The First Battle of Balakot

BD Sharma
When the Indian Air Force struck at the Jaish-e-Mohammad training camp at Balakot on 26th February 2019, many people in the country raised doubts over the authenticity of the strikes. These doubting Thomases had much to do with their hostility towards the Prime Minister than anything else. Majority of these critics were, no doubt the members of the ‘India Tere tukde tukde’ gang. But it was very disgusting to see that some responsible people in the country were also standing hand in hand with this disgruntled lot. Unfortunately these people failed to understand that in the process they had got caught up in the trap of Pakistan. They were giving strength to the efforts of Pakistan in concealing the reality of the strikes. Despite the repeated and categorical assertions by our Air Force, these avatars of gloom and cynicism left no stone unturned in denouncing the Government until an Italian journalist Franceca Marino removed the lid from the vessel of falsehood of Pakistan. Marino had to put in a lot of efforts in developing a wide network of local contacts to establish that 130-170 militants including eleven terror trainers had been killed in the mid night strikes of the Indian Air Force. In addition 45 extremist cadres were found still undergoing medical treatment in the makeshift hospitals of the Pak army.
The Pak army was able to conceal the occurrence of the strikes with a lot of precision. They moved a battalion of Pak army to the site immediately after the strikes and removed the injured to a Harkat-ul- Mujahideen camp at nearby Shinkiari where they remained under the treatment of Pakistan army doctors. They hurriedly approached the families of the dead also and got their mouths shut by providing them liberal cash doles. Army prohibited the entry of even police in the devastated area. But some of our intellectuals and liberals closed their eyes over this cover-up of Pakistan and continued to believe in the trash dished out to them by the Pak army.
But now that the cat is out of the bag ,the Indian friends of Pakistan have now come out with a new narrative. They do have a word of appreciation for the act of valour of our brave hearts but add impishly that Modi is undeservingly deriving political mileage out of it. They fail to understand that even a person of average intelligence would know that a strike of the magnitude of Balakot cannot be carried out without the authorization of the political leadership at the highest level. The Air Force personnel deserve the highest gratitude of the nation for carrying out the operation with remarkable planning and precision but credit can’t be denied to the political leadership for their grit and determination for taking such a bold decision.
Every sensible person hopes that both the nuclear powers should behave in the most responsible manner. But unfortunately Pakistan had been bullying and blackmailing India for many years over her possession of the nuclear weapons. Our leadership had fallen to their designs and thought it prudent to see the other way round even though the Pakistanis were inflicting a thousand wounds on us. Our leaders never went beyond issuing some innocuous statements or making some appeals to the international community to come to our rescue. It is in the context of this background that the Prime Minister deserves all the applause of his countrymen. He doubtlessly rose to the occasion this time and called the bluff of Pakistan by hitting them where it hurt them the most.
Incidentally Balakot has got a long history of being nursery of extremism. The tribesmen had used it as a launching pad in the year 1947 for assault on Kashmir. The Pak army and the ISI have found this place to be the most suitable to carry out their evil designs over Kashmir. The geographical location
and the topographical features of the place are the most suitable for establishing terror infrastructure. Ultra-Wahhabism had raised its ugly head at this place about two hundred years ago. The place consequently has acquired a symbolic and sentimental value for the lot who have to undergo indoctrination and training in terrorism here.
The origin of this inspiration can be traced to the nineteenth century when one of the pioneers of jihad in South Asia had chosen this place for his mission. The evil mind was none other than Syed Ahmed(Not the Syed of AMU fame) who was born at Bareily in 1786. He could not digest the decline and fall of the Mughal empire in India. The rising powers such as the East India Company, the Marathas and the Sikhs had become an eye sore to him. But instead of training his guns against the English who were the chief dismantlers of the empire, he, according to Khuswant Singh, decided to take on his own compatriots, the Sikhs who were in power in the north west of India.
With the objective of establishing a Caliphate in the Indian subcontinent in his mind, the zealot left for Afghanistan traveling through Tonk, Hyderabad (Sind), Multan and Quetta. He was able to attract many Afghans and Pathans in his fold with his fanatic Islamic doctrine but they were routed by the brave Sikhs under Sikh commander Budh Singh. Simultaneously this proponent of extremism, also got the Pathans and Afghans alienated when he started to denigrate the Sufi shrines and the age old traditions of the area like folk music. Majority of them thought it prudent to leave the religious bigot in the lurch. However he remained still convinced that he was on the right path and with the divine force at his back, he would be able to establish Caliphate in the adjoining Muslim majority area. Accordingly he shifted his area of operation to Balakot in order to overthrow the great Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh of Lahore and to resurrect the puritanical Islamic empire there. Many Muslims of the areas which fall in and around Malakand came under the influence of his fanatical Sunni-Wahhabi ideology. His appeal had also brought to his fold some Muslims with extremist leanings from some far-off places such Patna and Patiala. He infused his followers with the fire of extremism and violence. He had thus succeeded in earning for himself the dubious distinction of becoming one of the first terrorists of South Asia.
