Home Afghanistan The Khattak Khan, Khushal

The Khattak Khan, Khushal

The Khattak Khan, Khushal

The Khattak Khan, Khushal is renowned as the greatest of all Pashtun poets who was descended from a long line of warriors and chiefs. His works consists of more than 40 thousand couplets on themes ranging from love, aesthetics, statecraft, metaphysics, ethics, philosophy, medicine to jurisprudence and falconry. Khushal Khan’s sufficiency as a poet is evident from the fact that he wrote the book ‘Bāznāmah’ (Falconry) in ONLY six days which contains a total of 47 poems or chapters.

By the 17th century, the Khattaks were a strong force whose allegiance was of great importance to the Mughal Empire. Like his father before him, Khushal Khan also accepted Mughal wealth in return for protecting the main road between Peshawar and Peshawar, which meant collecting tolls from those wishing to cross the Indus River.

He wrote that the main reason for supporting the Mughals was to use them in his lifelong rivalry against the Yousufzai tribe who killed his father in a tribal war. By gaining favours for the Mughals, he was able to capture the Yousufzai land and prevent Yousufzai retaliation.

To be a deadly poison for the Yousufzai’s life

Was my only object in serving the Mughals.

Who could think if what has come to pass!

But as willed by God it was bound to happen.” -Khushal Khan

This policy of temporary and expedient alliances is common Afghan practice. Khushal’s change in stance from support of the Mughals to what later became violent opposition to them is surprising only in that, because of their geographical position in the lowlands around Peshawar, the Khattak tribe was vulnerable to the Mughal retribution. 

After Aurengzeb had imprisoned his father, Shah Jehan and killed his brothers, he arrested and imprisoned Khushal for reasons that remain confused. However, evidence that the Mughals behaved so foolishly is thin, and a more likely cause is factional rivalries inside Khushal’s family, leading to the Mughal intervention to prevent warfare. Whatever the cause, the results were disastrous for the Mughal Empire.

On His release from prison in 1668, nearly five years after his arrest, Khushal Khan became one of the leaders of a tribal rebellion against the Mughals that was remarkable for its success and for the unity it brought in many rival Pashtun tribes. It was a rebellion that, in his words, ’turned a mere spark into a flaming fire and set it to Aurangzeb’s house’. That spark was a Safi woman. One of the most important features of Pashtun society that an outsider learns or ignores at his peril/danger, is how to behave towards the womenfolk of Pashtuns.

In the 17th century, a woman of Safi tribe was insulted by Mughal soldiers, who in return met the angel of death through the tribesmen. The Mughals sought revenge of their soldiers and demanded the tribesmen and their vassal tribes to find, capture and bring the Pashtuns responsible for the deaths of the Mughal soldiers to punish them but their demands were rejected. The Governor of Peshawar was sent with a massive army to teach the Safi and their allies the Afridis, Shinwaris and Momands a lesson but (Mughals) were defeated and lost 40k men! In a couple of year the whole Pashtun land was ablaze and by 1674 the Emperor Aurangzeb had to come himself to punish the (Pashtun) opposition. Following the successful revolts, even the vassal tribes including Khattaks had to join the revolts which left Aurangzeb in shock.

Khushal Khan, angry at his unfair imprisonment, led his tribe against the Mughals and recorded the events in his diary and poems. The Mughals sent for Khushal Khattak and offered him positions but he writes that “I never went (for it).” He was pleased that he had been freed from the service of the Mughals.

The battles that followed were then immortalised in a section of one of Khushal Khan’s well-known poems ‘Ode to Spring’ where he himself had fought against the Mughals. He mentioned most of those battles against the Mughals and then wrote: 

After that again was the affair at the fort of Nowshera,

When from the Mughals I extracted my own inebriation.” -Khan Khattak

Aurangzeb bribed the tribes thus, tribal rivalries renewed and the unity that brought success, collapsed. Khushal Khan Khattak retired from the battlefield in disgust and used his knowledge and pen to attack the weaknesses in the Pashtun society with the same fervour he had previously used his sword. The way he has described the Pashtun foibles is still found in the Pashtun society just like it was in 17th century or before.

Khushal Khan’s family struggles in later life were worthy of the pen of his English counterpart of a century earlier; although even Shakespeare would have found the confusion of family feuding between a father and his fifty-seven sons difficult to unravel” -Andrè Singer

After his retirement as a chief, his many sons began fighting for leadership of the Khattak tribe and often the debates broke out into open warfare. Finally a son, Bahram Khan, called as a degenerate by his Father Khushal Khan, took control in his hands and had his brother arrested by Mughals. A lot has been recorded by Afzal Khan Khattak, a grandson of Khushal Khan Khattak. Afzal Khan wrote that;

Bahram sent a son with some armed men to capture KKK, but when the 77-year-old saw the group of men approaching He drew his ward and called out: ‘Whoever are men amongst you, come to the sword  if you dare.‘ The party is reported to have returned, ashamed, to Bahram.”

Bahram, after failing, turned to the Mughals for further assistance thus the Mughal Governor of Peshawar promised to help him capture he father. Khushal Khan fled to Afridi territory where he died after a year in exile from his own tribe… 

He says about his tribe that due to his struggle they got recognition in the world: “Of what worth, of what value were the Khattaks (but) I have made them to be counted among the tribes“.


May I tell you the secrets of my heart?

Khushal Khan likes that grave where the dust of Mughal’s horse’s boots could not fall.”

His wish was fulfilled by his friends and he was buried in a place never crossed by a Mughal horse.

His grave carries the inscription:

I have taken up the sword to defend the pride of the Afghan,

I am Khushal Khattak, the honorable man of the age.”


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