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People and Tribes

“The force of Pathan character, the bravery of the Pathan solider, the shrewdness of Pathan assessments of political realism, once carried the forebears of this people to high positions of authority outside their own country…”


The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is populated by a large variety of tribes, sub-tribes and clans, each with its own network of ties but unified by the collective of being called Path an or Pukhtun, imbued with the characteristic force of character, bravery and shrewdness. Over the years, however, the larger towns have become a mix of various other peoples from Afghanistan, Kashmir and the rest of Pakistan, just as many Pathans have migrated to, or work in, the larger towns of Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan.

The Pathan way of life still maintains the age-old, time-tested code of behaviour known as Pukhtun Wali. Honour, revenge and hospitality are the cardinal principles while the jirga, or tribal assembly, plays a potent part in the resolutionof issues according to riwaj or tradition. The practices of"Nikkat", "Lungj" and "Moajjab" are still strong, binding and regulatory. "Nikkat" means pedigree lineage and determination of privileges and liabilities in accordance with the recognized tribal or sectional shares. The society is based on "naffa wa nuqsaan" or "benefits and losses". Under this system rights and obligations are equally shared by the tribes and sub-tribes. Tribal society is, thus, inter-linked through kinship, cohesion and common causes.

The presentation of "Lungi" or "turban of honour" is an effective measure to control and acknowledge tribal elders. These Lungi-holders along with the Maliks or chiefs provide the socio-political power structure of the tribal society. The system of Lungi-holders was introduced by the British to acknowledge services rendered to the Government, in emulation of the khilat, robe of honour, bestowed by Mughal emperors. The Lungi-holders worked as important links between the administration and the tribes. The Maliki system is hereditary and devolves on the son with regular benefits. The Lungi system is slightly lower in importance than the Maliki.

A tribe, by and large, lives together in a compact area usually called qillay, or is scattered and lives in an extended joint-family system. Some tribes, such as the Wazir, live in cluster of houses within one boundary wall called kat. In traditional establishments, male members have a separate mosque and sitting place called a hujra.

Among the smaller distinct ethnic groups are the Kalash and the Wakhi people. The latter are spread over the Wakhan Corridor in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and China. Ismaili Shiite Muslims by faith, they are found in the Yarkhun Valley in the north of the Province. Nomadic, they make extensive use of horses and yaks as beasts of burden. Some Wakhis live above the winter snow-line, well above the tree-line, and send their livestock to lower pastures in winter. Wakhis living at high elevations, burn heather, emergent vegetation from wetlands and peat for fuel. They also use peat, moss and stone to construct their houses.

Religious influences have been pervasive and permanent in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Following the spread of Islam by the Sufis and scholars, charismatic personalities emerged to exercise spiritual and temporal influence on the minds and the lives of the inhabitants. During the time of Mirza Kamran, and of Mirza Hakim after him, there arose in the mid-sixteenth century two leaders. One, Sayyid Ali Shah of Tarmez still known to countless pilgrims as Pir Baba, was a Hanafi Sunni. The shrine of Pir Baba situated beside a mountain-stream in Buner remains a place of pilgrimage and the most hallowed shrine in all Frontier. The other, violently heretical, was Ba-yazid, or Bazid, Ansari, the founder of the Roshaniyya movement. He called himself Pir-i Roshan, the "Saint of Light", and was by his enemies parodied bitterly as Pir-i Tarik, the "Saint of Darkness". The orthodox still refer to his followers as Tarikis.

One of the most remarkable Pathan to emerge from the pages of history was Sher Shah, of the Suri tribe. He dominated South Asia with his extraordinary administrative qualities and a visionary approach to all things practical. Born as Farid Khan in the southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, around Tank, he became known as Sher Khan when he killed a lion. A man of adventure and courage he exhibited military prowess in Bihar and Bengal initially. When Emperor Humayun was on the run during the battle with his brothers for the crown of the fledgling Mughal empire, Sher Khan seized the empire, and styled himself as Sher Shah. One of the most progressive of all South Asian rulers his initiatives were to have immediate benefits as well as spawn dividends for succeeding rulers. He constructed the legendry Great Trunk Road that figures in Rudyard Kipling's stories, especially his novel Kim. This several thousand¬mile long artery, from Peshawar to Lahore to Calcutta, with a branch from Lahore to Multan, was lined with shady trees and provided water-wells and caravanserais at regular intervals. These were reinforced with an efficient pony-post service and effective security network. Thus the safety of merchants and travellers across the length and breadth of the empire was ensured. He re-organized the management of land and the revenue collection system. The standardized metal chain, the jarib, he introduced was used by the Mughals, the Sikhs and the British. To this day the patawaris, the petty land-revenue officials, all over Pakistan and India use this convenient device. His reforms resulted in greater mercantile activity and filled the coffers of the imperial treasury.

Sheikh Malee preceded Khushhal Khan Khattak by a century or two, and is credited with achievement in different fields. The fertile lands of Swat had been a source of tedious ownership disputes. He laid down principles and settled them accordingly. Although the original record of land, Daftar-i Sheikh Malee, has been lost, adherence to his principles persists to this day not only in matters of division of land and water rights but for his words of wisdom. Khushhal Khan mentions the esteem in which Sheikh Malee was held.

