Maharaja Ranjit Singh: In The North-West Frontier province
The Sikh army then marched towards Peshawar and no resistance was offered. Most of the Ghazis fled and Peshawar was occupied by the Sikh army on November 18, 1818. The Governor of Peshawar, Yar Mohammad Khan left the territory and crossed the Khyber Pass to Yusafzai land.
Although the Sikh army was victorious, hold on Peshawar could not be retained and the territory administered properly with a meager army. So Ranjit Singh appointed Jahan Dad Khan of Attock as the Governor of Peshawar. The people of the town were not touched nor their property looted. A nazrana of Rs 25,000 was collected from prominent citizens. The Maharaja stayed at Peshawar for 3 days, celebrated his victory and returned to Lahore. He took with him 14 heavy guns. The Governor Jahan Dad Khan had no force to protect the town in case it was attacked by anybody. The Maharaja had hardly reached Lahore, when Yar Mohammad Khan, attacked Peshawar and recaptured it. Jahan Dad Khan fled leaving the territory to the mercy of the invaders.
The Maharaja was sore over the developments. In the meanwhile, Mohammad Khan, the Barakzai, offered to the Lahore darbar an annual tribute of Rs. 100,000. He was made the in charge of Peshawar. The offer of Barakzais was accepted but the Maharaja sent a force of 12000 men under the command of Prince Kharak Singh, Missar Dewan Chand and Sardar Nalwa and ordered to cross the Indus river to ensure the implementation of the terms. Peshawar was reoccupied by the Barakzais but paid only half the amount promised along with a horse. The Sikh forces quietly retrieved to Lahore. By 1823, Abdali’s Indian empire was sinking. In the same year, the Maharaja summoned Hari Singh to Lahore for urgent consultations as intelligence reports had been received that Mohammad Azim Barakzai was mustering his forces to fight against the Khalsa. It was a challenge for the Maharaja who thought it fit to nip the evil in the bud.
The Maharaja gathered his troops at Rohtas and marched towards Rawalpindi. Having halted there for a couple of days, he sent Fakir Aziz-ud-Din to Peshawar to realize tribute from the Governor Yar Mohammad Khan who owed allegiance to him. Yar Mohammad Khan gave right royal reception to the Fakir. The town was illuminated and parades were held in the honor of the visiting dignitary. The Fakir was duly impressed. Yar Mohammad Khan cleared his dues and presented to the Lahore darbar a gift of few horses. It is said that Yar Mohammad Khan sent to the darbar Rs. 40,000 as tribute with a promise of further annual tribute of Rs 20 000.
Fakir Aziz-ud-Din returned satisfied and reported the matter to the Maharaja. But the conduct of Yar Mohammad Khan irritated the tribesmen. Pathans flared up in an open revolt and raised the cry of Jehad against the infidels. Their chief instigator was Azim Khan, Yar Mohammad’s elder brother. He aroused the religious feelings of tribesmen and declared that he would liberate the Pathans from foreign yoke. Cries of Jehad resounded in the Khyber Pass and shouts of Allah-o-Akbar were heard from the top of the hills.
Mohammad Azim Khan marched with a strong army of both regulars and irregulars from Kabul to Peshawar. Thousands more joined him on the way spurred by their greed to loot and plunder. When Mohammad Azim Khan reached Peshawar on January 27, 1823, Yar Mohammad Khan fled into Yusufzai territory. The news was received by the Lahore darbar with surprise. Immediate action was ordered. Prince Sher Singh and Hari Singh Nalwa led the advance columns. They crossed the Attock by means of a pantoon bridge and reached the fort of Jahangiria. A light skirmish took place, Afghans left the fort and fled in whatever direction they could. When Azim Khan, who was encamping at Peshawar, came to know the fate of his comrades at Jahangiria, he gathered more tribesmen by raising the cry of Jehad. The religious sentiments Of Afghans were inflamed and their enthusiasm reached its peak, raised the slogan of “do or die” for the green banner, which was to be kept aloft at all costs. Tribesmen from all corners-Afridis? Yusufzais and Khattacks-gathered like a swarm of locusts to lay down their lives in Jehad against the infidels.
The Maharaja, on the other hand, mobilized all his resources, gathered arms and ammunition, marched in stages and reached the eastern bank of the river. To his great disappointment he found that the Afghans had already destroyed the bridge. Sher Singh, who had earlier captured Jahangiria, was besieged by Afghans. Azim Khan was being assisted by his brothers Dost Mohammad and Jabbar Khan.
