How the vast Afghani Empire on Punjabi soil disappeared in Kasur, Multan, Kashmir and Peshawar is a subject closely associated with the campaigns of Sardar Hari Singh Nalua, the Marshal of the Khalsa and terror for the Afghans. Being the ‘Murat of the Khalsa’ as he was appropriately called by Sir Henry Griffin, the famous British dignitary and a prominent writer of significant treatise on the Sikhs, his name figures among those patriots who participated bravely rather passionately in almost all battles fought constantly against the Afghans during the Sikh rule under Maharaja Ranjit Singh for a period of three decades from A.D. 1807 to A.D. 1837.
Sardar Hari Singh Nalua, the typical product of his age was born at Gujranwala now in the West Pakistan in A.D. 1791 in Uppal family in the house of Sardar Gurdial Singh to Dharam Kaur. He was the only son of his parents. The ancestors of Nalua Sardars were originally from Majitha town situated in the vicinity of Amritsar. His grandfather Sardar Hardas Singh engaged in the service of Sukarchakia Misl was killed in an expedition undertaken by the Misl in A.D. 1762. Gurdial Singh, the father of Sardar Hari Singh Nalua followed the profession of his father and took part in various campaigns of Sukarchakia Sardars – Charat Singh and Mahan Singh in the capacity of Deradar .
He expired in 1798 when Hari Singh was only seven years of age and was thus looked after with care and caution by his maternal uncle who took him to his house. In those days training in the feats of war was deemed necessary and physical education attracted much attention. Accordingly, Hari Singh who was physically quite stout and strong and impressive too in appearance when grew up, learnt the art of warfare. It is said that he was indefatigable and could sit on horse back for long hours. Hari Singh received his preliminary education in languages of Gurmukhi, Urdu, Persian. Baron Charles Hugel states that Hari Singh besides his general knowledge about the statistics of many of the European states, was well versed in Persian. He impressed him extremely with his overall achievements.
Hari Singh was administered Pahul when grew up and assumed the responsibility of supervising the affairs of his father’s jagir. Hari Singh presented himself before Maharaja Ranjit Singh in his open darbar which he used to hold for a week or so on the eve of Basant fair every year. The Maharaja was so impressed by the feats of chivalry shown by him that he was taken in the royal service as a personal khidmatgar or an attendant. Maharaja commissioned him in 1804 A.D. by granted him a command of 700 footmen and horses with the honour of Sardar. Why Hari Singh is called “Nalua” and not Uppal. The reason is that he came to be know by the said title by way of an incident which took place during the early days of his joining the service of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. During the course of hunting expedition he happened to be a victim of a sudden attack of a tiger. The attack was so suttle and unexpected that he did not gain time to pull out his sword. Sardar Hari Singh Nalua faced the crucial situation with such boldness that he managed to catch hold of the jaw of the beast forcefully with his hands and pushed it away with the prowess of arms arranging thus to kill it with his sword. Baron Charles Hugel says he was called Nalua for ‘having cloven the head of a tiger who had already seized him as its pray’.
The Sikhs often passing through a series of vicissitudes, first establish themselves as a political power in the Punjab in 1765 A.D. But their mode of fighting then was desultory and hardly suited to the requirements of a well-settled state, However Maharaja Ranjit Singh ‘Built up a strong , centralized and effectively controlled military system by amalgamating the best elements in foreign with best elements found in the indigenous fighting mechanisms. Hari Singh Nalua’s significant military campaign was that of Kasur, the so called ‘mythological rival of Lahore’, in 1807 A.D. Hari Singh Nalua along with Sardar Jodh Singh Ramgarhia, Sardar Nihal Singh Attari, Baba Akali Phula Singh, Fateh Singh Ahluwalia, Dhanna Singh Malwai, and Sardar Fateh Singh Kalianwala marched on to Kasur to subjugate its Afghani owner Kutab-ud-din Khan. Sikhs laid siege for three months after which Kutab-ud-din Khan surrendered. Hari Singh Nalua, of course, was the first to march inside the city gate of Kasur with his division called ‘Sher-Dil-Rajman.’ The troops under him caught Kutab-Ud-Din alive and presented him before Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Maharaja Ranjit Singh made him retire to a territory of Mamdot as a jagir, subject to his supplying 100 horsemen for service when required.
