When Pashtun tribesmen wiped out an entire Mughal army in the Khyber Pass (1672)

By Barmazid 

In 1672 AD, a small incident triggered a huge war in Pakhtunkhwa. In that year some Mughal troops stationed in Kunar insulted a Parachi woman who was there to sell and buy. Some Pashtun men belonging to Safi tribe witnessed that and killed those troops for insulting that woman. Hussain Beg Khan, the Mughal faujdar of Jalalabad, called upon the chiefs of the Safi tribe to deliver the men involved in the attack on his men. They refused to do so. Other Pashtun tribes subject to the Kabul government were summoned to join him 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 completely defeated. He then attempted to seize the chieftains of the Pashtuns along with him, but their clansmen crowded around him and prevented it. On this he sent an exaggerated and one-sided report to Muhammad Amin Khan, the subahdar of Kabul, who was then at Peshawar to spend winters. Fatuhat-i-Alamgriri (a contemporary account of the reign of Aurangzeb) records the incident in the following manner;

“It so happened that Mirza Ali Beg , the faujdar of Jalalabad, on behalf of the Khan , treated the Pathans of the district (zila) badly and that tribe, which exceeded the locusts and ants, and was united among themselves and hostile to the outsiders, collected from every nook and corner, held consultations with each other and decided that the road to Kabul should be blocked so that Umdat-ul-Mulk many not be able to get (there).”

Muhammad Amin Khan was exceedingly arrogant and overbearing; no one dared to give an opinion contrary to his wishes, and he was much disliked. The Hussain Beg Khan, likewise, was not held in much esteem by the Pashtuns. It is related that on one occasion, when about to march from Jamrud to Kabul, the Pashtun chiefs of the mountains came to pay their respects to the representative of their ruler. He was intoxicated at that time , and Hussain Beg Khan was with him. The latter, seeing the Pashtun in attendance, said to him, “The Nawab’s dogs desire to make their obeisance”. This speech afterwards came to the ears of the Pashtuns and roused their indignation still more against the Mughals.

At the time this report reached Muhammad Amin Khan, he had started for Kabul with his army and entourage, accompanied by their families and household property. The news of the insult of the woman affiliated to Safi tribe spread amongst the Khyberi tribes. The Shinwaris,  Mohmands and Afridis resolved to oppose march of Muhammad Amin Khan through the Khyber, and they took post in the Landi Khana Kotal. According to Mughal historian Khafi Khan, the rising was headed by Aimal Khan and other Afghan heads. Muhammad Amin Khan was also accompanied by Mustajab Khan Mohmand, the Arbab of Peshawar, Khushal Khan Khattak and some chiefs of the Afridis and Orakzais.

 Sir Jadunath Sarkar writes ;

“The Afridis rose under their chieftain Aemal Khan, a born general, who crowned himself king, struck coins in his own name, and proclaiming war against the Mughals, summoned all the Pathan clans to join the national movement. With a following more numerous than ants and locusts, he closed the Khyber Pass.”

Arbab Mustajab Khan Mohmand was sent to negotiate with the insurgents. The negotiations failed. The Pashtuns had blocked Landi Khana Kotal with sangars and breastwork. Muhammad Amin Khan tried to force his way through the pass and sent a body of veterans under his son Abdullah, and other high officers, Mubariz Khan and Mahmud Khan Kheshgi (an Afghan of Hindustan) to attack the Pashtuns. When the Mughals approached the breastworks, the Pashtuns launched great stones or boulders down upon the Mughals. The elephants were forced back, Mahmud Khan Kheshgi was killed, and his troops were repulsed with great loss. Mubariz Khan also failed miserably and was also forced back. The Pashtuns pounced upon the retreating Mughals with their swords and daggers with disastrous effect. 

