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The History of Swat

Pre-Islamic periods
The history of Swat valley up to the beginning of the present century is not very well known. The Bronze and Iron Ages finds show no continuous development but a shifting supremacy of various invading and local tribes. This may be due to the unsettled nature of the dominant groups of peoples caused by frequent invasions, upheavals and mass migrations. This instability can be attributed to Swat’s geographical situation. Although it is relatively remote, it lies on one of the old transit roads between Central Asia – Sub Continent and Central Asia – China via Gilgit and does not lie on any major transit roads. It is not only close to the main passes between Central Asia and the sub-continent but some of the main routes pass through it i.e. via Bajawar and via Chitral.

It is an extremely fertile valley. As such it invited the attraction of almost all invaders, resulting in a multiplicity of influences on the socio-political culture of the region. This instability can also be the cause of the fact that historical references to Swat are found only for discrete periods in history. From the end of the 6th century BC, the area between Jalalabad, on the Kabul River, and the Indus formed part of the Achemenid Empire as the twentieth satrapy with the name Gandhara. Gandhara Art flourished in Udyana, though Gandhara and Udyana were two separate geographical units. In 327 BC, Alexander the Great conquered lower Swat after successful sieges of Ora (now Udegram) and Bazira (now Barikot) and subdued the Assakenoi people living there. In 305 BC, Alexander’s successor, Seleukos Nikator, ceded Gandhara to Chandragupta founder of the Mauryan dynasty who had already acquired it in 321 BC. Still later, the Bactrian Greeks, the Sakas and the Parthians held sway over Gandhara. Alexander’s conquest marks the first wave of Hellenistic influence in what is now Northwest Pakistan. The Greek power and influence introduced new ethnic and cultural elements in the region during this era. During the middle of the 2nd century BC, the Kushan dynasty began to gain dominance. In early 3rd century BC, Buddhism was introduced into Gandhara during the reign of Asoka . During 1st century AD, Gandhara became the second holy land of Buddhism and experienced an unique economic and cultural flowering, with a flourishing trade with Rome and China. This brought a variety of influences to create what is now identified as Gandhara culture. This is evident from many ruins, rock paintings and archaeological finds as well as from reports of Chinese and Tibetan pilgrims. At an early stage, Swat was a center of Hinayana Buddhism and of the Mahayana school that developed from it . The Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hsien, who visited the valley around 403 AD, mentions 500 monasteries. After him, Sun Yun (519 AD), Hsuan-tsang (630 AD), Wu-kung (752 AD) praise the richness of the region, its favorable climate, the abundance of forest, flowers and fruit-trees and the respect in which Buddhism is held. The Kushan dynasty ruled for four centuries till it was over run by the White Huns in 5th century AD and the glory of the Gandhara era came to an end.

Beside the constant invaders, who preferred to carry off the movable wealth, the origins of this economic and cultural regression are not precisely known. It seems that earthquakes and floods also took an heavy toll. Hsuan-tsang recorded this decline and mentioned the downfall of Buddhism . According to him, of the 1400 monasteries that had supposedly been there, most were in ruins or had been abandoned. The monks still quoted from the scriptures but no longer understood them. There were grapes in abundance but cultivation of the fields was sparse.

Islamic Period
After the decline of Buddhism the history of Swat disappears into obscurity, emerging only rarely in the accounts of historians. From the 8th century AD onwards, the Arabs exerted pressure from the west in the Persian-Afghan region. In 1001, Mahmud of Ghazni (in Afghanistan) began a series of invasions of India and, in the course, his generals conquered Swat and defeated its Hindu ruler Raja Girra.

With the passage of time people from different Afghan tribes came and settled here. They established their rule and ruled Swat for centuries. The passing of Changiz Khan and Timurlane in the 13th and 14th century AD is acknowledged. Scholars suppose that the valley remained uncultivated, quite uninhabited but traveled all over by groups of nomad shepherds during some centuries . The valley was later occupied by the Dilazak who were also forced out, as the Swatis to the Hazara mountains, east of the Indus, by the Yusufzais after a bitter twelve year struggle. Initially, the Yusufzais were guaranteed rights over the lands occupied by them, but paid tribute to Babur, the Mughal emperor of India. They however gained complete independence under Babur’s successor, Humayun.

Thus, from the beginning of 16th century AD, the valley is occupied by a Pukhtun tribe coming from Kandahar and Kabul, the Yusufzais who are still there today. Swat was given to Akozai, a sub tribe of the Yousafzai. The Akozai distributed Swat among its various sub-branches under the plan devised by Shaikh Malli.

The Wesh
Yusufzai Swat was organized as a stateless society based on segmentary groups. The hallmark of their socio-political organization, as devised by the saint Shaikh Malli, was wesh, the distribution of territory based on filiation in segmentary groups and was known as Daftar-e-Shaikh Malli. The wesh system of periodic distribution or redistribution of land conceptualized the individual’s place in the Yusufzai descent charter by shares (brakha) in the land based on membership in the lineage segment, since no two pieces of land are qualitatively equal, so rather than vest property rights to specific fields permanently in any one lineage segment. In this way, a completely equitable division of the fruits of conquest was assured. Permanent equality was ensured by a regular distribution of rotation of ownership over say every seven or a maximum of ten years.

