Peshawar is now officially recognised as being one of the Oldest Living Cities in Asia. Its history and culture has continued uninterrupted since several centuries. This fact was confirmed by the discovery of silver punch-marked coins from the Government House in 1906–07 and the ongoing excavation at Gor Khatri which is the deepest and widest in the world. Being among the most ancient cities of the region between Central, South, and West Asia, Peshawar has for centuries been a centre of trade between Afghanistan, South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. As an ancient centre of learning, the 2nd century BCE. Bakhshali Manuscript used in the Bakhshali approximation was found nearby.
Peshawar was a major centre of Buddhist learning until the 10th century. As an indication of its importance, Peshawar was also the site of Kanishka's Great Stupa which housed relics of Gautama Buddha, and was widely considered to be the tallest building in the world at the time of its construction. Ancient Chinese manuscripts tell of Buddhist pilgrims such as Faxian, Sung Yun, and Xuanzang reporting that the 7th century stupa, which was rediscovered in the south east of the city at a site called Shahji-ki-Dheri in 1907–08, had a height of 591–689 feet.
Peshawar emerged as a centre of both Hindko and Pashtun intellectuals. Its dominant culture for much of British rule was that of the Hindko speakers, also referred to as "Khaarian" ('city dwellers' in Pashto). Its unique culture, distinct from the surrounding Pashtun areas, led to the city being romanticised by Pashto singers, with songs like larsha Pekhwar tha (go to Peshawar) and more recently Pekhawar kho pekhawar dhay kana (Peshawar is Peshawar after all). This unique culture has gradually disappeared with the massive influx of Afghan refugees and the increasing migration of Pashtuns into the city. The demographics has changed quite dramatically and Pashto is now the dominant language of the city.
Lady Reading Hospital
Peshawar is located in an area that was dominated by various tribes of Indo-Iranian origin. The region was affiliated with the ancient kingdom of Gandhara and had links to the Harappan civilization of the Indus River Valley and to Bactria and other ancient kingdoms based in Afghanistan. According to the historian Tertius Chandler, Peshawar had a population of 120,000 in the year 100 BCE, making it the seventh most populous city in the world.
Vedic mythology refers to an ancient settlement called Pushkalavati in the area, after Pushkal, the son of King Bharata in the epic Ramayana., but this settlement's existence remains speculative and unverifiable. In recorded history, the earliest major city established in the general area of Peshawar was called Purushapura (Sanskrit for City of Men) and was founded by the Kushans, a Central Asian tribe of Tocharian origin, over 2,000 years ago. Prior to this period the region was affiliated with Gandhara, an ancient Indo-Iranian kingdom, and was annexed first by the Persian Achaemenid empire and then by the Hellenic empire of Alexander the Great. The city passed into the rule of Alexander's successor, Seleucus I Nicator who ceded it to Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Maurya Empire in 305 BCE. Buddhism was introduced into the region at this time and may have claimed the majority of Peshawar's inhabitants before the coming of Islam.
The area that Peshawar occupies was then seized by the Greco-Bactrian king, Eucratides (170 – 159 BCE), and was controlled by a series of Greco-Bactrian and later Indo-Greek kings who ruled an empire that spanned from present day Pakistan to North India. Later, the city came under the rule of several Parthian and Indo-Parthian kings, another group of Iranic invaders from Central Asia, the most famous of whom, Gondophares, ruled the city and its environs starting in circa 46 CE, and was briefly followed by two or three of his descendants before they were displaced by the first of the "Great Kushans", Kujula Kadphises, around the middle of the 1st century CE.
Peshawar formed the eastern capital of the empire of Gandhara under the Kushan king Kanishka, who reigned from at least 127 CE. Peshawar became a great centre of Buddhist learning. Kanishka built what may have been the tallest building in the world at the time, a giant stupa, to house the Buddha's relics, just outside the Ganj Gate of the old city of Peshawar.