The fighting, after a short time, was again renewed and the battle raged for one whole day but Mughals could not gain anything against the Pashtuns. The Afridi and Orakzai allies of the Mughal subahdar kept aloof. But Khushal Khan Khattak along with his men fought hard for the Mughals. Horses, elephants and men were mixed up in the confusion and disorder seized the Mughal army. The Mughal army was routed. The shattered Mughal army proceeded in the direction of Tararrah where they were again attacked by the Pashtuns. This completed the destruction of Mughal army. For three days i.e 18th, 19th and 20th April, the massacre and loot continued.

Amin Khan was completely defeated. He lost everything – 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. Khushal Khan Khattak chimes:

اول جنگ د لوړو شا د تهترو و
چې څلوېښت زره مغل شـول تار په تار
خويندې وروڼه يې بندې د پښتنو شوې
اس، اوښان، هاتيان، ولجـه قطار قطار

“The first fight was at the higher back of Mount Tatarah, when forty thousand Mughals were scattered like chaff. Where their sisters and daughters fell into the hands of the Pashtuns, with horses and camels, elephants and baggage, string after string.”

According to Fatukhat-i-Alamgiri ;

“In short 10,000 soldiers fell in this expedition and about two crores of rupees in cash and kind was looted by the Afghans. They captured 20,000 men and women, whom they sold in Turan and Central Asia. “

Utterly humbled and exhausted, Muhammad Amin Khan and some of his high officers succeeded in escaping to Peshawar with bare lives and everything else was lost. A Pashtun ‘Jemadar’ brought Amin Khan via a secret route. Mannuci writes:

“Muhammad Amin Khan ordered his secretary, Muhammad Riza, to take the seat on his elephant, and thus he was destroyed, the Pathans supposing that it was Muhammad Amin Khan himself. They contented themselves with cutting off this man’s head and carrying it into the mountains. Muhammad Amin Khan, with the aid of some Pathans in his service, clothed himself in their manner, and these men conducted him until he had got out of the hills and arrived at Peshawar.” 

Khushal Khan Khattak in his diary says ;

“When on the first of Muharram 1083 H, Muhammad Amin Khan’s army was routed in Khyber, both Mustajab and I were with him. We escaped via Tahtarah and came to Peshawar. Muhammad Amin Khan, attended by a few horsemen, had already reached Peshawar. The whole of his family as well as the train was lost. His mother, sister, daughter and attendants were made captive. His wife was killed. His son and brother-in-law were also killed. I was very ill and had still to cover the distance sometime walking and sometime riding through the Tahtarah mountains and was thus completely exhausted. I therefore sent Ashraf Khan to wait upon Muhammad Amin Khan. He was in woeful condition , bewildered and perplexed. Conferring with Ashraf Khan he inquired about me and said to him, ‘ Also convey my Salam to your father saying i am glad about his safe return and pray to God for is recovery from illness. Also tell him to come to me if he can”.

After paying a large amount of money to the Pashtuns, Amin Khan got released his youngest daughter who was just a child , his mother and some other females.

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. According to Fatuhat-i-Alamgiri, Mustajab, in his death agony, 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 signal victory increased the prestige and resources of Aimal Khan Mohmand. The tale of his rich booty spread through out the hills and lured recruits to his banners.

Muhammad Amin Khan , son of Mir Jumla
Portrait of Muhammad Amin Khan, 1685 (c). Source

1- “Notes on Afghanistan”, H.G.Raverty, p-42
2- “On foreign approach to Khushal”, Dost Muhammad Kamil, p-
2- “History of the Pathans” by Haroon Rashid, Vol-IV, pp-171-177
3- “History of Aurangzib”, Jadunath sarkar, Vol-III, p-150
4-  Storia da Mogor, Vol-II, p-200
5-  Fatuhat-i-Alamgiri, pp.103-106

 the Mughal governor of Kabul whose entire army got defeated and destroyed by Aimal Khan Mohmand in the Khyber Pass in 1672.

By anonymous artist, made in circa 1685.

He was son of immensely wealthy Iranian/Persian nobleman Mir Jumla.


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