Peshawar resided in a beautiful valley watered by the Swat and Kabul Rivers. The land had all of the potential of a garden of Eden. It boasted wild fruit trees like plum, peach, apple, pear, and pomegranate. Wild roses covered the mud walls of the homes. Streams and ancient canals lined with willows watered terraces built by Ancient Punjabis long ago exterminated by the Pathans. Wild game abounded. The hills and dales were littered by ruins of the original inhabitants, who were, like I said, exterminated so violently the Pathans never even bothered to learn their names. The Pathans used the once beautiful Buddhist monasteries and stupas as target practice. It was not just the arrogance of the Muslim but the arrogance of the Pathan. The Kushan were Buddhist Punjabis and therefore inferior despite their ruins of monumental splendor. The Pathans were heroic masters of the land despite their rags and poverty.
Peshawar was the ancient city of the Ancient Punjabis, the Kushan, the Hindko, and even the Ancient Greeks. It was so old no one even knew how old Peshawar was. It was walled city too, with 16 great, if ruinous gates, and it was full of three story tall buildings of mud brick festooned with ornate wooden balconies and ornate wooden doorways. The streets twist and turn, narrow, filled to overflowing with people, bazaars, food stalls, coffee and hookah houses, swaggering warriors on their horses or camels with their jiggling bridles, red and green flags of jihad, and very rarely, the fleeting glimpse of a ghostly shrouded woman.
I loathed seeming them. The women in this ‘City of Men’. It gutted me to see women shrouded in pale blue from top to bottom, not one inch showing, eternally shrouded, never alive, never allowed to even whisper, much less sing, the living dead. You would see a ghostly pale blue shadow slip into an ornately carved wooden door and you would shudder thinking what they faced inside. Were they being beaten to death? Burned alive? You heard rumors. Occasionally you saw one laying in a gutter, in her pale blue shroud, bloody, beaten, dead. The pale blue living shroud had at last become the actual shroud of a living ghost turned dead corpse. And they would be left for all to see ,bloody corpses, left like garbage. You shuddered to think what happened to the women of this ‘City of Men’ because you knew whatever was happening behind closed doors and lattice windows, it was not good!
Peshawar was conquered by waves of conquerors vying to control the Silk Road when once it passed through Peshawar. The Hindko. The Kushan. The Pathan. The Turks and ruled for a bit. Persians. Others. When the Mughals came and Akbar the Great, taking a fancy to the place, built the great fort and rebuilt the greater walls. He tried to turn Peshawar into a city of artists and poets and Sufi mystics. His grandson planted gardens and flowers and trees. The Mughals tried to turn Peshawar into the ‘City of Flowers’. But alas that dream proved as fragile as the gardens and the flowers. Sher Shah Suri used Peshawar as one of his key cities for conquest, capturing and raping Peshawar like a woman taken after her men are slaughtered in defeat. One wondered if Peshawar felt like that poor wife of Mohammad who slew her father, brothers, and husband before her eyes before declaring his mercy toward her, the loot of battle, by bestowing marriage upon her provided she converted to his Religion of Peace and embraced his feet like the prophet he said he was.
Later Khushal Khan Khattak attacked Peshawar as he waged war against the Mughals, especially Aurangzeb, to create the new Pathan Empire like the ancient Parthian Empire. So much for gardens. Peshawar was raped once again. Later still Nadir Shah the Persian Marauder seized Peshawar as he pillaged his way across the Punjab all the way to Delhi to bring that city of the Mughals to it’s very knees. And the guy did not even bother to toss a new coins to Peshawar as he left, despite hauling away that fabled Peacock Throne! But then Peshawar must have been raped and violated so often she must have been looking pretty trampled and no longer at all pretty. Later still Ahmad Shah Durrani saw Peshawar as the capital of yet another glorious Pathan Empire. But when the dust of battle cleared Peshawar, ever more bloody and battered, raped and violated, manhandled and abused, ended up a groveling client state of Afghanistan, paying tribute to not be burned to the ground.
In 1818 One Eye Ranjit Singh the Maharajah of Lahore and the Leader of the Sikhs, kicked the collective butt of the Pathan for the first and possibly only time in it’s collective arrogance. He captured Peshawar. Afghanistan was furious and tried to yank Peshawar back. Back and forth! Back and forth! So Afghanistan under Dost Mohammad and his son Akbar Khan and One Eye Ranjit Singh fought over Peshawar as if the city was Helen of Troy. But do not assume it was out of love or respect! It was strictly a case of egotism! The Afghanistani is Pathan at their most bitchy and mangy and One Eye Ranjit Singh is a Punjabi tired at being kicked and raped and mauled by Pathans. The Sikhs decided it was time to kick Muslim butts. Any Muslims. Particularly Pathan butts because they were closest. It was not even a question of religion. It was a question of ego. Pathans considered the Punjabi to be their dog to kick. But under the Sikhs, the Punjabi dog was finally biting back! Hurray for the Punjabis!
The trouble for us Brits was that we were caught in the middle. We just wanted an undisputable border at the Khyber Pass and the damn pass closed to invaders so Delhi and the rest of the Punjab was no longer raped, looted, ravished, and butchered. Was that too much to ask? Apparently yes! As long as Peshawar was the bone being gnarled by two mangy dogs, Most Mohammad and One Eye Ranjit Singh, there could not be any peace at the border!”