- Category: Sikh struggle against Mughal empire [1708 - 1799]
AFGHAN SIKH RELATIONS spanning the years 1748 to 1849 go back to the first invasion of India by Ahmad Shah Durrani, although he must have heard of the Sikhs when in 1739 he accompanied Nadir Shah, the Iranian invader, as a young staff officer. Having occupied Lahore after a minor engagement fought on 11 January 1748 during his first invasion of India, Ahmad Shah advanced towards Sirhind to meet a Mughal army which he was informed was advancing from Delhi to oppose him. On the way he had two slight skirmishes at Sarai Nur Din and at the Vairoval ferry, both in present day Amritsar district, with a Sikh jatha or fighting band under Jassa Singh Ahluvalia.
While lying in wait at Sirhind between 2 and 11 March 1748 for a Mughal force, Ala Singh, leader of the Malva Sikhs, cut off his supplies of food and fodder. Ahmad Shah, defeated in the battle of Manupur fought on 11 March, retraced his steps home wards. Sikhs harassed the retreating invader between the Sutlej and the Chenab, Charhat Singh Sukkarchakkia following him even up to the Indus, relieving him of a number of weapons, horses and camels.
Ahmad Shah`s subsequent invasions in a way helped the Sikhs to increase and consolidate their power. Anticipating a second invasion towards the close of 1748, the new Mughal governor of the Punjab, Mir Mu`in ul-Mulk (Mir Mannu, in shortened form in Sikh chronicles), tried to conciliate Sikhs through his minister, Diwan Kaura Mall, and granted them one fourth of the revenue of the parganah of Patti, but the truce did not last long and during the second Durrani invasion (December 1749-February 1750), the Sikhs made bold to enter and plunder Lahore itself.
During Ahmad Shah`s next invasion (December 1751-March 1752), Kaura Mall again enlisted the help of several thousand Sikh warriors under the command of Sarigat Singh and Sukkha Singh of Mari Kambo. The latter was killed in a sudden skirmish with the invaders. As a result of this invasion the provinces of Lahore and Multan were annexed to the Afghan empire, although Mir Mannu remained governor of these provinces on Ahmad Shah Durrani`s behalf. This meant that Sikhs had now to contend with Afghans as well as with Mughals.
The disorder which overtook the Punjab following the death of Mir Mannu in November 1753 opened the way for them to establish their sway over vast tracts in the form of rakhi (q.v.) system under which local populations sought their protection on payment of a portion of their land revenue. During his fourth invasion (November 1756-April 1757), the Afghan invader had reached as far as the Mughal capital, Delhi. The Sikhs preyed upon him during his onward march and, when his son Prince Taimur was transporting the plundered wealth of Delhi to Lahore, Ala Singh in concert with other Sikh sardars barred his path at Sanaur, near Patiala, and robbed him of his treasures, and again attacked and plundered him at Malerkotla.
Prince Taimur gave vent to his chagrin by destroying Sikh shrines at Kartarpur, 15 km northwest of Jalandhar, and subjecting its residents to indiscriminate massacre and plunder. Ahmad Shah, during his brief stay at Lahore, sent out troops who sacked Amritsar and desecrated the sacred pool, besides killing a large number of Sikhs. He left his son Taimur and his general Jahan Khan in charge of the Punjab and himself retired to Afghanistan. The two deputies were expelled from Punjab by Sikhs in 1758 with the help of the Marathas and of Adina Beg Khan, who was rewarded with the governorship of the province.
During Ahmad Shah`s fifth invasion (October 1759 May 1761), while the Marathas retired from the Punjab without resistance, the Sikhs gave a battle to the invader in the neighbourhood of Lahore in which the Afghan lost as many as 2,000 men, with their general Jahan Khan wounded. The Maratha`s dream of supremacy in north India was shattered in the third battle of Panipat (14 January 1761). The Sikhs on the other hand were emboldened to raid Lahore in November 1760. They stayed there for eleven days and the Afghan deputy appeased them with a present of Rs 30,000 for sacramental karahprasad.
