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«The Malakand Jihad (1897): An Unsuccessful Attempt To Oust The British From Malakand And Chakdara Dr. Sultan-I-Rome The ...»

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The Malakand Jihad (1897):

An Unsuccessful Attempt To

Oust The British From Malakand

And Chakdara

Dr. Sultan-I-Rome


The fall of Constantinople, in 1453, to the Ottomans, "made the European Powers,

interested in the Eastern trade, anxious to discover a new route beyond the control of the Turks."1

Due to their favourable position, Portugal and Spain took the lead in the search for a direct searoute to the East. Finally the Portuguese sailor, Vasco de Gama, with the help of an experienced Arab sailor, Majid, crossed the ocean and landed at the port of Calicut on the West coast of the subcontinent on 20th May 1498.2 The Portuguese were followed by other European nations, such as the Dutch, the Danes, the Germans, the English and the French. With the passage of time other European nations faded out and only the English and the French remained in the field in the subcontinent of South Asia.

In the Anglo-French rivalry and struggle for supremacy, the English emerged victorious.

On the other hand the rapid decline and disintegration of the Mughul Empire had begun with the death of Awrangzib in 1707. Taking advantage of the internal disharmony, tug of wars and disputes, the English strengthened and increased their power and influence: The English East India Company became the paramount power and the "Muslim rulers were destined to receive the rudest shock of their history from a trading company backed by the naval might of the

country of its origin".3 Thus like the Pashto proverb:

Came to take fire and became housewife, The English became masters of the subcontinent.

In 1849, the English rule was formally established in Peshawar with the annexation of the Punjab; however, the Afghan tribal belt remained independent and Swat became a harbour of refuge for outlaws and refugees and opponents of the colonial rulers from the British territory, 4 and a centre of anti-British sentiments. The Pakhtoons under the British control were, thus, constantly inspired from Swat, to rise against the British. Nevertheless, the British did not dare to attack and enter Swat and lift the, "veil that had not been raised since Akbar's armies had been driven out nearly three hundred years before."5 The Chitral Crisis and the Occupation of Malakand Malakand is the first pass which pierces the mountains and "opens the way into the paradise of Swat".6 It is traversed by an ancient Buddhist road and early in the sixteenth century, the Yusufzai Afghans entered into Swat through this pass. During his campaign against the Yusufzais, Zayn Khan, Emperor Akbar's foster brother and general, built a fort here.

A reference to the crisis of Chitral is unavoidable. The first negotiations of the British government with the Mehtar (mihtar: Ar. chief,ruler) of Chitral, Aman al-Mulk, for the establishment of friendly relations and British influence in this region, took place in 1877. Due to his deep rooted hatred and dread of the Afghans and fearing aggression by the Amir of Afghanistan, Aman al-Mulk placed Chitral under the suzerainty of the Maharajah of Kashmir in

1878. This brought him in direct contact with the British Government of India. Since then, till his death in 1892, Aman al-Mulk did all that he could to maintain friendly relations with the British Government.7 On August 30, 1892, Aman al-Mulk died leaving behind seventeen sons, who wrangled for succession to the Mehtarshirrof Chitral. Besides the sons of Aman al-Mulk, his brother Sher Afzal (Shir Afdal) also made his bid for the Mehtarship. He murdered Afzal al-Mulk, son of Aman ai-Mulk who had become Mehtar after his father's death. At this Nizam al-Mulk, elder son of Aman al-Mulk, made a bid and, "securing the concurrence of the British authorities at Gilgit, he advanced towards Chitral, won over the people to his side, and caused the flight of his uncle back into Afgahnistan (December 1892)."8 However, on January 1, 1895, Nizam al-Mulk too was murdered by his half brother, Amir al-Mulk and Chitral was again plunged into strife.

Finding himself in trouble, after the murder of his brother, Amir al-Mulk invited 'Umara Khan', the ruler of Jandol, 10 to his assistance. Accordingly, 'Umara Khan proceeded to Chitral with 3,000 men to assist Amir al-Mulk inspite of severe weather. In the mean time Amir al-Mulk repudiated his invitation and asked 'Umara Khan to go back.

