Ajab Khan – Amazing outlaw (Excerpt from “And then the Pathan murders” by Muhammad Ali)
“Ajab Khan and his brother—Shahzada—sons of Sher Dil of Bosti Khel (sub-section of Afridi tribe) lived alongwith their mother in Jawaki a village in Tribal Area a few miles west of the Kohat-Peshawar Road. His father had died a few years earlier. The day he was considered old enough to take out the goats and sheep for grazing, he started learning to shoot with the rifle. By the time he came of age (it is 16 years in the Tribal Area) he was known as one of the best marksmen in his village and he had shown his skill in several target-shooting contests.
The nearest town where young men from his village used to go for shopping or sight-seeing was Kohat where these hot-blooded youths used to roam about in the bazaars. If they had some money (which was not often the case) they used to spend it at the shops of the ‘Kabbbis’ (one who roasts minced meat cutlets) or Tea-venders. Ajab Khan during these prowlings was in the habit of watching the movements of the sentries who were guarding the Government buildings both in the Civil Lines and the Cantonment.
He desperately wanted a 303 rifle for his personal use. His own was a crude weapon made by a blacksmith of Kohat Pass whose barrel got heated after a few shots. One evening he planned to snatch a rifle from a sentry who was guarding a Police Post in Kohat town. He lay in wait till the sentry turned about to resume his routine march in front of the Police Post and then he suddenly pounced upon the unwary victim like a panther, knocked him down on the ground, snatched his rifle and ran away.
The poor sentry was taken by surprise. He raised an alarm which brought several policemen out of the guard room, but they were too late to overtake Ajab Khan as he had disappeared in the dusk. The whole incident was over in less than a minute. He and his companions triumphantly returned home where he was applauded by the village elders for his valorous deed. He was emboldened to repeat such acts of “snatch and grab” off and on with the result that in a short time he had a pretty good armoury of his own.
Some of these rifles he gave to his friends and relatives and the remaining he sold to his tribesmen at high prices. These gun-snatching raids in the course of time became a regular feature of his gang’s activi¬ties. The authorities suspected him in several cases but in spite of their best efforts they could not catch him red-handed. According to the terms of the treaty entered into by the British Government with the tribes, the Government had no jurisdiction to secure his arrest from the Tribal Area.
When these profitable raids increased at an alarming rate, the district authorities became very much concerned. Col. C. E. Bruce who was then the Deputy Commissioner of Kohat District decided to recover the stolen rifles with the assistance of the Army. He, therefore, requested the local Brigade Commander to help in making a thorough search in some of the tribal villages in Kohat Pass where these rifles were believed to have been kept.
So one morning in April 1923 when the people in the Pass woke up, they saw that the soldiers had surrounded their houses, and nobody (man or woman) could go out of the cordon unless he was thoroughly searched. The house-searches started after sunrise. Even the women quarters were not spared. They were asked to get out of their houses after their persons were searched by the soldiers. The outer garments of some women were roughly torn off by the soldiers in order to find out if they were concealing some arms on their persons. These searches lasted for several hours with the result that they succeeded in recovering a number of stolen Government rifles.
The “counter-raid” according to the official commun-que, had been successful, but the ringleader—Ajab Khan had eluded capture. He was absent from the village. He and his brother Shahzada had gone to a distant village on a friendly visit. When they returned home, they found that their village had been ransacked and everyone seemed to be disgusted at the highhandedness of the soldiers. The tribesmen were itching for a retaliatory measure. When the people saw Ajab Khan returning to the village, they greeted him with scowling faces and when he came home his mother received him with words he took to heart.
On the morning of 14th April 1923, Col. Bruce informed Sir John Maffey, the then Chief Commissioner of the former N.W.F. Province who was on tour in Bannu that Mrs. Ellis, wife of Major Ellis of Border Regiment had been murdered the previous night and that Miss Molly Ellis (18), his daughter, had been abducted. The Chief Commissioner was further informed that patrols had been sent in all directions, but they had not been able to overtake or even locate the culprits. It was then not known to the authorities who had been responsible for this outrage, though suspicion strongly rested on Ajab Khan’s gang, who were suspected in the murder of Col. and Mrs. Foulkes at Kohat three years earlier.
The bungalow, where the tragedy took place, adjoined the Flag Staff House of the Brigade Commander where there was a military guard. One Capt. Hyland (In-charge of Supply and Transport) was also living in that bungalow along with his wife. He must have heard the cries of Mrs. Ellis in the next room, but surprisingly enough he did not “wake” up until he was aroused by his dog and the shouts of the chowkidar of the bungalow.
He got up only when the culprits had left the bungalow. He telephoned the Constabulary posts at the Kotal (on the border at the head of the Kohat Pass) and Muhammadzai to watch all paths to the tribal area. He also informed the Superintendent of Police and the Frontier Constabulary of Kohat.
The chowkidar who was sleeping in the verandah, gave the alarm to the servants of the house and then he went to inform the military guard which was stationed at the house of the Brigade Commander. By the time the guard reached the bungalow the gang had disappeared along with the girl.
No sooner Mrs. Ellis saw the raiders in her bedroom, where she and her daughter were sleeping under one mosquito net, she raised an alarm and also blew a whistle thrice which was a signal for giving an alarm to the military guard next door. Ajab Khan asked her to keep quiet and threatened her with a knife, but she caught hold of it whereupon Shahzada killed her with a dagger. Miss Molly Ellis was lifted by Ajab Khan and was taken out of the house through the drawing room.
He was assisted by Shahzada (25), an ex-sepoy of Baluch Regiment, Sultan Mir, Mir Akbar alias Mirak and an out-law from Attock district Haidar Shah by name. They ran through the hockey ground and after crossing a small bridge went along the inner circular road. After crossing the fields, they passed by the railway siding and then walked for some distance by the railway track and reached the Khushal Garh Road. After walking for about an hour they reached the foothills by-passing the village Sheikhan.
Mrs. Starr, a well-known lady doctor of Peshawar Medical Mission, volunteered to go up into Tirah in an endeavour to get in touch with Miss Ellis and minister to her mental and physical needs. Naturally this heroic offer required that the authorities before sanctioning it should be satisfied of the utmost possible guarantees of safety. This difficulty was met by the courageous offer of the Chief Commissioner’s Personal Assistant, an Indian Risaldar, who is himself an Afridi, Moghul Baz Khan, to undertake the responsibility of personal escort.
Additional assurances have been received from maliks of both the Afridi and Orakzai tribes. Thus, fully satisfied the Personal Assistant to the Chief Commissioner personally escorted Mrs. Starr from Hangu across the border near Shinwari. Friendly tribal elders all assembled in Jawaki Tirah.
“All possible pressure was exercised and Mrs. Starr’s mission, coupled with the fact that Khan Bahadur Kuli Khan, the Political Agent has also reached Tirah with an influential jirgah from Kurram, should serve to impress the supreme importance which the Government attaches to the case and to ensure a maximum effort for a speedy rescue.”
One last word about Ajab Khan’s character. When Mrs. Storr examined Miss Ellis thoroughly, she sent her report to the Chief Commissioner to the effect that Miss Ellis had neither been injured nor criminally assaulted. The only injuries which she had sustained during the long trek were her bruised feet. Even Miss Ellis frankly admitted that Ajab Khan had treated her like his sister. He just kidnapped her in order to avenge the insult meted out to his mother and kept her with him as a hostage.
Ajab Khan is believed to have died in Afghanistan in 1959.”