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Peshawar Cantonment

Peshawar is the capital of the ethnically Pashtun North-West Frontier Province [NWFP]. It is a frontier town and quite different from other cities in Pakistan. It has a modern university, first-class hotels, international banks and one of the best museums in Pakistan. The Bala Hisar Fort overlooks the mass of narrow streets in the old town and the elegant Mughal Mosque. One the other side of the railway is the cantonment, its wide treelined streets bordered by gracious administrative buildings and spacious bungalows in large gardens.

Two miles west of the city lie the cantonments, where the British civil offices were also situated. The cantonments were occupied by British troops soon after annexation in 1848-9. The garrison was much reduced and by 1903 consisted of one battery of field artillery, two regiments of British and three of native infantry, one regiment of native cavalry, and one company each of sappers and miners, bearer corps, and army hospital native corps. The garrison formed part of the Peshawar military division of the Northern Command, and the head-quarters of the division were situated here.

Industrial safety does not meet U.S. standards and pollution from raw sewage and industrial waste in the water and air is widespread. Air pollution, exacerbated in the winter months, is at levels which may cause severe irritation and discomfort to individuals suffering from asthma or other respiratory disorders. Although the roads in Peshawar between major cities are paved and adequate, driving in Peshawar can be extremely hazardous. Roads in outlying areas may be unpaved and difficult to navigate with chaotic and undisciplined local conditions. All travel after dark is unsafe. US Post policy prohibits the use of public transportation and taxis by US Post personnel for various reasons. Vehicle maintenance, lack of driver skills, and general lack of road safety awareness by operators are all of concern. Kidnappings are also of concern for Americans and other westerners in Peshawar. The police services in Peshawar are below the professional standards of the U.S. due in part to a lack of training, resources, and low salaries. Police response times in Peshawar vary from 30 minutes to not responding at all.

About 75 percent of the U.S. supplies troops receive in Afghanistan in 2009 were delivered via ground convoy hundreds of miles from the Pakistani port city of Karachi to Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan and then through the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. From a logistical perspective, Afghanistan isn't the ideal place for conflict because the land-locked country is made up of mostly desert and mountainous terrain. However, convoys use several different "gates" into Afghanistan along the country's eastern border with Pakistan. Mostly non-combat materials, such as food, water, fuel and construction supplies, are delivered by ground, while military weapons and other "sensitive" equipment are flown in by cargo plane.

On February 3, 2009 the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) issued a diplomatic note regarding the security situation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Peshawar. The note states "...in view of the prevailing security situation in the FATA, American Nationals including diplomats are advised to remain vigilant and restrict their movement in Peshawar. They are also advised not to move out of their city of residence without proper security and prior coordination with the law enforcement agencies." This closely mirrors the U.S. Embassy Islamabad's Travel Warning put into effect on November 21, 2008 which state: "U.S. Government personnel are not permitted to stay at or frequent major hotels in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar. Government personnel have also been advised to restrict the number and frequency of trips to public markets, and to avoid public restaurants in Islamabad, Karachi, and Peshawar" U.S. private sector organizations continue to face a critical threat level in Pakistan. Pakistani Taliban, al-Qa'ida, and other terrorist groups continue to threaten further attacks on Westerners and any Pakistanis who work for Western organizations. Many have scaled back or eliminated their footprint in Peshawar.

In ancient times a major settlement called Pushpapura was established in the general area of Peshawar by the Central Asian Kushans. It was during the Mughal period that the current city was established by Akbar in the 16th century and received its name Peshawar. During much of its history, the city was one of the main trading centres on the ancient Silk Road and was a major crossroads for various cultures between South and Central Asia and the Middle East. Located on the edge of the Khyber Pass near the Afghan border, Peshawar is the commercial, economic, political and cultural capital of the Pashtuns in Pakistan.

The cantonment is situated on a ridge overlooking the surrounding plain and the city, which lies near the left bank of the Bara stream, 13 miles south-east of the junction of the Swat and Kabul rivers, and 10 miles from Jamrud fort near the entrance of the Khyber Pass. Peshawar was in the time of Fa Hian the capital of the Gandhara Province, and is historically important at all later periods. It was famous during the early centuries of the Christian era as containing the begging-pot of the Buddha, a holy plpal tree whose branches are said to have given shade to the Master, and an enormous stupa built by Kanishka. Buddhist remains still mark its early greatness.

