Khyber Agency was known more as a gateway to Central Asia and remained a favorite route for the invaders, pilgrims and traders for centuries and in recent years it was ravaged by militancy.
But more lies underneath this rugged terrain, archaeologists have just found out.
During the first-ever archaeological survey in Khyber Agency, a team of archaeologists from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has discovered around 110 archaeological sites, including prehistoric rock carvings and paintings, in Malagori area of Jamrud tehsil.
The survey conducted for about two months was a pilot project initiated by the Khyber Agency political agent Khalid Mehmood with the help of Dr Abdul Samad, who is heading the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The survey that started as a friendly cooperation between the two young officers may be the tip of the iceberg as initial findings indicate that more archaeological wealth may be lying underneath waiting for centuries to be discovered.
“One can see through the naked eye the stupas, forts and tunnels here. It prodded me to further find out the undiscovered archaeological richness of this tribal area,” said Mr Mehmood who is the first among the long lineage of British and Pakistani political agents of Khyber agency to have taken this initiative.
A four-member technical team headed by Dr Samad conducted initially a two-month survey in Jamrud tehsil and discovered remains and structures with some dating back to 30,000 years or prehistoric period.
Around 10 structures date back to the Buddhist period and many Muslim and British structures like tunnels also have been discovered.
Mr Mehmood said that it was just the beginning as they planned to extend this archaeological survey to the Bara and Landi Kotal tehsil as well as Tirah valley.
“I would wait impatiently to know what kind of history is hidden underneath in Tirah valley which is a fascinating place,” said Mr Mehmood.
The official said that he would love to reintroduce Khyber Agency to the world as a tourist destination rich with archaeological sites.
The Khyber Pass has been visited by world’s dignitaries like legendary boxing champion Mohammad Ali, Princess Diana, Shah of Iran, several US presidents, and Pakistani and Indian cricketers. “I would like it to be a happening place again,” he said.
The political agent has been making efforts for making functional the 17km old train track passing through 34 tunnels in Khyber Pass so that it could bring in tourists to the tribal agency.
He has also initiated the archaeological survey, but is aware that these efforts may be short-lived if an archaeology directorate or department is not set up sooner under a law in tribal areas to protect archaeological remains from vandalism and negligence.
Dr Samad believes that a separate directorate is needed to hold surveys for excavations and document the archaeological and historical monuments and remains of the tribal area.
He said that there were around 6,000 documented museums, sites and monuments in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but so far what he had discovered in tribal areas revealed that this region could have double the number of such sites.
“The British archaeologists couldn’t do it. We did it for the first time to go to the tribal areas and hold archaeological survey there,” said Dr Samad.
“The tunnels in Khyber Agency are contemporary to those in India which were on the Unesco’s world heritage list. Tunnels in Khyber Agency are much better in condition though,” said Dr Samad explaining why it was important to show the archaeological richness to the world.
“If foreign researchers are allowed to come here it could bring this region in the limelight for research and academic discoveries,” he said. However, he also stressed that Fata should have its own directorate of archaeology and law to protect and preserve these sites. -DN
THE PASHTUN TIMES