Town & Places - Frontier's merchant community


The opulent life-style of Frontier's merchant community is best exemplified by the grand havelis / "town mansions" in this area. These merchants traded with Central Asia and China. Among the most prosperous was Haji Ahmad Gul. The havelis are built in small Kashmiri or "Waziri" brick similar to the type used in Lahore during the Mughal and Sikh periods. These fine mansions however, date from the third quarter of the nineteenth century and the precinct remains a crowded part of the old city. Some have living quarters at the rear, others above the shops and a few at the street level. Down severals lanes havelis can be seen as exclusive, commodious residences. The wood-work, both on the exterior and the interior, is exceptional. "Richly carved doors, balconies, pillars and arches, walls and ceilings hand-painted with motifs familiar from carpets and textiles, mirrored rooms and patterned, coloured glass windows, intricate lattice-work screens, show a joyous indulgence". Such abundance and ornate tracery speaks of an age when leisure and high quality craftsmanship was prized.

Following the British annexation in 1848-9, two miles west of the walled city, the cantonment was laid by Sir Colin Campbell, later Lord Clyde and famous as a commander in the Crimean War. The fast changing geo-political situation in Central Asia led to reinforcement of the station by railway in1881. The new cantonment had no walls. It was surrounded by "a barbed wire entanglement" for protection against raids of Afridi and other tribes. Barracks and guardrooms were strategically located on the north-western perimeters and interspersed with residential houses. The trees, then planted along main roads shading the gardens of houses on either sides, are now a fine tribute to the planner's foresight. Pipals, banyans, pines and palms are still visible and some may well have survived from the famous garden of Ali Mardan Khan described by Elphinstone. A back-drop to these tall, spreading trees is the barren mountains.

Nearby is the Peshawar cemetary which dates back to 1851.Beyond its pitched-roof entrance are the graves of the British. Marble, coloured stone slabs headstones, Celtic and English crosses mark the graves of men who died fighting forimperial designs as well as of their women and children who succumbed to the heat and hardship of the station.

Amongst the medical and educational works started by Sir Herbert Edwardes, the Commissioner of Peshawar (1853-58) was the Edwardes High School in 1855. It was an acknowledgement of his long relationship with the Pathans: "How much faith I have had occasion to place in the rudest and wildest of these people, how nobly it was deserved, and how useless I should have been without it." In "the classical mid-Victorian mould of soldier-administrators with evangelical Christian convictions" he acquired the palace of Sardar Yar Muhammad Khan Durrani to house a school and church. Initially it was located in the old city
and by 1862, 219 boys were enrolled (70 Muslims, 137 Hindus and 12 Christians). In 1872 a boarding house was constructed at the present site in the "Moghul-Baroque style" .College classes were started on May 1, 1900. Appropriately, commemorated by the Church Missionary Society, it was originally known as the Edwardes Church Mission College.

Behind the original building is the famous "Shalimar Quad" which is surrounded by various academic, administrative,boarding and lodging buildings in the same architectural style. The building was constructed with a "generous gift from a member of the University of Oxford - Fellowship in Furtherance of the Gospel". Affiliated to the Punjab University, Lahore, it was the only college in the Province.As some families were hesitant to send their sons to a college with Missionary links, another institution was started in1913. Two visionaries were responsible for founding the Islamia College in 1911. The very fine building in the Anglo-south Asian Muslim style" was a beguling mutation of the Oxbridge pattern" , with hostels named "after some grandee-benefactor of the Raj - Chelmsford, Grant, Hardinge". It stands on the site where the battle between Akbar Khan and the Sikh General Hari Singh Nalwa took place. Thus started a long and friendly rivalry between the two institutions" which between themselves were to groom most of the future leaders of the Frontier in practically every field. While Edwardes College had been motivated by the Christian spirit of the colonizers, Islamia College was imbued with the requirements of the colonized. The former was an imposition, the latter an aspiration. The Quaid-i-Azam was particularly fond of these two institutions and visited them whenever he toured the Frontier. In 1950, the University of Peshawar was established adjacent to it, on the College's land. It is perhaps the only University campus which has a primary school, a secondary school, a college and a university all in one place.

