The First Pakistani.
The local Pashtun population call the Kabul river as “Landai”, – The Short one. The longer one, the River Indus debouches into the Peshawar Valley close to Tarbela as the two rivers meet at Khair Abad Kund. These two rivers and the Khyber Pass are the two geographical features that have shaped the history and hence the fate of the people living in Peshawar valley and the surrounding mountains.
The city of Peshawar, they say is the oldest living city in South Asia. It is the apple of the eyes of Pashtuns. Like in the past, it has recently seen some of the worst excesses that humans are capable of inflicting on other human beings but the city endures and lives on , refusing to die- Such is the resilience of its brave people.
300 hundred years ago, the banks of River Kabul witnessed some of the most bizarre events of history. A little village called Sarai Akora, to the south of the river was the home of Pashtun warrior/ poet called Khushal Khan. He had already seen many battles against the archrivals , the Yousufzai clan across the river. His father Shabaz KHAN was the Mansabdar of Shahjehan, one of the greatest Mughal emperors. The river was a divide, a great divide between the loyalists Khattaks and the rebel Yousufzais.
The loyalist collected tribute from the tribes of the region and deposit it in the treasury of the Mughal emperor and the rebellious would pay it only when under extreme duress.Though blood brothers and from the same greater tribe of Pashtuns, their unfortunate fate was sealed by the Mughals, the Turco – Mongols who ruled from Kabul to heart of the Indian Subcontinent.
Memoona and Gulsanga, were cousins in their mid teens and both in love with the KK. KK was as handsome as they get, and struck a dashing warrior’s pose sitting on his horse named Seelai ( a tempest). Many a maiden’s hearts fluttered but the society’s strict patriarchal code kept the lid on flowing hormones…a quite unfulfilled existence. They were not to be seen, not to be heard let alone display their love.
Shabaz Khan, KK’s had gathered 500 horsemen and infantry to punish the rebel Yousuzais once again. Standing on a little hillock , he addressed his warriors.
“My Jawans, duty calls. Yousafzais have once again violated the agreement. They have not only refused to pay tribute but also raided the peaceful and loyal subjects of Zil e Ilahi Emperor Shahjehan. They have murdered and pillaged our Khattak kinsmen across the river. They have not only challenged the writ of the the Shahenshah but also the honour of Khattaks. By God , they will be punished”.
Allah u Akbar!
Allah u Akbar! shouted back the heavily armoured and charged warriors.
Horses and soldiers mounted the makeshift log boats, trying to stay as quiet as possible. The plan was to make a quick incursion into Yousuzai area, burn some Aka Khel villages, capture “Mal e Ghaneemat” like domesticated animals and immediately retreat back towards their area.
However fate had something else in store for these heavily laden warriors. It had rained heavily the night before and the retreat became a nightmarish affair.
In the meanwhile the fires from the villages alerted the various Yousufzais of the area. Their ” Chagha” ( The call to arms) soon rang out in the valley and before Shahbaz Khan and his warriors could make it back to safety, they were overtaken by the now somewhat organised Yousufzais and a furious battle ensued on the banks of small stream call Balanrh, a tributary of River Kalpani.
Warriors and tacticians give a lot of credence to the time – space factor in the success or failure in a battle. As the Khattak cavalry, infantry (Helmets, mail- chains etc) and captured animals entered the steep bank of Balanrh, the Yousufzai archers arrived on the bank with their targets well within arrow range.
The Yousufzai archers were particularly good. Arrows rained down on the retreating army caught in the middle of the stream within arrow range. Horses and men were maimed and killed. An arrow struck Shahbaz Khan right in the temple. KK too was a struck by an arrow in his calf and elbow all the way into his bones. His cousin, Saqi Baig, laden due to his armour couldn’t keep up and was cut down by Yousafzai swordsmen. Most of the horses were now useless, most men struck by arrows and bleeding. KK offered his now arrow struck and bleeding horse to his father, who refused and asked him keep fighting and save his cousins. Nonetheless they continued to fight and retreat towards safety. Eventually, SK was put on a stretcher made of arrows and carried to safety with great difficulty and the retreating force finally crossing the river well past Isha prayers. The Yousufzais had successfully chased their enemy back to the River Kabul. Besides others, four of KKs first cousins lost their life in this battle.