All the hills were surrounded by hostile forces. It was almost impossible for the Khalsa army to cross the river and was not allowed to make a boat bridge for the purpose. The blood-thirsty Afghans were hovering all around and Sher Singh and his troops were put in the most awkward position. There was no escape for the Khalsa. The Maharaja had to take a quick decision, for there was no time for consultations. The time to strike had come. The Maharaja took a bold decision at the spur of the moment and ordered his troops to cross the river. The Maharaja was the first to plunge his horse into the river. He recited Japji and prayed to the Lord for success. The troops followed him. All types of animals- camels, elephants, horses and mules were used to cross the river. Many were carried away by the strong current of the river. Some war equipment was lost too. But most of the troops were able to cross the river and were able to control its western bank. Before the Afghans could take any action, Khalsa army was fully entrenched and had the upper hand. The Afghans retreated in dismay. The gates of Jahangiria fort were opened. The triumphant Maharaja entered the fort and was received with great honor. Gun shots were fired and Prince Sher Singh welcomed his father with loud shouts of Sat Sri Akal. The first round was over. The Khalsa carried the day.
The Afghans now encamped in the open fields at Naushera, between Attock and Peshawar. In between was Landi stream and on its western bank were stationed the Afghans. The Maharaja held consultations with his generals and decided that Afghans on the western banks of Indus should not be allowed to cross it and join the Afghans at Naushera. lf the Afghans on both sides of the stream somehow joined, the situation for the Khalsa would be beyond control. So they had to strike without any loss of time.
The Khalsa army surrounded Naushera and encamped on the bank of the river Landi. The artillery was put into action. Guns were fired opposite the Afghans. The Afghans were entrenched on the Pir Sabad hillock. The army of the Sikhs was estimated to be around 25,000 strong while the Afghans, strength w as not less than 40,000. The Ghazis were asked to wage a holy war against the infidels and were instigated in the name of Jehad. They were told to ‘do or die’ for the sake of their religion. Khatak chief’s son Feroz Khan with a considerable number of Mujahids had joined the Afghan regulars. On the other side, the contingent of the Khalsa army were commanded by its dashing and dynamic general Phula Singh. He had a suicide squad at his command which was imbued with the desire to fight and die for the sake of the Panth.
However, Akali Phula Singh’s courage and bravery at Naushera surpassed his earlier achievements. Attempts were made to dislodge the Afghans from the hillock but nothing substantial could be achieved. Ultimately, Akali Phula Singh with his band of desperadoes moved along the foot of the hill. A musket ball struck him down his horse but not caring for his life he rode an elephant and dashed into the enemy ranks. The Afghans fell on the Akalis and hand-to-hand fight ensued. The Akalis were surrounded by 1500 Afghan horsemen amidst shouts of Sat Sri Akal and Allah-o-Akbar. Many Afghans lost their lives but in the encounter another musket ball hit the brave general who in the thick of firing captured the hillock. But the general lost his life along with a number of his devoted soldiers. He was the hero of Multan and Kashmir and had proved his mettle in earlier battles also. But his courage and bravery at Naushera surpassed all his earlier achievements. The loss of Akali Phula Singh was ursbearable for Ranjit Singh who when informed of the death of his brave general, became remorseful but bowed before the Will of God. He ordered a Samadh to be constructed at the place where the gallant general had lost his life.
Then the Sikh troops advanced under Prince Kharak Singh but Afghans did not budge an inch. Half the Afghans were slain but the remaining could not be dislodged from their position on the high ground. More Sikh forces were rushed. The battle lasted the whole day. Some 2,000 Sikh soldiers laid down their lives. Then by the evening many Afghans were dislodged from their positions. The remaining Ghazis fought their way out of the Sikh posts and fled in the hills to save their lives. The victory was of the Khalsa. When Wazir Khan came to know of the happenings at Naushera, he rushed from Peshawar to join his co-religionists and his brother who was commanding the Afghans. But he was not allowed to cross the river by the troops in the command of Hari Singh Nalwa. Sikh soldiers showered fire on Azim Khan’s forces like rain in the month of sawan and many in the enemy ranks died. Ranjit Singh himself appeared on the scene, rode up to the top of the mound, and ordered his troops to march forward. The hill resounded with the cries of Sat Sri Akal. Ranjit Singh acknowledged the greetings of his troops by raising his naked kirpan to his forehead. Fierce fighting followed. Moorcroft, who was present in the battlefield, wrote to the Governor-General: “The matchlock, the brow, the spear, the sword, the knife and even the staff of an undisciplined multitude were about to be opposed by the cannon, the musket. the matchlock and the sabre directed by disciplined artillerists-under the command of Ranjit Singh himself and consisting of the flower of the Sikh army Infantry fire was opened. The Sikh cavalry charged one line of horsemen galloped up to the enemy, fired, wheeled and turned back. The same thing was repeated again and again. The Afghans concluded that such a combat would not be beneficial to them. They climbed down the hillock and attacked the Sikhs with all their force. Two of the Sikh guns were captured but in a matter of moments they were recaptured by the Sikhs. Gunfire continued. The Afghans were within the firing range of the Sikh Army.