The name is not improbably derived from Parashawara or Purushapura, the seat of a king named Purush ; and the present form Peshawar is referred to the emperor Akbar, whose fondness for innovation is said to have led him to change the name, of whose meaning he was ignorant, to Peshawar, the 'frontier town.' In 1552 Humayun found the fortress in ruins, but had it repaired and entrusted it to a governor, who successfully defended it against the Afghans under Khan Kaju. The town appears to have been refounded by Balgram, a contemporary of Akbar, and was much enlarged by General Avitabile, its governor under the Sikhs.

Peshawar is essentially three towns - Peshawar Cantonment, University Town and the Old City - connected by the sclerotic arteries of Jamrud Road, Khyber Road, and Grand Trunk Road. University Town is, as you'd expect, home to the university, as well as to dozens of guesthouses, most of Peshawar's more up-market private residences and the offices of the dozens of aid agencies who operate in neighbouring Afghanistan. Peshawar Cantonment contains shops, several hotels - including Green's - and the Saddar Bazaar market, which isn't at all like the oriental bazaar of popular imagination and more like an entire suburb consisting of nothing but corner greengrocers. The old city, dominated by the glowering presence of the mighty Bala Hisar fortress, houses the Khyber Bazaar; exactly like the oriental bazaar of popular imagination. No hardcore adventure traveller's trip is complete without a visit to Peshawar's Smuggler's Bazaar or to Darra Adam Khel, the village some 40km south of Peshawar where the major local industry is the manufacture, repair and retail of firearms.

By around 1900 the city had but slight architectural pretensions, the houses, though lofty, being chiefly built of small bricks or mud, held together by a wooden framework. It was surrounded by a mud wall, built by General Avitabile, which was gradually being replaced by a wall of brick. The city had sixteen gates. The main street, known as the kissa kahdni, which was entered from the Kabul gate (re-erected as a memorial to Sir Herbert Edwardes), was a broad roadway 50 feet in width, consisting of two double rows of shops, the upper rooms of which were generally let out as lodgings; the street was well paved, and at busy times presented a very picturesque sight. The remainder of the city proper consisted of squares and markets, with narrow and irregular streets and lanes. A masonry canal ran through the center of the city, which was, however, only used to carry off drain-water and sewage. Drinking-water was brought down in pipes from the water-works, for which the municipal committee paid a yearly rental. Wells were used only in the hot season to supply colder water than the pipes afford. The sanitary and conservancy arrangements were very good, and all the drains were paved. There were very few old houses of architectural importance, most of them having been destroyed at the time of the capture of the city by the Sikhs from the Durranis. Several handsome mosques ornamented the city; and a large building, known as the Gor Khattri, once a Buddhist monastery, and subsequently formed into a Hindu temple, was used as the tahsill. Just without the wall, on the north-western side, a quadrilateral fort, the Bala Hisar, crowned a small eminence completely dominating the city. Its walls of sun-dried brick rise to a height of 90 feet above the ground, with a fausse-braye of 30 feet; bastions stand at each corner and on three of the faces, while an armament of guns and mortars is mounted above.

The much valued valley of Peshawur, which was part of Afghanistan, had been wrested from them by the Sikhs, and annexed to the British territory after the Sikh war. The armed population of the hills in front and on flank were known to be hostile, and ready for any mischief. The Afghans, upon whom no reliance ever could at any time be placed, were within a few marches of British territory.

At the time of the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, the native garrison of Peshawur were ready for revolt, and only waited for a favorable opportunity. The disarming of nearly four thousand men, took place as ordered, and happily without struggle or bloodshed. The Sepoys, motionless with surprise, were utterly powerless. Perhaps in no place in India did the prompt disarming of the native troops produce such beneficial results as on the Peshawur frontier. It struck a blow at the root of the mutiny from which it never recovered. The disarming of soldiers in a country like the Peshawur valley, where every soul is armed, could avail but little, unless the utmost vigilance was adopted ; the troops had only to go forth, and armed they soon might be in such a country. Deserters were executed, order prevailed, and the foot of legitimate authority was placed on the serpent's head.

By 1868 there were several most extensive permanent cantonments, which were not only of no value in a political point of view, but are positively injurious to the troops themselves. This is an admitted fact, some of these stations are unhealthy in the extreme, but they have cost millions of money, and on tlmt account only, cannot be abandoned. Of the number of these ill selected localities, Meean Meer, near the Punjaub capital, Sealkote, Rawul Pindee, Nowshera, Peshawur, Ferozepore, and Loodianah, may be selected as specimens. Peshawur cantonment is probably one of the most unhealthy places in the world, and it contains quarters for three or four thousand European troops. A glance at the map of the Valley must convince the military reader that so large a force in such a place, without any due and proper support, must be considered in a false position. With enemies in front, on the right and left, and even on the right and left rear - in fact, nearly all round them, it must be manifest that the main body of the frontier force should never have been placed there.

