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Humshehri: Thinking Pakistan's History

Thinking Pakistan's History

Khushal Khan Khattak

Urdu Version

A Pathan warrior and poet, Khushal Khan Khattak resisted the Mughals and is known as the Father of Pushto literature.


Khushal Khan stamp
(Pakistan Post)

Khushal Khan Khattak was a Pathan warrior, poet and tribal chief of the Khattak tribe. Initially a loyal supporter of the Mughals, he was falsely imprisoned by Aurangzeb and thereafter spent the rest of his life in exile. His poetry called on the Pathans to put aside their differences and unite against the Mughals. Today he is called the father of Phusto literature and is the national poet of Afghanistan.

Khushal Khan was born in 1613 in the village Akora Khattak, now in Nowshera district of KPK. His paternal grandfather, Malik Akoray, due to his cooperation with the Mughal emperor Akbar, was entrusted with safeguarding the Grand Trunk Road. Upon Malik Akoray’s death the tribal leadership was transferred to Khushal’s father Shahbaz Khan, who was himself a renowned warrior. Khushal’searly life was spent in the service of the Mughals as he fought battles alongside his father as early as the age of 13. But his father made sure that along with hunting and swordplay, Khushal was tutored in logic, astronomy, Quran, Fiqh, and philosophy. In addition, he was fluent in both Pushto and Persian.

Khushal Khan’s tomb

Khushal became the chief of his tribe at the age of 28 upon his father’s death. He was highly regarded by emperor Shah Jahan for his loyalty, political astuteness and knowledge. He accompanied Shah Jahan in the Balkh and Badashkhan campaigns. But his relationship with Aurangzeb was strained and eventually under false accusations, Khushal was arrested and put in prison. After his release, he lived in exile in Tirah Valley of Waziristan and on several occasions defeated the Mughal army sent to capture him. Through his poetry he called upon all Pathans to unite and overthrow the Mughals. He died at the age of 76 and is buried near the village of Akora Khattak.

Rebellion against Aurangzeb

After Aurangzeb had overthrown his father Shah Jahan, he worried that Khushal Khan might turn rebellious and try to restore Shah Jahan to the throne. In addition, the then governor of Kabul, Syed Amir Khan, along with some of Khushal Khan’s relatives falsely accused him of rebellious intentions. Khushal Khan was summoned by the governor of Peshawar where he was arrested and later imprisoned in the fortress of Ramthambore at Gwalior. He was released two years later but kept under house arrest. When he was finally freed, he chose to join the cause of the rebel Pathans.

Aurangzeb attempted to replace Khushal with his son Bahram Khan as chief of their tribe and set Bahram Khan the task of killing his father. Khushal evaded capture and travelled through the Pakhtun areas calling on all tribes to unite. Such was his effort that when Nadir Shah arrived many years later, he entered through KPK and made his way to Delhi without much opposition. Khushal Khan’s resistance, carried out by both his poetry and his sword, are considered to be important factors that contributed to the Mughal downfall.

Contribution to literature

Khushal Khan is renowned for his poetry but he also wrote other books on various subjects ranging from travelogues, geography, folk medicine to Islamic law to his own experiences in life. In poetry, he wrote in all the various forms of Persian and Pushto poetry (such as ghazals, eulogies, and musadass) and composed around 45,000 couplets. His love for beauty, honor and justice, along with his desire to see a united Pakhtun stance against the Mughals were some of his favorite topics.

Find out more

Books & Articles

“Khushal Khan Khattak: Pashtun Poet, Warrior, and Tribal Chief.” Weblog post. Qalam-Kitab.

Zia, Wahid. “Poets of Pakistan – Khushal Khan Khattak.” Paknetmag.