The newly founded Province required an appropriate place to display its varied heritage which was increasingly attract¬ing scholarly attention. Excavations had been, and were being, undertaken and many of the prized pieces such as "the Fasting Buddha" discovered in the Frontier had been sent to the Central Museum at Lahore. In 1906 the Peshawar Museum was inaugurated in the Victoria Memorial Hall designed by "the most accomplished of all exponents of the Indo-Saracenic style," Colonel Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob (1841-1917). Built in the architectural grammar similar to that of the Punjab University or the Mayo School of Arts at Lahore, in the Anglo-South Asian Muslim style, it is a redbrick building with crowning domes at four corners.

The Museum houses one of the finest collections of Gandhara artifacts in the country. These sculptures and reliefs from almost nine centuries of Buddhist primacy (first century B.C to eighth century A.D.) were objects of worship and decorated the countless stupas and monastery-niches. The Buddha is depicted in all "gestures of re-assurance, meditation, area. Kurram re-appears in history in 1552 when Emperor Humayun occupied it before his reconquest of India. Resistance to Mughal rule was initiated in Kurram by the followers of Peer-i Roshan.Although they were suppressed under jahangir, the residents of Kurram continued to exercise independence.

During the early British period a force under Brigadier General Neville Chamberlain was sent to the Valley on a punitive expedition. Serious differences and clashes continued till 1878 when General Roberts' entry in Kurram was more decisive. The administration of the Valley was finally taken over in 1892.The Valley stretches for 90 km. from Thall to Peiwar. With a width varying from 10 km. to 42 km., it is bounded by Safed Koh Range in the north and Kohat district to the east, Waziristan to the south and Afghanistan in the west. The Kurram River which emanates from the western slopes of Sikaram Range watershed i.e. the highest point of Safed Koh Range (15,602 ft.), flows through the Valley. parachinar is the main town of the Kurram Agency and the headquarter of the Kurram Militia. The name may have its origin in the phrase "Da Para Chinar" / "The Chinar Tree of the Para Tribe". Common belief has it that jirgas, or meetings, between the elders of Para and Turi tribes were held under the tree. The remaining trunk of this 400 years old tree can be seen in front of the Militia fort even today. Another origin of the name may be the corrupted form of "Para Chinar" / "Big Chinar Tree", as the tree was referred to by the Royal Indian troops stationed there after the Second Afghan War.36 The Valley is known for its agricultural produce and specially its fruits such apples, pears,grapes, cherries, pomegranates and peaches.

The road from Peshawar to Kohat passes through a stretch where rock-salt mounds rise in an unusual landscape among the barren hills, and the land is white and bleak with deposits. The quarried salt, in the Kohat district areas of jatta,Malgin, Bahadur Khel and Karak, is grey to black in colour and of good quality.The road continues to wind through the mountains to the tribal town of Darra Adam Khel, Frontier's centre of ammunition and arms, many hand-made. Here the skill of craftsmen combines with the enterprising spirit of the gun-loving tribals to produce a whole range of weapons replicated to high standards. European or Russian brands can be, and have been,reproduced here.

This is a tract where honour is jealously guarded. Casting glances at a house, let alone entering and searching one, is considered violation of privacy and purdah. Houses here have towers built to withstand attack or siege by rival tribesmen. They are appropriately called qillay "fort" and ghari/"dwelling". From here Ajab Khan crossed the Kohat Pass into the garrison town of Kohat to execute a daring kidnapping. During the Soviet-Afghan war, Darra Adam Khel, like Peshawar, was home to thousands of Afghan refugees whose adobe settlements are still visible.

Under the Handyside Gate, in stone at the highest point of the Pass, the road passes before it snakes down into the bowl of Kohat. The Gate was erected in the memory of Eric Charles Handyside C.I.E., O.B.E. of the Indian Police who commanded the North-West Frontier Constabulary and was killed in action on April 11, 1926. This point provides a panoramic view of Kohat, first mentioned in the memoirs of Emperor Babur. It was then ruled by two tribes, the Bangash and the Khattak. He raided this district in 1505 and sacked the towns of Kohat and Hangu. However, he was unable to maintain a permanent foothold. Even under Durrani rule in the early eighteenth century, the Bangash and Khattak continued to exercise autonomy. The town of Kohat lies in the amphitheatre of hills at some distance from the old town said to have been founded by the Bangash in the fourteenth century. Elphinstone in 1809 found it to be "a neat town", with "a little fort on an artificial mound, which had been ruined in a struggle for the chiefship ... Near the town runs a stream, as clear as crystal, which issues from three fountains..."