The Peshawur Divisional Command extended from the river Jhelum to the Khyber Pass (the gate to Afghanistan and Central Asia) and its adjacent mountain ranges. The great thoroughfare of the country from Lahore to that part of the frontier is through Jhelum ; and by passing through Rawul Pindee, and crossing the Indus at Attock Peshawur is reached within a few miles of the Affghan Passes. The force at Rawul Pindee is in support of the frontier post of Peshawur; and is situated at the distance of one hundred miles from it, whilst the ferry of the Indus at Attock, on the line, is forty-four miles from Peshawur.

After a severe struggle of years, the authorities had, at last, been satisfied that the main force of the frontier should be on the left bank of the Indus, and that a couple of thousand men only in an entrenched position, overlooking and overawing the city of Peshawur and the Khyber Pass, was all that is necessary for the security of that part of the frontier, provided a powerful force be kept in reserve in the very healthy climate of the Sind Sagur District, and in a well selected locality, as near to the left bank of the Indus as can be conveniently fixed upon.

The climate of the Peshawur country could only really be known and understood by those who have passed many years there. In the mid-19th Century many British officers and soldiers had passed away from Peshawur (even after two or three years residence there) without being much the wiser. The climate is of that extraordinary nature, that moderately good health may prevail for a considerable time, save only that the extreme heat of the summer, which was always peculiarly distressing, must take its effects. It was not only the peculiar fever of the country which at times visits the valley and prostrates almost indiscriminately the strong and weak, but apoplexy to a fearful extent prevailed, and so did cholera, ophthalmia, small-pox, and many other terrible diseases. One of the most remarkable things connected with this subject, was the difference of opinion that prevailed in regard to the nature of it. Some even declared that Peshawur was a healthy place, and the returns from hospitals at tunes may indeed almost justify such a conclusion, and this circumstance may be accounted for by some having only seen the valley of Peshawur in a temporarily healthy condition.

Sydney Cotton wrote in 1868 that "With all due respect to great men, who are placed in exalted positions, it may be truly stated that some of their visits to the out-stations of the army have proved to be not only tending to mischief, but ludicrous and absurd in the extreme. Men, although cast into high positions, are not infallible or omniscient. They are not under divine inspiration, and yet too frequently, with the experience of a few hours only, they presume to form opinions, which must be adopted as of greater value and importance than those of inferior officers who had formed them after years of anxiety, and on mature consideration. The remarks made by these exalted individuals in passing through barracks and hospitals in the presence of the troops, are frequently not only puerile and absurd, but even tend to discontent. Soldiers are very shrewd fellows, and the moment an exalted officer opens his mouth in their presence, they measure the length of his foot. He little thinks it; but they discover at once his knowledge or ignorance of military life."

During the winter in particular, the soil and climate of Peshawur had been found to be peculiarly good for the cultivation of every description of European vegetables, whilst in the summer season, the vegetables of the country are produced of the best quality, and in abundance. The European soldiers (two or three thousand in strength) were sadly deficient in that part of the necessaries of life in which the health is most materially concerned.

In November 2003 the Peshawar Cantonment Board in Pakistan served a notice on Hindus to vacate about 70 houses occupied by them for over 130 years in the cantonment areas there. The entire land and property was in the name of one Mehar Chand Khanna who had bought it way back in the 19th century. The notice was issued to the residents of Kali Bari to vacate around 70 houses and a Hindu temple built in 1861. The Cantonment Board accused the residents of "occupying the area illegally and encroaching on government land."

Once called the city of flowers, by 2008 Peshawar's walled city was gradually turning into a city of walls and barriers, which have been erected on most roads leading to the cantonment area. The transformation of the city owed its origin to the ongoing war on terror. Prior to suicide bombers attacking streets in the area that they saw as targets, the cantonment area was a vital part of the walled city. Several roads in the Cantonment and airport areas have been barricaded and closed, not allowing access to the public, and the area between Mall Road and Khyber Road is also off limits as security barriers have been set on these link roads. The military administration also established check posts on various roads in the Peshawar Cantonment area due to prevailing poor law and order and to protect the Cantt residents and offices of secret agencies from possible terrorist attacks. The military administration said it would open all Cantt roads for general traffic and public once law and order improved.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:39:40 ZULU