The political and economic condition of Roh ( the medieval homeland of the Afghans)

Roh was the name of the country in which the Afghans lived in the medieval age. In the east and south its boundary covered area from Hasan Abdal (Attock district Punjab)  to Bhakkar (Sukkar district, Sindh) and in the North-West , its periphery run through the neighborhood of Bajaur to Kabul and Kandahar. The medieval Afghan source , the ‘Afsana-i-Shahan, provide some useful information about the living of its people. The collation of the Afsana-i-Shahan with another medieval Afghan source ‘Tazkirat al-Abrar wal-Ashrar’ helps understand the political and economic condition of the people of Roh.  Speaking on the subject, the author of the Afsana-i-Shahan records;

“In the beginning, the Afghans traded in horses, and brought horses from the wilayat (of Roh). And they fattened and reared them in Bajwara, as in Bajwara every article was cheap whether it was corn or fodder. And afterwards they spread in the wilayat of Hindustan and sold them. And they dwelt in Roh. In that place the Afghans occupation was that whatever land existed , was distributed amongst brothers. They cultivated that land and lived on its yield. And nobody committed any excess upon any body , and were not under the suzerainty of a king. They are still the same and follow the same pattern…….

And on every tribe there was one chiefman as its head . And there was nobody on them as their master , and (they) were not under the sway of any king.

As Hazrat Makhdum Shaikh Sadi said;

I am neither riding a camel , nor a camel is under me
I am neither a master of subjects , nor am a slave of a master

In their own country they lived in this fashion. They simply brought horses into Hind , selling them they returned to their country. ”   (Afsana-i-Shahan by Muhammad Kabir bin Shaikh Ismail, British Museum manuscript, fol.5a, 5b)

Thus the Afghans living in Roh had two chief traits :

(a) politically , the Afghan society was organized on the tribal pattern, (b) economically , it derived its wealth from commerce and agriculture.

Political living

Speaking on the Afghans’ political life in Roh , it transpires from the Afsana-i-Shahan that their government was republican in nature in a sense that the tribesmen of a tribe were not subject to any king. Though every tribe had its own chief, he was not the master of his fellow tribesmen but was an equal among the co-equals. He commanded his senior position on the basis of his personal accomplishments which, according to Akhund Darweza, were his mastery in the art of warfare , and the numerical strength of his followers. The financial position was not considered a qualification for becoming the chief of a tribe.

Regarding the tribal pattern of Afghan society in Roh, Akhund Darweza provides as follow certain new points  :

” In the terminology of our country , the Afghans are called maliks ….every body , small and big, from them calls himself malik. As those maliks can not carry on their business without the cooperation of their entire community , so every one from them is himself a malik” (Tazkirat-ul-Abrar-wal-Ashrar, p-81)

The above passage thus evidences that the Afghans in Roh called themselves maliks irrespective of their economic differences in their society. They were inter-dependent in their every day life because a tribesman could not carry on his business without the cooperation of his fellow tribesmen.

Concerning the political and the economic status which the Afghans of a certain area in Roh extended to the Afghan immigrants in their own settlement,  a Yousafzai tradition relates that whenever some people of the Yousafzai tribe or of any other Afghan tribe migrated from their own village or were compelled to leave their settlement and take refuge somewhere else , the immigrants, according to their former family status , were allotted land temporarily or permanently n their new abode of adoption. The grant of land was made to them on equal basis in relation to the original land holders.

It thus appears that no individual of the Afghan society in Roh, when migrated from one place to another, lived in a helpless political and economic condition. He was rather given a respectable living stature according to his previous family in position in another Afghan settlement where he settled or took refuge.

In relation to the status which the conquered people had in the Afghan society , Akhund Darwaiza records ;

“If the expedition is successful they settle in that place. And they annihilate the people of that area. They enslave some of them and make some of them as the humble raiyat ( رعيت عاجز)  ”  

The Afghans thus assigned the conquered people a very humble position in their tribal republics.  Words برده  and  رعيت عاجز  are suggestive of the emergence of slavery and the artisan classes out of the conquered people in the wilayat of Roh.

The term رعيت عاجز  is actually called  فقير نامه    by the Yousafzai who presently occupy Swat, Bajaur, Buner and Mardan. According to their version , the term فقير نامه  signifies artisan and tenant classes other than the Yousafzais who constituted the land gentry.

Economic living 

The ‘Afsana-i-Shahan’ , informs that the Afghans were both traders and agriculturists. As regard their trading activities , their traded in horses. They took horses from the wilayat of Roh into Bajwara (Hoshairpur, Punjab) where they reared and fattened their horses , and then they visited the different parts of Hindustan to sell them. Thus the wilayat of Roh was a well-known region in the medieval age as a nursery of horses wherefrom they were supplied to the Indian princes for their cavalry forces. And as regards the importance of Bajwara , it was an important Afghan halting place in the Punjab where the Afghans obtained cheap food and fodder for their horses. They, therefore , reared their horses in Bajwara for the purpose of obtaining lucrative prices on their sale. 

The Afghan’s relations with Bajwara appears to have been established some time in the past because it constituted a chief link in their horse trade with India.

It thus seems that the bulk of the revenues of the Afghan’s living flowed from the horse trade.

From the ‘Afsana-i-Shahan’ it transpires  that the Afghans pursued the profession of agriculture in their original homeland , Roh, and cultivated the land they had their disposal.

Concerning the other aspects of Afghan economy in Roh, Akhund Daweza informs that they used to reduce a part of the conquered people to the status of slaves and a part as the humble raiyat. The latter phrase alludes to the artisan classes in the Afghan society. So to speak, the conquered people added to the economy of Roh by managing the cottage industries , and working as slaves in the houses of the Afghans and in their commercial and agricultural pursuits. 

Another aspect of Roh economy was which was nomadic in nature and which concerns the Chamkani Afghans and the Khattaks, was the cutting of wood for fuel from forests , procuring grass and grazing their domestic animals (Tazkirat ul Abrar wal Ashrar, p-87). In the context of the Afghan tribal society, the pastures belonged collectively to a tribe in which its every member had equal share.

Analyzing the issue it can be said that the bulk of the Afghans , living in Roh in medieval time, followed the profession of horse trade and agriculture, the rest of the professions of the Afghan society were managed by the humble raiyat (artisan classes) , who were non-Afghans and constituted the artisan class and the landless class , that is, the tenants.

The hilly terrain of Roh suggests that the agricultural land holdings of the Afghans were small which evidences that they did not insist much on agriculture. Had they taken active interest in agriculture for the sake of promoting their agrarian economy , they would have conquered the plains of Punjab but they did not do so. It thus appears that the land retention of the Afghans in Roh primarily denoted their sociopolitical status in their original homeland as in the medieval world the landed gentry was considered the main prop of the sociopolitical standing in a society.

Source:  ‘The political and economic condition of Roh’ by Hussain Khan, with some edits  

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