After Napoleon’s defeat in Waterloo, many of the mercenaries left for Persia and India to test their fortunes. General Avitabile was one of them. Born in 1791 at Agerola, Italy, his full name was Paolo Bartolomeo Avitabile. The young Avitabile started his career in the Army of Naples and was known as a brave fighter however after a while he got frustrated of infightings and left for Persia looking for a career.
In 1820, Avitabile took service in Persian Army under King Fateh Ali Shah. He remained in this position for almost six years and was awarded Persia’s highest decorations including ‘The Lion and Sun’. However on the insistence of General Jean-Baptiste Ventura, Avitabile along with another European officer Claude August Court, ventured further East ending in the Darbar of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1827. Maharaja had already established ‘Fauj-i-Khas’ under General Ventura and was actively recruiting European officers to train his elite force against a possible threat from British East India Company. Though Avitabile was a military officer, Maharaja apparently sensing the administrative skills in Avitabile, appointed him Governor of Wazirabad.
General Avitabile ruled Wazirabad for some seven years with firm hand and soon had the reputation of a just and firm administrator. Peshawar had always been a source of trouble for the Maharaja so due to his firm repute, Avitabile was made Governor of Peshawar in 1834. He took residence at the ancient ‘Gor Khutree’ citadel. The rule of ‘Gallows and gibbets’ continued for almost a decade with miscreants being thrown off from the minarets of Masjid Mahabat Khan. The 1842 service digest of 31st (Huntingdonshire) Regiment mentions ‘At each corner of the city there was a large gallows on which malefactors were hanging’. In the words of Henry Lawrence, ‘ he acts like a savage among savage men, instead of showing them that a Christian can wield the iron sceptre without staining it by needless cruelty’. His ruthlessness was criticized by Europeans however the locals loved it as it brought peace to the area. The folklore remembers Avitabile as Abu Tabela and even today the children are warned to behave otherwise Abu Tabela may come to teach them a lesson. Perhaps we are again in need of Abu Tabela to bring peace to whole of our North Western Province.
During the first Anglo Afghan War (1839-42), General Avitabile fully supported the British with logistics as well as money. However by 1843, he was tired and so he retired and left for Naples with a fortune and honors. He built a grand home, married a twelve year old Italian girl and later died in 1850 under mysterious circumstances, apparently poisoned by his wife. General Avitabile lies buried in Campora, a small town in Southern Italy.
Lahore remembers this Italian cum French General in the shape of a small insignificant monument which points to the location where once Avitabile had a house. The monument is situated on the GT Road opposite University of Engineering and Technology just next to the tomb of ‘Buddhu ka Awa’. The monument is already in a very dilapidated state surrounded by auto workshops. Soon this insignificant monument shall also be no more but probably this is the way we have always treated our heritage.