In the last two centuries, there were numerous Pashtun uprisings in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata against Sikhs and the British. Except for Syed Ahmad Barelvi’s movement, led by non-Pashtuns, most movements were localised jihads with the sole objective of evicting foreign forces from a particular area. However, there was one Pashtun hero, Umra Khan, who never raised the banner of jihad. The people of Dir proudly narrate his life story and exploits, glorifying his personality through folk songs and poetry. Many British writers, including Winston Churchill, have written about Umra Khan but HC Thomson’s book, The Chitral Campaign gives the most detailed and objective account of his life.
Khan was born in about 1860, in a place called Barwa (renamed as Samar Bagh in the 1980s) in Jandul, Lower Dir. At that time, different areas in Bajaur and Dir were ruled by Khans. His father, Aman Khan, ruled the valley of Jandul. On his death, in 1879, Umra Khan’s elder brother succeeded him. Fearing for his life, Umra Khan fled Jandul, performed Hajj and then went to Peshawar. He stole a rifle from a British regiment and came back to Jandul in 1881. Dressed in women’s clothes, with a few of his friends, he shot his brother dead outside the Barwa Fort and became the ruler of Jandul.
Umra Khan obtained rifles, raised an army and a horse cavalry and embarked on a series of conquests. He captured Dir and expelled Sharif Khan, the then ruler. He then attacked and captured Asmar. By 1892, he was in control of all of Dir, Bajaur, Malakand, some portions of Swat, and his influence extended up to Buner.
Chitral, at that time, was ruled by Mehtar Aman ul Mulk. To guard against any aggression by the Afghan amir, he had placed Chitral under the nominal suzerainty of his neighbouring ruler, the Maharaja of Kashmir and also developed good relations with the British. In February 1895, Umra Khan entered Chitral, despite heavy snow and severe weather, and captured the Drosh Fort. The British political agent at Chitral asked Umra Khan to leave but he disregarded this warning. He instead wrote back to the British agent asking him to leave Chitral. Umra Khan’s forces laid siege to the Chitral fort and a number of attacks were launched in which both sides suffered casualties. Two British officers were captured and brought to Drosh.
In March 1895, the British mobilised a division size force at Nowshera. Once Umra Khan received this news, he retreated to Jandul, taking the two captured officers with him. The British held negotiations with the Khan of Dir, Nawagai and other powerful tribes of Swat, Buner, Mohmand and Bajaur, to remain neutral in the fight against Umra Khan. The British faced resistance at Shakot, Malakand Pass, Chakdara, Ramorha and Kotkali.The final battle was fought at Jandul Valley. Finally, Umra Khan, realising that his men could not fight such a large, well-armed British force, released the two British officers and retreated to Kabul.
Umra Khan was always well-dressed but without ostentation. He led a simple life and was a very popular leader. He was religious but not a fanatic. Hindu traders living in Jandul were never discriminated against. The women did not observe purdah and mingled freely with men. He treated the two British captives with generosity. He prevented bloodshed by avoiding a hopeless conflict against an overwhelming force. He died in Kabul in 1903, after ruling for 14 years.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 13th, 2012.
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For Pakistanis any act, including atrocities committed on innocent people is heroic as long as the the person committing the atrocity is a Muslim.
Khan Umra Khan also called the Afghan Napolean by some Britishers & Winston Churchill, was a great leader of jandul. As some readers have given the comments on the article & about Khan without knowing a single word about him. So it is advised for those ignorant people that first gather knowlegde about an event & then present their valueable comments. I also want to clear the misunderstanding of some readers regarding khan's killing of his brother. When his father died, a tug of war started between his elder step brother mohd zaman & finally took the throne & expelled Umra khan and his younger brother from Jandul state,one day when his younger brother fell ill because of hunger and malnutrition, he sweared &said I can't see the 9 years old brother condition and decided to recapture the throne from his step cruel brother because they the sons of the same father. So that was the reason of killing his brother. For more detail plz see " Gumnaam Riyasat" written by Suliman Shahid."Malakand field force"by wiston Churchill,& also "the story of a Miner Siege" by George Robertson.
whats the hero thing in this story murdering a brother? getting into a fight one can't handle and eventualling giving up and running away? pouncing on neighbours?
Mr. Asad Munir,
You are trying to say that if your elder brother takes your father's place then you can killed him and forcefully take his place. Pathetic. How could you say that this man is a hero when he himself killed his own real brother.
Secondly he must have avoided the bloodshed due to some political or financial gain. Otherwise one who killed his own brother never think about the life of others.
Next time please write some thing about the real hero of Islam and Humanity.
Thank you Asad. Marvelous. Always make in depth and great analysis with facts.
@ A Reader
And so was Aurangzeb Alamgir-who killed his brothers and put his father in prison-and many others in Indian Muslim history glorified in Pakistan study books and official history to have contributed to the evolution of Pakistan's ideology. At that time, many Khans were vying for power and establishment of state in many parts of the present Malakand Division. In fact, the first ruler of Swat state did the same which he openly mentions in his auto-biography (in Urdu).
@ Max For British and some Western colonialists and those who want to be heirs to British, he might be a war-lord forgetting that British and many of the Western empires themselves were established through massacre of tens of millions of native people of the colonized lands.
"He prevented bloodshed by avoiding a hopeless conflict against an overwhelming force."
Hopefully someone in PAK is reading this. This is what the author wants to convey but stopped short.
I honestly lost respect for this guy after I read that he killed his brother. And he did so by dressing as a woman? I mean really? This guy was in it for himself. The fact that he was not a Jihadi per se doesn't make him a saint. He may have not been a terrorist, but in my book, he was still certainly a person of criminal intent and conviction.
So nice and really enjoyed. Refreshed my memories. I have listened this story from our elders. However there was slight variation that when he was trapped in Chitral, he came back through Afghanistan. But here the local Khans and British had captured these areas.
Thanks for writing about this Pushtun warrior. I confess I had not heard or read of him and am now fascinated to know more about him.
cool story bro
I am not sure what to make of your analysis. The guy sounds like a typical "war lord."
Syed Ahmed Barelvi shaheed and Syed Ismael Dehlvi shaheed buried on Balakot Hazara Div amazing thing these days is whole secular pakistani media trying to change the History on behalf of some shamefully these two heros.
Amazing. What kind of history books we have which do not mention such leaders of our lands. It is a pleasant surprise for many Pakistanis when they hear about our own historical figures such as Umra Khan, Bacha Khan and Faqir of Api etc.It is high time that we include all these figures in our history books, regardless of the fact whether we agree or do not agree with their ideals/goals.