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GOMAL: designation of four geographical entities; A sub-province (Woloswali) and village in the Paktia province of eastern Afghanistan; a river originating in the Ghazni province and flowing southeast through the Waziristan tribal agency and the Dera Ismail Khan district in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan; and of a passage linking the eastern foothills of the Soleiman mountain range with the Indus plains.

Gomal, the southernmost district of Paktia, 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 Gomal river's main branch merge near the Babakarkol fort in Katawaz, a district inhabited primarily by Kharoti and Suleiman Khel Pashtuns (Gazetteer of Afghanistan VI, pp. 404-5). The river's second branch, the "Dwa Gomal", joins the main channel at about 14 miles below its source (MacGregor, p. 308). The Gomal flows southeast through eastern Ghilzai country for approximately 110 miles before it merges with the Doab River near Khajuri Kach. Roughly 100 miles further downstream it joins the Indus River at 20 miles south of Dera Ismail Khan (MacGregor, pp. 308-9; Gazetteer of Afghanistan VI, p. 238).

The Gomal River flows north of the Gomal mountain pass, which is also known as the Ghwalari Pass (Davies, p. 37), a term probably derived from the Pashtu word "Ghwa" (cow) and "lara" (road). The pass is approximately 13.5 miles long with width narrowing in places to 10 feet. The Gomal Pass is bounded by the caravan stages of Pasta Kats and Gatkay in the west and Maekinay 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 Khyber, and Tartara passes between Peshawar and Jalalabad. The Gomal, Khyber, Kohat, and Bolan 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 Gomal caravan road traverses both the Gomal Pass and the river. The Gomal 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 Gomal and Bolan passes, and farther north around and through the Kohat and Khyber corridors. During the 19th century, eastern Ghilzais, especially the Suleiman Khel confederation and Kharoti and Nasair tribes, comprised most of the powindahs who lived in tents (Pashtu, "gedai") and pastured their animals during the fall and winter in such localities as Tank, Kulachi, and Daraband (Davies, appendix XVI; Mohammad Hayat 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 Daman and Derajat 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 Gomal 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 Gomal region in the modern period include Baluch, Hindu, Jat, and Sikh communities, and some non-Ghilzai Pashtun tribal groups such as the Gandapur, Lohani (e.g., Babar and Dawlat Khel), Baytani (Bettani), Dotani, Mahsud, Marwat, Miankhel, Sherani, 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 Durrani domains, but it is more notable for maintaining relative autonomy from that polity and other surrounding states. Sarwar Khan Lohani of Tank 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 Gomal 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 Gomal region. Today the Gomal 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.
Mohammad Hayat Khan, Hayat-e Afghani, 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.

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