They harassed the Afghan chief of Chahar Mahal and sacked Jalandhar, Sirhind and Malerkotla. In November 1761, they captured Lahore and struck their own coin. Ahmad Shah, on hearing of these developments, hurried to the relief of his deputies. Sikhs retreated as he marched upon them, but were overtaken near Kup and Rahira villages, near Malerkotla, on the morning of 5 February 1762. About 25,000 Sikhs were killed in the daylong battle known in Sikh annals as Vadda Ghallughara or the great holocaust. On his return he blew up the holy Harimandar at Amritsar with gunpowder.
The Sikhs retaliated with attacks on Sirhind in May 1762. They freely roamed around Lahore during July-August 1762 and celebrated Divali at Amritsar in defiance of the Shah who was still present in the Punjab. After the departure of the Durrani in December 1762, Sikhs sacked the Afghan principality of Kasur in May 1763, over ran Jalandhar Doab during June, defeated in November near Wazirabad an expeditionary force sent by Ahmad Shah and invested Malerkotla, killing its Afghan chief, Bhikhan Khan (December 1763). They followed these successes with the reduction of Morinda and Sirhind in January 1764.
Zain Khan, the faujdar or governor of Sirhind, was killed, and the territories of Sirhind sarkar or district were appropriated by various Sikh mis is or chief ships. The Dal Khalsa Jio, as the confederated Sikh force was called, then fell upon the territories of Najib-ud-Daulah, a powerful Ruhila Afghan chief and Ahmad Shah Durrani`s regent in India. Ransacking Saharanpur on 20 February 1764, they pushed on seizing Shamli, Kandhia, Muzaffarnagar. Moradabad, Najibabad and several other towns. Najib-ud-Daulah, unable to meet the Sikhs in battle, paid them Rs 11,00,000, inducing them to return to Punjab by the end of February 1764.
While the Buddha Dal, a division of the Dal Khalsa under Jassa Singh Ahluvalia, was thus engaged in the Gangetic Doab, its younger counterpart, the Taruna Dal, was active in the central and western Punjab. Lahore was attacked in February 1764 and its governor, Kabuli Mall, saved it from plunder only by paying a large sum to the Sikhs, by accepting a nominee of Hari Singh of the Bhangi misl as a resident at his court and allowing an agent of Sobha Singh of the Kanhaiya misl to receive customs duty on all goods coming from the side of Multan.
During April-June 1764, the Bhangi and Nakai sardars captured the Lamma country lying between Lahore and Multan, and Charhat Singh Sukkarchakkia took Rohtas in the north. Ahmad Shah Durrani came out again, in December 1764, but harassed by Sikhs, he was forced to return home wards without reaching Delhi. On his way back, realizing the futility of appointing his own governors in the Punjab, he recognized Ala Singh of Patiala as the ruling chief in Sirhind territory and bestowed upon him the title of Raja, with tablo`alam (drum and banner). He, however, sent back Kabuli Mall to resume governorship of Lahore, but before the latter could reach the city, the Sikhs had occupied it (17 April 1765).
Ahmad Shah made yet another (his last) bid to regain Punjab and Delhi during the winter of 1766-67, but failed. He died at Qandahar on 23 October 1772. Ahmad Shah`s son and successor, Taimur Shah (1746-93), attempted five successive incursions, but could not reach Lahore. His successor, Shah Zaman, also made several attempts to regain a foothold in India and did enter Lahore twice (January 1797-December 1798) but was forced to evacuate it within a few weeks on each occasion. Ranjit Singh, the chief of the Sukkarchakkia misl of the Dal Khalsa was destined finally to clear Punjab of the Afghans.
He became master of Lahore on 7 July 1799. The provinces of Kashmir and Multan were still ruled by Afghan satraps and Peshawar across the Indus was directly under Kabul which, however, was weakened by internal dissensions. Shah Zaman, was deposed and blinded in 1800 and the throne was seized by his brother, Mahmud Shah, with the help of a Barakzai chief, Fateh Khan who emerged as the kingmaker. In 1803, Fateh Khan discarded Mahmud in favour of Shuja`ul-Mulk, better known as Shah Shuja`, another brother of Shah Zaman, but in 1809 Mahmud was reinstated and Shah Shuja` shifted to Peshawar.