Sardar Hari Singh Nalua’s next significant military achievement was to reduce to submission Sardar Jiwan Singh, the ruler of Sialkot who was asked by the Maharaja to surrender his possessions. Jiwan Singh gave tough fight for two days after which he raised his hands in peace. The strategic significance of Sialkot lay in the fact that it was a very fertile tract extending its dimensions up to Jammu. Moreover, Maharaja Ranjit Singh after bringing to submission a major part of the Central Punjab made it a centre of his further political aggrandizement.
Hari Singh Nalua’s next significant military achievement was the conquest of Multan. before annexing Multan in 1818 A.D., six expeditions were sent by the suzerain of Lahore. Resultantly tribute was collected every time, annexation was never visualized and attempted. Hari Singh contributed in all of these six campaigns as well as conquest of Multan. Multan had a great commercial and strategic importance having been the gateway of Afghanistan. It is stated that working boats from the Jhelum, Ravi and Chenab were forced to work for invariable supply of provisions. Illahi Bux of the artillery forces of Ranjit Singh made conspicuous arrangements for battering the forts of Multan. During Mughal rule it was an important headquarter and fell into Afghan custody after the fall of empire. After Multan, Sardar Hari Singh also subjugated the territories of Mitha Tiwana, Rajauri, Naushera, etc. from which strip tribute was realized for the kingdom of Lahore.
Then Maharaja turned towards Kashmir. Hari Singh Nalua’s regiment was in forefront in campaign to get back Shah Shuja from the Governor of Kashmir, Shah Shuja’s wife Wafa Begum had promised Kohinoor Diamond for Maharaja if her husband was to be freed from prison of Kashmir. In 1814 A.D., Hari Singh forces routed Kashmiris forces. Shah Shuja gave Ranjit Singh Kohinoor Diamond, from that day on till his death Maharaja Ranjit Singh wore that Diamond on his right shoulder, it was his pride. Hari Singh Nalua was appointed Governor of Kashmir. Immediately, he ordered to ban cow slaughter, such was an effect that to this day, Kashmiri Muslims don’t eat beef. Jaziya, etc , the taxes which Hindu and Sikh population had to pay to their Muslim rulers for “not being a Muslim” were eradicated. For these obvious reasons, several Muslim historian had labelled Hari Singh Nalua as a tyrant. His rule they called “Sikha Shahi” or the “Rule of Sikhs.” But no matter what, Hari Singh Nalua and his forces never destroyed any Mosques or abducted Muslim Women, etc. all those atrocities which Mughals and Pathans had committed on the local non-Muslims population. (It was around 1700’s A.D that majority of Punjabi population became Muslim owing to the atrocities by Aurangzeb the sixth Mughal emperor) .
The Afghanis of North West region across river Indus around Peshawar were divided into several tribes (They still are). They were sort of savage people which would not obey any rule. From time to time the Punjabi forces from Lahore were sent there to put them down. Each time they would offer some tribute and then again revolt. To totally take control of these areas Maharaja Ranjit Singh give command to Hari Singh Nalua. Also to stop the attacks of Afghanis on Punjabi soil, Maharaja Ranjit Singh and others decided to put a series of forts to built up the defenses of the Punjabi frontier. From Attock to the Khyber Pass series of small forts were built under Hari Singh Nalua to keep Afghanis in check. The most important part of this fortification was to put a complete halt at invaders who had attacked India entering from Khyber pass in West, starting with Greeks in 500 B.C So after 2300 Years of constant defeat and humiliation of Punjabi and Indian people Maharaja Ranjit Singh was able to totally shut down this historic route of invasion into India. It had been used by Greeks, Turks, Arabs, Mughals, Mongols, Tatars, Afghanis, etc. And on top of that there is no denying fact that Maharaja Ranjit Singh was quite conscious of the significance of North West frontier province for the defense of his territorial acquisitions.
