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Khyber Pass

As with many passes, the start and finish are ill-defined. Many definitions state that the Khyber Pass starts from near Jamrud, Pakistan (491 m - 1,611 ft), 15 km west of Peshawar and ends west of Torkham, Afghanistan, a winding road of 48 km.

The immediate terrain in the area of the Khyber Pass is mostly rugged, barren, and arid. The hills today are completely denuded due to the arid climate and deforestation. The poet Hafeez Jalandhri says "neither the grass hither nor the flowers bloom. But even the skies bow down to kiss this highland plume." And James W. Spain observed, "history hangs heavy on the Khyber and has left its mark upon its sombre stone. Ground into dust of the Pass is Persian gold, Greek iron, Tartar leather, Moghul gems, and Afghan silver and British steel. All have watered it with their blood." Interspersed among these dry and parched hills are narrow and shallow ravine and valleys inhabited by the local population, some living there from time immemorial and most subject to seasonal migrations to the more temperate plains in the unforgiving winter. These valleys are irrigated by scant, intermittent rains and snowfall, and cultivated for food and fodder.


On the northwest of the Khyber lies the larger and more fertile Tirah Valley, the original home of all the Afridi tribes. Cut off from the rest of the civilized world by any road, railway or air link, and without any vestige of modern civilization, it is a sort of no man's land ruled (or misruled) by the indigenous people themselves under the age-less law called Pakhtoonwali (the Pakhtoon code of conduct), effected by it or a Jirga system, involving the tribal elders as the judges as well as executioners of their rulings.

This vast, and at places extensively cultivated area, bounded by pockets of alpine forests, utterly lacks any internal communication system either. At best it is criss-crossed by mule tracks, and pack animals are used for the transport of goods from place to place, and long and tedious journeys are trusted to the power and perseverance of human feet and their supporting muscles. The indigenous people lead the most primitive life under pathetic poverty, inhuman ignorance and biblical simplicity. They live in strong and well-fortified mud-houses, built at respectable distances from each other, with high towers to defend themselves not only from the vagaries of nature and ferocity of wild life, but also the treachery of the 'tarboor' (cousin). The whole tribal set up suffers from a centuries-old tradition of internecine feuds, in which the cousin is usually the worst enemy. An oft-quoted proverb says: "Even if your cousin is your right hand, chop it off."

The valley has thick alpine forestation on the higher reaches and fertile plains in the laps of hills irrigated by natural springs or seasonal floods or the Bara River, which is a perennial source of irrigation in its delta. With the passage of time, the pressure of population gradually increases there and together with the economic significance of timber trade, they pose a serious threat to the remaining, meagre forestation there. However, due to sheer physical hardships, the valley is still thinly populated, also necessitating seasonal migrations to the warmer and more fertile Peshawar plains. Back at home also they depend for supply of articles of daily necessity mainly on Peshawar, which they carry on their mules, all the way through the rugged hills. Their economy depends upon agriculture, timber trade, livestock and dry fruit. They grow their own food and vegetables but for tea, sugar and cloth etc., they depend on external supply. The people of the valley have also recently taken to transport and business in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Office of the Political Agent, Khyber Agency, Qayyum Stadium Road, Peshawar Cantt, Pakistan Telephone: 92-91-9211901-5