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Afghanistan: province of Ghandhara

Author Deedar Ali.  Photos by Sitara

Gandhara is located in the east of Afghanistan, stretched along the Sindh River, guarded by the  Hindu Kush mountains (Paghman Ranges) in the west, bordering the Pakhtiya and Zabul Provinces in the south the Blur (Chitral, Nooristan, Panjsher) Province in the north. Gandhara expands through Peshawar, Attock, Yuosufzai, Hashtangar, Swat, Nanganhara (Jalalabad), Lampaka (Laghman), Konara, Kabul, Logar, Wardak and Kapisa (Kohdaman). The important site of Gandhara was Begram situated in the western part of modern Peshawar, between Khyber and Peshawar, but is no longer seen today. Another Begram is located in the Kohdaman Plains near Jab-ul-seraj, north of modern Kabul. Nagarhara (Holy Hadda), which reached its peak of development during the Buddhist period. The City of Alexanderia (Jab-ul-seraj) was established by Alexander the Great and through continuous excavation by western Archeologists, new great Gandhara sites have been revealed at Swat, Bajawor, Taxila and more.

Gandharaian society had no specific religion. Their religion consisted of a mixture of nature's Giants, some Buddhism and the old religion of the very early Aryans. In the 7th century B.C. when north of Gandhara (Balkh) had its own Emperor with a single religion, Zoroastrianism, Gandhara was ruled by the local Gandharaians. When the Achaemenids of Persia conquered Afghanistan, their army passed through Khyber Valley.
The Greeks' march into Afghanistan started around 4th century B.C. when they defeated the Achaemenids. They had a very hard time in Afghanistan especially passing the Hindu Kush Ranges - they paid a heavy cost with the loss of thousands of their troops. The Greek invaders meet the last Afghan forces at Khyber Valley and Peshawar.  The local commander at Khyber was Proshor who fought bravely against Greek invaders, but finally gave up. According to research by some European scholars, the City of Peshawar is named after this brave hero, King Proshor. The Greeks ruled in Afghanistan from the 4th to the 1st century B.C. rapidly developing western traditions in the region, making Gandhara one of its most important centres. During the Greek Emperor's reign in the region, the Hindus also attempted to conquer Afghanistan. They captured the southern plains of Hindu Kush, but this did not last long. They retreated soon after, even losing control of Gandhara. In the 3rd century B.C. the Greek Emperor in Balkh was crushed, but Greeks' rule continued in Gandhara until the 1st century B.C. Harmayus was the last Greek King who ruled over Gandhara and Kabul until the first half of 1st Century. Buddhism came into Afghanistan during the time of Greeks around the 3rd century B.C. Buddhist preachers traveled from the East (India) and West (Sakamoni, China) into Afghanistan and over time Hindi traditions were absorbed into Greek traditions.

Influence of Religions - Ups and Downs

Buddhism entered Afghanistan in the 3rd century B.C., replacing all the old religions of the Aryans including Zoroastrianism. Even the Greek Kings were converted to Buddhism. The practice of Buddhism continued until the coming of Islam in the region. After the exposure of Buddhism in the region, Gandhara became its first main centre, and later Bacteria (Balkh) which was the second largest important Buddhist centre in the region.

During the 1st century, when the Greeks lost control over Gandhara and the Afghan Kushan Dynasty was established around the year 50 A.D., Gandhara entered a new era. At that time Kabul was the capital of King Kadphizis' 2nd Kushani Dynasty. Kushan rule was wiped out from the western parts of India around 3rd century A.D., but continued till 5th century in Gandhara. The Kushani period is the most important period in Afghanistan, especially in Gandhara. As Kushans were the most loyal and serious followers of Buddhism, they developed the art of making sculptures and magnificent temples - the golden period of Greek-Buddhist traditions.  In the 5th century (430) A.D., the foundation of the Hypthalites Dynasty in Afghanistan put an end to the Kushan Dynasty. Hypthalite's rule continued until the 6th century A. D. (565). Some European historians have called the Hypthalites "White Hoons" because of their very wild and vicious Emperor. Recent research and excavations in the plains of Jalalabad and Kohdaman however, clarifies that not much destruction took place in these areas at the time. Many excavated items from these areas belong to the Buddhist Period are in good condition.
After the fall of the Kushans, Gandhara fell into the hands of local rulers, in Kabul the Kings of Ratbails (a tribe of Kushans) remained until the 9th century. In Peshawar, north of Peshawar as well, the local rulers ruled. Their religion remained Buddhist until converting to Islam. The new language, Pushto, replaced the old Aryan language in some parts of Gandhara. Pushto is still spoken in places like Pashayee, Bajawori.

