Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Gandapur tribe

A Gandapoor Pawandah with Jezail, 1868. From "Watson and Kaye's" collection

Gandapur is a Pashtun tribe of Ushtarani extraction. Ushtaranis allege themselves to be descended from the famous saint Syed Muhammad Gaisu Daraz by one of his Sherani Pashtun wives. Ushtarani had five sons, of whom the descendants of four (Tarri or Gandapur, Sheikhi, Mareri and Umra) are collectively known as Gandapur, while those of the fifth, Hamar, are alone known as Ushtarani. Grandchildren of Gaisu Daraz were raised by their maternal grandfathers. It is, however, very doubtful that Gesu-daraz had any relationship to any Pashtun tribe, including the Gandapur.

Gandapurs were originally a pawandah and pastoral tribe. When they settled down in Daman, they began to give up their periodical migrations westward, and their commerce with the countries in that directions but even in late 19th century, a few persons of each clan of Gandapurs followed commercial pursuits, and joined the pawandahs in their migrations, and resorted to Kabul, Kandahar and other cities . According to Hayat-i-Afghani [written in 1867] ;

"All (Gandapurs) are either engaged in cultivation and trade, and exhibit in these occupations a fair degree of industry and activity .The merchants wander down into Hindustan in the winter, and in the summer betake themselves to Western Afghanistan, Khurasan and even Turkestan. The Gandapur are generally in fairly easy circumstances. Camels and horses are abundant among them, and every family has a donkey for carrying water. Mules are unknown. Some of the merchants are wealthy enough to employ agents to represent their interests and accompanying the wandering caravans, while they themselves remain at home"

Monday, September 25, 2017

Yousaf Khan and Sher Bano (a Pashtun folktale)

Bibi Jan

Yousuf Khan was a handsome young man from a village near Mardan. The people of Turlandi claim their village to have been his home. His father Mahmud Shah had died and left a young Yousaf Khan with the responsibility of supporting his mother and his sister Boolanda. He would hunt and bring home fresh meat for them every other day.

Yousaf Khan would go hunting in the Kharamar hills. Now nearly barren, the hills are said to have been thickly covered in trees and thorny thickets, with lots of wild olive trees, and among this forest roamed dear, partridges, rabbits and hares. He would take his fathers hunting dogs, head to the hills and bring back what he had hunted. These dogs were very loyal and being his fathers, Yousaf Khan took great care of them. He made them beautiful collars, that were hung with silver bells. The jingle of those bells would alert everyone to the coming and goings of the handsome man on his travels.

On his way to his hunting grounds, Yousaf Khan would pass through a village, and it was in this village that he one day he saw a very beautiful girl called Sher Bano. How they first met I do not recall, but have heard that Sher Bano would eagerly wait for the jingle of the dogs collars heralding his arrival to her village. They never spoke to each other, but quietly stole glances.

Sher Bano sighed all day long and stopped eating, she would hear nothing but the jingle of those bells. Seeing her waste away like this her friend took her on the pretense of visiting a saint's grave through Yousaf Khan's village. They made it a point to stop at Yousaf Khan's house on the pretext of drinking water. Sher Bano's friend asked whose house they were in and Boolanda proudly told him it was Yousaf Khan the hunter's house. Laughingly the friend said, "tell your brother that there is a girl in the next village who pines for him with such longing that the flame of love so bright and strong that it consumes her and now she looks ill. Her parents are worried that she is possessed with peryan."

When her brother came that night, Boolanda told him what had happened. Yousaf Khan gave her a beating and told her never to repeat such idle gossip in front of him again.

Next day Sher Bano's friend stopped by to see what Yousaf Khan had to say, but Boolanda only cried and told her to leave. Confused by this, Sher Bano decided to confront him that day on his way back from hunting.

Mean while, Yousaf Khan's cousins had gone hunting with him that day. A lone hunter by nature he did not want to take them, but agreed against his better judgment. Since his father's death they had put aside their hostilities and had reached out to him. While his father had been alive, there had been daily skirmishes between Yousaf Khan and his cousins over petty things, but now it seemed they had all put those days behind them.

The hunt did not go as well as anticipated, even the dogs were jumpy and after a long day just as they were about to give up, Yousaf Khan shot a wild ram. The ram did not stop but kept running until it finally fell into a steep ravine. The cousins stood looking down and finally they convinced Yousaf Khan that he being the strongest and most agile should be lowered into the ravine to retrieve the ram. Tying rope around him they started lowering him, and as soon as he was a third of the way down they let go of the rope and fled.

Sher Bano waiting by her wall was surprised to see the lone dogs run barking with out their master. Yousaf Khan's mother seeing the dogs return without her son knew something awful must have befallen him. She ran out bare head and bare foot, wailing and crying she ran towards the hills, followed closely by Boolanda, both following the dogs that were barking like crazy. People stopped what they were doing to see why the two were running like mad women through the streets. Sher Bano on recognizing them took to the street after them.

