The Gilgit Game
The Gilgit Game.
I don't see how we shall get through this winter without a pantomime rally o sorts up here confided Townshend to one of his girlfriends at the beginning of November. But Curzon passed on, primed with first-hand impressions, then came Young husband, muttering a farewell to the mountains but with the inner light month Robertson, just back from leave, arrived on an inspection tour of his domain, he brought with him Captain Campbell, his senior military officer an Lieutenant Gurdon who was to resume Young husband duties at Mastuj. These four men, Townshend, Campbell, Gurdon and Robertson, would soon be seeing more of one another than was conducive to mutual respect. During the siege of Chitral, Robertson would blame Townshend for never having taught his Dogras to shoot straight. At the time, though, Townshend had him approvingly exclaiming those are the men for us.
December passed without incident, but on January 4, 1895, the Gupis Garrick exploded into activity. According to news frantically relayed to Gilgit by Townsend, Nizam-ul-Mulk had just been shot in the back by the half-witted Amir-ul-Mulk. The murderer had assumed the Mehtarhip, and Gurdon, who gone to pay his respects to Nizam, was still in Chitral town and, with an escort of only moved troops up to the Shandur and waited for Robertson's authorization to speed to the rescue.
For the Agent, as for Townshend, this was the long-awaited pretext. At last it was to be Chitral, s turn. But if they were spelling for a fight, it is also true that events played into their hands in such a way that the whole maneuver appeared unavoidable. Gurdon wrote that he was in no immediate danger and that though Amir-ul-Mulk was the candidate of Umra Khan, he was now seeking British support. Here was justification for a political mission on the other hand Gurdan felt that if he attempted to withdraw he might well be attacked-obviously cause for a hefty military escort. Accordingly Robertson, with Campbell, Townshend and three other officers plus some five hundred troops, embarked on the fatal mission of 1895. In intense cold they crossed the Shandur pass and reaches Mastuj on January 25. If it was just a question of observing developments and standing by to rescue Gurdon, here they should have stopped. But again events played into their hands. News now came that Umra Khan crossed the Lowarai pass and invaded Chitral proper. Gurdon was in imminent danger again and the whole mission must press on to Chitral town. It was altogether too much like a repeat of the Chilas affair. Robertson still believed in the bold dash, communications, supplies, artillery would take care of themselves so long as one retained the initiative. The essence of dealing with the Dards was to dodge through the mountains before they could stop you, dig in and then invite attack.
On January 31 the mission reached Chitral and Robertson immediately began angling to get his force installed in the Mether's fortress. The situation now developed with alarming speed and unforeseeable complexity. Umra Khan's forces advanced on the important base of Drosh. Amir-ul-Mulk, who had supposedly called in the Pathans, now opposed the and begged Robertson to send this troops to stiffen the Chitrali resistance. Robertson was highly suspicious of any move that would divide this force and refused. On February 10 came news that Drosh had been betrayed. Robertson used this as ground for taking over the fort and, once safely installed behind its twenty-five foot walls, agreed to send atoken force to help against Umra khan.
The fort was unquestionably the largest and most defensible building in the country, if not in Dardistan as a whole. Each of the four walls was about eighty yards long and the four corner towers rose to sixty feet. If three was to be fighting, its occupation was essential. On the other hand, no single move contributed more to the inevitability of conflict. For this was not just a fort; it was the Noghor, the ancestral home of the Methars of Chitral, their armoury, their treasury, their place and, to a Mohammedan most important of all, the zenana of their womenfolk. No men had been acknowledged as Methar unless he held the Noghor, and to Chitralis of every class it represented the independence of the Kingdom. Amir ul Mulk, for perhaps the only time in his unhappy reign, spoke for the whole of his people when he declared to Robertson that no such shame had ever come to Chitral before.
Eighty years later, it is this move that the Chitralis still regard as the most shameful and provocative of the whole siege.
Robertson realized this. Not one argument, plausible or ridiculous, was left unuttered to stop us making this move. Chitralis who genuinely favored British intervention were as incensed as the rest, and all considered it tantamount to annexation'. Not single men could be pressed into moving the mission's baggage and, had not all the Chitrali troops been engaged in the hostilities with Umra Khan, their would certainly have been armed opposition. After such an outrage Robertson's belated offer to assist in the defence of the country was politically worthless.
