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Khyber History

The Khyber Agency takes its name from the world famous Khyber Pass, which has throughout served as the corridor connecting the Indo-Pak sub-continent with Afghanistan and Central Asia. Khyber itself is a Hebrew word, which means place or castle. There is a fort known as 'Khyber' 64 km to the west of medina (Saudi Arabia). This was a stronghold of Jews in the pre-Islamic days. This same Khyber Fort was conquered by Hazrat Ali as the head of an Islamic army. Still Khyber Pass has no connection whatsoever with the Khyber Fort of Arabia. One view is that Khyber got its present name in the past because it enjoyed as strategic an importance as a fort. There is also a small village by the name of Khyber on the road from Peshawar to Landi Kotal. Khyber Pass might have received its name from the Khyber village. But usually by Khyber is meant the Khyber Pass. This pass begins a little distance ahead of Jamrud, from Shadibagiar and ends near Landi Kotal and is about 40 km long. Yet from Jamrud to Landi Khana its length is 48 Km.

The location of this Pass has given the people of Khyber and the Agency itself, worldwide recognition and has made it the focus of attention of any historian interested in this part of the world. Khyber and its people (although officially designated as an Agency only in 1869) have a history dating back thousands of years. The reason is of course the geographical location of this part of the sub-continent. Through the Khyber Pass, invaders like Changez Khan, Taimurlane and Mahmood of Ghazni traveled, whose exploits can be found in any history book. However going back even further, history tells us that this passage was used by the Arians coming down from Central Asia in the year 1600 BC. The Persians are reported to have occupied this Region in the 6th century BC, whereas Alexander's Army of Greek invaders used this passage in 326 BC.

In the first century AD, the Kushans set up a Central Asian empire with Peshawar as its capital thereby making Khyber an imperial route for regular international traffic. It was during this period also that Buddhism spread in the Region and Buddhist and Greek Art flourished for the first time and the golden period of Gandhara Art Blossomed.

The Kushans were followed in the 3rd century AD by the Sassanians, an Iranian dynasty that preceded the advent of the Huns. After this period Islam began to flourish in Central Asia resulting in a string of Muslim conquerors/warriors invading the area fired with the zeal of Islamic ideology, and moving towards the sub-continent as well as to conquer and consolidate their hold over the area.

This was the time of the great Muslim Conqueror of Somanath, Mahmood of Ghazni who only used the Khyber route when he marched to encounter Jaipal in the Peshawar valley. The conquests of Mahmood Gaznavi, led to the capture of Delhi and the defeat of Parthavi Raj and the ending of 700 years of Hindu domination.

The Mughals came to India for the first time after this and the Mughal Empire lasted for 300 years. Emperors Babur and Humayoon each traveled it more than once. In 1739 AD. Nadir Shah of Persia came to Delhi and seized the Peacock Throne used by all the great Mughals, taking into custody all other valuables. Nadir Shah advancing by Khyber to attack Nasir Khan, Subedar of Kabul under the Mughal Government, was however opposed by the Pathans but he led his cavalry through Bazar, took Nasir Khan completely by surprise and expelled him from the Jamrud area.

Finally through Khyber came Ahmad Shah Abdali (1747-73), the founder of modern Afghanistan. This great Afghan conqueror and administrative genius destroyed the Marhatas at Panipat in 1761 AD and saved Indian Muslims from annihilation by militant Ahmad Shah Abdali and his grandson Shah Zaman in the invasion of the Punjab also followed the Khyber routes on several occasions. The mughal emperors attached great importance to the control of the Khyber, but were singularly unsuccessful in their attempts to keep the route open. Then, as now it was held by the Afridi Pathans, a race implacably hostile to the Mughals.

Jalalabad, first fortified by Humayun in 1552, was further strengthened by his son Jalal-ud-Din Akbar, after whom it was named and the latter emperor so improved the road that wheeled carriages could traverse it with ease. But even in his reign the Khyber was infested by the Roshania advocates who wielded great influence over the Afghan tribes, and the Rajput General Man Singh had to force the pass in 1586, when Akbar desired to secure possession of Kabul on the death of his brother Mirza Muhammad Hakim. In 1672, under Aurangzeb, the tribes waylaid the Subedar of Kabul, Muhammad Amin Khan, in the pass and annihilated his army of 40,000 men, capturing all his treasure, elephants, women and children.

Apart from witnessing the march of steel-helmeted legions the Khyber Pass has also seen many important figures of contemporary history treading its hard soil, including Lord Curzon and Duffer in, Sir Mortimer Durand, who drew the existing frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Amir Sher Ali Khan, Amir Abdul Rehman Khan, Amir Habibullah Khan, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and above all, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah (may his soul rest in peace).

The first British advance into the Khyber was in 1839, when Captain Wade was deputed to conduct Shahzada Timur to Kabul via Peshawar, while his father Shah Shuja was escorted by the army of the Indus via the Bolan Pass and Kandahar.

During the first Afghan War the Khyber was the scene of many skirmishes with the Afridis and of some disasters to the British. Captain Wade along with an army of 10,000 to 11,000 including the Sikh contingent, moved from Jamrud on July 22, 1839, to Gagri. The fort was evacuated by the Afridis but with a loss of 22 killed and 150 wounded.

When Jalalabad was blocked, it was proposed to send a force through the Khyber to its relief, and as a preliminary measure Lt. Colonel Moseley was detached to occupy Ali Masjid with two regiments of native infantry.

