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History of Pakistan Arrival of Islam

Arrival of the British

In 1600 Queen Elizabeth I had granted monopoly English trading rights in Asia to a small merchant group, the east India Company. Starting with one-off expeditions to the Bay of Bengal for cotton and spices during Jahangir’s reign, within 50 years they had a permanent presence on the subcontinent, trading under Moghul concessions, gaining territory by cunning and protecting it by force, and gradually edging out French, Dutch and Portuguese competition.  

The company grew into a quasi-government, with its own bureaucrats, judges and army. As the Moghuls faded, ‘John company’ came on stronger. In 1757, Robert Clive’s defeat of a Moghul viceroy at the Battle of Plessey in Bengal confirmed British military superiority, and trade began to give way to plain old imperialism. The British government, which and until then kept its distance,  in 1784 created the post of Governor-General of India but still left ‘commercial affairs’ to the company.

By the early 19th century they all had their eyes on what is now Pakistan.



Sikhism was founded in the 15th century as an attempt to shed the dogma and synthesize the basics of the major religions (in this it was influenced by Sufism, Islam’s mystical arm). It Prospered under Akbar  but grew increasingly militarized under persecution by Aurangzeb. In the 17th  century Go bind Singh, the last Sikh guru, founded the Khalsa (Pure), an orthodox brotherhood of ‘holy warriors’. Khalsa faction later carved out domains of their own in the Punjab.

In 1799 the Durrani ruler Zaman Shah granted the governorship of Lahore to a crafty 19-year-old Sikh chief named Ranjit Singh, who proceeded over the Next three decades to parlay this into a small empire and to transform the Khalsa into the most formidable army on the subcontinent. When he died in 1839 the Sikhs were Masters of the Punjab, Kashmir, Ladakh, Baltistan, Gilgit, Hazara and the Peshawar valley, and Had Pushed the Afghans right back to the Khyber pass.

Ranjit had agreed in an 1809 treaty to stay out of British territory-roughly south-east of the Sutlej River – if the British left him alone. But on his death his successors violated the agreement and in 1846 the British fought the first of two short, bloody wars with he Sikhs and annexed Kashmir, Ladakh, Baltistan and Gilgit.

Renaming them The  State of Jammu and Kashmir, they sold them for L750,000 to

Gulab  Singh – a Hindu prince of Jammu with a brilliant sense of timing, who had ingratiated himself with Ranjit and later with them – and declared him the first Maharajah of Kashmir. They thus created a friendly buffer state against Russian expansionism on their north-west flank – and created what was later to become the subcontinent’s most intractable curse.

Following a general Sikh uprising at Multan, a second Sikh War in 1849 brought the empire to an end, and Britain annexed the Punjab. But they left Sikh Culture alone, and unemployed Sikh soldiers enlisted in the British army.


First Afghan War  

Dynastic Chaos in Afghanistan caught British attention. Eager to further pacify the north-west and confident that they could have their way anywhere, in 1893 a small force occupied Kabul and put ‘their’ man, the exiled king Shah Shuja, Back on the Afghan Throne.

But Shah Shuja turned out not to be very popular, and periodic tribal revolts culminated in 1841 in a  general uprising. In a gruesome march out of Kabul by the British garrison, tribal fighters are said to have left only one survivor out of 16,000 civilians and soldiers. In the end Shah Shuja was murdered, his predecessor was back put on the throne and Britain had presumably learned a lesson about the Afghans.



Since the late 1700s rule Sind been shared among a group of Self-serving local chieftains or amirs, all uncles or cousins of one another. The British, having signed a treaty with them opening the lower Indus plains to non-military river and overland traffic, promptly violated it in their march across Sind into Afghanistan. On various pretexts Karachi was occupied, the amirs were provoked and then defeated, and by 1843 Sind had taken.


The Great Mutiny

In 1857 a mutiny in the Bengal Army and the capture of Delhi by rebels ignited an uprising against the British, effectively a first ‘war of independence’. There was little trouble in the north-west, partly because of support from Sikhs who hates the thought of a Moghul resurgence.

A force from the Punjab and re-captured Delhi, but it was over a year before the British re gained control across India, in a bloody, cruel campaign.

After that the crown took over all Company affairs in India. Britain became formal ruler, though a viceroy, of the ‘Raj or India Empire, which by then covered most of present-day India plus Sind, the Punjab, Kashmir and what are now the Northern Areas. 