Lord Birdwood, who in 1887 had joined the XI Regiment, later called the Probyn's Horse, commanded the Kohat Independent Brigade between 1909 and 1912. For forty years he served in the army, rising to the highest rank of Field Marshal and the Commander-in-Chief in India in 1925. As the Master of a Cambridge University college, he looked back at his long and distinguished career and observed fondly in his autobiography, Khaki and Gown: "Kohat - still my favourite station."39 Important as a market and garrison town, Kohat is divided into two sections, of which the cantonment area is the more structured. A neat grid of roads and ancient trees speak of the colonists' effort in creating a conducive environment for themselves. A small church was erected and later Lord Birdwood laid the foundation stone of the "much-needed" extension. But it burnt down and all its trophies, of the early British period, were lost. Among these was a memorial to Cavagnari. The garrison section, spread across an undulating terrain is known for two figures: the daring Cavagnari and the swashbuckling Ajab Khan.

Cavagnari, the son of Adolphe Cavagnari one of Napoleon's generals, had the political charge of Kohat for more than a decade. He was only thirty-eight when killed in Kabul during the Second Afghan War. By then he was Sir Louis Cavagnari K.C.B., C.S.\. His sprawling residence modelled after Thomas Jefferson's house at Monticello, Virginia40 was constructed beside a stream. It sports an extensive garden and a handsome dome inspired by the Italian Renaissance architectural aesthetic. A colonnaded verandah which surrounds it keeps it cool during the long hot summer. Long occupied by the Deputy Commissioners of Kohat, the splendid building has now been adapted for use as a public library. It stands today as a fine memorial to him.

In 1923, the cantonment witnessed a heroic, defying act which has acquired legendary aura in a land where honour and courage, above all else, are prized. It was triggered by a British operation in which Ajab Khan's house and his women-folk were searched. To avenge this slight the Afridi spent a whole night in the old pipal tree near the residence of the Commissioner, Major Ellis and then kidnapped his daughter Molly. She was carried through the Bosti Khel Valley to the Tirah mountains. The abduction became an international scandal, its symbolism reverberating in the corridors of imperial power in Dehli and London as in the dwellings of the tribals. For the recovery of Molly Ellis a large military operation was launched in which local tribesmen were also inducted. In order to pay their way through the tribal belt, mules laden with silver accompanied the expedition. On reaching Tirah, Molly was discovered dressed like a powindah or a gypsy girl. Her rescue was effected, her honour intact. This cause celebre is now commemorated in a road named after Ajab Khan in the old quarters of Peshawar and immortalized in several motion picture versions in Pashto and Urdu.

The district of Bannu is like a circular basin, blocked on all sides by mountains and is connected by a winding road to Kohat. It is irrigated by the Kurram and Tochi Rivers. Between these Rivers and the Bhittanni Hills lie the tracts which are perennially irrigated. The district otherwise is sandy and dependent on rainfall. The general elevation is about 1,OOOft above the sea. The area has been identified as Falana of Huien-Tsang.41 It remained nominally under the Dehli emperors till 1738, when it was conquered by Nadir Shah. Ahmad Shah Durrani marched several times through the Bannu Valley to receive tribute from the locals. In 1838 the Valley came under Sikh rule. But after the First Sikh War, Lt. Edwardes (of Edwardes College fame) arrived in Bannu and within a few months was able to bring the area under British control. In order to ensure security a chain of out-posts were built along the border. Some of these continue to be functional till date.

Bannu town, founded in 1848 by Edwardes, was for some time known as Edwardesabad. The bazaar he laid out on the grid plan, was called Daleepnagar and the fort constructed at the same time, Daleepgarh. Both these honoured the young, Sikh Maharaja of Lahore. The lad was later deposed and sent off to Queen Victoria's court in London. Around the bazaar grew the town enclosed by a high wall, some sections of which are standing to this day. Bannu town remains a centre of commerce where agriculture produce and products, livestock and birds are bought and sought. It remains one of the most popular places for the trade of Demoiselle Cranes / Koonj which fly seasonally over this area. They are hunted in the traditional manner by using a simple, age-old sling-like contraption which entangles their legs and brings them to the ground. The railway station, once operative, has fallen into disuse. John Nicholson who succeeded Edwardes constructed a fine residence which sits, surrounded by a sprawling lawn, in faded colonial grandeur.

It was harsh, arid, rocky, weird, lonely, forbidding threatening, rugged, misshapen, strange, alien; yet at times it had a spectacular beauty and breath taking colour. One feared the ferocity of the peopleand abhorred their cruelty, yet admired their sturdy manliness, democratic pride and love of freedom; and warmed to their hospitality and ready wit and humour.

