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Afridi/Apridi

C.M. Kieffer

Encyclopaedia Iranica

AFRIDI or APRIDI (singular -ay), designation of a major Pashtun tribe in northwest Pakistan, with a few members in Afghanistan. The Afridi form part of the Ghilzi and are thus of the so-called "eastern Pashtun," who are to be distinguished from the Dorrani (or Abdali) encompassing the "western Pashtun." Their language is Pashto Mashreqi. Their eponymous ancestor is supposed to have been a certain Faridun, a descendant of Karlan (whence the Karlani lineage) through Mani (or Manay?) and Koday (and his second wife).

Scholars have sometimes seen in the Aparutai, who, according to Herodotus, inhabited the seventh satrapy along with the Sattagudai, Gandarioi, and Dadikai, the origin and etymology of the Apridi (as they call themselves). It is, however, almost impossible to accept this double hypothesis. The Achaemenid inscriptions do not mention the name of the Aparutai, and we know nothing of where they lived. Moreover the etymology, although attractive, is highly improbable. The linguistic context of the region (Dardic languages in the ancient period and Pashto much later) would rather suggest an evolution of the type aparutai *pril- (by apheresis of a-, syncope of -a-, and -t- > -1-). The belief in a Greek origin still current among the Afridi can not be taken into consideration, for it results from a folkloric tradition to be found in a good part of the Dardo-Kafir domain. It was propagated, for example, by Abu'l-Fazl Allami, the private secretary of the emperor Akbar; especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, it has been revitalized by orientalists in the grip of Hellenism, as well as by politicians seeking to claim Aryan blood.

Among the Afridi six so called "Khyber clans" are generally distinguished: the Kuki Khel, Kambar Khel, Kamar Khel (or Kamra'i or Kamar Din Khl), Malek-din Khel, Sepah, and Zakka Khel (or Zaka Khel), all established in the region of the Khyber pass. In addition, there are two "assimilated" clans not recognized by the first six; the Aka Khel, settled south of the Bara river in contact with the Orakzai, and the Adam Khel, occupying a mountainous region between Peshawar and Kohat. Bellew (Inquiry. pp. 91-94) gives a much more complex clan structure, in which the eight clans cited above are included. The essential point is the complexity of the Afridi, which perhaps reflects the diversity of the origins of the different ethnic groups forming this great tribe.

According to J. W. Murray (Dictionary, p. 54), at the end of the 19th century the majority of the Afridi, with the exception of the Adam Khel, were still nomads. In summer they migrated to the Tirah heights, from which, at the beginning of the 19th century, they had driven the Dardic Tirahi, who have become more or less Pashtunized and live today in the valley of Kot south of Jalalabad in Afghanistan. The Afridi winter quarters were in the Khyber, Bazar, and Kajuri valleys. The location of their settlements seems hardly to have varied over a long period, a fact which favours the hypothesis that at least in large part, they are of Dardic origin. A tradition reported by Bellew (Inquiry, p. 91) claims that it was the Ghaznavid Sultan Mahmud who had installed them as a military colony in the Khyber region and that two centuries later Shehab-al-din Ghauri reinforced them by means of a new shift of population of the same origin. These probably historical facts in no way weaken the preceding hypothesis, but confirm what we know about many other Pashtun ethnic groups, that is, their heterogeneity, of which Bellew (ibid.), despite flagrant errors, sensed the importance.

In the estimate of J. W. Murray (loc. cit.), toward the end of the 19th century the Afridi numbered 32,900 men of fighting age ("fighting men") in the easternmost part of the Safid Kuh, to the west and south of Peshawar, in the Bazar and Bara valleys, and in the northern part of Tirah. C. C. Davies ("Afridi," EI2, p. 237) estimates them today at 50,000, a figure which seems reasonable. But a delicate problem is raised by the large number (as high as 60,000) of Afridi who are supposed, according to unofficial Afghan sources, to reside on Afghan territory. They are classed as sedentary husbandmen or farmers and often also as producers of charcoal. Certainly we have often met Afridi in the Mashreqi and elsewhere in Afghanistan - tradesmen, truck drivers, agricultural workers, either seasonal or permanently established as hamsaya ("clients" in the Roman sense) of great landed proprietors, and sometimes even themselves proprietors or owners of flocks. But their numbers seem to us quite modest. We believe therefore that the excessive figure sometimes mentioned in Afghanistan reflects in a particular way the Afghan claim to Pashtunistan and actually represents an estimate of the whole of the Afridi tribe on both sides of the frontier.

