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Khushhal Khan Khatak

Khushhal Khan Khatak

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Published by Pashtoon
The Great Pashtoon Fighter
The Great Pashtoon Fighter

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Published by: Pashtoon on Apr 18, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Russian hegemony over areas of Central Asia began in earnest in thenineteenth century. During the previous two centuries, empire building inthe region had been largely in the hands of the Persians to the west and the Mughals, based in Dehli, to the east. As the Persians and Mughals vied for supremacy, history was a confusion of loyalties and struggles.
hile some of the western Pashtoon were fighting alongside Safavid rulersof Persia against the Mughals, others could be found in the Mughal armiesfighting their fellow Pashtoons during attempts to regain territories aroundKandhar and in the eastern Afghanistan. Other tribes attempted to stay neutraluntil economic pressers persuaded them to join one side or the other. TheMughals had already discovered that the most expedient method of controllingthe unruly Pashtoons was to pay subsidies to the tribes them to attempt militarysubjugation. But even the vast amounts paid out by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in the middle of the seventeenth century were no guarantee of peace,and in the later part of his region the Pashtoon threat to his Empire wasconsiderable as the Mughal armies suffered a series of humiliating defeats. Thiswas an era of glory for the Pashtoons and is familiar to them today through thepoetry of Khushal Khan is renowned as the greatest of all Pashtoon poets, the'Shakespeare of the Frontier'. He also epitomised those personal characteristics
that his fellow tribesmen so admired: he was a strong leader, a warrior and aman of great honour as well as a consummate poet:
My sword I grit upon my thighTo guard our nation's ancient fame;It's champion in this age am I,The Khattak Khan, Khushal my name.
Khushal Khan was the conscience of his people. During one campaign, when theYusufzai Pashtoons refused to help the Khattaks and their other allies, he wrote:
The Afghans are far superior to the Mughals at the sword,Were but the Afghans, in intellect, a little discreet,If the different tribes would but support each other,Kings would have to bow down in prostration before them.But whether it be concord or strife, or folly or wisdom,The affairs of every one are in the hands of the Almighty.Let us see what the Afridis, Mohmands, and Shinwaris will do;For the Mughals are now lying encamped at Nangrahar.I alone, amongst the Afghans, grieve for our honour andrenown;Whilst the Yusufzais at their ease are tilling their fields.They who now act so dishonourably, and so shamelessly,Will, hereafter, the upshot of their own acts perceive.In my poor judgement, death is more preferable than life,But the memory of Khushal will long, long endure!
Khushal Khan was descended from a long line of warrior chiefs. His father waskilled in a battle against the Yusufzais, which no doubt contributed to KhushalKhan's jaundiced view of them. By the seventeenth century Khattaks were aformidable force whose allegiance was of great importance to the Mughals. Likehis father before him Khushal Khan at first accepted Mughal wealth in return for protecting and controlling the main road between Attock and Peshawar, whichmeant collecting the tolls from those wishing to cross the river Indus. His tribeflourished and benefited from this allegiance and Khushal Khan continued toaccept Mughal hegemony. He even took a Khattak force to fight for the Mughal
Emperor Shah jahan during disturbance in Turkestan and Badakhshan. He later wrote that his main reason for supporting the Mughals was to use them in his liferivalry with the neighbouring Yusufzai tribe. Local rivalries were of for greater importance than any Pashtoon nationalism. By gaining the favour with theMughals, he was able to capture Yusufzai land to the north and prevent Yusufzairetaliation.Khushal Khan had supported Shah Jahan and continued that support for ShahJahan's son and heir Aurangzeb until, for some reasons that remain confused,Aurangzeb had Khushal Khan arrested and imprisoned. On his release fromprison in 1668, nearly five years after his arrest, Khushal Khan became one of the leaders of a tribal rebellion against the Mughals that was remarkable for itssuccess and for the temporary unity it encouraged between several rivalPashtoon tribes.When' in the seventeenth century, a woman of the Safi tribe was insulted bysoldiers serving the Mughals, the inevitable consequence was that Safitribesmen killed the soldiers. The Mughals in their turn immediately demandedretribution from the Safi chiefs and from nearby vassal tribesmen, demandingthat the Pashtoons responsible for killing the soldiers should be captured andhanded over for punishment When this was not forthcoming, the Governor of Peshawar set out with a large force to teach Safi and their tribal allies theMohmands, Afridis and Shinwaris, a lesson. The Mughal army was defeated witha reported loss of 40,000 men. With in two years the whole Frontier was a blazeand by 1674 the Emperor Aurangzeb had to go there in person to attempt tocrush Pashtoon opposition to his rule. But by then, vassal tribes such asKhattaks and Niazis, seeing Pashtoon successes and Mughal vulnerability,began to shrug off their old loyalties to the Mughal empire and joined in therevolt. Khushal Khan, still bitter from his earlier imprisonment, led his tribeagainst the Mughals that year and recorded the event in his diary and poems.Khushal Khan's greatest battle was that mentioned in the poem as the third affair,when, with Afridis, he attacked and captured the fort at Nowshera. Much of therest of his life was spent in 'lesser triumphs' against the Emperor's forces,although the strain of attempting to maintain some unity between his ownfollowers and other Pashtoon tribes eventually created a bitterness anddisillusionment that was then transferred to his poems.The tenuous unity, to which Pashtoon success in battle can be attributed,collapsed as inter-tribal feuds and rivalries were slowly renewed, encouraged bythe Mughal Emperor's astutely distributed bribes. Khushal Khan Khattak retiredfrom the battlefield in disgust and used his pen to attack the weakness in his ownsociety with same fervour with which he had previously used his sword. Hisdescription of Pashtoon foibles provide insights in to the Pashtoon Character andare as much a reflection of Pashtoon society today as in the seventeenth century.On Khushal Khan's retirement from active chieftanship, his many sons beganfighting for the leadership of the Khattak tribe, and the bickering often broke out

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