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The history of Lahore’s Kakayzais

Updated October 22, 2017

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Once you enter Delhi Gate on the eastern side of the old city, you enter Kashmiri Bazaar and almost 500 yards ahead is the exquisite Mosque of Wazir Khan. Where the mosque ends the lane turning to the left is the famous Bazaar Kakayzain.

This is famous for a number of reasons, mainly so because the Kakayzai tribe has a history. The famous poet Faiz once described Lahore as a city with a story under every brick. But then this is a story of a brick, and then another one under it. Who were these people? The very name points to a Pathan tribe, for ‘Kakay’ means a young person in Pushto, and ‘zai’ means belonging to. So this is the tribe of the young men, and young they must have been for centuries ago they rode into Lahore, and the Punjab, on horses, initially as invaders, and then as traders. They settled outside the city walls then and kept returning with more horses. So the Kakayzai were famous as horse traders.

But a little bit of history might help. The famous writer Olaf Caroe in “The Pathans: 550 BC-AD 1957” claims that the Kakay Zai belonged to the Loy Mamund of the Tarkani clan who were settled in the Bajaur Agency, but originally belonged to the Laghman province of Afghanistan. The first Kakayzai came to Punjab along with the invading Afghan forces of Mahmud of Ghazni between 1011 and 1021 AD. The theory “of the frontier peoples” is that when the population of tribes exceeds what their barren land can support, the enterprising among them move eastwards. They still do, these days because of wars. Makes sense, for today the old city has more Pathans than original inhabitants. So one can safely assume that some of them had moved into Punjab earlier. But there is evidence that with Mahmud a large Kakayzai group also came and settled here.

Being that they were all horse riders, once peace came they decided to buy cheap horses from central Asian lands and sell them in Punjab. Over time they set up the first horses’ markets just to the south of the Lahore fort and north of the then walled city which ended at ‘Paniwala Talab’. Once Akbar expanded the city they moved into the open ‘rarra maidan’ within the new eastern walls inside Delhi Gate and the old eastern walls that ran to the western side of the present Shahalami Bazaar. Here the new horse market came up. Within this new space they built their first houses, where today is Bazaar Kakayzain.

The location is understandable. Before Akbar the Great’s days the horse market was between the fort and the northern portions of the old walled city, near today’s Ali Park. Once the city was expanded they moved to the edge of the new Kucha Chabaksawaran, where the Turkish and Central Asian horsemen lived, mainly the Cossack-origin Qizilbash tribe. These cavalry riders of the new Mughal army needed fast horses all the time, hence it made sense to locate there. Beyond was the ‘rarra maidan’ which was ultimately in Shah Jehan’s time converted into a beautiful garden, only to have the amazing Shahi Hammam located here for tired riders from Delhi to relax and then move clean and shining to the Lahore Fort.

Later the ‘subedar’ of Lahore, Wazir Khan, built a beautiful mosque but only after he agreed to a Kakayzai demand that the 14th century shrine of Syed Muhammad Ishaq Gazruni, known as Miran Badshah, not be knocked down. The Kakayzai had threatened trouble. The shrine of their Sufi saint still stands within the mosque. Before the mosque this shrine faced the houses of the Kakayzai community, who from Mughal days built beautiful tall buildings.

With time it had become unmanageable and as property prices soared and the demand for horses fell, the men turned to other professions. Most of the richer families concentrated on education, and the result was that they gained considerable political and financial clout. But the poorer sections moved to a new Kakayzai colony in Shahdara on the other side of the river.

But the changing circumstances saw a small section of the Lahori Kakayzai doing very well. During the reign of Maharajah Ranjit Singh a few became influential courtiers. One of them was Rahim Bakhsh Khan Kakayzai, who was awarded a large ‘jagir’ near Sahiwal. But he fell out with the Sikh ruler and returned to his ancestral house in Lahore. He also invested in a lot of other buildings all over Lahore, with a huge land holding along today’s Zafar Ali Road.

Among the famous Kakayzais of Lahore were the former Governor-General of Pakistan Mr. Ghulam Muhammad and of recent Mr. Babar Malik, a retired ambassador. Two nuclear scientists, Munir Ahmad Khan and Ishfaq Ahmad Khan, the cricketer Sohaib Malik, the TV personalities Dr Shahid Masood and Nadeem Malik, two former Lahore High Court chief justices Mian Mahbub and Sardar Iqbal, as also the religious scholar and researcher Javed Ghamidi. The armed forces have its fair share, among them being Gen. K.M. Arif and Lt. Gen. Saeed Qadir. Amazingly, over half of the names listed here live off Zafar Ali Road.

Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2017