The dogs stopped at the edge of the steep ravine. There they saw a very wounded Yousaf Khan, stuck in a tree, that had saved his life by breaking his fall. Together the women and the villagers pulled him back to safety and while they fashioned a crude stretcher for him, Sher Bano cradled her beloveds head in her lap. This did not go unnoticed and when they returned to he village, Sher Bano found her father standing full of wrath, ready to kill her. Yousaf Khan's mother quickly took Sher Bano's hand and said that she was now Yousaf Khan's honor and pride and as soon as possible she would come with the elders of their village and take her away honorably.

A wedding was arranged, and so many people came to wish them their best that the festivities spread out through many days. Sadly though, Yousaf Khan was so consumed by thoughts of revenge that he did not enjoy any of it, nor would he look at or touch his beautiful wife.

He even heard the wind and birds taunting him and the leaves shaking at him as if he was not a man. Not being able to stand it anymore Yousaf Khan left for Delhi. He had heard that his cousins were hiding there. Leaving behind his beautiful bride and his mother and sister, he set off telling them not to expect him back till he had avenged himself or died trying.

There was no news of Yousaf Khan at the village for many years and his cousins seeing the opportunity pronounced him dead. They shared out amongst themselves all that had been his. the marriage not being consummated left Sher Bano in a precarious position, her father came and took her back to his house. Sher Bano refused to accept this and insisted that Yousaf Khan was alive because she would have known if it was otherwise.

Sher Bano grieved for all that could have been and for the man who she loved so deeply and had left her in such a predicament. She would cry all night and wait all day for any news of her beloved. At first her elders kindly tried to tell her to stop her grieving, and that they would arrange a suitable match for her. She was young and untouched and many a man would find her worthy of a wife. Not able to persuade her with their soft words they resorted to cruel taunts, telling her that because of her emotions and sentiments they had been forced to marry her to a worthless, irresponsible man who had deserted her. Now she should listen to them and marry someone else who could provide her a roof and protection.

Seeing that none of these words had any effect on her, Sher Bano's father came and put his pagri at her feet and said, "I am an honorable man, and all my life I have managed to stay slander free, but I am old and do not know how long I have. Who will protect you once I am gone? Do not let my honor become the laughing stock of the village."

Sher Bano quickly lifted her father pagrai and dusting it off put it on his head saying, 'Only God knows what has happened to my husband, but may I never be cause of slander to your pride and honor sire. But in my heart I believe him to be alive even though there has been no word of him. Grant me a year to cry my grief and at the end of this year you may choose for me any man that you see fit and I will do as you wish"

Her father was heartened by these words and smiling said, 'You have made me happy my child. I can not bear the thought of your hair turning grey waiting for a worthless man who whether dead or for shame has not dared shown his face again. Don't talk to me of him coming back and you waiting, but choose one of these handsome men in our village and go on with your life, but if you think it is a year you need then take a year, but get over him.'

Mean while Yousaf Khan had traveled far from the lands of the Pukhtuns, he came across a village that was in the grip of terror due to some dacoits that had moved into the neighboring forest. Having to spend the night there he asked what was going on. They told him that many of their young men had died at the hands of the wicked men and the rest afraid to take them on had moved away. Seeing that there was no one to protect them Yousaf Khan bravely offered to help them. Hidden away the villagers watched sceptically as Yousaf Khan took on the dacoits. He made fast work of them and as he wiped his sword clean the villagers rushed out to carry him back a hero to the village. News of his bravery and valor spread quickly and soon reached Akbar the Mughal who happened to be journeying by.

Akbar ordered Yousaf to be presented to him immediately. When Yousaf came to his court the Mughal threw him a sword and sent one of his best swordsman against him. Yousaf easily overpowered him and looked up at the emperor to see what he wanted. Akbar was clapping and bid him to come closer, and he put a garland of precious jewels around his neck and gifted him with costly clothes, as well as making him in charge of a big regiment. Posted far and near, Yousaf carried out Akbar's orders.

Yousaf Khan with his valor and handsomeness became a court favorite and was soon ordered to stay close to the emperor at all times. This gave the emperor a chance to observe him up close and personal first hand. He found Yousaf to be brave as rumored, but also that he did not partake in the revelry of the court. Yousaf Khan seemed to be a loner who sighed often and was lost in thought with a sad look on his face. He asked his courtiers, but none could answer him, so Akbar summoned Yousaf Khan and asked what was it that troubled him so?

Yousaf Khan told the king of how he was once a reputed hunter, how he went out to hunt, and how a beautiful girl had fallen in love with him. How his cousins treachery had prevented him from returning her love and had left her untouched. He had a concurrent dream of his mother and sister crying beside a broken swing. He lay awake wondering what had become of Sher Bano, had she remarried or was she still waiting for him? He had no news of how his mother and sister fared, or news of his village in over five years and neither had he found his cousins. He showed Akbar a cap that Sher Bano had embroidered for him.

