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Hilal English

The Legacy of Khan Brothers in Pakistan Armed Forces (Part I)

February 2024

Amid the Indo-Pakistan War of 1948, a period when Pakistan was still in its early stages, the remarkable contributions of Air Marshal Asghar Khan's family stood out. The nation owes immense gratitude to the entire family for their exceptional efforts during this critical period.


A midst the many tales of valor within the Pakistani Armed Forces, the Khan Brothers and Alam Brothers shine as exemplary figures. Their unwavering dedication and exceptional service have elevated them to the status of the most revered families in Pakistan.
Both families shared a poignant similarity—they left behind their homes and possessions in India to embrace Pakistan as their new homeland. Personally acquainted with both families, I am honored to recount the extraordinary legacy of the Khan Brothers through this discourse.
Despite Air Marshal Asghar Khan's father and two brothers choosing to stay in India after the Partition, their commitment and sacrifices remain unparalleled. Amidst their father's presence in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), three of the brothers fearlessly spearheaded attacks during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1948. Their bravery played a pivotal role in the liberation of Azad Kashmir and the northern areas. Through this narrative, I aim to immerse readers in their awe-inspiring stories of unwavering service and sacrifice.
Their unwavering devotion, dedication, and patriotism shine through the remarkable commitment of the family members. Among the nine brothers, an incredible eight proudly served in the Pakistan Armed Forces. At the same time, each of the three sisters married army officers, a testament to their deep-rooted connection and commitment to serving their nation.
Family Ancestry and Heritage
Ancestral heritage often weaves a compelling narrative for families, and a rich marshal ancestry suggests a lineage steeped in history, valor, and possibly military distinction. It signifies a legacy of strength, leadership, and perhaps a tradition of service to their community or nation. This heritage could echo tales of battlefield bravery, strategic prowess, or contributions to shaping societies. Such ancestral roots often instill a sense of pride, responsibility, and a desire to uphold the honor and values passed down through generations.


General Sardar Sumandar Khan, Air Marshal Asghar Khan's paternal uncle, held a distinguished role as the commander of the Maharaja of Kashmir's Army. His leadership garnered deep respect from all those under his command, particularly for the camaraderie instilled within the first Kashmir Regiment during his tenure.


