Articles / Essays

A Note on the Former Hunza State in the Karakoram-Pamir Region and a Brief Reflection on the Speech of 1972 of Late Mir Muhammad Jamal Khan

March 13, 2020

By Fazal Amin Beg

Political geography across the globe doesn’t remain fixed or static; instead it changes time and again with the course of time and with the tide of various types of movements. Somewhere, it sustains for centuries and where may endure for millennia. On the other, it may last for more or less a century or so.
Visualize thus a world at the crossroads of Central and South Asia and China, which has its small but smart and powerful kingdom of its own in the naturally fortified boundaries between the Pamirs and the Karakoram, posing its hegemony on the world imperial powers across its borders. Its brave fighters would go beyond its borders , play tactically , pose serious threats on and fight fearlessly with the rivals loot the caravans wherever needed and return heroically to their homeland with a great pride and honor. There were no vehicles, aircrafts or jet fighters at all, for the transportation or fighting (as we do avail today. Instead, its people would march on their strong feet, ride their cavalry or yaks and cross the highest mountain passes of thousands of feet high. Imagine, which place it could be? Well, I’m talking about the tiny Hunza State or little Kingdom of Hunza, today a district of Gilgit-Baltistan Region in the Northern Pakistan.
For many centuries, Different rulers took power of the little kingdom of Hunza and contributed both positively and negatively towards the overall development in the dominion. The livelihood entirely depended on the agro-pastoral strategy in addition to a small proportion invested in business (in kinds).some of them strategically opted for construction of the defense points and forts to cope effectively with the external threats and invasions, some of them championed for construction of irrigation channels and settlements of the barren lands, some of them chose to internal mentorship of the peoples mind in line with their faith, and the like.
Although, it’s so challenging rather impossible to encompass and discuss about the entire political development in this small piece of writing, let me venture and come up with a strategy to highlight a bit on the important development reference points only from Mir Shah Silum Khan son of Khusraw Khan in the eighteenth century onward and will focus contextually on Mir Jamal Khan’s speech of 1972 in Gulmit (the headquarters of Upper Hunza termed locally as gojal).
It’s noteworthy and related to describe that Shah Silum Khan was raised in gulmit by her foster mother Grandma Gul bahor wife of Oshur Bai of Arbobon family within Abdul clan and daughter of Qozi Makhzum of Chilkand (the Qoziyon family living in today’s Afghan Wakhan) in the 18th century. As her foster mother was de facto an Ismaili (as Isma’ilism was in practice in Wakhan from the time of Nasir Khusraw in the 11thcentury), it paved the way for Mir Shah Silum Khan to covertly embrace Ismailism. In the later phase, he accepted openly Ismailism in the hands of a Pir named Sayid Shah Ardavail (as his descendants live in Afghan Wakhan today in Digargend village).
Sayid Hussain Shah son of Shah Ardavil is said to have reached Gulmit in the house of Arbob Bai nazar (who was the foster brother of Silum Khan and the latter would live in this traditional Wakhi house) and introduced the Ismaili death ritual (Chirogh-e Rushan) for the first time in 1824.Shah Silum Khan was buried alongside his foster family of Arbobon in the graveyard (as both graveyards still exist parallel to each other in Gulmit). Besides, this historic Wakhi Pamiri house of Arbob Bai Nazar-I stil exists in its original condition, which is down to the Mir’s palace. in addition, the old houses of Bai Nazar’s grandsons (Arbob Muhammad Ali and Hassan Ali) also exist at the same place where the rulers of Hunza used to live with their foster parents and family members. It’s important to note that the Mir’s palace (visible today in Gulmit at the northern tip of the pologround) has been constructed in the later phase during the time of Mir Nazim Khan Son of Ghazan Khan in the first quarter of 1900s.
In the aftermath of Silum Khan’s death, Isma’ilism became the official religion of Hunza State during the time of Shah Ghazanfar Ali Khan, although, it’s also noteworthy that some clans are also reported that had already their faith annexed with Ismailism due to different contexts.
Apart from contribution of Mir Shah Sillum Khan’s contribution to Ismailism as his State Religion, his landmark initiatives are evidenced even today in line with construction of various types of irrigation channels in Hunza State, more particulary at Baltit and Gulmit Samarqand-e Dala and Dalgiram-e Wodh respectively). He also constructed various fortresses and defense points (watch towers) within his dominion (from lower to upper Hunza) to cope vigorously with the invaders and rivals coming from across the borders.
