Pakistan’s province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (including its dominant Pashtun culture) has an Iranic-Persian ethno-cultural basis, dating back to 1100 years of Imperial Persian rule here, along with a host of minor Eastern Iranian ethno-cultural influences — followed by the Islamic millennium, in which this area remained under further Persianate political and cultural influences.

Pursuant to the above knowledge of the area’s Iranian past and present, it is therefore not unusual that we should find indications of this…one of these being in the form of place names.

Below follows a list of some old place names, in Persian (Farsi) — in the Tajik Swat Gibari Kingdom — which were later corrupted by Pashto pronunciation:

1. Chand-e-Awal or Chandawal (Dir) = now known as “Jandool”.

2. Hissar-e-Bahlol (Mardan) = now called “Seri Bahlol”.

3. Darra-e-Baba-e-Qarrah (Bajaur) = now become “Baboo Kaařa”.

4. Chhar Hissar (Swat Shangla) = now corrupted to “Chakesar”.

5. Shahr (Bajaur) = now called in Pashto as “Khaar”.

In Pashtun areas overall, names displaying distinctive Iranian inflection — like Mohmand, Maiwand and Helmand (all rhyming with the fabled ancient Sakawand of Zabulistan) — and Pashat, in Bajaur, are also found.

Names of present Pashtun areas such as Ningarhar, Chaprihar and Gandhar(a) [Kandahar] also reveal a now forgotten Iranian past…

Besides, KP has a profusion of other well-known Iranian place names such as Charsadda, Mardan, Gandahab, Anbar, Sufaid Sang, Aab-Darrah, Chinari/Chinarak, Tarnab, Salampur, Chamarkand, Malakand, Naguman, Panjpao, Panjpir, Panjtar, etc., etc., etc.

The name Swat — directly associated and derived from association with Swati Tajiks — makes an interesting case in point. Although there are many who like to believe that “Swat” originates from the ancient Sanskrit name of the River Swat or “Suwastu” — the area now known as Swat was, till the advent of Islam, always known as “Uddyana” (“garden” in Sanskrit). That is a well-established fact. The name “Swat” made its appearance with the arrival in this region of the Swati Dehqan rulers from Kunar in the time of the Ghoris. And even so, “Swat” is actually a later, Pashto-influenced corruption of “Suwad” — by which name all historic writers including Babur knew this place and its Tajik rulers and population till 1520 AD. There is ample evidence to substantiate the fact that “Suwad” is identical with the Sassanian name of the same form — a revenue term designating the fertile Assyrian lands of the Mesopotamian Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers — and the Swati Dehqans who according to their own traditions were thus called, because of their Shalmani Assyrian origin which is further corroborated by genetic evidence.

Across the Indus, Hazara Division of KP Province has its own unique collection of famous Persian place names. Hazara was an integral part of the Swati kingdom — although these names may have a Khazar imputation, because Hazara was under 323 years of rule by Karluq (“Karlugh” or Khalukh) Turks as a separate little kingdom from 1403 to 1723, and these names were those of important locations in Khazaria….with which Karluqs had a close link. Karluq Turks still inhabit Hazara, although they now speak Hindko.

The Persian names found in Hazara are Sherwan (Sherwan or Shirvan is a historic Sassanian location in Caucasia/Khazaria). Sherwan is located west of Abbottabad. The capital town of the Feudal Tanawal region of Hazara is known as Darband (after Darband or Derbent — a majestic Sassanian fortress in the Caucasus, later a Khazar region). There are also locations by the name of “Tarnawa” such as a village in Mansehra — and this name has Persian and Khazar associations. The name “Hazara” is itself derived from “Hazar” (1000 in Persian) — called thus after the 1000 Karluq Turks whom Tamerlane settled here upon his arrival in the area in 1400. Another Persian name is Chach — given to the region in the north Punjab on the right bank of the Indus, and bordering Hazara.

Similarly the Dardic culture of the surrounding areas also reflects local ancient Persian/Iranic influences via its assortment of place names. In Chitral, a very integrated and stable Dardic polity, we find this form represented throughout the area — as in “Ishkoman”, “Lasht”, “Madaklasht” and “Kosht”, etc., and many more.

Scholar, Historian, Ethnologist, Philosopher, Activist.