Saturday, May 21, 2016

Mughal force disaster in Khyber, 1672

In 1672, some Mughal soldiers insulted a Pashtun woman from the Safi tribe in Kunar. The Safis avenged the insult by killing those soldiers. Hussein Beg Khan, the Faujdar of Kunar (Faujdar was a title awarded by Mughal to garrison commanders), called upon the chief of Safi tribe to deliver the men involved in the killing of his soldiers. The chief refused. The Faujdar called upon the local Pashtun tribes who were in the service of Mughals, to assist his troops in punishing the Safis. The local Pashtun tribes, mostly Mohmands, being duty-bound, attended him but sent a word to the Safis that they had acted like men and that they would not draw their swords for the Mughals against them but would remain passive spectators. This they did and Hussain Beg Khan was defeated by the Safis. He then sent an exaggerated and one-sided report to Muhammad Amin Khan, the subahdar of Kabul, who was then at Peshawar to spend winters and had started for Kabul with his army and entourage, accompanied by their families and household property. At Jamrud he learnt about the incident. Mustajab Khan Mohmand, the Arbab of Peshawar and Khushal Khan Khattak (he was a Mughal mansabdar) were also with him.

The news of the insult to the Safi woman spread amonsgt the Ghoria Khels and other Khyberi tribes. The Ghoria Khels, backed by the Afridis under Aimal Khan, had blocked the Khyber pass. At Jamrud the local Pashtun chiefs called on him to explain the incident. Amin Khan, an exceedingly arrogant person, was drunk at the time. Hussain Beg Khan was also with him. The latter , seeing the Pashtun chiefs in attendance, said to him:-
"The Nawab's dogs desire to make their obeisance"
The tribal chiefs heard the remark. They left the Mughal camp in indignation. Next day, they occupied the strongest points in Khyber pass. The Shinwaris, Mohmands, and other Ghoria Khels also joined them and took post in the Gharib Khana Kotal, presently called Landi Kotel.

Muhammad Amin Khan , son of Mir Jumla and a favorite of Emperor Aurangzeb


Arbab Mustajab Khan Mohmand was sent to negotiate with Aimal Khan. The negotiations failed. Arbab Mustajab , along with the others, informed Amin Khan of the danger and advised a parley with the Afghans but met with an angry rebuff. Amin Khan asked his friend Khushal Khan Khattak, for the advice. The latter read a Persian verse and told him ;-
"With the have-not do not come to grips
Instead being them to submission by means of artifice"
 He further told him ;-
"It doesnt behoove you with this exalted position to confront them as they are people of no consequence. For the time being wheedle them to disperse from the way and when you have crossed Khyber , do as you think proper."
 This further exacerbated the bigoted Amin Khan who ridiculed Khushal Khan Khattak by quoting a saying and replied back :-
" O Khushal, a man put winter-stricken snake into a bag , which when warmed , bit the same man. I did good to you and you give me this advice ! How shall i account for my conduct before the Emperor ! I fear these despicable curs?"
  Khushal Khan Khattak writes ;-
"I became alarmed and said ,"If your Excellency is pleased to have an encounter, i will go ahead of your Excellency"

Intoxicated with wealth and power, ignorant of the Pashtuns' numbers and despising their prowess, Muhammad Amin Khan rushed blindly to his doom.  Advancing to Ali Masjid he camped nearby. At night the Afridis descended from the hillside and cut off line of supply from the stream where the Mughals drew water. Next day men and beasts in the imperial army began to faint of thirst from the heat of the sun. Amin Khan now opened negotiations but the Pashtuns demanded blackmail in addition to the restoration of their annual subsidiaries. He rejected the terms and sent a body of veterans under his son Abdullah, and other high officers, Mubariz Khan and Mahmud Khan Kheshgi (Afghan of Kasur) to attack the left and right wings of the Pashtuns. But they failed miserably. The former was killed.

The Afghans assailed them with a storm of missiles. The Afridis threw stones and boulders which they had piled up and kept ready for use against the Mughal army. From the lofty peaks overhead, stones were rolled down on the marooned men crowded in the narrow gorge below. Mahmud Khan Kheshgi was also killed and Mughal troops repulsed. The Afridis pounced upon the retreating Mughals with their swords and daggers with disastrous effect. For three days i.e 18th, 19th and 20th April, the massacre and loot continued. The other Pashtun allies (mostly the Shinwaris and Orakzais) remained silent spectators.

Defile below Ali Masjid in the Khyber pass. Photo by John Burke , 1878


The leaders were soon killed and disorder seized the Mughal army. Horses, elephants and men were mixed up in the confusion. Amin Khan was completely defeated. He lost every thing - troops, treasure, elephants, family including his wife, mother, sister, son, daughters, and brothers-in-law, as well as the wives and families of the other Mughal nobles.  Afridis killed 10,000 Mughal soldiers, captured 20,000 men and women and took twenty million rupees of loot. Utterly humbled and exhausted, Muhammad Amin Khan and some of his high officers succeeded in escaping to Peshawar with bare lives and every thing else was lost.

A Pashtun 'Jemadar' brought Amin Khan via a secret route. After paying a large amount of money to the Afridis, Amin Khan  got released his youngest daughter who was just a child , his mother and some other females. His wife , from a high sense of honour, refused to return and became a religious recluse in the Afridi territory where she spent her life in prayer and solitude.

Returning to Peshawar, Muhammad Amin Khan took base revenge for the consequences of his own folly. In anger he killed Arbab Mustajab Khan Mohmand, one of the chief men of Peshawar. In his death agony, Mustajab cried out for a little water to drink. Muhammad Amin Khan answered , "Many Muslims have died of thirst. It is not wrong that you should die of the same cause , as reparation for it"

This singular victory had increased the prestige and resources of the Afridis and Ghoria Khel leaders, particularly Aimal Khan.

Ali Masjid from the gorge, 1878



Book consulted:

"History of the Pathans" by Haroon Rashid, Vol-V, pp-171-177