Khushal Khan Khattak (1613-1689) has widely been hailed as the national poet of the Pashtuns – a major ethnic group living on either side of the Pak-Afghan border. His work consists of more than 25,000 individual couplets on themes ranging from love, aesthetics, statecraft, metaphysics, ethics, philosophy and medicine to jurisprudence and falconry.
Khushal was the chieftain of the Khattak tribe and served as the guardian of a section of the Mughal Royal Road from Delhi to Kabul. Before him, his forefathers had also served in the same capacity right from the times of Akbar the Great (1542 –1605).
Khushal was in favour with the Mogul emperor, Shah Jahan – the builder of the timeless Taj Mahal – but incurred the wrath of the more puritan Aurangzeb, who, in 1664, put him in the dungeon of the Ranthambore Fort in Rajasthan, India, and kept him under house arrest in Delhi for about four and a half years.
Upon his release, he started a struggle for freedom against the Mughal hegemony in the Pashtun dominated areas. He formed an alliance with two other influential tribal chiefs, Aimal Khan Afridi and Darya Khan Mohmand, and was quite successful in a number of military campaigns.
Things, however, started to fall apart with the death of his two allies and his own old age. The Mughals then made inroads in his household by bribing and offering royal offices to his sons, inciting them to rise against their father. His later life was marked by exile and suffering at the hands of both the Moguls and his sons.
He died at the age of seventy-six, while living in exile. As per his will, his body was brought to his hometown, Akora Khattak, and secretly buried in a place where, in his own words, “the dust of the Mogul cavalry’s hoofs could not light upon my grave.”