KHUSHAL KHAN KHATTAK 

THE GREATEST PASHTO POET

Russian hegemony over areas of Central Asia began in earnest in the nineteenth century. During the previous two centuries, empire building in the 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.

W

hile some of the western Pashtoon were fighting alongside Safavid rulers

of Persia against the Mughals, others could be found in the Mughal armies fighting their fellow Pashtoons during attempts to regain territories around Kandhar and in the eastern Afghanistan. Other tribes attempted to stay neutral until economic pressers persuaded them to join one side or the other. The Mughals had already discovered that the most expedient method of controlling the unruly Pashtoons was to pay subsidies to the tribes them to attempt military subjugation. 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 was considerable as the Mughal armies suffered a series of humiliating defeats. This was an era of glory for the Pashtoons and is familiar to them today through the poetry 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 a man of great honour as well as a consummate poet: My sword I grit upon my thigh To 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 the Yusufzai 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 and renown; 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 was killed in a battle against the Yusufzais, which no doubt contributed to Khushal Khan's jaundiced view of them. By the seventeenth century Khattaks were a formidable force whose allegiance was of great importance to the Mughals. Like his father before him Khushal Khan at first accepted Mughal wealth in return for protecting and controlling the main road between Attock and Peshawar, which meant collecting the tolls from those wishing to cross the river Indus. His tribe flourished and benefited from this allegiance and Khushal Khan continued to accept 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 life rivalry with the neighbouring Yusufzai tribe. Local rivalries were of for greater importance than any Pashtoon nationalism. By gaining the favour with the Mughals, he was able to capture Yusufzai land to the north and prevent Yusufzai retaliation. Khushal Khan had supported Shah Jahan and continued that support for Shah Jahan's son and heir Aurangzeb until, for some reasons that remain confused, Aurangzeb had Khushal Khan arrested and imprisoned. On his release from prison 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 its success and for the temporary unity it encouraged between several rival Pashtoon tribes. When' in the seventeenth century, a woman of the Safi tribe was insulted by soldiers serving the Mughals, the inevitable consequence was that Safi tribesmen killed the soldiers. The Mughals in their turn immediately demanded retribution from the Safi chiefs and from nearby vassal tribesmen, demanding that the Pashtoons responsible for killing the soldiers should be captured and handed 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 the Mohmands, Afridis and Shinwaris, a lesson. The Mughal army was defeated with a reported loss of 40,000 men. With in two years the whole Frontier was a blaze and by 1674 the Emperor Aurangzeb had to go there in person to attempt to crush Pashtoon opposition to his rule. But by then, vassal tribes such as Khattaks and Niazis, seeing Pashtoon successes and Mughal vulnerability, began to shrug off their old loyalties to the Mughal empire and joined in the revolt. Khushal Khan, still bitter from his earlier imprisonment, led his tribe against 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 the rest of his life was spent in 'lesser triumphs' against the Emperor's forces, although the strain of attempting to maintain some unity between his own followers and other Pashtoon tribes eventually created a bitterness and disillusionment 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 by the Mughal Emperor's astutely distributed bribes. Khushal Khan Khattak retired from the battlefield in disgust and used his pen to attack the weakness in his own society with same fervour with which he had previously used his sword. His description of Pashtoon foibles provide insights in to the Pashtoon Character and are as much a reflection of Pashtoon society today as in the seventeenth century. On Khushal Khan's retirement from active chieftanship, his many sons began fighting for the leadership of the Khattak tribe, and the bickering often broke out

in to open warfare. Eventually one son, Bahram, regarded by his father as a degenerate, climbed to the top of the pile, having successfully had another brother, Khushal's favourite, arrested and imprisoned by the Mughals. He sent a son with some armed men to capture Khushal Khan, but when the 77-years-old patriarch saw the party of men approaching he drew his sword and called out: 'Whoever are men amongst you, come to the sword if you dare.' The party is reported to have returned, ashamed, to Bahram. Undaunted, Bahram again turned to the Mughals for help, and the governor of Peshawar promised him troops to capture the old man. Before Bahram could do so, Khushal Khan fled in to Afridi territory where he died a year later, an exile from his own tribe. As with the other events of his life, Khushal Khan penned his disappointment in a bitter poem: The art of chieftanship thou hast not learned, Bahram, In thy time thou hast dishonoured the chiefship; For the rest count not thy name among my sons' That is the last prayer breathed by Khushal the Khattak.