Shah Ghazanfar Khan (r. 1824-1864) contributed incredibly to the development of Hunza State in different contexts. Being a well-informed man, Shah Ghazanfar himself is said to possess a spiritual knowledge and used it positively for the construction of irrigation channels, particularly in central and lower Hunza . his focus also remained on land development and building new settlements and more particularly the tribesmen from Baltit and then other villages were settled on the new settlements within Central and Lower Hunza (Shinaki.It was the reign of Shah Ghazanfar Ali Khan when the Ismailism in the whole of his dominion got promoted.
Although, Mir Ghazan Khan son of Shah Ghazanfar Khan (r. 1864-1886 and raised by his foster family of Arbobon namely Hassan Ali in Gulmit) had killed his youngest uncle Abdullah Khan son of Mir Shah Silum Khan and got imprisonment, his positive contribution could also be witnessed in line with his ancestors tradition to an extent. He managed to develop some barren lands by constructing channels for new settlements and maintained the old irrigation channels across Hunza State (for instance, notable among them are the newly constructed water channels of Barbar at Baltit, Chamangul in Gulmit, and reconstruction or maintenance of the old channels of Murtazabad, Misgar and so on are reported).It’s also interesting to note that an indigenous canon was also made by the family of blacksmith of Hunza during Ghazan Khan’s period.
After Ghazan Khan I, his son Safdar Ali khan (1886-1891 raised by his foster family of Sakhi at Passu) snatched the power by managing to kill his father. It was Safdar ali Khan’s era when a great change could be evidenced in the State power of Hunza which took its direction towards the South in contrast to the earlier north and east focus with Afghanistan, Tsarist Russia and China respectively. In order to gain the peoples support (after his criminal act of his father’s assassination), Safdar Ali Khan relieved the people (subjects) from couples of the levied taxes. It was Safdar Ali Khan’s era that resisted and challenged the British Rule and influence onto its domain and didn’t allow the British officials, posts and the like from Hunza towards Xinjiang (up to Kashghar). It was again Safdar Ali Khan’s misbehavior (on the advice of his advisors, courtiers and notables) that he disobeyed the directives of the then Imam of the Time (Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III) and went against his advice. Consequently, Hunza and Nagar States were conquered by the British forces and resultantly Safdar Ali Khan along with his supporters fled and deserted Hunza forever in 1891 and took refuge in yarkand/Poskam (Xinjiang). The fleeing of Mir Safdar Ali Khan led towards shifted of the State’s power towards the British and Maharaja of Kashmir (for over a half century).
Consequently, in place of Safdar Ali Khan, his younger but half-brother Nazim Khan 3(r. 1992-1938) was installed as the Ruler of Hunza State by the British. Nazim Khan’s mother, Qurban Begum, daughter of Lugh belonged to a Wakhi family of Gulmit (Bori clan). Mir Nazim Khan brought drastic changes not only within Hunza but also out of Hunza by initiating for various settlements. Most of the development-oriented projects of new settlements we could evidence in his period in Hunza State and out of Hunza in Matum Das (Rahimabad) through Oshkandas (Gilgit district).
Mir Nazim Khan ruled for over forty six years and during this time Hunza State had to evidence significant developments in political and socioeconomic realm. For example, the first school by the British in 1912 was opened at Baltit (the Capital of Hunza State), the telephone line connections up to Misgar valley of upper Hunza, visits of the renowned Ismaili missionaries and officers like Agha Samad Ali Shah and Pir Sabz Ali, initiatives taken for formal education on test cases, construction of the Qalandarchi Fort (QD) in 1932-33, construction of the Mir’s Palace of Gulmit, visits of Western explorers and officers and the like. Finally, he passed away in July 1938.
In the aftermath of Nazim Khan’s death, his son Ghazan Khan II (raised by his foster families of Muhammad Jali in Hussani and Arbob Khairullah Beg in Gulmit) was appointed as the ruler of Hunza by the British. Unlike his father, Ghazan Khan didn’t rule for longer time rather it lasted only for six to seven years and finally he was killed in a conspiracy at Gulmit within his palace. He was thus buried in the graveyard of his great great grandfather (Shah Silum Khan). Although, Ghazan Khan is also termed as Mamu Tham (compassionate Ruler), he had initially imposed heavy taxes on the people and it led towards a huge mass mobilization and revolt against his rule in October 1940 led by Arbob Adob Khan of Passu (who was a grandson of Prince Abdullah Khan killed by Mir Ghazan Khan). The revolt and demonstration continued for over two weeks and thus came to an end after getting exemption from some of the levied taxes.a positive aspect in Ghazan Khan’s era was the peoples recruitment of the young men in the British forces and Gilgit Scout as we could observe many of them (particularly members of the influential families) who chose army employment for themselves.
