When Afghans Invaded Kashmir: A Saga of Brutality and Destruction

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Pursidam az kharabiye gulshan zi baghban, Afghan kashid guft ki Afghan kharab kard 

Sar buridan pesh in sangin dilan gulchidan ast

 Saquib Salim

Ibn Khaldun, a 14th century Arab scholar, wrote, “The past resembles the future as water resembles water.”

In the light of the above wisdom, India should be very cautious in dealing with the Taliban in Afghanistan. An assumption that Afghans will take no interest in Kashmir contradicts the historical understanding of the region. In the 18th century, tyranny of Afghans led to destruction of the huge population of Kashmir. Afghans were politically dominant in Kashmir for almost half a century. During this time, the Afghans reduced Kashmir to the lowest depths of penury, degradation and slavery. The destruction of the state was so profound that it is still etched in the memories of Kashmiris. A popular couplet in the region says;

Pursidam az kharabiye gulshan zi baghban, Afghan kashid guft ki Afghan kharab kard (I enquired of the gardener the cause of the destruction of the garden

Drawing a deep sigh he replied, “It is the Afghans who did it”)

Kashmir, ruled by a Mughal governor, was always under the threat of an Afghan invasion. In the 18th century, as the Mughal empire started declining the Afghans, first under Nadir Shah and then Ahmad Shah Abdali, set their eyes on India’s riches. The loot, destruction and pillage caused by the Afghans in their repeated invasions are still part of Kashmiri folklore. Ahmad Shah Abdali deputed Asmat Ullah Khan to capture Kashmir in 1748. The Afghan forces were resisted valiantly by the Kashmiri forces led by Afrasiyab Khan. The battle was decisively won and the Afghan commander, Asmat, was killed. A failed Abdali took to deceit. A servant was bribed to poison Afrasiyab in 1753, throwing Kashmir into a state of anarchy. A feud over succession to the governorship followed the assassination of Afrasiyab Khan.

History states that two Kashmiri noblemen, Mir Muqim Kanth and Khwaja Zahir Didamari, approach Abdali with ‘a request to invade Kashmir’. Nobody knows what they wanted to achieve, but this invitation pushed Kashmir into a period of brutal oppression, hitherto unknown to the Kashmiris. In 1753, the Afghan army led by Abdullah Khan Ishk Aqasi reached Kashmir, following the invitation from Mir Muqim and Khwaja Zahir. They met the Kashmiri forces near Shopian. The Afghan army had its stooges inside Kashmir. The battle stretched over 15 days and the Afghans secured a win. The governor of Kashmir was captured and sent to Kabul. Aqasi ascended the throne of Kashmir as a viceroy of Abdali. For the next five months, Abdullah Khan Ishk Aqasi let loose a reign of terror rarely witnessed elsewhere in the world.

The Tyranny Of The Afghans

Walter Lawrence, a 19th century settlement commissioner of Kashmir, in his book Kashmir Valley has described this period as a time of brutal tyranny. Afghans assembled merchants and noblemen at a place and forced them to surrender their wealth. Those who did not follow were killed and their houses ransacked. At times, whole families were killed for resisting the loot.

Jalil, a rich merchant, was tortured with red-hot iron rods on the suspicion of hiding money. Qazi Khan was tortured with his son till death because they resisted the loot of their hard earned money. The peasantry was destroyed, merchants had to migrate, shops were shut down and women were captured. After five months, when Aqasi was sure that no more could be extracted from the valley, he left a destroyed ‘paradise’ under the governorship of Abdullah Khan Kabuli. Abdullah Khan Kabuli was no good for Kashmir. At this time, a resistance movement under Abdul Hassan Bandey mobilized Kashmiris against the Afghan rule. The chief adviser of Kabuli, Sukh Jiwan Mal, collaborated with Bandey and Kabuli was assassinated. Sukh Jiwan Mal became the Raja, with Bandey as his Prime Minister. This was just the start for decades of Afghan invasions.

Afghans Cut Off Heads Like They Plucked Flowers

In 1762, Nur-ud-din Bamzai led the Afghans and defeated Sukh Jiwan. For the next half a century, the valley remained under Afghan domination. Regarding this period, Lawrence writes:

“Pathan (Afghan) rulers are now only remembered for their brutality and cruelty, and it is said of them that they thought no more of cutting off heads than of plucking flowers.

Sar buridan pesh in sangin dilan gulchidan ast

The whole Kashmir valley, all of them innocent citizens, paid the price for the maneuvers of Mir Muqim and Khwaja Zahir. For their selfish interests, they threw the valley under the bus. History teaches us lessons. We must not repeat mistakes, otherwise, history would be no different from fiction. We should understand that no Mir Muqim should, for selfish reasons, be allowed to burn the valley this time.

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