The latter met Maharaja Ranjit Singh at Khushab in 1810 in the hope of obtaining Sikh help. He tried to recover his kingdom with the help of `Ata Muhammad Khan, governor of Kashmir, who had not accepted the authority of Wazir Fateh Khan and had been ruling the province independently since 1809. The attempt failed and ended in Shah Shuja` taken captive in Kashmir and his family including the illfated Shah Zaman seeking refuge in Lahore. Wafa Begam, the senior wife of Shah Shuja`, approached Ranjit Singh through his trusted courtiers, Diwan Mohkam Chand and Faqir `Aziz-udDin to have her husband rescued from Kashmir.
Wazir Fateh Khan also solicited the Maharaja`s aid in the reduction of Kashmir promising him one third of the spoils. The joint expedition launched in 1812 was not a complete success. Fateh Khan refused to part with the promised share of the booty, but the Sikh general Mohkam Chand succeeded in bringing Shah Shuja` to Lahore and Ranjit Singh acquired the coveted diamond, KohiNur. Kashmir too was conquered and annexed to the Sikh kingdom in 1819. Multan which had been retaken from the Sikhs by Taimur Shah in 1780 had been placed under his nephew Nawab Muzaffar Khan.
Repeated expeditions sent by Ranjit Singh against him (in 1802,1805,1807,1810, 1812 and 1815) had proved abortive. Multan ultimately fell to the Sikhs in June 1818. On 19 November of that year, Maharaja Ranjit Singh entered Peshawar, the eastern citadel of the rulers of Kabul. With the conquest of Dera Ghazi Khan in 1820 and Dera Isma`Il Khan in 1821, the frontiers of the Sikh kingdom had been pushed far to the west of the River Indus. The Pathans (Afghans) of this frontier region, however, had not fully accepted Sikh authority. In 1826, they under the leadership of Sayyid Ahmad, a Wahabi fanatic, rose in jihad or holy war against the Sikhs. The campaign, a prolonged one, came to an end with the death of the Sayyid in May 1831.
In 1835, Dost Muhammad Khan, the youngest and the most energetic of the Barakzai brothers, who had supplanted the Durrani dynasty and become Amir (lord, chief or king) of Kabul in 1825, advanced up to Khaibar Pass threatening to recover Peshawar. In 1836 Hari Singh Nalva, the Sikh general who along with Prince Nau Nihal Singh was guarding that frontier, built a chain efforts including one at Jamrud at the eastern end of the Khaibar Pass to defend it. Dost Muhammad erected a fort at `Ali Masjid at the other end. In the beginning of 1837, as Prince Nau Nihal Singh returned to Lahore to get married and the Maharaja and his court got busy with preparations for the wedding.
Dost Muhammad Khan sent a 25,000 strong force, including a large number of local irregulars and equipped with 18 heavy guns, to invest Jam rud. The Sikh garrison there had only 600 men and a few light artillery pieces. The Afghans besieged the fort and cut off its water supply while a detachment was sent to the neighbouring Sikh fort of Shabqadar to prevent any help from that direction. Maha Singh, the garrison commander of Jamrud, kept the invaders at bay for four days and managed meanwhile to send a desperate appeal for help to Hari Singh Nalva at Peshawar. Nalva rose from his sick bed and rushed to Jamrud.
In the final battle fought on 30 April 1837, the Afghans were driven away, but Hari Singh Nalva was mortally wounded. In 1838, the Sikh monarch became a party to the Tripartite Treaty as a result of which Shah Shuja` was reinstalled on the throne of Kabul in August 1839 with British help. Dost Muhammad Khan was exiled to Calcutta in November 1839, but was restored to his former position after the murder of Shah Shuja` in April 1842. He thereafter maintained cordial relations with the Lahore Darbar. The second Anglo Sikh war reawakened Dost Muhammad`s ambition to seize Peshawar and the trans Indus territories, although overtly he sympathized with the Sikhs and even hired out an irregular Afghan contingent of 1500 horse to Chatar Singh, leader of Sikh resistance against the British.
1. ShahamatAli, The Sikhs and Afghans. Patiala, 1970
2. Harlan,Josiah, A Memoir of India and Afghanistan. London,1842
3. Burnes, Alexander, Cabool. London, 1843
4. Ganda Singh, Ahmad Shah Durrani. Bombay, 1959
5. Sun, Sohan Lal, `Umdat-ut-Twarikh. Lahore, 1885-89