Zabardust Khan or Zabardust Khan Tanoli also known by his nick-name Suba Khan Tanoli (died 1797) was a chieftain of the Hindkowan Tanoli tribe, of Hazara region, in 18th century India.[1] This area is now part of North-West Pakistan.

Zabardust Khan was appointed a nazim (area administrator) in upper Hazara, Kashmir by the Afghan King Taimur Shah Durrani (or Abdali)[2] in 1775 or 1776.[3] This name "Suba" was given by Afghan King Ahmed shah abdali know as (Khan of Suba) i.e Subahdar. He was a good administrator at a very violent and bad time in history.[4] He tried his best to help people, ensure peace in his area and control prices of food and other goods.[5] For this reason, he is still remembered by people in that area today.

Zabardust/Suba Khan Tanoli died in 1797.[6] He is not to be confused with a Pathan soldier called Zabardast Khan, who fought at the Third Battle of Panipat.[6]

Tomb location change

A crumbling structure adorned with faded frescoes, enclosed by an imposing boundary wall is all that remains of Subah Khan’s mausoleum in the quiet village of Pohaar, about 36 kilometres north of Haripur in KP. It took around 40 minutes to reach there from Haripur, through a scenic route along the Tarbela Lake known as Chappar Road.

History change

Subah Khan was born to Bahadar Khan Tanoli in the hilly trans-Indus region of Tanawal in KP in the first half of the 18th century. According to reliable oral traditions, Subah Khan’s ancestral elders from the Tanoli tribe had attracted the wrath of the mighty Mughal Empire by launching attacks on imperial forces and convoys in the region from their remote villages in Tanawal. Subah Khan Tanoli’s elders held out in fortified mountain villages during Emperor Aurangzeb’s rule. As the Mughal Empire’s control weakened, communities across the subcontinent found themselves with more political space and economic freedom to assert their power in ways that had not been possible earlier.

When Ahmad Shah Abdali announced his plans to invade Hindustan, he found in Subah Khan a young warrior who was keen to join his army with his clansmen. Stories of Subah Khan’s adventures and valour in the Battle of Mathura, fought between Ahmad Shah Abdali and the Hindu Jats in 1757, live on through folklore in the villages of Tanawal. On more than a few occasions, I met old men recounting tales of how their elders carried zamburaks (swivel guns) to battle alongside the Afghan king. Some of these centuries-old zamburaks are still scattered around the region.

A centuries-old zamburak (swivel gun) used by Subah Khan Tanoli’s clansmen while fighting alongside Ahmad Shah Abdali at Mathura in 1757. Descendants of Subah Khan It was a certificate from the Afghan king to Zabardast Khan Tanoli, conferring on him the title of Subah Khan for his support in the Indian campaigns, particularly in the fighting around Mathura.

According to the aging manuscript, Abdali awarded Subah Khan Rs12,000 and an annual jagir (grant) of Rs2,000, along with the right to tax caravans travelling between Kabul and Kashmir on the Tanawal route.

This can also be corroborated by the independent travel accounts of the British East India Company officer George Forster. While travelling through the region in July 1783, Forster saw trade caravans being taxed on the orders of Subah Khan’s son.

The Third Battle of Panipat (1761) between Ahmad Shah Abdali and the Marathas.—Courtesy British Library Firsthand accounts from Abdali’s own army offer grim portraits of the battle and subsequent sacking of the city of Mathura in 1757:

“Wherever you gazed you beheld heaps of the slain; you could only pick your way with difficulty, owing to the quantity of bodies lying about and the amount of blood spilt. At one place that we reached we saw about two hundred dead children lying in a heap. Not one of the dead bodies had a head. The stench and effluvium in the air were such that it was painful to open your mouth or even to draw breath.”

Although Abdali’s patronage elevated Subah Khan’s status to one of Hazara’s most powerful chiefs, the scenes he witnessed in the wars were to leave a long-lasting impression on him.

After returning home, he donated all the land in his capital at Mangal (on the skirts of modern-day Abbottabad) to a Sufi mystic and made the mountains his home.

Subah Khan dedicated the rest of his life to building new towns at Birkund and Bir (in districts Mansehra and Haripur). The new settlements were named after Bir Deva, the mythical Gandharan ancestor of the Tanoli tribe.

According to Hazara’s first historian, Lala Mehtab Singh (1846), after returning home from the Indian campaigns, Subah Khan settled a large number of Hindu and Sikh Khatri merchant families in Bir to develop his new town as a hub for trade and commerce.

On one occasion, when the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh citizens of Bir celebrated the birth of a child in Khan’s family, they were told that the news of a new settler in Subah Khan’s town would be more welcome to him than the expansion of his own bloodline.

Mehtab Singh’s records also mention that Subah Khan’s son, Gul Sher Khan, donated Rs2,000 to help the Hindu families in Bir build a place of worship for themselves.

The town of Bir was founded by Subah Khan after he returned from Abdali’s India campaigns. The Indus at Amb-Darband, the now-submerged capital of the state of Amb. Abdali’s invasions are a polarising topic of discussion in India and Pakistan today. Nationalist historians and commentators on both sides prefer viewing the conflict as a simplistic clash of faiths, rather than as a violent competition for power and resources.

This binary view of history makes it hard to capture the nuances and human stories of the participants and victims of the wars.

The substantial economic and political concessions granted by Abdali to Subah Khan enabled his descendants and clansmen to consolidate their power in Tanawal.

In the decades following Durrani rule, they would fiercely resist both the Sikh general Hari Singh Nalwa and Islamist reformer Syed Ahmed Barelvi’s attempts to control the region.

In 1858, the British would formally recognise the region as the state of Amb, a semi-independent tribal princely state along the Indus with its capital at the now submerged towns of Amb and Darband.

Tomb of Suba Khan change

The last of Subah Khan Tanoli’s mid-18th century mausoleum.

Crumbling Tomb of Suba Khan.

Grave View of Suba Khan.

Entrance gate of Tomb

Tomb of Suba Khan Tanoli badly damaged under sikh invasion.[7]

References change

  1. Dr SB Panni 'Tareekh i Hazara' (Urdu:History of Hazara) pub Peshawar, 1969, pp. 340-341
  2. Son of King Ahmad Shah Durrani
  3. Panni, 341
  4. Hazara District Gazetteer 1883-1884
  5. Gazetteer, aa
  6. 6.0 6.1 Panni, aa
  7. Rule of sikh in hazara . vol.23 the news[permanent dead link]

Warning: Default sort key "Khan, Zabardust" overrides earlier default sort key "Tanoli, Zabardust Khan".