Land as a common tribal property was a vital diacritical boundary that kept the individual within his segmentary descent group and one of which Shaikh Malli attempted to maintain through his land system. Yusufzai ownership of land simultaneously established the exclusion of the non-Yusufzai to right in land. At a stroke superordinate and subordinate positions were created and maintained. Economic status was thus confirmed through genealogical charters. Wesh was a conceptualization of a pastoral-nomadic egalitarian social philosophy which asserts the rights of every member of the tribe to equal shares in the joint possessions by defining positions within homologous segmentary groups. In Swat, however, it served to create economic and ethnic divisiveness between Yusufzai and non-Yusufzai Pathans.

Wesh created powerful feudal landlords surrounded by hierarchically ranked and supporting occupational groups and vassals, theoretically equal in ideological belief in an egalitarian religious system, but exhibiting many castes the like qualities of social hierarchy. Local social organizations revolved around the khan. It must be noted that the Khanship was not hereditary but the people had to make a person their Khan and as such to replace him by another. So the Khanship was at the discretion of the people and his estate forming semi-independent islands of authority. There was a distinct growth of a feudal class based on possession of land and the inherent right to that land by virtue of conquest, sanctified by the land distribution system.

The Yusufzai era can be described as a post-slavery stage in social history, where there was widespread use of service tenants instead of salary. Life in Swat for the Yusufzai’s khans, as seen early last century was that of a leisure country class, with most of the labor being done by the faqirs.

A historical scrutiny of the practice of the system of wesh, however, tends to show that it approximated more to an "ideal" rather than "actual" form of Pukhtun socio-economic organization. The historical reality and frequency of wesh in Swat is presumed and supported with somewhat scanty ethnographic material. For example, it is not clear how long the cycle of allotment took to revolve; or whether there was a revenue and administration secretariat that recorded allotments according to shares and period of allotment; or who supervised and implemented the blue-print of reallotments; or what institutions dealt with errant or defaulting khans refusing to move out after his allotted time had expired.

For five hundred years the Yusufzais Pathans of Swat led nomadic lives. They did not remain at one place long enough to found new towns or extend existing ones. Even men of sufficient means preferred to live in dilapidated houses made of mud rather than construct better abodes since they would have to move out after seven or ten years. This unsettled mode of life was a great setback to the development of agriculture, trade and crafts. There are some references to the Yusufzai’s turning the beautiful valley of Swat into a desert through neglect. Given that land was not permanently owned, it is conceivable that it was subjected to unsustainable levels of utilization.

Swat never came under alien rule at least after its occupation by the Yusafzais. The Yusafzais, however, failed to form an organized government, headed by some one of them. They lived in their old tribal fashion.

Establishment of Swat State
Given that Swat was a stateless and stratified society, overall moral leadership came to be exercised by religious leaders. The most prominent among them has been Abdul Ghaffur, who earned the epithet of Akhund of Swat. His participation in the successful resistance to the British inroads further increased his religious and political influence . From 1845 till his death in 1877 , he tried to unite/ bring together/ develop alliances between/ the rival Yusufzai clans, with alternating degrees of success and failure .

When the British occupied Peshawar in 1849, the Swatis became anxious of their independence and attempted to form a government of their own in order to preserve their independence. They made Sayed Akber Shah, the name proposed by Abdul Ghaffurr alias Saidu Baba, their king. Sayyed Akber Shah made Ghaligay his capital. Sayyed Akber Shah died in 1857. With the death of Sayyed Akber Shah the State came to an end. After the death of Sayed Akber, Saidu Baba tried, twice, to get recognized his eldest son, and the ruler of Swat but could not succeed.

Around the turn of the 20th century, Yusufzai dominance in Swat was increasingly threatened by external forces. There was an increasing pressure from the British colonizers. After the construction of the Malakand Pass road, linking the valley of Swat with the plain of Mardan, they increased their pressure with the formation in 1896 of the Malakand Agency on the southern borders of Swat. Locally there was the threat from Dir State in the West. The ruler of neighboring state, Dir occupied the territory on the Right Bank River Swat and started collection of usher. The occupation and exaction made the people of Shamizai, Sebujni and Nikpi Khel united. They made a common cause under a religious personality, Sandakai Mullah. At the expulsion of the Dir forces the tribal elders invited the grand sons of Saidu Baba, Miangul Abdul Wadud & his brother Shirin Jan, to become their rulers. They, however, did not accept for their own reasons. So the people invited Sayyed Abdul Jabbar Shah from Sitana and made him their king in April 1915. Sayyed Abdul Jabbar Shah ruled for two and half years. He was asked by the tribal Jirga to leave Swat in September 1917, due to politico- religious causes.

Under the circumstances, the late Akhund’s grandson, Miangul Abdul Wadud, exploited the religious apprehensions and sensitivities and, claiming the political legacy of the Akhund succeeded in September 1917 in being elected the Badshah of Swat by the great jirga (assembly) of some of the Yusufzai clans. He was recognized by British government as ruler of Swat State, or wali, in 1926. Miangul Abdul Wadud, established his capital at his hereditary seat Saidu Sharif, 2 km south of Mingora.

On somewhat consolidating his position the Wali of Swat embarked upon to abolish the wesh system. So in 1925, after eight years of his installation, the process of the permanent settlement was taken in hand and, though not fair on the whole, fresh losts were drawn, and Permanent Settlement was effected. The land reform process took five years to complete and the wali took advantage of the process to reward his supporters and punish his opponents to some extent. In 1949, Miangul Abdul Wadud abdicated in favor of his son, Miangul Jahan Zeb.


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