Khushal Khan Khattak
Khushal Khan Khattak was born in 1613 C.E., in a small town, Akora Khattak, in modern-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. The town was founded by Khushal’s great-grandfather, Malik Akor, who was the chieftain of the Khattak tribe. The third Mughal emperor, Akbar the Great (1542 –1605), had appointed Malik Akor as the guardian of a section of the royal highway from Delhi to Kabul.
After the death of Akor, his son Yahya Khan, and after the death of Yahya, his son and Khushal’s father, Shahbaz Khan, served the Mughals in the same capacity. This service to the royal court, however, wasn’t without hazards. It meant rivalry from the other tribes that felt discriminated and deprived of such lucrative posts. No wonder, there were clashes and skirmishes between the Khattak and the Yousafzai tribes every now and then.
Khushal’s father died in one such skirmish in 1642 C.E. After the death of his father, Khushal was appointed as chieftain of his tribe by King Shah Jahan – the builder of the timeless Taj Mahal. Soon after his appointment, Khushal participated in the campaigns of Kangra, Balkh, and Badakhshan, as a military commander, and proved his mettle in war.
During the course of following years, he also met with King Shah Jahan a number of times. “It was an era of great affluence,” he proudly says in one of his poems. And why not! Like his predecessors, Shah Jahan was a great patron of art, architecture, and literature, and pursued a policy of peaceful co-existence and conciliation toward the followers of other faiths.
In 1658 C.E., after much court intriguing and machinations, Shah Jahan was dethroned and imprisoned by his ultra-conservative son, Aurangzeb. A few years later, in 1664 C.E., Khushal Khan Khattak himself was arrested by the provincial governor of Kabul through a royal decree. He was first kept under house arrest in Delhi and later transferred to the dungeons of the Ranthambore Fort in Rajasthan. Overall, he spent about four and a half years in incarceration.
Upon his release, Khushal started a freedom struggle against the Mughal hegemony in the Pashtun belt. He formed an alliance with two other influential chieftains, Aimal Khan Mohmand and Darya Khan Afridi, and was quite successful in a number of military campaigns. When events took a nasty turn, Aurangzeb came from mainland India and camped in northern Punjab to supervise the war proceedings.
For Khushal, things started to fall apart with the death of his two allies and his own old age. The Mughals then made inroads in his household by bribing and offering royal offices to his sons. His later life was marked by exile and suffering at the hands of both the Mughals and his sons. He died at the age of seventy-six in 1689 C.E., while in exile. According to his will, his body was brought to his hometown, Akora Khattak, and secretly buried in a place, where, in his own words, “the dust of the Mughal cavalry hoofs could not light upon my grave.”