However, the latter occupied Kila Drosh (Fort of Drosh) with the help of the leading men of the place. Sher Afzal, returning from Afghanistan, also joined him. 'Umara Khan asked Surgeon-Major Robertson, who had arrived at Chitral, that he should return to Mastuj. The latter reproved 'Umara Khan for the manner in which the demand had been made, and informed him that he had applied to the Government of India for instructions in this matter. In the mean time Major Robertson thought it advisable to occupy the fort (of Chitral) with the forces he now had with him, amounting to 400 men. Amir al-Mulk was deposed, and Shuja' al-Mulk, a boy of ten was recognized provisionally as Mehtar.11 'Umara Khan and Sher Afzal made their advance into Chitral, ignoring the warnings and advice of the British officials at Chitral, Gilgit, Peshawar, or of those with the Asmar boundary mission.12 'Umara Khan was warned to withdraw from Chitral before April 1895, and to implement the order it was deemed necessary to dispatch the Chitral Relief Force. So, "orders were given for the mobilization at Peshawar of the First Division of the field army under MajorGeneral Sir Robert Low."13 The main British army of some 15000 men was organized in three brigades to take part in the expedition.

A proclamation informed the tribes about the reasons for the passage of the army through their territory. They were assured that if they remained neutral and did not try to, "molest the passage of the troops no harm would be done to them or to their property, and that (the) Government had no intention of annexing their country."14 However, the sentiments and feelings of the tribesmen about the Chitral Relief Force and its passage

through their country may be judged from the folk verse:

London and where is Chitral (how far-off are they from each other)?

Dishonour increases, Ferangis (the English) are proceeding to Chitral.

There were three passes from which the British troops could enter into the tribal country i.e., the Malakand, the Shakot and the Morah. So inspite of the British proclamation the tribesmen strongly held these three passes. To keep them divided the Government decided to threaten Morah and Shakot, and make the main attack on the Malakand15. The Chitral Relief Force left Nowshera on April 1, under Sir Robert Low. The 1st Brigade was to threaten Shakot, and later to join the main body opposite the Malakand, while the Cavalry turned to the Morah pass. On April 3 the attack on Malakand was carried out by the 2nd Brigade, supported by the 1st, with the 3rd in reserve.16 The orders were issued to the Guides and 45th Sikhs to ascend the Malakand hills and to push the tribesmen to the right.

However, the nature of the ground and the determined opposition of the tribesmen made their progress unexpectedly slower. So a frontal attack was made even before the effect of the fully developed counter-attack on the British left.

The tribesmen, half of whom were unarmed, at first defended themselves with great gallantry, against the well-equipped and well organized British troops. However, finding their retreat threatened and pressed in front by the resolute British advance, they were compelled to give way, and retreated towards the Swat river.17 They continued their resistance and according to Muhammad Shafi' Sabir, These unarmed Mujahids stopped the advance of the troops and artillery of the largest State of the World up to 7th April."18 Any how, in spite of their determined opposition, the British forces succeeded in making their advance and, "for the first time since the days of Zayn Khan, leader of Akbar's armies, a host from the south entered the green belt of the Swat valley."19 Being victorious in Chitral the British did not withdraw their garrisons from Malakand and Chakdara and contrary to their proclamation, occupied these sites. They established the Political Agency of Dir and Swat; which remained, "under the direct control of the Central Government due to its importance"20 and Malakand was made its headquarter and a military post.

Outbreak of Jihad

In 1897, within barely two years of the occupation of Malakand and Chakdara, there started the most formidable revolt against the British arms that was ever witnessed even in the North-West Frontier of India, known for its frequent struggles against the foreigners.21 Though the tribesmen had been defeated but their hearts could not be won. They considered the presence of the British as a common danger. So, emotions ran high and there was great unrest in Swat and elsewhere in the tribal belt on the border. Under these circumstances the Sartor Faqir22 appeared in the Upper Swat in July 1897. He established himself at Landakai and announced that someone had sent him, and that other four (legendary) leaders were also to join him About the 20th and 21st July besides other claims of magical powers and that unseen support the Faqir proclaimed that his mission was to turn the British out of the Malakand and Peshawar.23 Winston Churchill's

first-hand account is:

