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Khyber Agency

Khyber Agency is a tribal agency where Taliban militants aren't present in strength. By late 2008 non-Taliban militants affiliated with armed Islamic groups such as Mangal Bagh's Lashkar-i-Islam, the late Haji Namdar Khan's Amr Bil-Maruf-Wa-Nahi-Anil-Munkar (Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice) and Qazi Mahboobul Haq's Ansar-ul-Islam had a much stronger presence in Khyber Agency. But the feverish lashkar-raising in the Khyber tribal region is an indication of the government's determined push to mobilise the tribes, in a bid to sideline the militants and secure the strategic Khyber Pass highway. The tribes too, are keen to raise lashkars due to the realisation that their hitherto peaceful areas could become a battleground. In Khyber there is a savage feud between the Deobandi and Barelvi sects of Sunni Islam, and the Sunnis and Shias of Orakzai and Kurram Agencies lose no opportunity for reciprocal mayhem.

Khyber Agency is named after the world famous Khyber Pass, which has served as the corridor connecting the Asian sub-continent with the Central Asia through Afghanistan. The location of this pass has given the agency and its people worldwide recognition and has made it the focus of attention of historians interested in this part of the world. The headquarters of the agency is located at Peshawar.

Khyber Agency is a hilly tract with some narrow strips of valleys. It is the meeting place of the series of ranges of the Koh-e-Safaid, an off-shoots of the mighty Hindukush mountains starting from the Pamir, the roof of the world. Lacha Ghar, Karagah Ghar, Surghar and Tor Ghar Morgah and Kalauch ranges are located in the agency. Water is scarce thus the valley has little land suitable for cultivation. Generally, the hills are barren. The historic Khyber Pass is situated at a height of 1,180 meters above the sea level, which starts about 5 kilometers beyond Jamrud Fort. It is a narrow gorge winding up to lofty mountains towards Afghanistan through Koh-e-Safaid range. The highest peak of the mountain in western side of Khyber Agency is about 1,029 meters with 509 meters at its eastern side.

Khyber Agency is rich in marble resources and marble mines in Mulagori Hills, which are under exploration for the last two decades.

Khyber Agency has extreme climate with severe winter and summer seasons. May, June, July and August are the hot months. The maximum and minimum temperature during the month of June is about 40 and 26 degree Celsius respectively. The winter starts from November and continues till April. December, January and February are the coldest months. The maximum and minimum temperature during the month of January is about 18 and 4 degree Celsius respectively. The average annual rainfall is about 400 mm.

Khyber Agency, which forms northwest frontier of Pakistan, has been involved with more foreign invasions in the course of history than any other area in Asia. Khyber is one of the world famous gateways to the frontier of Pakistan and in history it is considered as a corridor of invaion as well as commerce between the Central Asia and the Sub-Continent. It lies across the passage of countless invaders including conquerors like Alexander, Changaz Khan, Tamerlang and Mahmud Ghanzanvi who shaped the course of history.

This historic and renowned international highway was first used by the Aryans coming from the Central Asia (1,600 B.C). The Persians occupied this region in the 6th century B.C and made it a satrapy of the Persian empire. The next historical episode was the coming of the Greeks under Alexander. Though Alexander himself used a more northerly route yet the major portion of the Greek army under his generals Hephaestion and Perdiccas (326 B.C) came through this area and so did the Bactrians, Seythians and Parthians during the first and second century B.C. In the first century A.D the Kushans set up a Central Asian empire with Peshawar as its capital and the Khyber became an imperial route for regular international traffic. It was during this period that the gentle philosophy of Buddha prevailed in this region and the Buddhist and Greek arts met for the first time in circumstances favourable to their animation, which resulted in producing the world  famous Gandhara art.

The Kushans were followed in the third century  A.D by the Sassanians, an Iranian dynasty which ruled in Gandhara before the advent of the Huns, the famous Ephthalities of history who invaded this region, from the heart of the Asian continent in the 5th century A.D.