History vividly illustrates how heritage resonates proudly across generations, exemplified by the lineage of Air Marshal Asghar Khan. His roots trace back to a long line of martial tradition stemming from the resilient Malikdin Khel Afridi clan of the Tirah Valley. Renowned for their steadfast defense of their territories, his clan stood resilient against formidable forces, including the British Empire, displaying an indomitable spirit.
It's crucial to introduce readers to the backdrop of his family's migration to Kashmir and to delve into Kashmir's historical and geographical landscape during the turn of the century. This context enriches the narrative and offers insights into the intricate tapestry of the region's history and its impact on Asghar Khan's familial journey.
Sardar Samad Khan Afridi: Air Marshal Asghar Khan’s Grandfather
Maharaja Ranjit Singh's dominion extended over Punjab, including Shimla, the regions of Jammu and Kashmir, and the North West Frontier, encompassing the Khyber Pass and reaching nearly Kabul. To secure his safety, Ranjit Singh, mistrusting the Sikh Rajwaras, employed two distinct groups of fighters as his bodyguards.
One of these groups comprised a Dogra force commanded by Gulab Singh. The other was a Pakhtoon group, primarily composed of Afridis, known for their military prowess in the Khyber Pass area. Sardar Asad Khan led this group, accompanied by his son, Sardar Samad Khan, Air Marshal Asghar Khan's grandfather. Both groups served Ranjit Singh faithfully. Over time, the commanders, Gulab Singh and Sardar Samad Khan Afridi, developed a close friendship.
Following Ranjit Singh's death in 1839, internal strife among Sikh warlords erupted, leaving no roles for these two forces. Consequently, both groups withdrew to their respective regions.
Subsequently, in 1846, Gulab Singh acquired the state of Jammu and Kashmir through a purchase amounting to three million Rupees (the sum varies in different accounts). Facing resistance from Dogra warlords, Gulab Singh sought the assistance of his Afridi ally, Sardar Samad Khan. Answering the call, Sardar Samad Khan arrived with a sizable force of Afridis, accompanied by their families. He was allocated a vast area known as Hai Hama, approximately three miles north of Kupwara, where the families settled. The men from the Afridi group actively joined forces in various expeditions to subdue the Dogra warlords and quell insurgencies, including in Yasin, Hunza, and Nagar.
It's worth noting that Air Marshal Asghar Khan's paternal grandmother hailed from Yasin. Sardar Samad Khan eventually settled in Battal-Ballian, near Udhampur in the Jammu Province of Kashmir State, where he resided until his passing in 1900.
Sumandar Khan: Air Marshal Asghar Khan's Paternal Uncle
General Sardar Sumandar Khan, Air Marshal Asghar Khan's paternal uncle, held a distinguished role as the commander of the Maharaja of Kashmir's Army. His leadership garnered deep respect from all those under his command, particularly for the camaraderie instilled within the first Kashmir Regiment during his tenure. Notably, the regiment's creation of a remarkable hockey ground at Bunji, situated about 25 km from Gilgit along a steep hillside, is a testament to their dedicated hard work under his guidance.
Post-military service, General Sumandar Khan remained dedicated to assisting the Muslim community. Elected as the President of Anjuman-e-Islamia, Jammu, he initiated significant contributions, notably establishing a girls' high school at Mohalla Dalpattian within a spacious old building. His efforts extended to securing a portion of Jammu Fort from the Maharaja for the boys' school, facilitating extensive repairs and renovations that transformed the site into the esteemed Islamia High School, equipped with ample playgrounds and facilities.
Known for his kindness, General Sumandar Khan's doors were always open to anyone in need within the Mohalla. A mark of his influence was the profound respect the Maharaja of Kashmir accorded to him, who consistently stood in reverence whenever General Sumandar Khan visited his Durbar.
Despite not having children of his own, he provided nurturing guidance and unwavering care to the children of his youngest brother, Rahmatullah Khan.
Brigadier Rehmatullah Khan: The Father of Khan Brothers
Brigadier Rehmatullah Khan was the youngest of the four sons of Sardar Samad Khan Afridi. He was born at Battal-Ballian, a rural suburb of Udhampur town north of Jammu, where his father, Sardar Samad Khan Afridi, had been awarded a hereditary jagir (estate). Brigadier Rahmatullah’s early upbringing and education took place in Battal-Ballian.
He was granted a direct commission in the State Armed Forces in December 1902. He participated in WWI 1914 in East Africa as the Adjutant (rank of a Captain) of the 2nd Jammu and Kashmir Rifles. He took part in the Battles of Tanga (November 1914) and Jassin (January 1915) against the German colonial forces commanded by Major General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck. 
He rejoined Jammu and Kashmir Forces (1922-25) and later became Director of Military Training (1925-28). He was promoted to Colonel in 1928 and appointed General Staff Officer of Jammu and Kashmir Forces. He was promoted to Brigadier in September 1932 and appointed Brigade Commander. He was granted hereditary jagirs in Kashmir, consisting of villages in the Kashmir valley, Achabal in Anantnag Tehsil, and Tehsil Rahyar. 