The Kanishka stupa was said to be an imposing structure as one travelled down from the mountains of Afghanistan onto the Gandharan plains. The earliest account of the famous building is by the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim monk, Faxian, who visited it in 400 and described it as being over 40 chang in height (probably about 120 m or 394 ft) and adorned "with all precious substances". "Of all the stûpas and temples seen by the travellers, none can compare with this for beauty of form and strength." It was destroyed by lightning and repaired several times. It was still in existence at the time of Xuanzang's visit in 634. From the ruined base of this giant stupa there existed a jewelled casket containing relics of the Buddha, and an inscription identifying Kanishka as the donor, and was excavated from a chamber under the very centre of the stupa's base, by a team under Dr. D.B. Spooner in 1909. The stupa was roughly cruciform in shape with a diameter of 286 feet (87 m) and heavily decorated around the sides with stucco scenes.
Sometime in the 1st millennium BCE, the group that now dominates Peshawar began to arrive from the Suleiman Mountains of southern Afghanistan to the southwest, the Pashtuns. Over the centuries the Pashtuns would come to dominate the region and Peshawar has emerged as an important centre of Pashtun culture along with Kandahar and Kabul as well as Quetta in more recent times. Muslim Arab and Turkic arrived and annexed the region before the beginning of the 2nd millennium.
Arrival of Islam
The Pashtuns began to convert to Islam following early annexation by the Arab Empire from Khurasan (in what is today western Afghanistan and northeastern Iran).
“Sebuktagin dying in 997 was succeeded as governor of Khorasan by his son Mahmud, who throwing off all dependence on the Samani princes, assumed the title of Sultan in 999. In the early reign of this celebrated invader the plains of Peshawar were again the scene of some great battles, the first of which was fought on the maira between Nowshera and the Indus, in the year 1001. Mahmud was opposed by Jaipal, who had been constantly endevouring to recover the country wrested from him by Sebuktagin, still aided by some Pathans whose allegiance to the Muslim governor of Peshawar was not of long continuance.
The battle took place on November 27.Jaipal himself being taken prisoner, who upon his subsequent release resigned the crown to his son Anandpal. On this occasion Mahmud punished the Pathans who had sided with the enemy, and as they were now converted entirely to the Islam, they stayed true to their new allegiance.
Peshawar was taken by Turkic Muslims in 988 and was incorporated into the larger Mughal domains by the 16th century. The founder of the Mughul dynasty that would conquer South Asia, Babur, who hailed from current Uzbekistan, came to Peshawar and founded a city called Bagram where he rebuilt the fort in 1530. His grandson, Akbar, formally named the city Peshawar, meaning "The Place at the Frontier" in Persian and expanded the bazaars and fortifications. The Muslim technocrat, bureaucrats, soldiers, traders, scientists, architects, teachers, theologians and Sufis flocked from the rest of the Muslim world to Islamic Sultanate in South Asia and many settled in the Peshawar region.
Reigns of the Pashtun Kings
The Pashtun conqueror Sher Shah Suri, turned Peshawar's renaissance into a boom when he ran his Delhi-to-Kabul Shahi Road through the Khyber Pass and Peshawar. Thus the Mughals turned Peshawar into a "City of Flowers" by planting trees and laying out gardens similar to those found to the west in Iran. Khushal Khan Khattak, the Pashtun/Afghan warrior poet, was born near Peshawar and his life was intimately tied to the city. Khattak was an early Pashtun nationalist, who agitated for an independent Afghanistan including Peshawar. As such, he was an implacable foe of the Mughal rulers, especially Aurangzeb.
After the decline of the Mughal Empire, by the 18th century the city came under Persian control during the reign of Nadir Shah. In 1747, following a loya jirga, Peshawar would join the Afghan/Pashtun empire of Ahmad Shah Durrani as a Pakthun region. Pashtuns from Peshawar took part in the incursions of South Asia during the rule of Ahmad Shah Durrani and his successors.
Peshawar under British Rule
In 1812, Peshawar was a suzerainty of Afghanistan, but contested by the Sikh Empire. The arrival of a party led by British explorer and former agent of the East India Company, William Moorcroft was seen as an advantage, both in dealings with Kabul and in protection against the Sikhs of Lahore. He was even offered the governorship of Peshawar and invited to offer the area's allegiance to the East India Company, which he declined. Moorcroft continued to Kabul in the company of Peshwari forces and thence to the Hindu Kush.