The spread of Islam in Central Asia, brought in its wake streak of Muslim conquerors, a vigorous people fired with the idealistie dynamism of Islamic ideology and spirit of adventure. Like their predecessors, they were naturally led eastwards and Khyber Pass saw the rising sun of Islam for the first time in history. The great Muslim conqueror Sultan Mahmud of Ghanzni, the most brilliant cavalryman invaded India several times through the Khyber Pass.

After Mahmud along this historic high road came Shahabuddin Muhammad Ghori (1185) who established Muslim rule in Delhi for the first time by defeating Prithvi Raj and thus ending the Hindu hegemony in the Sub-Continent for nearly 700 years. Then came Amir Taimur the Tamerlang of Marlow (1398) who form his capital in Sumerqand and ruled the greater part of southwest Asia with the provincial firmness of a mediaeval despot. He was followed by Zaheer-ud-din Babar, one of the most fascinating characters in history, who mingled his blood with the Pathans by marrying a Yousafzai girl, Bibi Mubarikah and founded the powerful Mughal empire in India which lasted three hundred years. In 1739, Nadir Shah Afshar of Persia crossed the Khyber Pass on his way to Delhi when he seized not only the peacock Throne of the Great Mughal emperor with all its encrusted rubies, emeralds and diamonds but also the most valuable treasures, the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond that belonged to the Mughal emperor.

Finally Khyber saw the forces of Ahmad Shah Abdali (1747-1773) the founder of modern Afghanistan, the great Afghan conqueror and administrative genius who crushed the power of the Marhattas in one of the decisive battles of Panipat (1761).

The vanguard of the British army arrived in Peshawar in 1849 and ended the Sikh rule in the area between the Sulaiman Mountains and the Indus. The British annexed Peshawar and other frontier districts as part of the newly annexed province of the Punjab and thus the expansion of the British power over the vast areas of Sub-Continent came close to Khyber.

The British came into contact with Khyber Pass during the first Afghan War when one unit of their army advanced on Afghanistan by this route. After the second Afghan War, the British occupied the whole Pass and established a picquet system to safeguard passage through the pass. The Khyber valley saw a great deal of fighting during the second Afghan War in 1878. The Afridis seized the Pass in 1897 and there was a general uprising of Khyber tribes against the British. The British then organized the Tirah Expedition to subdue the tribe and bring them firmly under their control. It was after this campaign that the famous Khyber Rifles were organized. During the third Afghan war (1919), Khyber valley again witnessed a good deal of fighting. According to the British, it was here that they met their equal who looked them straight in the face and fought against them upto the last day of their rule. The Pathan tribes were never completely subjugated and were treated with respect and allowed considerable independence in the internal affairs of the tribes.

The inhabitants of Khyber Agency displayed a prominent role in the independence movement of Pakistan. With the establishment of Pakistan under the leadership of Quaid-e-Azam Ali Jinnah and the withdrawl of the British from the Sub-Continent spectacular new era dawned over the length and breadth of the tribal belt along the frontier.

Khyber Agency is inhabited by four tribes viz Afridi, Shinwari, Mullagori and Shimani. These hillmen can outpace any man in a deadly and manly struggle for existence. This explains their survival through the ages in the face of great conquerors. They are well armed warriors, who live in houses behind mud walls with a watch tower for each compound.

Like other Pathans, these tribes have observed their own code of honor since time immemorial. The code imposes upon them three chief obligations: Nanawati to admit one as wrong and seek pardon from his enemy; badal, or the old doctrine of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and melmastia, meaning hospitality to all. They are generally tall, stout and fair complexioned having high nose and prominent cheekbones. They are brave, hard and their springy steps stone denote their mountain origin.

The Shinwaris are also tall and of strong built and fair complexion. All these tribes have similar martial qualities and observe the same code of honor.

The Afridi tribe is further divided into eight clearly, distinct clans i.e. Adamkhel, Akakhel, Kamarkhel, Qamberkhel, Malik Dinkhel, Kukikhel, Zakhakhel and Sepah.

The two rivers flow in the agency are Bara and Kabul. The Bara river flows in the southern part of the agency. The Khajuri plain and the area near Bara River are somewhat fertile. The Kabul River making northern boundary between Mohmand and Khyber Agencies. The Valley of Kabul River is narrow and deep.