Akbar told him that it was high time he returned home, not only for his peace of mind but for the women he had left so helpless. Yousaf Khan was allowed to take as many of his men as he wanted. They made great haste towards the land of the Pukhtuns and on entering it they dressed into rags and made their way unnoticed to Yousaf Khan's village. It is said that they spent a night at Dobian, where Yousaf Khan bade his men to stay as he made his way alone to his village.

That evening Yousaf Khan offered prayers at his village mosque, but none there seemed to recognize him. He discreetly walked past his house and was dismayed to find that there was a barn there instead. He stopped a man on the street and asked what had become of the people that lived there. The man looked at him suspiciously and asked, 'Did you know them?'

Yousaf Khan said that many years ago he had stopped at their door and they had been kind enough to offer him a place to sleep and a warm meal.

The man shaking his head sadly said, 'the young man here fled to Hindustan, and no one knows what became of him. His cousins took over all his property and forced his mother and sister into labor in their house. His wife was taken back by her parents and today she is getting married to some one. Do you hear those drums? They are beating for her wedding.'

Yousaf Khan hastily went to Sher Bano's village where people had turned out in force to witness it. There he met his sister Boolanda who did not recognize him either, he stopped her and asked her who had claimed Sher Bano in marriage. She sadly told him of how her brother had left and her cousins in his absence had taken over and now were forcing Sher Bano to marry one of them, but Sher Bano was refusing to get into the dolay and making a spectacle of them all by refusing to so much as brush her hair or wash her face. She told him that she had to hurry now or her cousins would not only beat her but also her blind mother.

Yousaf Khan stopped her said "sister so you not recognize me? " Boolanda wept with joy on recognizing him and after promising him not to tell another sole she went off with a lightness in her step and hope i her heart. Yousaf pulled out his worn cap and handing it to a child told him to take it to Sher Bano.

The child handed the dirty cap to Sher Bano, who on seeing it leapt up, and asked to be immediately cleaned up and made ready. Everyone was relieved to see the change in her and joyfully they washed and combed out her hick black hair. Sher Bano kept on giggling and joking with her friends and family as they gathered around her. Someone made up her eyes with kohl and someone marked a beauty spot between her brows for her. She was dressed in red and adorned with jewelry.

Boolanda came in to watch and both embraced and happily laughed with no one none the wiser. She then went out to tell her brother of the miraculous transformation and of Sher Bano's fear for him being discovered.

Yousaf had sent a message to his troops who had silently slid into the village and taken up posts. Such was Yousaf Khan's rage that he ordered no man to be spared. The wives and daughters of the men ran into the field bare had and bare feet begging and beseeching him to spare them but it was not till Sher Bano intervened on behalf of the villagers and convinced him not to make widows out of women that day for she knew first hand how intolerable the life of a widow could be. She told him that his beef was only with his cousins not with the other men who had been bystanders.

Yousaf Khan then gave in to Sher Bano's request but only after he made the men agree that a jirga would convene immediately. The jirga conceded that Yousaf Khan has been wronged and that he should not be punished for the deaths of his cousin and his lands and property be returned to him immediately.

One day Yousaf Khan went out to hunt, but returned empty handed. Sher Bano getting up to remove the pot she had been heating for the meat, Yousaf thinking that she was taunting him rushed out in anger to hunt again. Sher Bano ran after him to tell him that he was mistaken and that she did not mean it as a taunt but to save the pot that would have burnt had she not removed it.

Yousaf Khan never returned, he was found dead in the same ravine that he had been left for dead in. Some say he slipped in the dark others say that his cousins got a chance to get even. Whatever the cause of his death, Sher Bano, the woman who had faihfully waited those years, died within days heart broken and bereft.

(Bibi Jaan, Yousaf Khan aw Sher Bano, Sahar, The Voice of Pashtuns, January 2011, p.19-2)

Monday, August 21, 2017

Postal system of Sher Shah Sur

The institution of Dak-Chowki of Alauddin Khilji was only of a military character and was for quick communication between his field armies and his capital. Sikandar Lodi later revived this system in improved form , developing it into a permanent institution for use in military as well as civil affairs. But Sher Shah Sur's mail system was a further advance on these earlier experiments. By integrating it with widespread roadside serai system, he enlarged its scope. There were separate quarters for mail horses and men in the serais. Every serai had two swift horses to carry news, official correspondence, parcels etc.. Additionally, there were two “Tariqh nawis” or post houses clerks, who  recorded the arrival and departure of mail carriers.The system functioned so well that Sher Shah Sur got the news of the disaffection of his umara , soldiers and zamindars of the distant provinces before they spread in the areas concerned. For the first time in history of India, postal system was made available for public use by Sher Shah. The "darogha-i-Dak-Chauki" was the head of the Dak chauki and the espionage system under Sher Shah. This was the origin of the News Department under the Darogha-i-dak-chauki appointed by the Mughals.

