SIKHS AND AFGHANS, THE
SIKHS AND AFGHANS, THE, by Munshi Shahamat `All, the Journal of an expedition to Kabul through the Punjab and die Khaibar Pass in 1838-39 kept by the author, who accompanied Colonel Wade and Shahzada Taimur, Shah Shuja`s eldest son, with an auxiliary force under a treaty made in 1838 between three parties the British, Afghans and the Sikhs.
The main object of this force of 4,000 levies raised by British money was to gain adherents to the Shah`s cause among the Khaibaris and frontier tribes, and then, if possible, force its way through the Khaibar towards Kabul. Several British officials including Lieutenant J.D. Cunningham, the future historian of the Sikhs, and Lieutenant William Barr who wrote a similar journal (Journal of a March from Delhi to Peshawar and thence to Kabul… London, 1844)and others accompanied the expedition.
Shahamat `All was the product of the Delhi English College, set up by Lord Amherst`s government to train Persian knowing scholars in English language for diplomatic work. In 1838 he was deputed to join Captain Wade and the auxiliary force on its way to Kabul through the Punjab. His work, first published in London in 1847 (The Sikhs and Afghans in connexion.with India and Persia immediately before and after the death of Ranjeet Singh : from the Journal of an Expedition to Kabul) is a firsthand account of the Punjab under Ranjit Singh at the zenith of his power.
It gives a short description of his system of administration, his army, and the notable men at his court. He describes the government of Lahore as “a pure despotism,” guided by the Maharaja`s vigorous mind and keen judgement. The civil and military government, he observes, was carried on by means of 12 daftars or departments.The provincial government was entrusted to nazims or governors and kardars or district officers. He estimates the revenues of the State in 1838 to be 3,00,27,762 rupees.
The army of the Maharaja consisted of 31 regiments of infantry, 9 of cavalry, 11,800 irregular horse, and 288 pieces of artillery, with a total annual expenditure of 1,27,96,482 rupees. Among the principal ministers and officers of the government mentioned are the Jammu brothers, Jamadar Khushal Singh, the Bhai`s, Faqir `Aziz-ud-Din, Misr Beli Ram, Diwan Dina Nath and others (p. 26 ff). The journal also gives a bird`s eye view of the northern Punjab under Sikh rule. It supplies information about the towns en route to Peshawar Gujranwala, Wazirabad, Gujrat, Jehlum, Attock, Rohtas, and Peshawar, as also about the revenue, population and the people inhabiting these places.
The relations of the Khataks, the Yusufzais and the Khaibaris with the Sikh government are briefly described. Avitabile, the author observes, had established a good system of police and revenue at Wazirabad which had a population of 40,000, the main occupation of the people being manufacture of coarse cloth and small tents (p. 57). Gujrat was an old town of 8,000 houses mostly inhabited by Khatris and Gujjars and was known for the manufacture of swords, matchlocks and daggers (p. 62). Jehlum had a population of 3,000 ; the transit duties across the river fetched the Sikh government 10,000 rupees and the revenue about 20,000 rupees. Timber brought down by various streams into the River Jehlum was collected by government officials and 25% duty was charged (p. 110).
Rawalpindi, a town surrounded by a mud wall ab,put one mile in circumference, had a population of about 4,000, with a revenue amounting to 1,50,000 rupees. It was known for its manufacture of ornamented shoes (p. 149). Hasan Abdal, a small town overlooked by the hills, had a temple called Pahja Sahib built by Hari Singh Nalva. The fortress of Attock stood on the spur of a hill (p. 173).
Akora, the scene of the battle between the Wahabi fanatic Sayyid Ahmad and the Sikhs, was the country of the Khataks, longtime enemies of the Sikhs. The town had a few Hindu shopkeepers as well (p. 187 ff). Naushahra, situated on the left bank of the River Kabul, where the Sikhs and Afghans had fought a fierce battle in 1823, had a small fort opposite the town.Situated on the highway to Kabul, Peshawar was a busy centre of trade. Shawl merchants from Kashmir coming into India passed through this town(p. 281).
Agricultural products of the valley were wheat, barley, Indian corn, rice, sugarcane, cotton, sesame seed and san or flax. Figs, oranges and plums were the major fruits. The revenue of Peshawar under Sikhs rose to 18,00,000 rupees (p. 278). General Avitabile, the governor, had by his strict rule established firm Sikh authority over the province. “He has been exceedingly severe in exercising his authority by hanging many Afghans for small crimes. A thief can hardly ever escape with life…” (p. 279).
1. Fauja Singh, ed., Historians and Historiography of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1978
2. Khurana, Gianeshwar, British Historiography on the Sikh Power in Punjab. Delhi, 1985