The tribesmen generally wear loose shirt, trouser and turban. A large turban is placed on the head with a chadar or waistband to gird up the loins and from it may be seen obtruding the handle of a knife or a dagger, a pistol and one or two bandoliers hanging cross-wise on the shoulders containing cartridges and a rifle on his shoulder. The women generally use black printed cloth. Their working and festival dresses are all the same with the exception that they wear new dress on festival. In winter season a chadar or woolen blanket is used by the males. While in the case of females their dress remains the same.

Women use ornaments such as Bangles, Bracelets, Pazeb, Karah, Nath, Golden rings and earrings.

Dwelling houses of all the tribesmen are alike and are in the shape of fortresses having towers. The houses are mostly situated on commanding sites on the hills. Sometimes these little forts comprise 10 to 15 houses within the enclosures. In tribal area each family has its own separate dwelling, proportionate in size to the members of the households and their cattle and flocks. Among the Khyber tribes, the Afridis are generally dokora (having two dwelling places) as in summer they live high in the hills while in winter they come down along with their families and flocks to the plains to spend the winter months.

As regards construction material, the walls of hamlets are always built with stone and mud. Wood is used for doors, windows and ceilings. Entrance to the fortress is through a main gate; while for use of women flock there is a small side door in the wall. As one enters the main gate he finds a vast courtyard with one or two rooms, depending on the social status of the family, for use of guests and male members of the family. There is also a mosque in the same compound. In most of villages only mosques will be found with cemented floor. The interior of a house is very simple with no decoration and furniture. Mostly they keep cattle inside their houses.

Every cluster of houses has Hujra where the male member daily discusses their local issues and spends free time. It is also a common place used as a guest room.

Generally, the people are not literate. Significant number of people are in the middle Eastern Countries for their earnings and brought prosperity to the area. Most of the people are involved in business as shop keepers, merchants and transporters etc.


The Khyber Pass
The prime attraction in this region is the Khyber Pass situated some 5 kilometers to the west from Jamrud. It runs to a length of about 40 kilometers up to Torkham check post at the Pak-Afghan border. For centuries this pass has been witnessing numerous kings, generals and preachers passing through it. Khyber is associated with numerous events in history, which have brought about momentous changes in the annals of mankind. It is a collection of mountain ranges, barren and crazily piled hills; forts of steel and rock stop every vantage point and naked road.

Baab-i-Khyber, the gateway to Khyber, has been constructed at the entrance of the historic Khyber Pass near Jamrud. The platform, for visiting dignitaries and containing useful and authenticated information which present in a nutshell, the historical background of the pass, the secrets of its magical charm and strategic importance, have also been constructed.

The Khyber Railways thread its way through 34 tunnels crossing 92 bridges and culverts and climbing 1,200 meters. The British built it in 1920 at an enormous cost of Rs. two million. Two coaches are pulled and pushed by two steam engines. At one point, the track climbs 130 meters in less than a kilometer by means of the famous changai spur, a section of track shaped like a "W" with two-revesing stations.

Khyber Steam Safari
The historic Khyber Pass is the gateway to Central Asia via Kabul. The capital of war torn Afghanistan was finally traversed by the railway in 1926 of Rs. 438 to 500 thousand per kilometer. The Khyber Railways cost the Raj twice that of the magnificent Railway through the Bolan Pass although it was purely a military and never a commercial enterprise.

The idea was conceived during the second Afghan war and received fresh impetus seven years later in 1890 when the railway head has reached Peshawar Cantonment. Initially the Kabul river gorge was chosen but eight years later another study proved the Khyber Pass to be a better route.

Jamrud, entrance to theKhyber Pass witnessed the Iron Kiss in 1901 and in 1905 the track was pushed up the Kabul river gorge before turning West up the Loi Shalman valley.