Another extraordinary Path an was Ahmad Khan Abdali who ruled over all of present Afghanistan, the Khyber PakhtunkhwaProvince and the tribal belt. He led the Pathans to defeat the Marhattas at the Battle of Panipat in t 76 t, restored the Dehli throne to the Mughal king and extended his hold beyond Attock to Lahore and Kashmir.

The realization of the Pathan ethos led to an impetus in all sectors of life. Three personalities tower above all others during the British period. Harold Deane, George Roos Keppel and Sahibzada Abdul Qaiyum.All three left an enduring" legacy. Harold Deane (d. 1908) as young Assistant Commissioner had made his mark in the Yusafzai sub-division of the Peshawar district, where he commanded the respect and affection of the Yusufzais through his courage and fortitude. He went on to play an important role in the creation of Malakand Agency. As the first Chief Commissioner of the new Province, Deane was able to utilize the goodwill he had created to broader ends. He is remembered for reversing the old policy of punitive expeditions, by military forces against tribes, which involved indiscriminate burning of villages and crops.

Roos-Keppel who started his career in a British regiment, was a man of strong character, served in Kurram and Khyber as Political Agent and commanded the militia. An accomplished linguist, he spoke Pashto fluently. His frequent inter action with the populace through tours and jirgas and durbars contributed to enhancing the Pathan sense of unity and common cause. He was, according to Caroe, "A Pathan among Pathans." With Sahibzada Abdul Qaiyum he laid the foundation of the Islamia College, Peshawar, an enduring tribute of their foresight and wisdom. Sahibzada Abdul Qaiyum (d. t 937) became the Province's first Minister in 1932. Along with Muhammad Akbar Khan of Hoti, another leading citizen of the Province, he was nominated to the Central Legislature at Dehli. He was also member of the Round Table Conference in London and is revered for his services to education and civil society. Sahibzada Abdul Qaiyum "became the chief architect of that synthesis of Pathan with British practice which enabled a foundation to be laid for the political edifice within which the Frontier took its place as bastion of West Pakistan."The influence exerted by Islamia College was especially significant because it prompted the Pathans to look beyond their narrow tribal concerns to the greater future of the Pathan community. It also laid the foundation of responsible government and was instrumental in propelling the Muslim League in this region when the movement for freedom began under the dynamic Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The Quaid-i Azam visited the Islamia College thrice and not surprisingly willed his assets to three educational institutions, one of which was the Islamia College, Peshawar.

In the annals of bravery sepoy Ali Haider (1913- 1999), who was born in the Shahu Khel village of Kohat, ranks high. Of the 13th Frontier Force Rifles, he won the Victoria Cross at the age of thirty-one during World War II. Despite being wounded and under heavy machine-gun fire, he crossed the Senio River near Fusignano in Italy, put the enemy's machine-gun out of action and two strong-points out of order, wounded two enemy troops, caused the surrender of the rest and enabled his Company to cross the river and establish a bridgehead.

Another Pathan to win the highest award for gallantry, on a different front in a later time, was Captain Kamal Sher Khan Shaheed. He was awarded Pakistan's highest medal for bravery, the Nishan-i Haider"The Mark of the Lion", posthumously. He is the only one to be conferred this honour from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. During the Kargil conflict on the Line of Control (LoC), he set personal examples of courage while inflicting heavy losses on the enemy. He defended the five strategic posts, at the height of some 17,000 feet at Gultary, and repulsed numerous Indian attacks. After many abortive attempts, the enemy on July 5 ringed the post of Capt. Kamal Sher Khan with the help of two battalions and unleashed heavy mortar fire. Despite all odds, he led a counter-attack but he was hit by machine-gun fire and embraced Shahadat/martyrdom.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has produced a long list of personalities eminent in the political field.Khan Abdul Jabbar Khan (b. 1882) popularly known as Dr. Khan Sahib, the elder brother of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, trained as a medical doctor and joined the British Indian army. However, when Ghaffar Khan started the struggle against the British, Dr. Khan Sahib resigned and became active in politics. He started his own political party, Afghan Islahi Jirga j "Afghan Reforms Committee" in 1917 and renamed it Tahrik-i Khudai Khidmatgar I "Movement of God's Servants" in the 1920' s. In 1930 he joined the Indian National Congress. After Independence Dr. Khan Sahib became the Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwaunder President Sikandar Mirza. He died tragically at the hands of an assassin in 1957.Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890-1988), popularly known as the "Frontier Gandhi", was a most colourful pre-Partition politician. A personal friend of Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Jawahar Lal Nehru, he wore homespun clothes in emulation of his mentor. He fired the imagination of the tribals and the city-dwellers with his candid speeches and endeared himself to them with his rough and ready manner. Committed to the Indian National Congress, he was instrumental in creating pro-Congress goodwill which was effectively challenged by the rising Muslim League resulting in the referendum in favour of Pakistan. Ghaffar Khan continued to be venerated as a fearless Pathan nationalist till his death several decades after Independence.