A significant battle was fought here by Hari Singh Nalua when he defeated and caught the self styled Rajput chief Ghulam ali and send him over to Lahore. Maharaja was so happy that he allowed Hari Singh to strike a coin in his name in Kashmir. Then in the tract of Pakhli and Dhamtur Nalua with his usual sagacity and vision, was able to pacify a revolt against the Lahore court arising in the region. This is also acknowledged by Syed Mohd. Latif, a biased famous Punjabi Muslim historian. Henry Lepel Griffin in connection with Sardar Nalua in Pakhli states “obedience was not an easy to Hari Singh for wild mountaineers to the number of 20,000 opposed to his passage, on this way to mankera and at Pakli he was compelled to halt with his force of 7,000 men. Pakli has long been a spot dreaded by merchants, for the hillmen of that place were accustomed to demand a toll on shawl, wood and other merchandise. Hari Singh after vain efforts to induce the enemy to yield him a passage, attacked them with vigor, and storming their blockades defeated them with great slaughter. After this he imposed a fine of Rs 5 on each house in the district.
Since virtually peace in Punjab was only possible by sealing the border of Kabul, and Peshawar being geographically situated in its close proximity was an indispensable asset for Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Thus, ultimately the strip of Peshawar became the bone of contention between Maharaja and Afghanis. After the conquest of Attock, Maharaja’s solid and concrete target of conquest was Peshawar as the exigency of time so demanded.
The murder of Wazir Fateh Khan of Kabul in A.D. 1818 provided Maharaja the desired opportunity to attempt the conquest of Peshawar as consequent to his murder the two major factions of the Afghans-The Sadazui’s and Barqzai’s-came to be seen at dagger’s drawn with each other. Moreover, the possession of Peshawar except as a step to further acquisitions, does not appear to have been advantageous to Ranjeet with additional evil of leading Sikhs into constant collision with the savage tribes of Afghanis.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh availed himself of anarchy in Kabul and made as invasion of Peshawar, the South-West-Eastern frontiers of Peshawar with Punjab having been neglected by Sultan Yar Mohammed Khan and Dost Mohammad Khan, the then Afghan governors of Peshawar who found themselves helpless and vacated the city. Punjabi forces with Mian Ghausa and Diwan Mohkam Chand leading the charge With Sardar Nalua as general of Cavalry didn’t had to face any fight what so ever. Maharaja appointed Jahan Dad Khan, ex governor of Attock as new governor of Peshawar in November 1818.
Then in 1822, Dost Mohammad Khan and Yar Mohammad Khan were able to expel the Maharaja’s nominee Jahan Dad Khan from Peshawar and thus another expedition was undertook by Punjabi forces. This time the forces were being led by cavalry by Sardar Hari Singh Nalua, Foot soldiers by Dhanna Singh Malwai, and Jagat Singh Attariwala, Artillery by Mian Ghausa. Dost Mohammad Khan managed to reconcile by paying a handsome nazrana to Maharja and by accepting the submission to Khalsa kingdom rather than to kingdom of Kabul. In Jan 1823, Muhammad Azim, the Kabul wazir occupied Peshawar with the assistance of large army. Ranjit Singh sent another expedition, the battles of Jahangira and Naushera were fought in March 1823 where Sardar Nalua, Akali Phula Singh, Gorkha Bal Bhadra, Mian Ghausa, Misr Diwan Chand, Sardar Attar Singh marched in the battle field at the head of their divisions and gave a defeat to the Afghans in the battle of Jahangira but a more serious and awe inspiring battle was fought at Naushera which is also known as the battle of Tibbi Tehri. General Allard and Ventura’s participation in this battle with their divisions and trained army of Lahore kingdom with Akali division of the army had absolutely no match for untrained militia who although surpassed in sheer numbers, Afghans after a great massacre submitted and Naushera was captured. Albeit, the Lahore troops lost an indispensable commander, Akali Phula Singh whose dashing feats of warfare had surprised one and all. Hari Singh Nalua played a conspicuous role first by inflicting a crushing defeat upon the enemy and secondly by pursuing the enemy after the defeat in order to be sure about the victory of the Lahore troops. The battle of Naushera made it evident to the frontier tribesmen that the Afghan militia was weaker than those of Lahore troops. This battle sealed the further prospects of Muhammad Azim of Kabul and established the Sikh supremacy over Peshawar.