Memoona had been praying the whole night, waiting for her hero come back in one peace. She watched from atop the roof as the force was being helped back into their homes and hearths, her eyes furiously searching for KK. Shukar Alhamdullilah, once she saw him limp back still bleeding. She wanted to run out, hug him, take care of him but the power of traditions and customs froze her in her tracks. All she could do was beg her mother to go and take care of KK.
After removal of the arrowheads from his elbow and calf bones with a crude ” Ambur”, a plier of sorts, KK was brought into his father’s home , one look at him and he knew that his father was not going to survive. The arrow had penetrated the head and there was no way of removing it. Shabaz Khan died of his wounds on the 5th day of the 1st battle of Balanrh; 18th January, 1641. Like his father, the Khan and Sardar of Khattaks famous for his bravery and magnanimity died at the ripe age of 50 years. He is supposed to have regretted the constant bloodletting between Yousuzais and Khattaks, such was the vortex of Mughal era politics. He had remained in the service of the Mughals for about 19 years during which he had established diplomatic relationships with almost all tribes except Bhaku Khan , the implacable enemy. The name Bhaku Khan needs to be remembered as he will be playing a major role in the future.
At the age of 27 years, KK was elected unanimously as the new Sardar and Khan of the tribe by his many brothers and his uncles, notably Bahadur Khan. The concept of the progenitor has relevance in Pashtun culture but not necessarily in the scheme of Mughals. KK had to yet to prove to the Mughals that he was a deserving Mansabdar.
But first the business of “Badal” in the Pashtunwali code. KKs father had been killed by the Yousufzais and it had to avenged to establish his credentials in the eyes of his own tribe and his enemy’s otherwise he would have had to face the “Paighore”, the taunts from his relatives and tribesmen for the rest of his life.
KK recovered rather quickly from his wounds. First he tested himself in a ” Shikar” galloping around the hills of Cherat chasing big and small game. A peregrine falcon , greyhounds, his favourite horse “Seelai” as his constant companions. Shikar was his favourite pastime besides poetry and ” Ishq Bazi”. Much more on his Ishq Bazi later.
Most of us really don’t appreciate, the “Shikar” bit and Falconry. 300 hundred years ago, there were no farmed chickens or cows. Domesticated animals were prized possessions and slaughtered rarely. Men had to go and hunt for proteins and there was plenty of game but it was an adrenaline pumping and energy sapping exercise. No 4×4s and shotguns. Horse riding and accuracy with a bow and arrow while riding a horse at full gallop was the acme of skill and quite useful in battle. Shikar was also the favourite pastime of the Mughals, a sort of annual ritual of the princes and occasionally princesses. It was a social activity gelling tribesmen in bonhomie. You took from the nature what you could consume in the next one or two days..No deep freezers then.
Why do you think the Arab Sheikhs spend millions of dollars to come to Pakistan for this annual ritual- for collection of meat!
To shoot an arrow at a running deer, first one had to get the deer into the lethal range of one’s arrow, then aim the arrow slightly ahead , i.e. at the future position of the dear and let go while still galloping on one’s horse.
So easy isn’t it? Try shooting a duck in full flight with a 12 gauge shotgun with a number 4 cartridge ( 200 pellets) to find out.
Coming back to our shikari, warrior, Ishq Baz poet KK.
There is a place called Kaka Sahib deep in Cherat hills. There is a ” Ziaraat” , a mausoleum of Hazrat Rahamkar urf Kaka Sahib ; a spiritual mentor of Khattaks and a lot of other pashtuns. He was alive then so KK went to see him and seek his blessings before embarking on his next mission……Badal…..Revenge.
KK was burning in his desire to exact revenge for his father’s death and restore the honour of his tribe. Bahadur Khan, his much maturer uncle , kept urging restraint and waiting for the opportune moment but …Ah , the impetuousness of youth…..the quest for glory, the anticipation of battle couldn’t stop him.
Bareky 40 days had passed when he launched another campaign against his enemy, the Yousuzais.
Dehli- The Shahjehani Court.
During Shahjahan’s time the Indian economy was the largest economy of the world representing some 20 % of the world’s GDP. The magnificence and the opulence of the court was an envy of the world rulers of the time. As readers will appreciate that many wanted to be in service of such an empire but many also wanted to nibble at it for various reasons. The glitter of power and pelf attracts many carpetbaggers but only few achieve the greatness of Akbar. Empire building is not easy and once established it is very difficult to maintain because of the innate greed and caprice in human nature.