Thus Fraser Noble, the Assistant Political Agent at Miranshah about North and South Waziristan spread over 11,327 sq. km. and inhabited by over half a million Wazir and Mahsud tribesmen. Waziristan was part of the Mughal empire but when the Sikhs extended their rule to Bannu, they did not dare into this belt. During the early British period the tribes continued to resist British incursions. The Punjab Government described the Mahsud in 1881 as:

more worthily admired for the courage which they show in attack and in hand-to-hand fighting with the sword. From the early days of British rule in the Punjab few tribes on the frontier have given greater or more continuous trouble, and none have been more daring or more persistent in disturbing the peace of British territory..

In 1889 Sir R. Sandeman succeeded in opening up the strategic Gomal Pass on the Afghanistan border in return for Rs. 50,000 in annual allowances. The attack on Wana by the Mahsuds under Mulla Pawinda resulted in the third punitive expedition in 1894-95 under Sir W. Lockhart. The boundary with Afghanistan was finally demarcated and in 1896 southern Waziristan was constituted as a Political Agency with headquarter at Wana. But tribal uprisings continued till well into the twentieth century. Three British Officers were murdered in 1904-05.

In 1910 a full-fledged North Waziristan Agency was constituted with the headquarter at Miranshah. Major H.A. Barnes, the Political Agent in 1933, also taken by the country, remarked:
Oh Lord, this is a gorgeous life! Here is freedom and scope and interest that are little short of overwhelming. One lives the whole day and every day, and only lacks for having one pair of hands and one personality.

Despite superior arms, the British were unable to establish peace. During 1937 and 1938, the inhabitants again rose against them, this time under Mulla Sher Ali Khan, a disciple of the Faqir of Ipi. After the creation of Pakistan, the tribes of Waziristan through a jirga decided to join the new State.

South Waziristan affords good grazing for goats. The outer spurs of the Wazir hills are barren and desolate. The inner hills, of higher elevation, are thickly wooded with ilex and pine. Here chalghoza or pine-nuts, walnuts and apricots are found in abundance. The only river is the Gomal which snakes through the Sulaiman range and debouches on the Derajaat plains.

The most famous visitor to Jandola, headquarter of the South Waziristan Scouts, was T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia. He came in the guise of Airman Shaw in 1928. A broken-down truck obliged him to spend some time in the Officers' Mess. He and the officers must have swapped stories of rifle-thieves and enthralling tales of far Arabia. When he left, he presented the Mess with a volume of his celebrated work which is still treasured. Inscribed on the flyleaf are the words:

This book was written by me, but its sordid type and squalid blocks are the responsibility of the publisher.It is, however, the last copy in print of Revolt in the Desert, and I have much pleasure in presenting it to the officers of the South Waziristan Scouts in memory of a very interesting day and night with them. T. E.Shaw.

The southern-most district of the Province is Dera Ismail Khan. Baloch settlers migrated to the area towards the end of the fifteenth century and founded the town which is named after their chief, Ismail Khan. Situated on the traditional trade routes between South Asia and Khorasan, it became an important centre to which the caravans of travelling powindas or gypsies and merchants repaired after cross-ing the Gomal Pass. It is known for turned and lacquered wood-work of excellent design and quality. The other trade centres were, and are, Tank and Kulachi.

In 1750 the area came under Ahmad Shah Durrani and was annexed in 1836 by Nao Nihal Singh to the Lahore Durbar. With the coming of the British, the district became part of the empire. In 1870 it acquired "melancholy notoriety" due to the death of Sir Henry Durand, Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab. He was crushed against an arch of the gateway when entering the town of Tank on an elephant. This man who had negotiated the border between Afghanistan and the Frontier and gave it his name, the Durand Line, lies buried in Dera Ismail Khan.

The district is bound on the west by the Sulaiman Range. The cultivated tract is watered by the occasional hill torrents in the upper reaches. The famous water channel built by Macaulay, during his seventeen years tenure as Deputy Commissioner, irrigates a larger area. To the east flows the Indus River. In the hot season the Indus was crossed by a steam-ferry with paddIes, the sort Mark Twain wrote about in Town SawYer and Huckleberry Finn. It transported families, camels and other animals. In winter a bridge of boats was installed. Those who could not afford the nominal fee could be seen till as recently as the 1980's clinging to air-filled animal skins and swimming across the divide. Now a modern bridge links the Punjab town of Darya Khan with Dera Ismail Khan.

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