A Postal station (Dak Chowki) of Sher Shah Sur,  located on GT road in Wazirabad (Punjab). 

 Photo courtesy : Dr.Imran Sohail

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Administration and achievements of Sikandar Lodi


The standard official unit of land measurement which Akbar administration inherited from its predecessors was the Gaz-i-Sikandari. According to Ain-i-Akbari, the Gaz-i-Sikandri was first instituted by Sikander Lodi, who made it equal to (the diameters of) 41 1/2 of his Sikandari pieces. The gaz continued in use under Sher Shah and Islam Shah , who, bringing the whole of Hindustan under zabt, are said to have measured with this same gaz. During Akbar's reign it remained the official standard till the 33rd year (1589) , when it was finally superseded by the Gaz-i-Ilahi. ("The agrarian system of Mughal India", Irfan Habib, p-353)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Tarikh-i-Khan Jahani wa Makhzan-i-Afghani

Book Review

Tareekh-e-Khan Jehani or Makhzan-e-Afghani

Dr. Sher Zaman Taizi

The book was written and compiled in Persian in 1021 H, when the Mughal Empire was at the apex of its glory in India. It was translated into English by Dr. Imam Din of Dacca University and in Urdu by Dr. Mohammad Bashir of the Punjab University. The under review edition is the latter.

Dr. Bashir, in his foreword, has discussed the book and its author, and, with all its drawbacks, considers it as a standard work. The biography of the author - Niamatullah Heravi - has been taken from the original prefaces, which goes like this:

In his early age, Niamatullah lived an obscure life. In 993 H, he was the Chief Conservator of the library of Sipah Salar Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khanan until 1006 when he joined the retinue of Prince Saleem. In 1014 H, when the prince ascended the throne and adopted the title of Jehangir, he appointed Niamat Heravi as the court-chronicler. In 1017 H, Emperor Jehangir dismissed him from the service for some sort of misdemeanour. Then he joined the service of an Afghan Amir Mian Pir Khan alias Khan Jehan Lodhi who had crushed Marhatta uprisings against the Mughal throne in Southern India through a series of battles in1019. Niamatullah Heravi took part in all those battles. In Deccan, he commenced compilation of the history at Malakpur on 20 Zilhaj 1020 and concluded it at Burhanpur on 10 Zilhaj 1021. Later, in 1024, he added to it the biography of Khan Jehan Lodhi and also mentioned the death of Sheikh Shahab Bakhtiar which occurred on 25 Jamad-ul-Akhir the same year. The book also contains material on the struggle for power between Aurangzeb Alamgir and his brother Dara Shukoh in 1067, in which the former succeeded to grab the throne. However, the author omitted the events related the revolution of Khan Jehan against Emperor Shah Jehan, in which the former lost his life. This leads the translator, Dr. Bashir, to confusion about the death of the author. He draws his own conclusion that since the author had developed some sort of difference with Khan Jehan Lodhi and lived in recluse, he had purposely omitted the events related to abortive revolution by Khan Jehan Lodhi.

If we analyse the account presented by Dr. Bashir, the Chief Conservator of the library of a man like Khan-e-Khanan must be a matured learned man in forties. So, the year of birth of Niamat could be around 95, and, in 1040, he was an octogenarian if he still lived, and in 1067 more than 110. So, it can be assumed with reservation that Niamat Heravi died before 1040 and the events of later stage were added to his work by someone else. His father, Habibullah Khan Heravi, lived in India in service of the Mughal Empire. It is, therefore, believed that Niamatullah was born at Agra or somewhere else in India.

The fifth, and the last, appendix gives an introduction of Haibat Khan and his dedication to Khwaja Yahya Kabir, an Afghan Saint, who spoke Pashto.

It gives an idea that the author enjoyed a good opportunity of reading and recording of day to day events at the court of Emperor Jehangir by virtue of his employment, which needed, of course, scholastic knowledge and good command on languages. But, he left no other work except the one under review, who which he was also inspired by Haibat Khan and Khan Jehan Lodhi. The motivation behind this work was ethical and biased. He was supposed to write something to aggrandise the Afghans as a nation and boost up their morale. But, he did not hide his fear of the Mughal power that reflected its cruel nature. He tried to balance his approach to both the rival forces, which, noticeably, led him to confuse the issue. His fear of the Mughal power is reflected in the titled he used for the Emperors and avoiding of mention of their names repeatedly. Babar has been titled as Firdaus-e-Makani, Humayun as Janat Ashyani and Akbar as Arsh Ashyani and so on. Looking through his experience, his language was not so fluent and rich, which is a common phenomenon if one writes in hesitation under some pressure or compulsion.

