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Sikh History:Anglo-Sikh Wars

The Sikh peoples right to ride motorcycles without helmets.

It would of paramount interest to relate in some detail the background and incidence of the British massacre of 1841 in Afghanistan, which preceded the recoronation of Dost Muhammad of Kabul in 1843. The British tried to put Shah Shujah on the throne of Kabul. But the Afghan were loathe to accept as monarch someone brought in, as it were, in the baggage of a foreign power. Resentment against the Shah and the accursed farangi(foreigner), exploded into violence in various parts of the country. On the morning of November 3, 1841, an angry mob surrounded the houses of the British envoy at Kabul Sir Alexander Burnes and Broadfoot and slaughtered every inmate. General Elphinstone lost his nerve and decided to surrender. On November 11, he handed over to Muhammad Akbar Khan, son of the fugitive Dost Muhammad, 4,500 troops including 700 Europeans; and his guns and stores. Leaving at his mercy the old and the sick, women and children, he made an exit from Kabul on January 6,1842. The Afghans fell upon the retreating foreigners in the defiles of Khurd Kabul. Two days later only 800 were left alive Hunger, frost and Afghan bullets accounted for most of the others. Out of 16,500 men almost the sole survivor, Dr. Brydon fainting from wounds, hunger and exhaustion, arrived in Jalalabad to tell the tale of disaster.

There remained some hundred and twenty British prisoners in Kabul;* a British garrison at Kandhar under General Nott; another at Ghazni under Colonel Palmer; one at Kelat-i-Ghilzai under Captain Craigie, and a fourth at Jalalabad, under Robert Sale, but all in desperate need of help. The Khyber route was the shortest, easiest and safest for a relieving force to take. Clerk (now Sir George) went to Lahore to request assistance. Maharaja Sher Singh readily agreed to render this in every possible way.
Maharaja Sher Singh sent instructions to his governor Avitabile in Peshawar, to supply Brigadier Wilde with a few pieces of artillery from the cantonment and render any other help that he might need. Raja Gulab Singh Dogra was asked to proceed from Hazara to Peshawar to supervise, personally, all arrangements and Clerk deputed Captain Henry Lawrence, liaison officer at Peshawar, to secure the good-will and co-operation of the Sikhs.

Brigadier wilde took one month to traverse the 300 miles from Ferozepore to Peshawar, and having borrowed four guns from Avitable, forced his way through the Khyber pass on January 3, 1842, to reach Ali Masjid on the 15th. It was then discovered that much of his food supply had been left behind by an over-sight. His force was ambushed by Afridis; among the injured was Brigadier Wilde himself. Shortage of provisions and the havoc wrought by snipers armed with long jazails, caused sepoys and officers, both Indian and British to lose heart. The first attempt to relieve Jalalabad failed and the troops returned to Jamrud (Peshawar territory) on 24 January.#

Among the captives, some of the more prominent’ names are those of Lady Sale, Lady Macnaghten, Colonel Palmer, General Shelton, the political officer, E. Pottinger, and George Lawrence.
One reason for the failure, given by Edwardes and Merivale in their Life of Henry Lawrence, was that the Muhammedan soldiers of the Najeeb Battalions sent by the Lahore government to accompany Wilde, refused to fight against their co-religionists and marched back to Peshawar as the British army entered the Khyber pass, pp. 223-24.

Meanwhile troops from all over northern India had been ordered to proceed to Peshawar, the rendezvous of the army of retribution, commanded by General Pollock who arrived in Peshawar early in February. Pollock, to his dismay, found that Wilde’s men were in no mood to accompany him. Moreover, some of the English officers shared the feelings of the sepoys. He was forced to wait near Jamrud for his English dragoons and horse artillery for two months.

