Nuristan (nŏrĭstănˈ) [key] [Persian, = land of light or the enlightened], region on the southern slopes of the Hindu Kush, NE Afghanistan, bordered on the E by Pakistan. Formerly called Kafiristan [land of the infidels], it is inhabited by an ethnically distinctive people (numbering about 60,000), who practiced animism until their forcible conversion to Islam in 1895–96. Inhabiting relatively isolated villages in deep, narrow mountain valleys, they grow wheat, barley, millet, peas, wine grapes, and other fruit and raise livestock (chiefly goats). A special artisan caste specializes in woodcarving, pottery making, weaving, and metalwork. The Nuristanis, divided into several tribes, speak Dardic dialects (often mutually unintelligible) belonging to a distinct branch of the Indo-European language family. Nuristan was the scene of some of the heaviest guerrilla fighting during the 1979–89 invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by Soviet forces.
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