Mir Muhammad Jamal Khan son of Ghazan Khan was the last ruler of Hunza State (r. 1945-1974) and was raised by his foster family of Wazir at Baltit .HE was born in 1912 when it was becoming 20 years for his grandfather’s reign and installed by the British. He was 26 years old when his grandfather Nazim Khan passed away, but it’s important to know that Jamal Khan and his siblings were grown when his father Mir Ghazan Khan had tragically killed his great wife, Sayyida Bibi Gulshod daughter of Pir of Zebok (of today’s afghan Badakhshan). Mir Jamal Khan and his siblings had to see and bitterly experience the orphan life. Prince Jamal Khan was thus in his youth (33 years old) when he was enthroned as the Mir of Hunza in 1945 (after the assassination of his father).before going ahead, let me describe a bit about Jamal Khan’s family and lineage in the present context so to better visualize the scenario ahead.
Mir Jamal Khan had one sister and two brothers. Their names were Bibi Nasib Khatun wife of Raja Babar Khan (a hero of Gilgit-Baltistan Region), Jamsheed Khan and Ayash Khan (the then Secretary of the Hunza State). Mir Jamal Khan had married with Madam Shams-un Nahar , a Princess of the former Nagar State . their sons are Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan, Amin Khan and Abbas Khan.names of his daughters are Dur-e Shawar wif of Raja Sherzad, Nilufar wife of Qadir Khan, Nur Begum (Malika) wife of Col Abdul Aziz, Mehr Jamal (Merry) wife of Pir Karam Ali Shah, Fozia wife of Malik Asad, and Azrah Khan wife of Col Sher Khan.
When we take a single line of Mir Jamal Khan’s lineage starting from his elder grandson Shah Silum Khan and go for some generations back, it follows in this manner: Shah salim Khan son of Ghazanfar Ali Khan son of Mir Muhammad Jamal Khan son of Mir Ghazan Khan II son of Mir Nazim Khan son of Mir Ghazan Khan I son of Mir Shah Ghazanfar Ali Khan son of Mir Shah Silum Khan son of Shah Khusraw Khan … … … Shah Khan (Ayashum Ayasho) son of Sikandar Khan (of Darwaz).
Coming to the point, let’s look at the development in Jamal Khan’s Era, too. Great and revolutionary changes are observed during Jamal khan’s era. One year after taking the charge of his power, there came up establishment of Aga Khan Diamond Jubilee Schools across Hunza in 1946. Mir Jamal Khan and his wife Rani Shams-un Nahar begin their travel to see His Royal Highness, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah in Karachi. HRH Aga Khan III thus provides golden opportunities for both the couple to have time to time exposure trips on annual basis to the European countries, Middle East and Africa. The worldview of the ruler thus begins changing in result of visiting various societies at international scale.
During the reign of Jamal khan, more and more people were allowed to join the military forces like Gilgit 1947, partition of India came up and Pakistan emerged on the world map. War of liberation began by the people of Gilgit-Baltistan Region led by late Shah Khan of Hunza, late Babar Khan of Nagar and late Hassan Khan of Gilgit. Although, Gilgit-Baltistan was liberated from the domination of external forces in the region, becoming part of Pakistan as a unit de jure didn’t become reality for over seventy years due to the controversies between Pakistan and India.
Gilgit-Baltistan Region was cut off from road infrastructure and by 1949 the jeep road was constructed up to Gilgit. In the second half of 1950s, central Hunza got connected through the jeep road with Gilgit and by 1962 the jeep road reached up to Gulmit (center of upper Hunza)
It was again during the reign of Jamal Khan that Imam of the Time (a living Imam of the Ismaili community) visited Gilgit-Baltistan Region for the first time in 1960. The boundary demarcation between China and Hunza/Pakistan also took place in 1963 during Jamal Khan’s era. The Karakoram Highway was also initiated from Khunzhrav Pass down to Gilgit in 1966/67 and Mir Jamal Khan had his utmost role in this regard.
More particularly, during the reign of Jamal Khan, when the migrants started moving towards the cities of Pakistan, especially Karachi. This provided them an opportunity to meet with different categories of people and political activism also began. A group of youth emerged who stood to be against the Mirdom and the Mir himself who thus lobbied with the political parties like that of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and pushed their move towards elimination of the Hunza State. Diferent types of resentment began and finally in 1974, the Hunza State was abolished by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutoo (then the Prime Minister of Pakistan).After two years of the removal of the historic Hunza State, on March 18, 1976, late Mir Muhammad Jamal Khan passed away at the age of 62.
A Brief Reflection on the Speech of Late Mir Muhammad Jamal Khan in 1972