Alliance with Russia slowed the work and scheme was abandoned in 1909. The third Afghan war sparked the incentive once again. The myth of impossibility was shattered by Colonel (later Sir Gorden) G.R. Hearns. The construction began again in 1920 and the section from Jamrud to Landi Kotal was opened on November 3, 1925. On April 23, 1926 the line was finally opened as far as Landi Kotal just 3 kilometers short of the Durand Line. The alignment is a classic example and from the engineering point of view the work had no superior in the world. It has a ruling gradient of three percent between Jamrud and Landi Kotal, 1065 meters above the sea level, a rise of nearly 610 meters in 33.8 kilometers. The track then drops 36.9 meters in a kilometer to Landi Khana. Other features include four reversing stations, thirty four tunnerls, ninety two bridges and culverts, six ordinary crossings and four locomotive watering stations.

Being a strategic track, the Khyber Railways was designed for the movement of troops and supplies in emergencies. The line between Landi Kotal and Landi Khanna had been closed since 1932 on the insistence of the Afghan government.

Sehrai Travels has taken the initiative to transform the Khyber Railways into a tourist attraction in collaboration with PRACS (Pakistan Railways Advisory Consultancy Services), a subsidiary of Pakistan Railways and Sarhad Tourism Development Corporation in pursuance of government policies. The Khyber Steam Safari has been incarnated from the ashes of Khyber Railways and within a short span has not only gained momentum but international recognition as well.

Jamrud, about 14.5 kilometers to the west of Peshawar on the Peshawar Torkham road, has always played the part of sentinel of the famous Khyber Pass. It is a historic place and is said to derive its name from the famous Iranian emperor Jamshed, who is said to have ruled here some 2,000 years ago. When Iranians were ruling over Khyber Pass and Peshawar valley they built a tank, which still exists near this place. Jamrud, situated at a point where Khyber Pass meets the Peshawar valley has served as the camping ground for Iranian, Greek, Tatar and Mughal armies who marched through the Khyber Pass to the Sub-Continent.


Shagai the summit of Khyber Pass is 30.6 kilometers from Peshawar. A splendid fort was built by the British in 1928. There is a cemetery of the British soldiers. The gallant tribesmen in keeping with their traditions, still respect their dead enemies and there is a Pathan custodian appointed by the government to look after this cemetery to dust the tomb-stones and water flower plants. A little distance ahead of Shagai and about 6.4 kilometers from Landi kotal there is a big Buddhist stupa by the roadside but it is in ruins now.

Landi kotal
Landi kotal  plateau is at the top of Khyber Pass, 1,072 meters above the sea level. One caravan Sarai at Landikotal is a typical Central Asian type of camping and resting place for all sorts of people. This Sarai also serves the purpose of show room for the arms and ammunitions manufactured in the tribal arms factories just behind the hills. Before the establishment of Bara market, Landi Kotal was a busy shopping center of foreign merchandise. Now it is used as a godown for Bara market, which is in the proximity of Peshawar city.

Torkham is situated on the border where the Durand Line separates Pakistan from Afghanistan. A well-furnished rest house equipped with sanitary fittings and other amenities have also been constructed. This is maintained by the Political Department and is meant only for government officials and other dignitaries. Some small hotels and restaurants are also available for providing facilities to the tourists.

The Political Agent is the head of the agency. He functions as a District Magistrate and Session Judge and also as a Coordinator who coordinates the functions of all the nation building departments in the agency.The agency has three Sub Divisions viz Landi kotal, Jamrud and Bara with three Assistant Political Agents, seven Tehsildars and a number of other administrative functionaries. The headquarters of the Political Agent is at Peshawar but has also a Camp Office/Residence at Landi Kotal. The Assistant Political Agents have their headquarters at Landi Kotal, Jamrud and Bara respectively.

The administration is run through Maliks, Khassadars and Lundgi holders (Sufaidresh). The tribal administration and system of justice is based on the concept of territorial, tribal (collective) and protective responsibility. Adjudication is through the Jirga system, which is something the tribesmen comprehend and accept. The substantive law is the Pakistan Panel Code whereas the Frontiers Crimes Regulation is the procedural law.

