Kohat and the Pathans
THE men who live in the district of Kohat are mostly Pathans. They stand for and truly reflect everything that the word Pathan implies and suggests. Everything he stands for is epitomised in the steel grey eyes, the hard lines, the steel strength, the cartridge belt slung around waist and the earnest gun. These are all that suggests the fierceness and the hard life of a mountain people, custodians of a dangerous frontier. However, at the same time, the Pathans are something more than all these. They have their surroundings but between them and their surroundings, there is a great gulf of difference.
So proud are the Pathans, so devoted are they to their code of honour that they would not let their guests go without being showered with hospitable treatment. They will take care of their guests, no matter what it costs them. Like all human beings, the Pathans are also not incapable of appreciating the value of money but when the question is one of melmastia, or hospitality, money is no problem. There is in the eyes and the features, the courage and the conduct of the Pathans something of the rugged mountains, stony ravines and long lonely valleys of which they are the sons. There is also something in their way of life that rebels against and holds its own in the face of inimical forces. Compromise and conflict, adjustment for harmony make the Pathans’ way of life distinctive.
The Pathan way of life as seen in Kohat and all over the frontier is reflected in so many things that it is difficult to keep track of them all. Nevertheless, that does not prevent even the most casual of observers from appreciating the difference whenever one motors down the winding hilly roads, stops at a filling station or breaks journey at a rest house where Pathans serve food and beverage and the observer watches the closely huddled houses of the village by the road side. There the Pathan women, their faces tired but determined, carry heavy loads from one door to another, from one field to the other while the children in ash-black uniform like kameez and shalwar touch with their fingers their little caps as a mark of hearty felicitation to the passer-by. The Pathans’ way of life is manifest in the dress they wear, the way they talk and smile, the manner they sit gossiping with their fellows while the faithful gun lying across their lap gives them loyal company.
Hangu in Miranzai Valley
IN AN article published in 1968 in the then Pakistan Observer, Dhaka, I wrote: Hangu sits cool and composed at a height of 2,815 feet twenty-five miles west of Kohat town as the headquarters of the subdivision of Hangu. Further to the southwest, a good thirty-five miles from Hangu lies Thall, complete with a fort built in bygone times acting as a gateway to the highlands of the Kurram Agency across the River Kurram. All these places, composing the district of Kohat, stand unchanged, as they did before the coming of Babar. It is now inhabited by the Bangashes and Kattacks who, prior to Babar’s invasion, had succeeded in ousting the original inhabitants — the Orakzais, according to one tradition, the Gabris, Safis and Maujaries according to another.
It was Jabed Akram, ‘Topsy’ who brought Hangu alive to us in the summer of 1968. Topsy along with Imtiaz Jabed asked us whether we had been to Hangu. When we said, ‘no’, they said, ‘You have missed the vary heart of the Kohat district. Let us go there tomorrow. You will enjoy the journey through the lush green Miranzai valley and the nice police Rest House in Hangu.’ Next day, all 10 West Pakistani members of the CSP batch of 1966 and Khashru, Rakib and I travelled to the rest house enjoying the picturesque scenario on both sides of the road. The rest house was neat and nice and we spent a lively evening with a testy dinner of Kababs and unleavened bread (Pita style).
We, the trio from the eastern wing, had several more journeys to Hangu and the territories beyond such as Thall and Parachinar. The travel to the Thall Fort, the headquarters of the Tochi Scouts, Paramilitary, Frontier Guards, was memorable. Our jeep negotiated the unique bends of the mountainous terrain to reach the impressive Thall Fort at night fall. Warmly received by the officer in charge of the fort we found ourselves in an open courtyard shining with bright lights. There was a stage at one corner. It was soon filled up by musicians playing various instruments including the ‘rabab’ and several young female dancers. Drinks and snacks came in joyful plenty as the artists began their engaging performance. As was the custom in such functions, the audience started throwing money, notes of various denominations for the dancers. Being PGS (poor government servants) as Khashru described us, we had to borrow money from other colleagues ‘to keep up with the Joneses’. The festivities with a late but delicious dinner ended as night drew to a close. We made the return journey in our open jeep while almost asleep. Kazi Rakib complained the next day that he had a hard job keeping Khashru and me from falling of the jeep.
To be continued.
Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley, founder chairman of the Centre for Development Research, Bangladesh and editor of the quarterly Asian Affairs, is a former teacher of political science at Dhaka University (1964-1967), former member of the erstwhile Civil Service of Pakistan (1967-1980) and former non-partisan technocrat cabinet minister of Bangladesh (1990).
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Opinion