In his preface, Niamatullah Heravi, having used the prefix of Khwaja, has given his biography, the purport of his work, the bibliography and has also summarised the contents. It is followed by another preface, which gives genealogy of the mankind from Adam to Jacob, also giving ages of a few Prophets in the line. Then the book starts chapter-wise. Chapter No One gives the events to show as to who Saul was and how he became the first Israeli King with proclamation from Prophet Samuel. Saul fights Goliath, the strongest non-believer, who was killed by David the Prophet. Saul grudged against David and tried to kill him. But through a maiden saint, he established contact with dead Samuel, who suggested to him to abdicate in favour of David and then offer sacrifices of his sons and himself through Jihad against the non-believers for redemption. He did so. Then his two sons Armia and Barkhia, born after their father's and brothers' martyrdom, were appointed b David in his court. A son of Armia was named Afaghena - the forefather of the Afghans. The descendants of Armia, through Afaghena, were driven out of Babylonia. A part of them took refuge in the central parts of present Afghanistan, which are now known as Ghore. When Khalid bin Waleed, who himself related to that family, embraced Islam, he invited his kinsmen from Ghore. Led by Qais, they went to Mecca and were introduced to Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) by Khalid. They also embraced Islam and then participated in Jihad. Qais was given the name of Abdul Rashid.

From Adam to Qais Abdul Rashid, the events and genealogy have been covered in two chapters and one preface, which have been summed up in the preceding paragraph. It, however, needs some clarification. More or less similar line has been taken by other scholars also and still a number of interested writers rely on their information. But little is known about the primary source of the information, and none of the scholars has given any reference to it. Of late, certain Muslim scholars took notice of it and rejected this whole story as a fabrication of Jews. In 586 BC, when Nebuchadnezzar subdued Israelis and destroyed the whole structure of their culture, having burnt their religious and other literatures including the original Torah, the Israelis were so much depressed that they lost all hopes of their survival. The Jews rabbis and scholars realised the hanging threat of their total annihilation. They worked devotedly to prepare a sacred book, later titled as the Old Testament, in order to boost up the morale of their people. One part of this book deals with the evolution of God, creation of Adam and then Adam's posterity in a line, which has been, almost, copied in Makhzan-e-Afghani. The Pakhtun writers, commonly, refer to the lost ten tribes and try to prove that they had migrated to central parts of Afghanistan. But by that time, the Central Asia, including Afghanistan had already seen a sequence of changes and development of a sort of civilisation, which is elaborated by sociologists in different ways. So this theory is falsified by the history, when we see the Persian Empire expanded with glorious civilisation, its language and culture, and religion (Zoroastrianism) and the area was then called Sogdiana. The Muslim scholars take the Holy Koran as the source of information. The Holy Koran describes the creation of Adam and depicted his life in the Paradise and then his ouster from the Paradise. It mentions a number of Prophets for very significant events. The Muslim scholars, down to Maulana Maudoodi, although having slight variations in interpretation of these events, have reject the stories, which do not coincide with those mentioned in the Holy Koran and Ahadees, or with the well founded historical facts.

Chapter III deals with Lodhi dynasty in three parts: (a) Behlol Lodhi, (b) Sikandar Lodhi and(c) Ibrahim Lodhi with a passing reference to the victory of Babar over Ibrahim at Panipat, which was, in fact, a turning point in the history of India to usher in a new era with the Mughal Empire. Chapter IV discusses the period of Suri dynasty in four parts: (a) Sher Shah Sure, (b) Islam Shah Suri, (c) Feroz Shah Suri and (d) return of Humayun, and short notes on some Afghan Sardars. These two chapters have been copied from Tabqat-e-Akbari compiled by Mizam-ud-Din, although it has not been indicated by the author.

Chapter V on Nawab Khan Jehan Lodhi was added later as the sole purpose of the book was to magnify the character of the benefactor of the author, who was so much interested in the history of the Afghans. This chapter has been divided into five parts. As a fashion, the Nawab has been named after a long row of titles. He is put in the same lineage of Bani Israel.

Chapter VI explains the Afghan families in fourth parts: (a) Sarbani, (b) Bitani, (c) Ghorghashti and (d) Karlani, which are repeated more or less in the same pattern by most of the Pakhtun writers.

Chapter VII has been dedicated to Emperor Jehangir with all the benevolent praises in his favour, so much so that the weight of the chain linked with the gong for appellants, under the orders of Jehangir, has been shown as 489 maunds instead of four maunds. And this is the end of the book.

After the end, start the biographical sketches of the Afghan saints, 66 males and five females. This has also been divided into parts: 1-28 are Sarbani, 29-48 are Bitani and 49-66 are Ghorghashti, the rest 67-71 are females. These are quite interesting and gives an idea, if not complete picture, as regards the contribution made by the Afghan saints to propagation of Islam in India. It is followed by five addenda to give some more genealogies of the Afghan families, the last one speaks of Haibat Khan and Khwaja Yahya Kabir, which is, probably, the writing of Haibat Khan.

