Pakhtunkhwa Times

Colonial NWFP or Pakistani Pakhtunkhwa? Prof. Em. Dr Ahmad Hasan Dani

Posted in 1 by ppfcanada on January 21, 2009


North-west of the British has been a changing phenomenon in history. In their westward advance over the decline of the Mughal Empire the British first created the North West Province, which is now called UP in India, and much later in 1901 they agreed to the formation of the present North West Frontier Province and separated it from the province of Punjab. To NWFP was added the Hazara division for administrative purposes, as Gulab Singh to whom Kashmir was sold, could not pay the full amount and hence Hazara was taken away and added to this newly created province. The Mughals had formed Subah-i-Lahore, Subah-i-Multan, to which Sindh was attached, and Subah-i-Kabul, to which was attached more or less the present NWFP. Later the Mughals conquered Kashmir and extended their sovereignty over Baltistan and Ladakh.

To the original British NWF Province the government of Pakistan, in 1970-71, after the abolition of the states, added Swat, Dir and Chitral as new districts and also created the district of Kohistan, which was practically no-man’s land in the British period. Just before partition of the sub-continent, the idea of Pakhtunistan was floated by Congress for reasons not difficult to understand, but it fizzled out in the referendum as the people voted to join Pakistan.

Lord Curzon, in his Forward Policy, distinguished between the settled districts of NWFP and the newly established tribal agencies and fixed the border between British India and Afghanistan at the western end of the Khyber Pass for the first time in history and thus made a political division of the Pakhtun tribes. Dr. Akbar S. Ahmad, in his thesis, written under the influence of the British teachers, made unnecessarily sociological distinction between the Pakhtun tribes in the settled districts and those in the artificially created tribal agencies. Such a distinction never existed in history. Sir Olaf Caroe, in his book The Pathans tried in vain to trace the origin of the Pakhtuns from the Huns, although titles like Gul and Khan are certainly borrowed from the Huns and the Mongols.

The Pashto or Pakhto is a well-known Aryan tribe mentioned in the Rigveda along with others, Jadu (or Yadu), Kuru, Sivas and Bhalanases. The Jaduns are the modern Gaduns, Sivas have left behind their name in the modern village of Siva in Swabi tehsil, and Kuru can be recognised in the valley of Panchkora in the district of Dir and Bhalanases have left their name in Bolan Pass. It is the Aryans who first started the geographic name of Gandhara in about the middle of the second millennium BC that extended on either side of the river Indus, with two capitals, Pushkalavati (modern Charsadda) on the west and Taxila on the east. Later the western capital was transferred to Peshawar (old Purushapura).

In Gandhara lived eight Aryan tribes, known as Ashtakas, whose king, named as Astes in the Greek accounts fought with Alexander’s forces. The place name Hashtnagar recalls their memory. The Ashtakas have probably left behind their trace in the name Khattaks, who spread out south of the river Kabul right up to Attock.The Achaemenian Iranian Empire extended into this part, and Herodotus names the provinces as Gandhara, Paktyike, Sattagudi (i.e. Sapta Gomati, inclusive of Bannu, D.I. Khan, Zhob and Loralai districts, and finally Maka or Makran in the coastal region. Next province is called Hindu or Sindhu to the east of the river Sindhu. He also mentions the country of Darad in the north and refers to the Babylonian name Paropamisadae, i.e. the hilly area beyond, which in Sanskrit is called Avagana, or Apagana or Afgana (ava meaning far and gana meaning tribe) and hence tribes of the distant area, referring to Kabul region. Paktyike still survives in the provincial name of Paktya in Afghanistan, although it is much reduced in size.

The geographical name Gandhara continued until AD10 century, i.e for nearly twenty-five hundred years, when after the overthrow of the Hindu Shahi dynasty by Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, it was incorporated into his Ghazni empire and Gandhara was forgotten into the limbo of history. The Arab conquest of this region does not record Pakhto or Pakya because the Arabs fought with the Turki Shahi or Hindu Shahi rulers. However, the spread of Islam transformed the whole mental make-up and tradition of the people. Many of the tribes started connecting themselves with the Semitic tribes or with Iranian heroes of Shanamah fame; e.g. Gakkhars call themselves Kianis, and the Awans associate themselves with Qutub Shahis. Similarly, the Pakhtuns trace their traditional origin from the lost tribes of the Jews, as recorded in the Makhzan-i-Afghana of the time of Sher Shah Suri. It is after the conquest of the Arabs that the name Khyber was applied to the pass and Ali Masjid was built there near the old Buddhist site. But the name Khyber was never used this side of Jamrud. However, the Pakhto tribes got associated with Turkic conquerors and along with them they spread out into north India right up to Bengal.

From AD 10 century onward the Muslim historians use the word Afghan in their works but in India the world Pakhto is corrupted as Pathan or sometimes a new word is deprived from Roh, i.e. Koh Sulaiman and we get the world Rohilla or Rohilkhand, which played an important part in the later Mughal history.With the spread of the Timurid Empire the Afghan tribes were much disturbed. With Timur’s son Shah Rukh sitting at his new capital of Herat, having full control over Kandahar, the Pakhtun tribes around Kandahar were shaken. Some tribes, like Tarin, moved into norther part of Balochistan, and others like Lodhis, Suris, Niazis and Durranis came to Punjab. The Yusufzais moved towards Kabul and later when Babar occupied Kabul, the Yusufzais spread eastward towards Bajaur, Dir, Swat, Mardan and Peshawar districts, displacing the earlier tribes who took shelter in Hazara.

The older tribes, such as the Khattaks in the south and Awans in the east developed rivalry against the newly arrived Yusufzais and Mohammadzais, who were already against the Mughals. The resettlement of the tribes took considerable time when they were again caught in the establishment of the Mughal authority here. In the pre-Mughal period the conditions remained disturbed because of tribal jealousies and Mongol invasions. When the Mughal emperor Akbar was able to befriend the Khattaks and made them give security for the new road that he built south of the river Kabul from Attock to Peshawar and onward through the Khyber Pass to Kabul. In lieu of the toll tax the security was guaranteed and the region west of the Indus river was tagged onto Subah-i-Kabul. When the Afghan State was created after the death of Nadir Shah by his successor Ahmad Shah Abdali the region remained a part of that state until Ranjit Singh separated it and joined with his new state of Punjab.

With the British conquest the Sikh State of Punjab became Punjab province and its extent included this region, until 1901 when the new province was created under the new name of North West Frontier Province.

As far as the British Indian Empire was concerned, the new colonial name of the province was fully justified as this province lay to the north-west frontier of the Empire but in the present geographical context of Pakistan it is neither the only region in the north-west nor the only part lying in the frontier of the state. Hence in my earlier articles I have been using the old historical name, Gandhara, and calling it the Land of the Pakhtuns, because the large majority of the people here are Pakhtuns and they speak the Pakhto or Pashto language. As we have accepted the name Balochistan because large majority of the people are Baloch, although

Frontier Post – February 15, 1998


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