As July advanced, the bazaar at Malakand became full of talks of the Mad Fakir (Sartor Faqir). A great day for Islam was at hand. A mighty man had arisen to lead them. The English would be swept away. By the time of the new moon, not one would remain.24 Inspite of all the prevailing excitements and developments Sartor Faqir was regarded as a mad man by the authorities and their allies. The Thana (Thanra).Khankhel headmen, who were consulted on the subject, said on the 25th July to Major Deane (Political Agent) that no importance need attached, to his proceedings. The Mianguls25 also advised to ignore him, and said that, "they would send a servant to remove him."26 Therefore, the English gave little importance to the new movement at first. Later, due to the developments towards the end of July, the gravity of the situation could no longer be ignored. There fore, the troops stationed in the neighbourhood were alerted and asked to be ready, "for action at the shortest notice."27 On the 26th July the situation became so grave that the authorities at Malakand summoned the Guides from Mardan.

The Sartor Faqir started his march from Landakai, on the 26th July. He announced that he would sweep away the British forces from Malakand and Chakdara within eight days. At first he was followed only by a few boys one of whom he proclaimed as the King of Delhi.28 However, there was a marvellous response to his appeals and people began to join him as he proceeded. His progress, from Landakai to Thana and thence to Aladand, both villages in view of Chakdara post, appears to be a triumphant one and the British levies hastily retired, except such as joined his standard. All the headmen, with one solitary exception, were carried away by the popular enthusiasm, and by nightfall a resolute body of tribesmen was on the move to attack Malakand, while another party turned its attention to Chakdara.29

Fighting at Malakand.

At 9:15 p.m. the news of the tribesmen's, approach at Malakand were brought to Major Deane. The alarm was sounded before the commencement of the attack by the tribesmen and a detachment of the 45th Sikhs was sent to stop their advance. The tribesmen compelled the British force to fall back and in a determined attack on the north and centre camps, they carried a detached post at Serai without resistance. They also succeeded in entering the camp, occupied by the sappers and miners, and carried off "a considerable quantity of ammunition before they could be ejected."30 On 27th July the Guides arrived from Mardan. The tribesmen were now attacking all along the line. They were repulsed on other places except at Serai where they succeeded to set it on fire and compelled the garrison to retreat to its main position. On 28th July the 24th "Punjab Infantry made a counter attack while at the same time mobilization of (more) troops in India was ordered.31 However the tribesmen again made attacks, chiefly against the centre, and the troops were practically besieged. They occupied all the heights and continued firing all the day at the camp. At the evening they, again "displayed their usual energy on the centre."32 The Faqir's standard became a rallying point for thousands of fighting-men from the Upper Swat, Buner, the Utmankhel country "and even more distant parts.33 The tribesmen, who barely exceeded 1000 men on the first night, rapidly increased in number to some 12000 or more at Malakand and more than 8000 men at Chakdara. During the night of the 29th July the tribesmen attacked the flanks, especially the left. At the forenoon of 29th they began to trouble the forces on all sides; and in the afternoon and the night of 29th/30th they renewed their attacks all along the line. They rushed up to the Sungars (parapets of rock and stones, thrown up as a barricade or fortification) in different parts as that was the night of the appearance of the new moon and of Friday and they "evidently meant to fulfil their promise of making their biggest effort on the night."34 On the 30th July though relief in the form of the 35th Sikh and 38th Dogra arrived, "the wire between Malakand and Dargai was cut and the levy posts were burnt."35 On the night of 31st the tribesmen made another all night attack "with great force and time after time charged right up to the Sungars."36 Early in the morning of 31st July the tribesmen gave an easy time to the left and centre of the British forces, they concentrated on their right and sent a detachment to cut off the approach of the new British troops. As the arrival of more troops on the British-side marked the 31st, the Bunerwal came to assist the tribesmen. During the night of 1st August, the tribesmen, once more vigorously attacked the right and left of the British positions. However, the British forces succeeded to relieve Malakand and a relief column was ordered to move out to Chakdara. When the relief forces stepped into the valley, the tribesmen swarmed down from the heights and in the most reckless manner rushed to certain death.37 The relief forces were strongly resisted on their way especially at Batkhela and Amandarah.

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