The honoured translator has added five valuable indices of the names of persons, places, quotations from the Holy Koran and bibliography, and corrigenda. These have seized a hundred pagers. In the last, there are eight genealogical trees of the Afghan families stemming from Qais Abdul Rashid.

But there is no mention of any other person contemporary of Qais Abdul Rashid. Here, the question arises; where have gone other people of the lost ten tribes, and where and who are their descendants?

Throughout the book, there are serial numbers in brackets at intervals. It has not been explained anywhere, but its shows that these numbers denote the pagers of the original work from which it has been translated. In the text, Persian verses have been quoted, and, at certain places, Urdu translation of some quotations has been given, which were of Pashto verses as indicated by the translator.

There are certain glaring mistakes in the chronology, which have been pointed out in the margin.
With all its drawbacks, the book is considered as one of the best works in the Mughal period. It has a standard and is lays down a system in its approach to the rise and growth of the Afghans in India. However, the theory of the origin of the Afghans is open to question.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


By M.Jamil Hanifi

Jerga, an assembly or council of local adult men sitting in a circular formation for the resolution of conflicts and discussion of issues and challenges that face the settled and nomadic Pashtun tribal communities of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The earliest published reference to jerga is provided during the colonial period by Mountstuart Elphinstone (1815), a representative of the British government of India to the court of the ruler of Kabul at his summer capital of Peshawar. English dictionary references to jirga are provided by Henry George Raverty, Henry Walter Bellew, and John Gordon Lorimer, all colonial officers of the British government of India. Other early references to jerga are available in official British colonial records about Pashtuns.

The jerga functions as a sodality, invoked when the need for it appears and disbanded when it is not needed. It is the symbol of the political and legal autonomy of a Pashtun male and his tribe. As such it is an integral part of pashtunwalaey (pashtunwali), Pashtun charter for appropriate behavior, including upholding male honor (nang or ʿezzat) and avoiding shame (sharm), both through the proper sexual behavior of his female dependents (namus, especially wife, daughter, sister, and mother), revenge (badal, a form of balanced or negative reciprocity in response to real [bodily] or symbolic [verbal] injury), offering food (melmastia, hospitality) to those accepted as guests, providing asylum or refuge (nanawatay) to those who sue for peace or ask for forgiveness or protection, professing Islam, and abiding by other components of Pashtun custom

Although the concept of jerga is familiar to non-Pashtuns in the region, it is not their native label for local assemblies or councils for conflict resolution. In Persian, jerga refers to a social network, group, coterie, or clique, but it is not used as the label for tribal or other local mechanisms for conflict resolution. Among the Marri Baluch the term jerga applies to a relatively stable and structured arrangement in which “the hierarchy of tribal leaders, the organs of external administration, and the framework of sections meet and articulate in a manner that is decisive to the function of each” (Pehrson, p. 23). Some contemporary Afghan nationalist writers argue that Pashtun tribes have inherited the concept of jerga from their Aryan ancestors (ʿAṭaʾi, 1978, p. 1; idem, 1979 and 1982 Khadem, p. 52).

Jerga is sometimes interchangeably used with maraka (discussion, conversation, or dialogue), but maraka, a form of small-scale jerga, is used among Pashtuns to deliberate and make decisions about specific local policies or problems or to settle minor disputes. Participants in the maraka are male elders of the village or local lineage(s) and are called marakachian. The maraka is convened at the request of an elder or of disputants and is held in the open air courtyard of the local mosque or near a shrine. There are two kinds of marakas. In one the disputants argue in front of the marakačiān, who will decide which side has a more persuasive argument. In the other, the maraka examines the evidence and argumentation from each party and acts as an arbitrator and imposes a compromise. In both cases the decision of the maraka is based on consensus and is final (ʿAṭaʾi, 1978).

The jerga, on the other hand, deals with major intra and inter-tribal conflict. In principle the jerga represents the tribe as a whole and acts as a judicial, legislative, and executive agency. In inter-tribal conflict or when a number of tribes wish to participate in a collective response to a challenge or initiative from the state or from another tribe or consortium of tribes, the jerga will include representatives from all tribes involved. Regardless of size or the number of tribes involved, no qualifiers (small, large, etc.) are used with the label jerga. The phrase “great jirga” was once used by the British colonial government of India when it wished to engage the Masʿud tribe as a whole, but the event turned into a “disorderly mob” (Caroe, pp. 401-2). Borrowing from and manipulating European sources, some prominent Afghan authors argue that a loya jerga (great assembly) was convened in two historical settings for the selection of Afghanistan’s political leaders: during 1708 for the approval of Mir Wais Hotak’s opposition to the Safavid rule in Kandahar (Qandahar), and during 1747 for the selection of Aḥmad Khan Abdali (q.v.) as the ruler of Afghanistan (Gobar, pp. 319, 354). However, neither claim is supported by the historical record.