After partition, turmoil gripped Jammu, especially targeting Muslims. Brigadier Rehmatullah Khan made a crucial decision, sending his wife, three daughters, youngest son, niece, nephew, and two other relatives to Risalpur under Wing Commander M. Asghar Khan, commanding the RPAF Flying School. 
Meanwhile, the movement to integrate Kashmir into Pakistan began in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), led by his son, Major (later Brigadier) Aslam Khan. By October 1947, his eldest son, Major Nasrullah Khan, a Brigade Major, staged a rebellion against the Kashmir state, seizing control of his Brigade.
Amidst all these events in the newly formed Pakistan, Brigadier Rehmatullah Khan faced arrest by Shaikh Abdullah, and he was imprisoned in Hari Parbat Fort. He was later released and confined to his Bagh-e-Mehtab farm.
After the Indo-Pakistan War in 1948, the Pakistani and Indian governments arranged for the exchange and repatriation of prisoners of War. Brigadier Rehmatullah Khan was exchanged for two Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter pilots. Upon arriving in Pakistan via an IAF Dakota, he was warmly received by his son, Wing Commander Asghar Khan, and taken to Risalpur for rest and care. Subsequently, all his sons collectively purchased a house in Abbottabad, establishing the paternal home for the Khan family. There, amidst a welcoming atmosphere, Brigadier Rehmatullah Khan fostered a warm and inviting environment, embracing his children, extended family, and in-laws. This became a home for the family, especially summers, that brought the entire family to reunite in their Abbottabad home.
He remained in Abbottabad until his passing in June 1966, finding his final resting place in the family graveyard near Ilyasi Masjid, Nawanshahr, close to Abbottabad.
Brigadier Rehmatullah Khan’s family consisted of nine sons and daughters, as follows: 
1.   Aysha Bibi (passed away at the age of twelve due to ill health).
2.  Colonel Nasrullah Khan was active in Azad Kashmir in the Poonch and Mirpur sectors.
3.  Brigadier Mohammad Aslam Khan is the liberator of areas of GB that constitute the Northern Areas of Pakistan. 
4.   Air Marshal Mohammad Asghar Khan was the first Pakistani Commander in Chief (C-in-C) of Pakistan Air Force (PAF).
5.  Major Mohammad Anwar Khan, Pakistan Army, took part in the Indo-Pakistan 1948 and set up PIA Shaver Poultry Farms after retirement.
6.  Pilot Officer (PO) Mohammad Asaf Khan was the first Pakistani officer to die in a PAF plane crash. 
7. Commander Mohammad Afzal Khan, Pakistan Navy, and philanthropist.
8.  Salma Rahmat, wife of Colonel Ghulam Hyder (who arrested the Governor of Gilgit in 1947).
9.  Squadron Leader Mohammad Khalid Khan died in a PAF aircraft accident in 1958.
10. Mohammad Tariq Khan, an influential local philanthropist.
11. Shamim Rahmat, wife of Colonel Aleem Afridi (one of the armed forces leaders to protest against the Yahya Khan regime following the fall of Dacca).
12. Zarina Rahmat, wife of Air Marshal Ayaz Ahmed, is also Pakistan's Ambassador to Syria.
13. Mr. Farooq Rehmatullah is the Chairman and Managing Director of Shell Pakistan Ltd. and Director General (DG) of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Colonel Nasrullah Khan and His Role in Poonch Sector, 1947-1948
He was the eldest son and elder brother of Air Marshal Asghar Khan, almost 20 years his senior. His services will be forever remembered for the liberation of more significant areas of Azad Kashmir in the Mirpur and Poonch areas.  
Colonel Nasrullah Khan was a Brigade Major at Rajauri (Kashmir) in the Poonch Sector in October 1947. Due to disturbances, he was given command of the 2nd Kashmir Battalion. Upon taking over the command, he was ordered to advance and capture different objectives, which included small and medium-sized towns. His leading elements were initially offered resistance near Gulpur, contiguous to old Mirpur. However, he regrouped and marshaled resources and re-launched his battalion, leading to the capture of Palandri, Kotli, Rawalakot, and the surrounding areas of Poonch. Mujahids from his force were later moved to Siraan (Hatian Bala) to raise 1 Azad Kashmir Battalion.  
He was tasked to assist in putting an end to the ongoing massacre of the Muslims in Jhanghar, Naushera, and Khuarata areas. Colonel Nasrullah Khan was deputed on October 26, 1947, to take three Muslim Companies of 2nd Kashmir Rifles and break the Dogra ring around these locations. He operated with these companies on the night of October 26-27, 1947. He initiated by attacking the Gurkha Garrison, which eleven companies were defending. He managed to wipe them out of the Garrison. After that, he sent one company under Captain Rehmatullah toward Khuarata and Drahal Fort, where the Muslims were being massacred mercilessly. With his remaining force, he advanced toward Thorochi Fort on October 27, 1947. At this point, the two Gurkha companies defending this position ran away. Thorochi Fort was captured on the night of October 27-28; this was followed by the capture of Dudial near Mirpur Chansk and put to an end. After consolidating his positions, he then marched onto Kotli. He surrounded the Dogra Garrison for about a month, causing a huge number of casualties to the Indians at the Sharda post, which was heavily defended. Having secured the area up to this point, he captured all the remaining commanding features. For his amazing achievements and gallantry, he was awarded the Fakhar-e-Kashmir.


The writer is a military historian and biographer. 
E-mail: [email protected]