Moghul political culture gave way to British. English law the legal system. Cities sprouted ‘Cantonments’ – new towns for bureaucrats and officers, with shady boulevards, churches, parks and a fusion of  Moghul and Gothic architecture. A network of railways and roads spread across the land. India grew prosperous, the ‘jewel in the crown’.


The North-West Frontier & the Second Afghan War  

Russian imperialism triggered the Crimean War in 1853. within a decade Russian was to take for itself an area the size of Europe between the Caspian sea and the Pamir, and start eyeing Xinjiang, Afghanistan and India. The British grew anxious about their north-west frontier.

In 1879 they tried a re-run of 1839, invading Afghanistan, occupying Kabul, installing their favorite on the throne and opening a consular office. Within months the British resident, sir Louis Cavagnari, was murdered. Again the British evacuated.

Having failed to have their way in Afghanistan, they finally agreed with the Afghan ruler Abdul Rahman in 1893 on a common border, the so-called Durand Line, which put the seal on British control of Chitral, swat and the Northern Areas. But the line cut right through the Pashtun (Pathan) homelands, and the British were kept busy with punitive expeditions to keep the angry tribes under control – a Policy known rudely as ‘butcher and bolt’. A major Pashtun uprising was barely put down in 1897.

In 1901 a separate North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) was created out of the Punjab. A wide strip of Pashtun tribal land along the Afghan border was made virtually autonomous, not of the simple fact that the tribes would never accept rule by outsiders (this policy has continued under the Pakistan state). Nevertheless, they continued harassing the British right into the 1930s.

In 1919 it was the Afghan’s turn to declare a war and Britain’s turn to win, by bombing Kabul.


The Great Game

Throughout the second half of the 19th century Britain played a cat-and-mouse game with Russia across the vaguely mapped Hindu Kush and Pamir. Agents posing as scholars, explorers, merchants and even Muslim holy men, crisscrossed the mountain, mapping them, spying on each other and courting local rulers. The British called it ‘the Great Game’, the Russians ‘the Tournament of Shadow’.

In 1882, Russia established a consulate in Kashgar. A British Agency at Gilgit, opened briefly in 1877, was urgently reopened after the Mir (ruler) of Hunza entertained a party of Russians in 1888. Britain set up a Kashgar office two Years later, and tried to Persuade the Afghanistan and Chinese to assert s common border in the Pamir to seal Russia’s South-ward moves.

Francis Younghus band (later to head a British incursion into Tibet) was sent to talk with Chinese officials in Kashgar. On his way back he found the Pamir full of Russians, and was told to get out or face arrest. This news electrified the British, who invaded Hunza the following year.

Anglo-Russian agreements in 1897 and 1907 finally defined borders and ‘spheres of influence’ and created the so-called Wakhan Corridor, a tongue of Afghanistan stretching across to Xinjiang, separating Russian and British possessions.



The British occupied Quetta in 1877. in a series of agreements with Baluchi tribal chief and Afghan rulers, the province of Baluchistan was created in 1896, along the same line as the NWFP.

See the introduction to the Baluchistan chapter for more history of this very ‘un-Pakistani’ province.


Growth of Nationalism

National self-awareness began growing in British India. The India National Congress was convened in Bombay in 1885 to press for constitutional reforms giving political power to Indians, but by the turn of the century talk had turned to driving the British out. Britain’s own plans for gradual Indian self-rule were put on hold by WWI.

A second nationalist stream was represented by the All-India Muslim League, founded in Dacca (Dhaka) in 1906 by Muslims who saw the Congress as just a Hindu lobby. Britain at first cultivated the League British entry into the war against Turkey alienated many Muslims and pushed reformers into the more militant Congress. Among them was British-educated lawyer named Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who in 1916 helped draft the so-called Lucknow Pact under which the League supported the Congress in exchange for Congress acceptance of the idea of separate Muslim electorates.

A British massacre of unarmed protesters at Amritsar in 1919 turned many moderates into revolutionaries. Legislation was rushed through Parliament in London to liberalize India policies, but the reformer and ascetic Mohandas Gandhi (called Mahatma or ‘great soul’) had already begun a campaign of boycotts and non-violent civil disobedience that galvanized the Indian people. Though he strove to cast his satyagraha (holding to the truth’) movement as non-sectarian, Jinnah-now president of the Muslim League-resigned in 1920 from the Congress, which gradually paid less and less attention to Muslim demands.


History of Pakistan
British Times Independence

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