During the early stages, Hindus used to call Gandhara "Paradise of the South", but unfortunately the invasion of the Moguls and Hypthalites and other hordes wiped out all the wonderful temples and buildings. Only in north of Peshawar the local tribe, Yousufzai, from the 15th century attempted some restoration. When Islam came into the region, the strategy of Gandhara was completely changed. Arab invaders restarted their attacks on Kabul, as the Kings of Ratbail (a tribe of Kushans) defended Kabul for almost one and a half centuries. Later Yaqub Lais Saffar Siestani captured Kabul, but soon after the Kings of Ratbail became independent. After them the Hindu Brahmanies took control of the region and started preaching the Brahmani religion. Sebaktagen, the Ghaznavid Emperor, pushed back King Mahmood, the last Buddhist King, to Peshawar, and the new religion, Islam, rapidly spread throughout Gandhara and the capital of the Empire was moved to Ghazni. After the Ghaznavid period, Kabul fell under the rule of the Ghorids who slowly extended their occupation throughout Gandhara. The influence of Islam had already taken people's minds. The Ghorid period, however, did not last long. The Khwarazmies of Persia invaded whole regions of Gandhara, followed by the wild occupation of Genghis Khan's troops.  His troops left mass destruction over Gandhara and all areas occupied by him. Before the establishment of Amir Timur Gorgan's (Tamerlane), Emperor Gandhara was ruled by the Chughtayees (Tribe of Muguls). But the northern and eastern parts of Gandhara always claimed its independence by having good relations with the Afghan rulers of Delhi. When Tamerlane occupied Gandhara, he launched his attack on Delhi and defeated the Afghan rulers there. The foundation of the administrative system in Gandhara was destroyed by Tamerlane and later the capital of the emperor of King Babur Mirza was moved to Kabul. At that time the Mogul Khans were appointed from the Capital Delhi as the regional ruler and governors to western parts of Gandhara (Kabul). Nadir Shah Turkman ended the rule of the last Mogul King (Nasir Khan) in Kabul.

The Moguls and other Empires

The Moguls had a very strong hold in India, but in the eastern and northern parts of Gandhara they struggled throughout their rule. They faced lots of tragedies in Peshawar as the local tribes were always defending their independence even in the time of Orangzib, the most powerful Emperor of Mogul. During the 15th century, local rulers such as Shiekh Bayazid and his sons Shiekh Omar and Shiekh Jalaludin had heavy battles with the Moguls in Peshawar. Slowly religious fanaticism developed among these tribes resulting in a loss of unity and the Moguls put an end to their authority. Another tribe, the Yousufzai, was also an old enemy of the Indian Moguls in Peshawar who fought for more that 13 years against the Moguls in Gandhara. The most famous leaders of Yousufzai were Malik Ahmed Kajwali and Malik Ali Asghar Khan who succeeded to capture Swat, Bunir and Bajawor. The Moguls however, took advantage of their internal disarray and wiped them out from the region.

The establishment of the Hotaky Empire of Kandahar in the beginning of the 18th century did not make a god impact on Gandhara because the Hotaky Empire concentrated mostly on conquering Persia. After the fall of the Hotaky Empire, King Nadir Shah Turkman marched towards India, crossing Gandhara. He also had a very tough time crossing over Gandhara, especially in Jalalabad, Khyber and Peshawar. He was attacked several times by suicide attackers.
After several centuries, the powerful Afghan Emperors, the Abddalies from Kandahar, introduced single rule all over the region, including Gandhara. As a result, all Afghan land was reunited under single government command. Gandhara became one of its most important centres until the beginning of 19th century.
In 1809, during the rule of Shah Shuja, the British Embassy was opened in Peshawar for the first time and the first agreement between the two governments was signed. When Ahmed Shahi Empire of Kandahar was weakened, and internal disputes were going on between the brothers of Minister Fateh Khan, the Hindu ruler Ranjet Singh captured Attock, Kashmir and Peshawar in 1834. General Evitable added this province to British Indian Territory in 1848. According to the Lahore Agreement of 1836, all regions of Attock, Peshawar, Yousufzai, Hashtangar, the Khyber Valley including Kashmir was separated from Gandhara. The first Afghan Anglo war started in 1842 and the British paid a high cost for the loss of the lives of British troops in Gandhara. In 1842, during the national strike in India, the British Military Base camp was in Peshawar. Sir Johan handed Peshawar back to the Afghans in order to retain peace in the northern parts of Peshawar. But unfortunately the new dispute caused the second Afghan Anglo War and according to the Gandomac Agreement in 1879, the Khyber Valley to the eastern line of Landi Kotal was separated from Gandhara.
In September 1879 the British Embassy was opened in Kabul, and British invaders took Balahisar of Kabul. Finally, according an Agreement in 1893, international borders were defined by Sir Mortimer Durand, the British Foreign Secretary for India, and the regions of Swat and Bajawor were also separated from Gandhara. The third Afghan Anglo War, more serious in Gandhara, started in 1919. The people of Gandhara this time, defended their motherland bravely. Today Gandhara is one of the most important areas of Afghanistan and the very old homeland of the Pakhtanas.

Discovery Central Asia #20

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