Another reason for delay was that Lieutenant Mackeson with the help of Avitabile was trying to win over the Afridi chiefs who controlled the long narrow passage of the Khyber. When reports came in that a large body of Muhammad Akbar Khan’s soldiers had arrived in the neighbourhood of Ali Masjid, Pollock was in a quandary. This meant that Jalalabad and other British positions were in greater danger than before. Yet this reinforcement (he was awaiting 4000 men) had not arrived. The 8000 he had, were not likely to be sufficient to risk the hazards of the pass. Inspite of his rooted distrust of the Sikhs, General Pollock felt that the support of the Sikh Government was indispensable, Firstly because we wanted all the soldiers we could bring in the field; and secondly, because it was of vital consequence to show our enemies in Afghanistan that Sikhs were with us. In the words of Major General Sir Herbert Edwardes and Merivale, If at this moment when one British force was annihilated at Kabul and two others were beleagured by the Afghans at Jalalabad and Kandhar, the Sikhs had turned against us in the Punjab, the year 1857, (Mutiny) would have been anticipated in 1842 under circumstances of far greater aggravation.
Political officers, Mackeson and Lawrence, were sent to Attock to consult with Gulab Singh Dogra, appointed by the Darbar to assist the British expedition. Gulab Singh had a shrewd and penetrating mind. He understood the object of Major Lawrence’s visit before the matter was broached. He perceived in it an opportunity of securing for himself the friendship of the British. He emphasised his difficulties. Sher Singh had shown himself disposed to co-operate with the British, but the feeling in the Darbar was, on the whole, against active help. Dhian Singh had shown reluctance; Ranjit Singh’s acceptance of the Tripartite Treaty had not been enthusiastic; so it was easy for Gulab Singh to impress on Lawrence that if he helped out on this occasion, the obligation would be to him and not to the Lahore Darbar.

Lawrence was happy with the meeting with Gulab Singh. He secured both an assurance of immediate help and the prospect, when and if the need arose, of assistance in winning over other prominent members of the nobility in Lahore. He in turn assured Gulab Singh that his services would not be forgotten or go unrewarded (the reward being a guarantee of secure possession of the hill territory held by him and his family with some possible addition to it). He wrote accordingly to his government stating views and definite proposals.

The British lost no time in sending Gulab Singh a Kharita through their Ludhiana Agent expressing appreciation of his help and assuring him of assistance and good will for the future. Gulab Singh marched to Peshawar and used all the cunning and skill at his command to persuade the Khalsa soldiers to put aside hostile sentiments and make the British cause their own. He even succeeded in persuading them to march through the Khyber by a longer route than the British were going to take. Pollock left Peshawar on the afternoon of 5 April. He chose for himself what was known as the Shadi Bagiari route, seven miles long. The Sikh contingent consisting of ten regiments under General Avitabile, left an hour later and proceeded by the 14 mile route known as the Jubla Ka which converged with the other at Ali Masjid. The Sikhs had to fight all the way and thus drew away a large number of the enemy from the other route. This rendered Pollock’s march through the Khyber a comparatively easy one. He arrived at Ali Masjid on April 6th, drove the Afghans from it and was joined two hours later by the Sikhs. The next objective was Jalalabad about twenty-five miles further which was held by Robert Sale and a small band of young officers. Out of the Lahore contingent about 3,300 men under Gulab Singh Pohoovindia accompanied the British army; the rest remained to guard the rear. Jalalabad was occupied on 16 April, by the joint efforts of the Sikhs and the British. Pollock did not immediately march on towards Kabul, partly because Lord Ellenborough was finding it difficult to make up his mind about the future of Afghanistan, and partly to allow Colonel Lawrence and Lieutenant Mackeson time to negotiate an honourable surrender of British prisoners with Muhammad Akbar Khan. When these negotiations failed, the march was resumed. Pollock was not in favour of taking the Sikh contingent beyond Jalalabad. He still doubted their faith and had a poor opinion of their discipline. Underpressure from Colonel Lawrence, however, he agreed to take a part of Gulab Singh Pohoovindia’s brigade. After engagements with Muhammad Akbar at Jagdalak and Tezin (14 and 15 September) the force reached Kabul and re-planted the British flag on the Bala Hissar Fort.

Ganda Singh (Ed.) History of the Freedom Movement of the Punjab (Vol. III), Maharaja Duleep Singh Correspondence, Punjab University, Patiala, 1977, pp. 14-15.
One reason for the failure, given by Edwardes and Merivale in their Life of Henry Lawrence, was that the Muhammedan soldiers of the Najeeb Battalions sent by the Lahore government to accompany Wilde, refused to fight against their co-religionists and marched back to Peshawar as the British army entered the Khyber pass. pp. 223-24.

Source:Anglo-Sikh Wars and its Inside Tale – Karnail Singh


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