It is said that he was able to gather more than three thousand bigoted elements and was planning first to shift his base to Kashmir to wage the war for jihad from there and then extend it to Punjab. He had shrewdly chosen the far-flung and the difficult Muslim majority area to fulfill his design but he was oblivious of the fact that the Sikh army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was a well oiled machine. It was very difficult to dodge the Sikhs even in this far-flung and difficult terrain. So it didn’t take the Sikh army very long to take note of his activities. The Sikh forces under the command of Prince Sher Singh consequently encircled the deranged fanatics at Balakot in 1831.
According to one version, the Sikh forces occupied the tops of the surrounding hills encircling the encampment of Barelvi. Syed Ahmed strategically got the fields around his camp watered to bog down the Sikhs in case they tried to proceed for assault to his camp. But the shrewd Sikh commanders wouldn’t fall in his trap. According to a Pakistani author, Adil Najam, who allude to the folklore and states that a lieutenant of Syed Ahmed, namely Syed Chirag Ali of Patiala made an attempt to leave the camp in order to procure the ingredients for making Kheer, the rice pudding, which he wanted to relish after meals. In the process he became a target of the Sikhs and Syed Ahmed perforce had to go for assault on the Sikh Force to rescue his associate. But the jihadis got entrapped in their own snare. They got mired in the watered fields and became sitting ducks for the Sikh sharpshooters. 1300 Jihadis of
Barelvi got killed in the day long battle. Those killed included the dreamer of establishing the Caliphate himself and his close associate Shah Ismail Syed.
There is another version given by MJ Akbar in his book ‘Tinderbox- The Past and Future of Pakistan’. According to him, Barelvi had thought that the hillock selected by him at Balakot was impregnable. But as is their wont, the Pathans couldn’t resist the tinkle of the coins from the scheming Sikhs and betrayed Barelvi. The Pathans guided the Sikhs faithfully through the winding route to his encampment. On the morning of 6 May 1831, Barelvi was stunned to discover that the Sikhs were at his door steps . He had no other option but to engage in a fight as neither the divine intervention was nowhere in sight nor was there any chance for him to take to heels. Not much is known as to how he was killed. There are different stories about his burial. One narrative says that Sher Singh gave his adversary an honourable burial. But the next day, after he left the camp, some overzealous soldiers disinterred his body and threw it into the river. Later the head and the body, found separately, were buried at Garhi Habibullah and Telhatta. The graves of Barelvi and his close associate Shah Ismail have become essential places of pilgrimage for those who have to be initiated into the world of jihad.
Thus the first battle of Balakot ended but it left many legacies with it. MJ Akbar is of the view that it was Syed Ahmed who laid the foundation of extremism and Wahhabism in South Asia. He was the evil genius who sowed the seeds of hatred between the Hindus and the Muslims of the subcontinent. Even though for many years after him the two people continued to live in peace yet the poison which he and his cohorts had injected in the mindset of some people, did ultimately manifest in the form of Muslim League with catastrophic results for the people of the subcontinent. It is perhaps because of him that Balakot remains the fertile ground for nurturing terrorism even today. But the followers of his doctrine should understand that the trilogy of the hatred, extremism and bigotry will always lead to the destruction of both, the perpetrators as well as the victims. Only love and harmony will win the day for the humanity.
Incidentally there is an anecdote associated with the first battle of Balakot. When Prince Sher Singh came to Lahore after winning the battle, the Maharaja, instead of showering praise and gifts upon him, showed a lot of annoyance. The simple minded Maharaja was mired in orthodoxy and conservativism. So he believed in avoiding Braham Hatiya- the slaughter of Brahmins in the war as prescribed in some religious texts. The secular monarch took the Syeds as the Brahmins of Muslims and thus the killing of a Syed would also invite a misfortune to his kingdom. The killing of a Syed was, therefore, the cause of his annoyance with his son.
There is another anecdote regarding a donkey who was trained by men of Barelvi to carry the goods without the supervision of attendant when the Sikhs had blocked the supply of goods to the camp of Barelvi. The Sikhs detected the trick after some time and killed the animal. Barelvi’s men buried the faithful animal in a befitting manner. The place became famous as Khota Qabar till the obnoxious name was changed to Muslimabad some years back. According to Adil Najam the people in the area still know the place by its old name and so does Google.