In all the criminal and civil disputes two systems are followed i.e. Riwaj (the customary law) and Shariat (Islamic law). Riwaj is the code of tribal customs and almost all the cases are decided under the same. Even in the Frontier Crime Regulation, the council of elders (Jirga) base their verdict on Riwaj. The administration takes cognizance of only those offenes, which are committed in protected areas, and does not generally interfere in the offenses occurring between the tribes in the tribal territory of which no cognizance is taken. However, the administration does interfere in case of offenses taking place even in tribal territory, beyond the protected area, in cases in which state interest is involved. This interference could be direct, through the use of force, or indirect, i.e. through Maliks and Khassadars, by invoking the tribal/territorial responsibility depending upon the gravity of the offense.

The Maliki system was introduced by the British to encourage pro-government and pro-administration tribal elders to exercise a strong hold and influence over their tribes. The Maliks used to work as medium between the administration and "Qaum". The British had realized that they could not subjugate the independent and fierce character of the tribes by force only and therefore the Maliki system was introduced which not only sent a message to the tribes that any body loyal and accommodating would have a special status, but also, that cooperation with the government would entail regular benefits, recognition and of course influence in the tribe. A Maliki is hereditary and devolves on the son, and his son so on and so forth.

In Khyber there are 24 Maliks getting Rs. 1,811,619 per annum as allowances, Sub-tribe-wise break-up of Maliks are as under:

Kuki Khel






Qamber Khel



Malikdin Khel



Aka Khel






Kamar Khel









Lungi system, commonly known as "Sufaid Resh" in Khyber Agency is also a form of formal recognition although at a slightly lower level. A lungi signifies the holding of a position of favour with the government and of influence in the tribe. In Khyber there are 3630 Lungi holders (Sufaid Resh). The Lungi is for an individual and is not hereditary. In practice, however, the Lungi of a deceases Lungi holder is usually granted to his elder son.

Khassadar Force
In the twenties, the British Rulers intended to open strategic roads in different agencies. To guarantee the protection of the road, the British agreed to give allowances to the tribes in the form of Khassadaris. Accordingly each tribe/sub-tribe, through whose area the road was to pass, were given a certain number of Khassadars who were to be paid out of the allowances given to the tribe for the opening of the road. Like-wise, the Khassadars were raised in Khyber as well in the year 1920.

The Khassadars are generally ill disciplined, mostly un-trained and are a loosely organized force who are armed with the own weapon and have to use their own ammunition. They are given a pair of chapplies and a Mazri Cloth uniform once a year. They are the representative of the tribe to whom they owe loyalties rather than to the Political Administration. Every agency has its own rules and conventions for the Khassadari service. They are also a non-pensionable force.

The Khassadars were raised against the allowances given to tribes for opening of roads and generally responsible for the road protection. They are not supported to carry out Bramtas which during the British time used to be carried out with the help of scouts, who were at that time at the disposal of the Political Administration. The scouts of Khyber Agency were during those days considered as the private army of the Political Agent. The Khassadars only were associated as guides during the movement of scouts into tribal territory. However after partition of the Sub-Continent and with the change in the role of the scouts due to the withdrawal of the army from tribal areas the Political Administration has been left mostly to rely on the Khassadars for arrests and other such like duties. It is because, the availability of the scouts to the Political Administration has become very difficult. Besides, the reluctance of the Headquarter Frontier Corps, it also depends on the whims and caprices of the local Scouts Commandant to provide force to the Political Agent. This has proved to be a great set back to the administration in tribal areas and has made the task of the Political Agents more arduous and up-hill. Most of the operations and duties which the field officers have to carry out with the help of the Khassadars fail because of their unreliability and inherent deficiencies.

In Khyber there are 3264 Khassadars ranging in ranks from Subedar Major, downwards upto a Sepoy. They are appointed by the Political Agent who is their Commanding Officer as well. The recruitment is made from amongst the local tribes in the ratio of their tribal distribution which is known as Nikkat.

The Khassadars are deployed for protection of strategic roads and other government utilities. They also perform guard duty, export duty and protection of various installations.

Revenue System
No revenue record of lands in Khyber Agency is available or maintained. Only the record of lands under Military compensation is maintained by the agency patwari at Landi Kotal.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:39:44 ZULU