repr., 2 vols., Quetta, 1982.

J. A. Robinson, Notes on Nomad Tribes of Eastern Afghanistan, 1934, repr., Quetta, 1980.

Taj Ali, Anonymous Tombs in the Gomal Valley and the Beginning of Tomb Architecture in Pakistan, Memoirs of the Department of Archaeology 4, University of Peshawar, Peshawar, 1988.

(Shah Mahmoud Hanifi)

Originally Published: December 15, 2002

Last Updated: February 14, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XI, Fasc. 2, pp. 119-120