Not all the armies that invaded
were defeated. Around 180 years ago a Punjabi ruler Ranjit Singh (1799-1839) and his brilliant commander Hari Singh Nalwa defeated the Afghans and the tribes of the Afghanistan Khyber Pass area, in the process securing Punjab's northwest border. Had it not been for Ranjit Singh, and the northwest frontier provinces of Peshawar Punjab would have been part of today. Afghanistan
But first a flashback: Eastern Afghanistan had always been a part of Punjab; it was called Gandhar (modern Kandahar), a vibrant province that gave us excellent art, architecture, literature and scientific knowledge. It was a Punjab province until 1735 when Nadir Shah of Iran, emboldened by the lack of strong central authority in Punjab, ransacked Delhi and everything on the way.
This was a highly opportunistic and reckless act because, for the past 25 centuries,
However, Ranjit Singh was not prepared to play according to the Persian script. Nadir Shah’s successor, Ahmad Shah Abdali, had been launched repeated raids into
The Afghans, especially the Pathans, considered themselves superior to the Punjabis. They even looked down upon Punjabi Muslims and contemptuously referred to them as Hindko. According to historian Kirpal Singh, the reason for this was that the pride of the Afghans and Pathans were pricked for the first time as they had been defeated by people whom they considered infidels.
So how did Ranjit Singh manage to conquer such fierce mountain people? Mainly by using a blend of sustained aggression latter smoothened by Punjabi magnanimity. His biggest weapon was the scourge of the Afghans – Nalwa, who in one battle defeated 20,000 Pathans. To defeat the cunning and fierce Pathans on their treacherous home terrain was no small feat, but to do that with only 7000 men was the stuff of legend.
Indeed, Nalwa had become a legend. He realized that to dominate the warlike tribes, the Punjabis had to give them the same treatment the Afghans had given the Punjabis in the past. Says Kirpal Singh, “Nalwa set up a very strong administration in the
Though the spell of Afghan supremacy was broken, the region predominantly populated by turbulent Pathan tribes could not be securely held unless a large army was permanently stationed there. A force of 12,000 men was posted with Nalwa to quell any sign of turbulence and to realize the revenue.
Ranjit Singh ensured that the Afghans never again became a threat to
Punjab. The wild tribes of Swat and Khyber were also tamed.