The Ghazis made a desperate effort to dislodge the Sikhs from their vantage position but all in vain. The Sikh cavalry rode into the ranks of the Ghazis. Azim Khan watched from a distance the slaughter of his Mujahids. In between was the stream, which he was not allowed to cross. When he saw his Ghazis fleeing and attempting to cross the river and some of them drowning, his head hung in shame. The shock was too great for him to bear. He was broken hearted and died some time afterwards. The battle of Naushera sounded the death knell of the Afghans. Three days later, the victorious Maharaja entered Peshawar. The citizens gave him a rousing reception, presenting the Maharaja many gifts. At night the bazaars and streets of the town were illuminated and fireworks were displayed. Shouts of Sat Sri Akal resounded in the sky in this far-flung area inhabited by the Pathans, who had no respect for the law.
After a couple of days, both Yar Mohammad and Dost Mohammad appeared before the Maharaja, repented for their misdeeds and sought his forgiveness. The Maharaja, generous and liberal as he was, pardoned them who promised to pay him tribute regularly in future. Beautiful horses were presented to the Maharaja. Shahi darbar was held and Yar Mohammad was appointed the Governor of Peshawar as he promised to pay a revenue of one lakh and ten thousand rupees to the Maharaja.
After the victory the Maharaja returned to Lahore. Songs of welcome were sung and the Muslim festival, Shab-i-barat was celebrated by all the communities jointly. Roses, flowers and petals were showered on the victorious Ranjit Singh who in turn showered gold and silver coins on the large concourse of people who had gathered in the streets celebrating the victory. At night oil lamps were burnt and rockets were fired. The Maharaja thanked the Almighty for the victory.
The Sikhs’ victory at Naushera had. practically liquidated Afghan supremacy between Indus and Peshawar. In Afghanistan the Barakzai brothers were quarreling among themselves. Habibullah Khan, son of Mohammad Azim Khan was not in a position to keep the kingdom under his control. Sher Dil Khan, brother of Mohammad Azim Khan had already declared himself as the independent ruler of Kandhar. Dost Mohammad Khan wrested the masnad at Kabul. The Bukhara chief annexed Balakh, Herat was occupied by Kamran, the dethroned son of Shah Mohammad. Peshawar was retained as the tributary of Lahore darbor. Sind was no longer under the Afghans. Kashmir was annexed to the Sikh empire in 1819. Multan was occupied by the Sikhs in 1818, the Derajat in 1821, Attock in 1813 and Rawalpindi in 1820.
By 1826, the dismemberment was complete and final. Kabul had become a separate empire. Kandhar was ruled by three brothers, Kohin Dil, Rustom Dil and Mihr Dil. The fourth brother, Sher Dil had already died. Prince Kamran of Herat became the tributary of Persia.
The situation had taken such a turn that it enabled the Sikhs to annex the Afghan provinces in North India. After the death or Mohammad Dil Khan, who was a strong force in unifying the Earakzai family, the Afghans had suffered much. With the occupation of Peshawar by the Sikhs, the unity of the Barakzai family was broken into pieces. The Sikhs never trusted the Barakzais and were being paid the tribute under coercion and threats, they raised a cry of Jehad and vowed to fight against the Sikhs whom they called infidels.
The upsurge was tremendous. All joined hands and gathered under the banner of Sayeed Ahmad, so-called reformer, who proclaimed the doctrine of purity of imam for Muslims. He pretended to reform the Muslims, among whom corruption and evil practices had crept in. He belonged to Bareilly, and was once a mercenary in the service of Amir Khan, the Rohilla chief. He left the service of Amir Khan after his fall. He then became religious enthusiast, went to Mecca for Haj and on his return became the exponent of the Wahabi doctrines.