Before coming to listening (or reading the speech translation), from the outset, let’s be clarified about an important perspective that we need to be so sensitive and bold enough to understand and realize that when we claim to be human, we have our basic human rights defined within the Islamic traditions on the one hand, and within the charters and conventions of the United Nations on the other. We have our utmost religious rights, we have our defined political rights, we have the rights of protection and security, we have our indigenous and customary rights, we have our rights to our languages and cultures, we have the right of clean air, water and food, we have our rights of land, properties, shelter, housing and clothing, we have the right of availing education, health, and other important needs and facilities. Above all, we have our utmost right to genuine freedom of expression around such subject matters as specified above. Therefore, no one has the right to negatively politicize the point of views of someone, whether in historical or contemporary context, or try to manipulate others negatively.
Though, there may arise questions on the subject matter, keeping in view the notions of basic human rights, it was stunning to note in some ways that the late Mir Jamal Khan was conscious of the fundamental rights (as we do advocate these days) and has talked eloquently and intellectually within the framework of indigenous rights, customary laws, freedom of expression on religion and political rights as well as rights of women, security, land and the like.
The landmark speech in audio form in Burushaski which Mir Jamal Khan has delivered during an Eid ceremony is that of 1972 in Gulmit (the Winter Capital of the former Hunza State). He has addressed the community during a historic Eid ceremony. The audio recording has been made by his younger brother late Colonel Ayash Khan (the then Secretary of the Hunza State).
Before addressing the huge gathering, late Master Sultan Ali Samarqand son of Ali Fatah (a guru of teachers of Hunza) presents a brief welcome speech to the Mir. After him, the last Mir of Hunza (Jamal Khan) addresses the people.
Critically observing the speech gives us a flavor that late Jamal Khan has been more a religious leader than a hereditary ruler. His focus remains more on the Ismaili constitution and supporting it to the maximum level. His speech invites the opponents to be neutral or bring a positive and drastic change in their thoughts when they suspect him whether or not he was an Ismaili. Her further states that if his small kingdom is sacked, he won’t be worried at all but his relationship with his Imam of the Time is so crucial to him and for that purpose no one could disconnect or snatch him from his beloved spiritual leader.
It sounds clearly that some of the opponents have blamed the late Mir for forging the constitution and that it was not by the Imam of the Time but rather Mir Jamal Khan had his own engineered constitution. That’s why he solemnly undertakes time and again that the constitution was not his but rather by the Imam he thus quotes the directive of the Imam to console the people and assure them how important was his appointment as the President of the Shia Ismaili supreme Council for Hunza and Central Asia.
Mir Jamal Khan seems so concerned about the Hunza State’s elimination and the aftermath negative effects in line with political entity within its dominion as he has been showing his utmost concern after intervention of the external forces in different guises in the name of security forces and so on. He has been so persistent not to join any political party rather strongly advises the people to abstain from the party politics unless Imam of the Time allows. He seems so fervent Ismaili and sometimes it shows he may be using such strategy to avoid merging the Hunza State with Pakistan as per se due to the special characteristics and prestige of his State and the disputed nature and status of the entire Gilgit-baltistan region. But on the other, he shows his utmost fidelity politically and diplomatically with the novice republic of Pakistan on the radar of the modern nations.
Late Jamal Khan seems so apprehensive at a point when he disappointedly describes that his opponents like to take his life and he was ready if they liked it. on the other, he also offers if the Imam of the Time grants or rewards the leadership to someone else, he’d wholeheartedly accept him for the leadership and stand behind him.
Whatsoever his standpoints may be in different context, his speech in voice file suggests that late Muhammad Jamal Khan has been so foresighted, shrewd, devout , bold, eloquent and knowledgeable gentleman and political leader in a true sense in a sharp contrast to his successors. Many of his strong opponents are even seen today glorifying Jamal Khan for his positive thoughts, approaches and dealing with the people and they condemn his advisors for being negative in many respects. . .

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  • Reply Abdul Karim Karimi April 18, 2020 at 5:34 pm

    Fazal Amin Beg Bhai! Really enjoyed. Well articulated, indeed. Keep up the literary work. Love and respect for your great work.

    • Reply fazalamin May 2, 2020 at 11:51 am

      Thanks so much, Karimi, for your kind words of encouragement. It’s a minor effort from my side that energizes with the appreciation of great literary people like you.

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