In its traditional format, the jerga operates on the margins of state structure, in opposition or alternative to the latter. During the colonial and postcolonial period, a jerga from a single tribe or a jerga composed of members from several tribes negotiated with agents of the adjacent state. Such instances are noted in the available ethnographic and historical records. Only landowners may participate in a jerga and, in theory, any adult male member of the tribe can request the convocation of the jerga. Theoretically only a Pashtun tribesman whose father’s name appears in tribal genealogical charts can hold land. In practice, however, mashran (elders, sing., mashr) or spingiri (singular, spingiray, white beards, elders) of the constituent lineages (khels or zais) of a tribe initiate and participate in the assembly. The initiative for convening the jerga originates with the tribe(s), not with the state. At least one member of the tribe who knows tribal norms (narḵ), including the rules and procedures of the jerga, must participate. This individual is known as a narḵai (plural, narḵian). A mullah (a religious leader who leads communal prayers at and keeps up the local mosque) attends the jerga but only to pray for its success and to bless its decision. Some Pashtun tribes allow sayyeds (non-Pashtuns who claim descent from Prophet Moḥammad and who usually live among Pashtuns and speak Pashtu) to participate in the jerga. No one officially presides over the jerga and every participant is entitled to speak. The jerga convenes near a local shrine, cemetery, or in the courtyard of a mosque in open space. Open space is explicitly preferred to space under a roof. Every tribe and local community has a designated place for its jerga. Among nomadic Pashtuns, the assembly meets in any open space designated by the elders. The place where the jerga meets is considered sacred and, among some tribes during important jergas, the location is ringed by tribal flags and banners. The Afridi (q.v.) Pashtuns occasionally surround the location of important jergas by black flags. It has been suggested that these flags were supplied to the Afridis by Amir Aman-Allah (q.v.) of Afghanistan during the 1920s in order to dramatize Afridi opposition to the British government of India (ʿAṭaʾi, 1978, p. 2).

To underscore equality, the jerga participants sit in a circle on bare ground, simple mats, or other floorings of uniform quality. All members of the jerga are considered equal. Non-members may sit near the jerga to listen to its transactions. When the jerga is in session no one shall disrupt or interrupt its transactions. Violators of this rule are subject to punishment. Occasionally a jerga may convene in secrecy in which case no observers are allowed near the jerga. If someone violates its secrecy, he will be severely sanctioned. The punishment ranges from shaving the culprit’s mustache and beard to setting his residential property on fire to execution.

A local jerga seldom has more than twenty-five members and rarely more than fifty. Inter-tribal jergas will have larger numbers but seldom more than one hundred. In the past, when jergas were convened in order to deal with the British government of India or the Kabul government, the numbers increased substantially, sometimes running into the hundreds. Both governments regularly distributed allowances or occasional gifts to tribal leaders and other real and potential jerga participants within their spheres of influence. The governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan have, in principle, continued these practices in dealing with tribal Pashtuns within (and occasionally beyond) their borders. It is likely that these policies have directly and indirectly encouraged larger jerga attendance. In general, however, it could be argued that the more remote a tribe was from state influence, the more egalitarian was its format and consequently the larger the number of its jerga participants. The role of the jerga in the resolution of conflict appears to have declined in Pashtun areas that are encapsulated by state structures, as well as in areas where an individual has achieved the status of malek (village leader or spokesman), or where the position of khan (village and lineage leader) has evolved into a hereditary rank, or where charismatic Sufi personalities have appeared.

Decisions of the jerga derive from discussion, debate, and mediation and are based on overt consensus or, when there is no explicit disagreement or surrender, to a majority view. Open robust dissent is strongly discouraged and rarely acknowledged. In some local traditions, when during the proceedings of the jerga a minority faction in the assembly disagrees with the prevailing tenor or direction of discussion or debate, its members will express their dissatisfaction by briefly clicking two small stones. When a decision is reached, members of the assembly symbolically express their sincere participation in it by taking a scared oath by collectively placing their hands on a Qurʾan, on which are placed salt (mālga) and a sword (tura). The attending religious leader presides over this ritual (ʿAṭaʾi, 1978, p. 76).

The decision of the jerga is final and binding on all members of the tribe. The Pashtun jerga generates its own enforcement and executive arrangements. Usually an individual, symbolically called tsalwekhtai (one of forty) or tsalwekhtey (a set of or group of forty) or tsalwekhtian ([those] of the forty), is assigned to execute the decisions of the jerga. In reality the actual number of the enforcement body varies with the importance and complexity of the task at hand. A person who does not abide by the decision of the jerga risks being expelled from the community and/or having his residential property destroyed. In the forested Pashtun tribal territories, where an active lumber industry exists, the group of men assigned to patrol the forests is also called tsalwekhtey. In some Pashtun areas this executive agency is called arabakey or rabakey. The concepts tsalwekhtey and arabakey, are symbolic and formulistic and are probably related to the Arabic word arbaʿun (forty) and the importance of this number in Muslim rituals and lore.