After the Sikh War the Afridis took service in large numbers in the Indian army, and when the Mutiny of 1857 broke out, the Afridis did exceedingly well. From 1857 to 1878 the Afridis were however, never on good terms with the Afghans. They very often visited the British officers of Peshawar District, but relations with them were maintained through the Khalil and Mohmand Arbabs of Peshawar District, who were generally of an intriguing disposition, and very seldom did any real service. Their main object was to keep those tribes in a state of unrest, and thus enhance their own importance. A year or two before the second Afghan War Amir Sher Ali summoned the jirga of all the Afridis and Shinwaris, and issued about 5,000 rifles to them. When war broke out, and Ali Masjid was attacked and burnt, the Afghans and Afridis fled in great disorder. The Afridis and especially the Bazar Zakha Khel, subsequently harassed the passage of the British troops through the Khyber and a force was sent against them in December 1878.

By the Gandamak Treaty of 1879 between the British and Amir Yaqub Khan, it was agreed the British Government should retain the control of the Khyber Pass, and in pursuance of this agreement, allowances were fixed for the Afridis, aggregating Rs. 87,540 per annum. The management of the Pass they entrusted to the tribesmen themselves through their Maliks, who executed a formal agreement by which they undertook to guard it with their tribesmen. Some local levies called Jazailchis (which afterwards became the Khyber Rifles) numbering about 400 men, were also raised for escorting caravans through the Khyber. These were eventually increased to 600 strong.

In 1897 disturbances broke out all along the frontier. The Afridis remained quiet for some time, but in August, they attacked the Khyber posts and sacked the fortified serai at Landi Kotal. They met with opposition from the Khyber rifles, but the garrison could not hold out owing to want of water. To punish the Afridis for this violation of their engagements, a force was sent into Tirah under Sir W. Lokhart, and a fine of Rs. 50,000 and 800 breech-loading rifles were recovered from them by April, 1898. In October of the same year, a fresh settlement was made with the Afridis, by which they undertook to have no intercourse with any power except the British and to raise no objection to the construction of railways or roads through the Khyber. On these conditions the allowances were restored with a small increase of Rs. 250.00 for the Qambar Khel. The Khyber Rifles were augmented to two battalions of 600 each, 50 of the total being mounted, and were placed under British officers.

During the 1st and 2nd Afghan Wars when the British wanted to pass their armies through the Khyber Pass, the Afridis stopped their way. In this connection skirmishes took place between the parties at some places but later on as a result of the efforts of Major Cavagnary and Colonel Macheson, six Afridi tribes undertook to guard the Khyber Pass in return for which the British government dragged on for a long time. At last in February 1881 in a representative jirga a pact was decided which had the terms as under:

The independence of the Afridis was recognized but it was incumbent on them to maintain good political relations with the British government.

It was incumbent on the Afridis to prove their friendship by guarding the Khyber Pass to be able to receive a subsidy from the British.

It was decided that the Afridis should raise a guard force, which should protect and guide caravans passing through the Khyber Pass. All toll taxes should be deposited in the British Treasury.

After this pact the British withdrew their armies from Ali Masjid and Landi Kotal.

There was a comparative peace till 1897, but this year, since nearly all the frontier tribes had formed a common front against the British, the Afridis could not remain free from the effect. So they started attacking official posts in the Khyber Pass. In August 1897 the Afridis captured the Ali Masjid fort also. After a few days the fort and cantonment of Landi Kotal also came into possession of the Afridis. IN October 1897 a very big British army under Sir William Lockhart went to meet the Afridis. Skirmishes took place at many places but at last an agreement was settled wherein the Afridis entered into peace with the British after paying fifty thousand rupees and eight hundred rifles as reparations. This amount was far less the loss because all the weapons of Landi Kotal, Shahgai and all other Khyber forts and cantonments fell to the lands of the Afridis and it did not amount to less than a lakh of rupees.

In December 1899 once more, the British regular army was withdrawn from the Khyber and all guard duties were entrusted to the Khyber Rifles.

For six years there was almost complete peace and order but in 1905 the Zakha Khels again started activities against the British. For some time the British could not quell them till in January 1908, Afridi tribes invaded Peshawar City. In February 1908 the British again led armies against them and their activities came to an end.

Till 1919 there was quiet on the Khyber front, but this year, due to influence of Hijrat and Khilafat movements and the Third Afghanistan War, a storm appeared on the tribal horizon. Amir Ullah Khan launched an invasion on Thal (Kohat) Fort. This area was situated in the vicinity of Tirah. The Afridi were naturally affected by this. As the Khyber Rifles was completely composed of Afridis they refused to serve in it as a protest and a sign of non-confidence against the British. So this regiment was dissolved. Still soon an agreement was reached between Amir Ullah Khan and the British. A Durbar was held in Rawalpindi in which Amir Aman Ullah Khan was recognized as King of Afghanistan. After this pact the Khyber Rifles and Kassadars were reinstated.

On 23rd April 1930, the British showed their shortsightedness by firing on a crowd of unarmed Muslims. There were Afridis also among the killed. Moreover, Islamic sentiments would excite them, so on 30th May an Afridi army descended on the Bara Valley and entered villages of Peshawar district. In retaliation the British bombed the Khajuri plain. Subsequently the Congress could not appreciate the brave and patriotic gestures of the Afridis. In a representative Afridi Jirga in Peshawar after Partition, they therefore, demonstrated their loyalty to Pakistan through a specific agreement.

Khyber Agency as an Administrative Unit came into being in 1879 with PLN Cavagnari as the first Political Officer. In the year 1902, the post of Political Officer was converted into that of Political Agent with Major G. Ross Kepper as the first Political Agent.



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