In 1827, Sayed Ahmad Bareli who claimed himself to be the messenger of Prophet Mohammad inspired the tribesmen by fervent appeals to recover their territory from the “kafir” or “Infidel” kingdom of Lahore. Yar Mohammad Khan also joined these crusaders. These forces captured the Peshawar. Maharaja Ranjit Singh sent Hari Singh Nalua to recapture the Peshawar as well as major parts around khyber pass. Sardar Hari Singh Nalua gave blow to the rising power of Syed Ahmad Bareli Griffin states that when Sayed Ahmad roused all the fanatic power of Yusafzais for a holy war against Sikhs and was joined by the Barkazi chief of Peshawar, Sardar Hari Singh Nalua with his 25,000 men prevented Syed Ahmad from crossing Indus. Then Lahore troops crossed Indus and invaded Peshawar, Syed Ahmad and his crusaders were butchered. Hari Singh gave Sayed a great setback. Peshawar was pillaged, Palaces were destroyed, tribute of Peshawar was increased and the son of Yar Mohammad Khan was carried away by Hari Singh as hostage. Then again, in 1830, Maharaja had to sent Prince Sher Singh to Peshawar to get tribute from Sayed Ahmad which was paid.
Hari Singh was put to call of duty in 1834 A.D for annexing Peshawar to the dominion of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. On 6th May 1834, Peshawar was made part of Punjab and Hari Singh Nalua was made his first non-Muslim governor. But most of Hari Singh time was spent at Lahore, his division was situated in Lahore. A year after annexation of Peshawar, Dost Mohammad, now the Afghan ruler of Kabul attempted to regain his supremacy over strip of Peshawar. Tribesmen from Yusafzai, Mohmmand and Khatak tribes of the vicinity were appealed in the name of religion to jump into holy war or jehad against Sikhs in order to oust them from their region. But due to unknown reasons these Afghan troops retreated long before confrontation.
Dost Mohammad Khan did not rest contented and after mobilizing all his resources dispatched his son Akbar in A.D. 1837 to recover Peshawar which he did. Resultantly, Sardar Hari Singh Nalua was sent at the head of Lahore troops to face Afghans. He got his forces to Peshawar. Jamrud turned out to be the field of battle this time where a formidable battle was fought. Sardar Hari Singh Nalua had earlier build a fort on the entrance of Khyber pass called fort of Jamrud, this fort was being commanded by Sardar Mahan Singh Mirpura. For want of man and war material Nalua strove extraordinary hard, inspite of this he did not loose his heart. Urgent messages were sent to Lahore and Peshawar for materials. For want of timely help the Sardar was of course, killed but the Afghans could not dislodge the 500 Punjabi troops from the fort of Jamrud. General Hari Singh Nalua give his last command to his men to not to disclose his death and continue giving enemy a good fight.
Sir Lepel Griffin, gives a detailed and comprehensive account of Sardar Nalua’s campaign of Jamrud. He points out that Sardar was directed to build a fort at Jamrud situated at the entrance of Khber pass from the walls of which Maharaja might glance Jalalabad in Afghanistan. Sardar got built a small port which was quite impregnable to the artillery fire and could hold on for several weeks of pounding. The Dost Mohammad Khan, with 7,000 horse, 2000 matchlock men and 18 guns. His three sons with their forces and a force of 12,000 to 15,000 of Khaibiris joined the main force and started pounding the fort. Mahan Singh Mirpura requested help from Peshwar where Hari Singh Nalua was ailing with fever. While giving an account of the march of Sardar Hari Singh Nalua at the head of Lahore troops to give fight to the Afghans at battle of Jamrud. Hari immediately sent some horsemen to Lahore for more reinforcement and he along with his soldiers went to Jamrud. Reinforcement under Hari Singh Nalua give a new life to the garrison and attack of Afghanis was repulsed with vigor. Griffin further states that when Hari Singh Nalua along with about five of his companion went outside of the fort to inspect a breach in a wall, he was struck by two balls, one in the side and the other in stomach. Inspite of them understanding that he was mortally injured, the Nalua Sardar managed to ride as far as his camp lest the troops be discouraged. Then laying on floor he gives his last order to his few trusted men, that was to not to disclose the secret of his death.
Hari Singh further imparted instructions to his soldiers to cover his dead body after lifting it from the ground and placing it on a cot. Thus the great Sardar Hari Singh Nalua, with the terror of whose name Afghan mothers used to quite their fretful children attained his martyrdom.