In 1818 Peshawar was captured by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and paid a nominal tribute until it was finally annexed in 1834 by the Sikh Empire. An 1835 attempt to retake the city by Dost Mohammad Khan failed when his army declined battle with the Dal Khalsa. His son, Mohammad Akbar Khan, almost retook the city in the Battle of Jamrud in 1837, but was forced to retreat due to logistics problems. With the confusion following the collapse of the Sikh Empire due to the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the Sikh Empire's defeat in the Second Anglo-Sikh War, the British occupied Peshawar in 1849.
The mountainous areas outside of the city were mapped out in 1893 by Sir Mortimer Durand, then foreign secretary of the British Indian government, who demarcated the boundary of his colony with the Afghan ruler at the time, Abdur Rahman Khan. It is now known as the Durand Line. The Kabul government has argued that the pact expired when British colonialists left the region – although claims to the region have not been a part of official Afghan policy.
In 1893, Mortimer Durand negotiated with Abdur Rahman Khan the Amir of Afghanistan the frontier between Afghanistan, the FATA, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan Provinces of Pakistan, the successor state of British India, and Afghanistan.
This line, the Durand Line, is named after Sir Mortimer Durand and remains the international boundary between Afghanistan and modern-day Pakistan, officially recognized by most nations but an ongoing point of contention between the two countries.
In 1893, Sir Mortimer Durand was deputed to Kabul by the government of British India for this purpose of settling an exchange of territory required by the demarcation of the boundary between northeastern Afghanistan and the Russian possessions, and in order to discuss with the Amir Abdur Rahman Khan other pending questions. The Amir showed his ability in diplomatic argument, is tenacity where his own views or claims were in debate, with a sure underlying insight into the real situation.
The territorial exchanges were amicably agreed upon; the relations between the British Indian and Afghan governments, as previously arranged, were confirmed; and an understanding was reached upon the important and difficult subject of the border line of Afghanistan on the east, towards India.
In 1893 during rule of Amir Abdur Rahman Khan of Afghanistan a "Royal Commission for setting up of Boundary" the Durand Line between Afghanistan and the British-governed India was set up, to negotiate terms with the British, for the Agreeing to the Durand line , and the two parties camped at Parachinar, now part of FATA Pakistan, which is near Khost Afghanistan.
From the British side the camp was attended by Sir Mortimer Durand and Sahibzada Abdul Qayyum, Political Agent Khyber.
The Afghanistan side was represented by Sahibzada Abdul Latif and the Governor KhostSardar Shireendil Khan representing the Amir.
Independence and instability
In 1947, Peshawar became part of the newly independent state of Pakistan after politicians from the Frontier approved merger into the state that had just been carved from British India. While a large majority of people approved of this action, others believed in the unity of India, such as Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Still others believed that the province should have ascended to Afghanistan – a position which later evolved into a call for a state independent of both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Until the mid-1950s, Peshawar was enclosed within a city wall and sixteen gates. Of the old city gates, the most famous was the Kabuli Gate but only the name remains to this date. Peshawar has not grown as much in size or capacity as the population has. As a result it has become a polluted and overcrowded city.
During the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan, Peshawar served as a political centre for the Inter-Services Intelligence-trained mujahideen groups, and housed Afghan refugees at the Jalozai refugee camp. There were a total of about 100,000 Afghan refugees reported in Peshawar during the 1988 election when Benazir Bhutto was running for Prime Minister of Pakistan. Peshawar managed to assimilate many of the ethnic Pashtun Afghans with relative ease and many of them still remain in Pakistan.
Peshawar continues to be a city that links Pakistan with Afghanistan as well as Central Asia, and has emerged as an important regional city in Pakistan. It remains a focal point for Pashtun culture. Today, like the surrounding region, it is at the crossroads of the struggle between the extremist Taliban and moderates, liberals and Pashtun nationalists. As a demonstration of their determination to destroy Pashtun icons, the Taliban bombed the shrine of the most beloved Pashtun poet, Rahman Baba, in 2009.
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