The term Dasht-e Yahudi (Persian: دشتِ یهودی, Urdu: دشتِ یہودی, Hindi: दश्त-ए-यहूदी) literally means, the "Jewish Desert" in Persian and "Jewish waste" in Pashto. It is an archaic term that first appears in Persian, Mughal Empire (Pashtun) texts.
The word "dasht" means desert (also field) in Persian. The same word is also used in Pashto and sometimes Urdu or Hindi where it means both an arid area (waste) or a desert. The area termed Dasht-e Yahudi however is not a desert but used to be a semi arid uncultivated area.
The term was used by Persian and early Mughal historians for a stretch of territory that comprised the most Western parts of modern-day Peshawar, Charsadda, Malakand and Mardan districts where these border with Khyber Agency and Mohmand Agency. Although not a desert, it is a semi desert arid area in most of its parts.
In its Mughal usage, it was often used as a term of disgust and sarcasm for the Afghan tribes, namely, Afridi, Khattak and Yusufzai who dwelled these parts and often waylaid Mughal caravans and trade routes. It was a reference to their Bani Israel heritage. The Mughal Emperors despite their vast armies were throughout their long dynasty unable to control the Afghans.
However the term is no longer used in modern times.
Literally the Jewish Desert, the area used to be barren and mountainous with sporadic dwellings and a rare village or two. In Modern times, it has been extensively cultivated and for the most part is lush and green through canal systems and rivers.
In Persian and Mughal historical texts and rarely in Afghan texts, it is always found with another closely related term, Qil' Yahudiya or Qila Yahudi. The word Qil' Yahudiya literally means the Jewish citadel or Fort.
The word Dasht-e Yahudi was used for the most Western parts of modern-day Peshawar, Charsadda, Malakand and Mardan districts where these border with Khyber and Mohmand Agencies. Whereas the word Qil’ Yahudiya was applied for what is now Khyber Agency and the Khyber Pass.
In those times ( and even in present day) three major Afghan tribes were settled in this area. The Afridi, Yusufzai and the Khattak. If the Dasht-e Yahudi is considered as a single territory, then, the Afridi are settled in the western part of it, the Yusufzai on the eastern part and the Khattak in the middle as well as to the north and south of it.
In addition, the Mohmand tribe is also present in the North West of this area.
In its entirety, the term Dasht-e Yahudi thus referred to the Khattak (especially the Yusufzai-Khattaks) and the Yusufzai tribesmen. It is these peoples that resided in the Dasht or so it was called in the early Mughal and pre Mughal era. Both the Khattak and the Yusufzai were notorious for ransacking Mughal supply lines and trade routes. So much so that the Mughals had to build the Attock Fort to defend against it.
Ashoka popularly known as Ashoka the Great, was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from ca. 269 BC to 232 BC.
Ashoka’s famous stone tablets and Edicts (Edicts of Ashoka), some of which are found within this Dasht-e Yahudi (Shahbaz Garhi, Mardan, Sawabi), have among other languages inscriptions in Aramaic. This is because in addition to trade ties with ancient Israel, Antioch and Greece, Jewish tribesmen (Bani Israel or Banai Israel) were also settled in this area.
The word Qil' Yahudiya, was an archaic term used by early Arab, Persian and Mughal historians for the area that in modern-day Pakistan is located in the Khyber Agency and is simply known as Khyber. The word Khyber is now part of the name for the Pakistani Province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the famous Bab e Khyber, the pass through which countless armies attacked India.
In its usage, the term Qil' Yahudiya or Qila-i-Yahudi thus stands for the Afridi tribesmen that held that Khyber pass and the mountainous ranges known as the Mountains of Solomon or Kuh-e Suleiman (Sulaiman Mountains named after the Prophet Solomon) and the Hindu Kush.