Even before Pakistan, Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan (1901-1981) was an active member of the Central Legislative Assembly representing the Congress Party of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Born in Chitral of Kashmiri parents, he was called to the Bar in England in 1926 and returned to participate in the struggle for freedom. Disillusioned by the Congress politics, he joined the Muslim League in 1946 and succeeded Dr. Khan Sahib as Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after Partition. Twice Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at Bannu. He established the Peshawar University, the third after the Universities of Punjab and Sindh. He served as the Minister for Industries in the Central Government during 1953-54 and was elected to the National Assembly in the election of 1970. His lasting contributions are the land reforms in favour of the poor and the spread of education.

Sardar Abdul Rab Nishtar (1899-1958) was one of those personalities who played an important role before, as well as after Independence. He organized the people of the Frontier for the Muslim League's cause of Pakistan and later became the first Pakistani Governor of the Punjab Province. Born at Peshawar he graduated from Edwardes College, read for a Law degree at Aligarh University and as a practising lawyer became active in politics. He met the Quaid-i Azam when he visited Peshawar in the late 1930's. He won a seat in the elections of 1936-37 to the Provincial Legislative Assembly for the Muslim League. When the interim government was set up in 1946 under Jawahar Lal Nehru, Nishtar, as Minister of Communications, was one of the five Muslim Ministers. An accomplished man, a poet of Urdu and Persian, Nishtar has the distinction of being buried in the precinct of the mausoleum of the Father of the Nation in the former capital of the country, Karachi. .

The first military ruler to dominated Pakistan and set the tradition of military intervention in politics, was Muhammad Ayub Khan. Born in the village of Rehana in the Haripur district, he joined the British Indian army as an officer in 1928 and trained at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in England. He was the first Pakistani Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army and became the Defence Minister of Pakistan in 1954. When martial law was imposed by President Sikander Mirza in October 1958, Ayub Khan was appointed the Chief Martial Law Administrator. It was not long before, after a bloodless coup, Sikander Mirza was ousted and exiled. Ayub Khan became the President. From a General he elevated himself to Field Marshal. He contested general elections against Ms. Fatima Jinnah, the sister of the Quaid-i Azam, and won with an unconvincing majority. He introduced the idea of "Basic Democracy" which died with his removal from office. Ayub Khan's eleven years were a period of great economic and material progress. Much needed land reforms were carried out to benefit the landless and small farmers, to take the country out of the feudal system. Industrial base was laid to augment the predominantly agro-based economy. New mega-infrastructural projects like the Mangla Dam and the new capital Islamabad were started. The concept of the "Five-Year Plans" was successfully implemented. Banking and financial institutions thrived. Justifiably the "Decade of Progress" was celebrated.

The spirited defence in September 1965, following the attack by the Indian armed forces, was perhaps his finest hour. His speech galvanized the two wings of the nation to meet the challenge of a far larger, Soviet-supported, invading enemy. The civilian and military cooperation during those few critical weeks was unprecedented. Never since, in subsequent moments of crises, has it been even remotely equalled. The Treaty of Tashkent with India and the unrest in East Pakistan led to his undoing. His political acumen was seriously chal¬lenged by his nemesis, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who played Macbeth to his Duncan.

General Yahya Khan succeeded Ayub Khan, first as Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army and then as President. He was a Pathan of the Qizalbash tribe and was born in Peshawar. His only redeeming feature was the holding of the first and fairest general election in Pakistan. This initiative spawned forces which he could, but did not, control. Unused to political ways and byways, he blundered. ,As a key player during the late sixties and early seventies, the sound and fury of the times led him to watch a disastrous civil war and preside over a historic catastrophe. Pakistan, a country that millions in both wings had sacrificed to realise, was truncated. And an independent Bangladesh emerged from the smoke and ashes of East Pakistan.

Ghulam Ishaq Khan (d. 2006) will be remembered in history and the annals of administration as a glowing example of bureaucratic professionalism. His slow and steady rise from a lowly position in the revenue department to become the President of Pakistan speaks volumes for his scion of the Bangash tribe settled in the village of Ismail Khel near Bannu. His tenacity, intelligence, political savvy and becoming discretion held him in good stead. He remained bursar of the Islamia College Peshawar and was selected by Abdul Qayyum Khan, Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as his principal secretary after Independence. A dependable bureaucrat, he was appointed Chairman of the country's Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) and Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan. He served as federal secretary of several ministries. Chairman of the Senate when General Zia-ul Haq was killed in an air-crash, he took over as a President of Pakistan and was confirmed in that office by the first woman Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto. However, differences surfaced regarding good governance and the Bhutto Government was dismissed and fresh elections held. The government under the next Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif was also dismissed but subsequent events led to the resignation of both Prime Minister and President. During the years of his Presidency, he founded an institute named after himself, at Topi in Swabi district. The Ghulam Ishaq Khan (GIK) Institute of Technology is a centre of excellence and has brought a remote area into the educational mainstream.

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