Khushal Khan Khattak v/s Aurangzeb – North West Frontier , 1670s

A : Hasan Abdal . B: Peshawar C : Jamrud  D: Ali Masjid . E : KabulA : Hasan Abdal . B: Peshawar C : Jamrud D: Ali Masjid . E : Kabul

 May I tell you the secrets of my heart?

Khushal Khan likes that grave where the dust of Mughal’s horse’s boots could not fall.

Khushal Khan KhattakKhushal Khan Khattak

Khushal Khan Khattak was born around 1613 at a place called Akoray near today’s Attock , Pakistan . His family had already been serving the Mughals for two whole generations when he was born . In fact , for the first half of his life , he too stuck to the family tradition . His father , Shehbaz Khan Khattak was a Mughal mansabdar under Shah Jahan , given a jagir in the Nowshera region and was responsible for the Attock – Peshawar portion of the Grand Trunk Road . Shehbaz Khan Khattak was loyal to Delhi , to the point of waging war against his fellow Pathans ,  Yusufzai renegades ,  in the region  . Shehbaz Khan Khattak fell fighting the Yusufzai in 1645 , a battle in which Khushal Khan Khattak himself participated and was wounded . In view of the yoeman services rendered by two generations of Khattaks , Shah Jahan confirmed Khushal as mansabdar in place of his father and affairs were to continue as before .


The advent of Aurangzeb and the Pathan revolt :
At the time Aurangzeb ascended the Mughal throne , by murdering his brothers and throwing the incumbent , Shah Jahan , into prison , the empire spread from the mountains beyond Kabul to the northern edge of the Sahyadris . And from the Indus to Bengal . Much of it had been static since the times of Jalaluddin Akbar  and had more or less stayed the same during the Jehangir and Shah Jahan’s reigns . If at all , it had expanded – for eg Shah Jahan’s conquest and annexation of the Nizam Shahi in the Deccan . This was what Aurangzeb obtained by sheer dint of being born at the famed Lal Qila . But the 6th Mughals politics was of a different brand . His approach was heavy handed , and he treated even his highest ranking officers with great suspicion . Anyone appearing to get to big for his shoes for quickly cut to size . At this point in time , Kabul subah was very much in Mughal hands . The Mughal subhedar at Kabul was responsible for the whole region spanning upto Attock on the river Indus . This included the cities of Peshawar , Jalalabad and the Khyber Pass proper . Amin Khan Shahdar , the governor in 1658 , managed to spread canards against Khushal Khan at Delhi , making Aurangzeb suspicious . It led him to believe that Khushal Khan was getting too powerful in the region , and soon issued orders for his arrest . So , around 1658 , Khushal Khan Khattak , whose family had served the Mughals for nearly a century , found himself in a prison at Ranthambore . Almost a decade of incarceration and torture followed , during which time he developed a life long hatred of the Mughals ; which amply showed in his poetry composed at the time . And ofcourse , he maintained that he was entirely innocent . As a couplet of him says :           ” I am in Aurangzeb’s prison undeservedly . Allah alone knows about these allegations and slander . ”   Finally , in 1668 , he was released and asked to accompany Mohammed Amin Khan on an expedition to the frontier to quell trouble being caused by the Yusufzais . While two decades earlier he had fallen upon them without a care for his life , his loyalty to the Mughal banner had now taken a severe beating. He stayed largely  aloof , and soon detached himself from the Mughals . His next few years were spent in penning poetry which aimed to rouse a sense of patriotism amongst the Pashtuns and encourage them to fight for their independence from Aurangzeb , having been insulted by him .

An example is given below : ( I guess it rhymes in the Pashto version )  

Cup Bearer, fill the flagon, fill it high,

Khushal shall sing of war in revelry,

Now blood has stained the hands of the pashtun youth, 

The talons of the hawke that knows no ruth,

 For full 5 years the tribal sword has flashed, keen edged and bright,

Since first the battle clashed, Upon tatara’s peak,

where at one blow, Twice twenty thousand of the moghul foe, Perished, wives, sisters, all that they held dear, 