The popular term in non-Pashtun areas of Afghanistan for a local assembly or a deliberative or advisory body is shura-ye maḥalli (local assembly or council), or majles-e mashwara (consultative council attached to the provincial government). During the reigns of Amir Ḥabib-Allāh (1901-19) and Amir Aman-Allāh (1919-29), the Afghan government instituted a shura-ye dawlat (state council) composed of high-ranking members of the central government and the inner circle of the amir, but this practice was discontinued after the fall of Amir Amān-Allāh in 1929 (Hanifi, p. 299). Starting in 1921 and continuing to the present time, governments of Afghanistan have used an ad hoc mechanism in the construction of which the concept of Pashtun tribal jerga has been creatively manipulated. They have used the historical prestige of tribal Pashtuns and the myth of their numerical majority in Afghanistan by convening the so called loya jerga in times of instability and crises, especially during tribal uprisings or widespread discontentment with the central government. On these occasions the government has, at its own expense, summoned “representatives” of the people from Afghan provinces to visit Kabul to participate in an assembly in which it presented and received rubber-stamped approval of its real or potentially controversial policies and programs, including new constitutions and international relations and treaties. About forty percent of the participants in these loya jergas consisted of the current members of the parliament, members of which had routinely been hand-picked by the government, and the country’s high-ranking officials of the military and civil services. Members of these loya jergas (especially for those from the provinces) received a fully paid visit to and stay for about two weeks in the capital city, with the king and his government acting as the official hosts (Hanifi, pp. 309 ff.). It was this model of the loya jerga, this time subsidized by the United States and orchestrated by the United Nations, which created the post-Taliban government in Kabul and the current constitution of Afghanistan (Hanifi, pp. 319-21). Since 1921, approximately twelve loya jergas have been convened by the various governments of Afghanistan.

Over the life span of the state of Afghanistan (1880-present), ideas for the legislative institutions of the central government were inspired by and symbolically associated with the concept of Pashtun tribal jerga. Majles-e shura (consultative assembly) was introduced during the reign of Moḥammad-Nāder (r. 1930-33), and the adjective melli (national) was occasionally added (majles-e šurā -ye melli) to signify national assembly. In 1933, a majles-e aʿyan (assembly of nobles, elders, or grandees) was instituted. During 1964-78, the labels majles-e shurā and majles-e aʿyan were changed to wolosi jerga (people’s [i.e., commoners’] assembly) and da mashrano jerga (elders’ assembly) respectively (Hanifi, p. 299). The post-2001 constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan includes specific provisions for the use of these labels for the legislative institutions of the state and for the invocation of the loya jerga in times of national crises.

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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Khirqa Sharif, Kandahar

"The most significant aspect of the Afghan-Bukharan treaty of 1768, namely the surrender by Shah Murad of the khirqa , or mantle , of the Prophet to Ahmad Shah Durrani , was completely missed by European historians in the last century. In order to avoid a confrontation with the Afghans, the Manghit ruler of Bukhara agreed to hand over this most sacred of relics after the Afghan amir requested it as part of the terms of peace. The khirqa was a powerful religious symbol, visible evidence of a cult as popular as the 'Alid Shrine at Mazar-i-Sharif'. As in medieval Europe , the possession of relics directly associated with , or which had been in the possession of, the founders of Christianity, was a means of legitimizing sovereignty, so the transfer of the khirqa from Bukhara to Ahmad Shah, provided the nascent Durrani state with the credibility it lacked. The khirqa had been in the possession of the dominant Hanafi power in Central Asia for over five centuries, and its surrender signified a dramatic shift in regional balance of power in favour of the Afghans. The glory, as it were, had departed, and with it, by implication, went the divine sanction which had maintained Chingizids in power .

Its no wonder that Ahmad Shah Durrani made the most of this acquisition. The relic's progress to Qandahar was accompanied by an extraordinary show of religious devotion, donations and pageantry and the establishment of qadamga at every stage to act as reminder to all and sundry of its passing. When it finally arrived in Qandahar, at that period still the Afghan capital, Ahmad Shah commissioned a building  which was to house both the khirqa and his own body after he died. However, it seems that the mantle was never actually placed in the mausoleum , for the ulama of the city opposed the use of such an important relic as a political tool."

 [Reference:  The "Ancient Supremacy": Bukhara, Afghanistan and the Battle for Balkh, 1731-1901", By Jonathan L. Lee, p-91]

Khirqa Sharif, Kandahar, 1880