The Afridi first appear in history with Babor, who had decided to bring them under his control (Babor-nama, tr. A. S. Beveridge, London, 1922 [repr. 1969], p. 412). Their strategic position is extraordinary. The region of Peshawar is ringed by mountains, which are pierced by four passes. To the east a road over the plains leads via Nowshera (Naw-Sar) to the Punjab. To the north the Malakand (Malakanrh) pass gives access to Kohestan (Dir, Chitral, Gilgit, and so on, on one hand, and Swat, on the other). But the two other exits, the Khyber pass to the west, which gives access to the Kabul road, and that of Kohat to the south, which controls the road from Bannu, Waziristan, and Baluchistan, are in the hands of the Afridi. Thus they have always enjoyed the profits of brigandage or tolls levied on all those who have sought the right to pass. Their quarrels with the Mughal emperors are famous. But the punitive expeditions of Akbar, Jahangir, and Awrangzeb could not subdue them, and Ahmad Shah Dorrani was able to integrate them into his army only nominally. The British occupying forces had no more success. They constantly clashed with the Afridi, who sometimes exacted a high price. In fact, the latter continually pressed their demands and in particular were able to profit from each of the Anglo-Afghan wars (1839-42, 1878-80, 1919-20) and the two world wars (1914-18, 1939-45) to affirm their independence. But their strategic position is such that the British authorities did not stint in providing subsidies. A subvention granted in exchange for their loyalty during World War I was augmented on several occasions, to the detriment of ethnic groups who received less or nothing at all. Today their territory in Pakistan still constitutes a sort of free zone famous for traffic in arms, munitions, tobacco, and other goods. This concession continues the old tradition of the mawajeb subsidy given to unpacified tribes to curb their turbulence. The role of the Afridi in the movement to further the economic, political, and cultural demands of the Pashtun continues to be dominant.

Bibliography

Information on the Afridis is supplied by a large number of works. See especially the following, along with the works listed in the bibliographies of such studies as:

  1. DAVIES (EI2, pp. 238-39) and CAROE, M. W. BELLEW, An Inquiry into the Ethnography of Afghanistan, Woking, 1891 (repr. Graz, 1973), pp. 89-94.
  2. O. CAROE, The Pathans, 550 B.C.-A.D. 1957, London, 1958, passim.
  3. V. GREGORIAN, The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernization, 1880-1946, Stanford, 1969, passim.
  4. J. W. MURRAY, A Dictionary of the Pathan Tribes on the North-West Frontier of India, Calcutta, 1899 (repr. 1910) p. 54.
  5. NIAMATULLAH, History of the Afghans, tr. B. DORN, 1829-36 (2nd ed., London and Santiago de Compostela, 1965), p. 130, n. 90.
  6. J. A. NORRIS, The First Afghan War, 1838-1842, Cambridge, 1967, passim.
  7. E. E. OLIVER, Across the Border or Pathan and Biloch, London, 1890, pp. 183-94.
  8. G. B. SCOTT, Afghan and Pathan: A Sketch, London, 1929, pp. 109-32.
  9. (The) Second Afghan War, 1878-80: Official Account, Produced in the Intelligence Branch, Army Head-Quarters, India, London, 1908, index s.v. "Afridis," "Khyber Field Force," "Khyber Line Force," "Khyber Pass," "Khyber Tribes."
  10. L. THOMAS, Beyond Khyber Pass, London, n.d. (ca. 1925), passim.
  11. R. WARBURTON, Eighteen Years in the Khyber, 1879-1898, London, 1900, passim.