Fell captive to the all conquering afghan spear, 

A slaughter in the Khyber Pass :
The Yusufzais were soon brutally crushed and Mohd. Amin Khan assumed subhedari of Kabul . In 1672 , he had moved to Peshawar to oversee some official work . Around this point of time , Aurangzeb had abolished ‘rahdari ‘  or toll – tax , across the empire ; causing much heartburn especially in regions like the Khyber Pass , where there were few other sources of income .  This coupled with allegations that Mohammed Amin Khan’s soldiers had molested women of the Safi tribe in what is now Kunar in Pakistan ( East of Peshawar ) caused widespread resentment . When fellow tribesmen killed the offenders , Mohammed Amin Khan responded by coming down heavily on the tribals themselves , aggravating the situation . Owing to the above two reasons , the Afridis of the Khyber Pass rose in revolt and quietly closed the pass , not allowing a caravan to pass to Kabul . Akmal Khan Afridi ( referred to in some places as Darya Khan Afridi ) declared himself independent and went to the extent of minting coins in his name . Considering that both Peshawar and Kabul were in Mughal hands , it was a brave if not audacious thing to do . He then proclaimed jihad , or holy war , against Aurangzeb ; who in Agra was busy painting himself as a model of piety  .     Mohammed Amin Khan responded in the usual ham handed manner , pouring men and money into the pass . A 15,000 strong Mughal army entered the Khyber , alongwith the usual entourage of camp followers . The Afridi and other tribes let them pass unmolested upto Ali Masjid , located at the narrowest point in the Khyber Pass . A point so narrow , it was tough work for even two caravans to pass each other . At Ali Masjid , arrows , stones , bullets and boulders rained down on the hapless Mughal army . The armed tribes swooped down on them from all sides and slaughtered the entire army . At the end of the mayhem , just four of the original 15,000 remained alive . 20,000 of the non combatants were imprisoned and sent off to Central Asia . Amin Khan had to bribe his own family out of captivity ! The resounding success of the Afridis brough many Pashtun tribes together . Khushal Khan’s poetry inspired them to unite against a common enemy . Many minor scuffles followed , in which alongwith Darya Khan Afridi and Aimal Khan Mohmand , Khushal Khan Khattak showed that he was as proficient with the sword as with the pen .The Afridis , Shinwaris , Mohmands , Safi and many tribes participated .

More troubles for Aurangzeb :
Recognising the gravity of the problem ,  Aurangzeb sent Mahabat Khan and the Rajput Maharaja Jaswant Singh to the region . Marathi readers will readily recognise the latter name . He stationed himself at Jamrud at the mouth of the Khyber , but was unable to make much headway . Irritated , Aurangzeb sent the relatively inexperienced Shujat Khan –  much to the chagrin of the two sent in advance .    Shujat , eager to make a good impression , recklessly charged the Mohmands and other tribes at the Karapa pass in Feb 1674 –  the usual story of slaughter and mayhem followed . Shujat himself got killed and it was solely due to 500 Rajputs sent by Jaswant Singh that some were able to return back alive . Khushal Khan Khattak’s poetry continued to inspire and the Mughals got another drubbing at Gandamak .

Aurangzeb at Hasan Abdal :

Now the padishah himself decided to move closer to the action , in the same month that Shivaji crowned himself Chhatrapati . In June 1674 , Aurangzeb arrived at Hasan Abdal , located between Rawalpindi and Peshawar and promptly took matters into his own hands .  He bribed tribe after tribe with tons of gold from the overflowing Mughal treasury . Then he dug into age old rivalries to set them against one another . He employed every trick in the book – sam ,daam , dand , bhed . Rajputs were poured into the conflict , and the best of Aurangzeb’s Pathan warriors – Aga Khan and Diler Khan deployed to crush the rebellion . Although there were a few reverses , the tide began to turn by 1675 . Aimal Khan and Darya Khan were both killed battling the Mughals , and Khushal Khan Khattak was unable to keep up the anti Mughal front .  Worst of all , his sons were not a patch on him , with at least one – Behram Khan – openly defecting to Aurangzeb . In 1676 , Aurangzeb returned to Agra . A settlement was reached with the tribes , which involved an annual payment of 12 lakhs . Fortunately the governor at Kabul did not try any new tricks and an uneasy peace was maintained . A dejected Khushal Khan retired to the  heart of Afridi dominated lands of the frontier . He continued to write poems about his love for his nation , unity , sacrifice etc etc .

Aftermath and effect :

Although the Mughals managed to re establish themselves , things were never the same again . The Pathan backbone of the Mughals had been broken . And because the Rajputs had been pitted against them , the Pathans could not be relied upon for countering the Rajput rebellion which followed . The days of Diler Khan and Mirza Raje Jai Singh would never be repeated again in Mughal history . Aurangzeb had to delay his invasion of the Deccan until much later – a crucial window  which allowed  more time for the Marathas to build a base which to launch the 27 year War of Independence . Although the frontier had always been a not so easy area , Jehangir and Shah Jahan had managed to keep the peace with various maliks ( tribal chiefs ) . Aurangzeb failed on this count .

Khushal Khan’s legacy :

He invoked a sense of nationalism amongst the Pashtuns . Inspired them to think as one nation and together face Mughal imperialism . Although he was not completely successful , the seeds he planted did not go completely waste .His ideals make him an inspirational figure , not just  the fact that he opposed the Mughals . For even Nadir Shah has that to his credit .   Mughal control of the frontier was forever  lost soon after Aurangzeb died .


Khushal Khan's grave at Akkora Khattak .Khushal Khan’s grave at Akkora Khattak .

Khushal Khan’s grave on which is written : “Da Afghan Pa nang mai watarala toora, nangyalai da zamanai Khushal Khattak Yam” (translation: “I have taken up the sword to defend the pride of the Afghan, I am Khushal Khattak, the honorable man of the age.”)


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