As it was, some Chitralis were already fighting not against Umra Khan but for him; the supposed explanation was that they had no faith in Amir Ul Mulk. Desertions now increased and, about February 20, reached landslide proportion. For it was than Sher Afzal the Afghan candidate, again taking everyone by surprise reappeared on the scene. Robertson was flabbergasted. Than men was supposed to be in Afghan custody four hundred miles away. Yet here he was, still the most popular claimant to the Mehtarship and now apparently inclined to side with Umra Khan. Robertson tried to negotiate and was even prepared to accept Sher Afzal as Mehtar. The government had specifically ordered him not to recognize anyone till it had been consulted; but the agent was now down to his last card. When Sher Afzal refused to cooperate unless the Noghor was evacuated, Robertson promptly turned again to Amir-ul-Mulk. In a last bid to secure the loyalty of at least a few Chitralis, he recognized Amir has Mehtar. The combined force of Umra Khan and Sher Afzal than advanced up the valley, and the British and Dogras withdrew into the fort.-To be continued
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The Gilgit Game
The Gilgit Game.
Traveling from Kashmir along the new road constructed during the hectic days of 1891, he marveled as much at the telegraph line that now ran all the way to Gilgit as at the scenery-more impressive than beautiful, more sullen than joyous, more rugged than picturesque. On a lintel at Bunji he carved his initials beside those of all the other sportsmen and soldiers who had ventured beyond the Indus, and then crossed that Tartar and trough on the suspension bridge just completed by Captain Aylmer, V.C. Robertson was on leave at the time but the Agency afforded a warm welcome, he was particularly impressed by Biddulph, s bungalow. In addition to a tennis court there was now a golf links where the wise player took a gun as well as clubs, the object being not self-defense but snipe. The whole place seemed to be booming. Besides the still numerous complement of political and military officers there was also, at last, a regiment of British Indian infantry, Algy Durand, though censured, had managed to make his point about more troops. A less acceptable sign of the times was the presence of the first British woman in Gilgit. The wife of some fellow in the transport corps, she wasn't exactly a pukka memsahib and it was an occasion for shudders of horror when line of dubious looking lingerie were spied in an orchard.
From Gilgit Corson strode and rode up the new Hunza road to the Pamirs. Rakaposhi inspired a purple passage-In that remote empyrean we visualize an age beyond the boundaries of human thought, a silence as from the dawn of time, etc.-the ruins of Nilt furnished an excuse for a rerun of the events of December 1891 and the Hunza road, still one of the worst tracks in the world, accounted for the personal physical accretions of an entire London season. Thence over the Killik pass to the Pamirs. Like a conscientious sightseer, he quickly bagged his Marco Polo sheep and set about the sources of the Oxus. The famous paper on the subject which he later delivered to the R.G.S. lists eight Pamirs, of which he visited three, and four contending streams. Built upon the reports of every traveler and geographer who had ever hazarded a guess on the subject, buttressed with a wealth of classical allusions, and crowned with his own magisterial pronouncement, this monograph on the Oxus is a truly monumental work. But with the draft of the Anglo-Russian Pamirs significance no longer attached to the subject. Elias had shown that the Sarhad was the main feeder of the Panja, and the Wakh-jir of the Sarhad, thus the Wakh-jir glacier was the source of the Oxus. With no-one having a vested interest in disputing the matter, his verdict still stands.
Returning by way of Wakhan and Chitral, the M.P. was welcomed back to British territory at the foot of the Baroghil with a glass of cold beer and a vigorous handshake from Frank Young husband. Young husband five years older and a good deal more reserved than in the days of his Karakoram travels, was now the British representative in Chitral. He had gone there with Robertson in the early days of 1893 and had stayed on when the latter was recalled to take over from Durand at Gilgit. The position should have suited him well. In Nizam-ul-Mulk, as in Safdar Ali, he was able to see the good as well as the bad, he made a real attempt both to understand and enlighten the Chitralis and he relished the responsibility of being the sole political officer in the country. He had always believed that personal contact was the best way of handling the Dards, during his stay, Nizam had strengthened his position and the country had remained at peace. His only reservation was that he wasn't actually in Chitral. He was based at Mastuj, three days hard travailing from the capital.
The swing of the political pendulum accounted for this. In London the Liberals were back in power (which was why Curzon was at a loose end), in India Lord Lansdowne had been succeeded by Lord Elgin and on the frontier forward policies were again out of favor. While Young husband, supported by Robertson, urged that he mist be permanently established in Chitral town, the most the government would concede was that he might remain temporarily at Mastuj. The Afghans had agreed to keep Sher Afzul out of the country and, if Umra Khan could also be coaxed into leaving, then Young husband was to be withdrawn altogether as soon as the Anglo-Russian Pamir agreement was signed. The object, in other words, was not to establish an influence in Chitral-just to make sure no-one else did.
Young husband had taken the rejection of his plans much to heart. Government gave the impression that they could get on perfectly well without me, and they showed it by promoting officers of half his experience over his head, it seemed that examinations counted for everything, his missions for nothing. As soon as his term in Chitral was over he would therefore resign from the service. But the man with whom Curzon rode down to Chitral was not exactly bitter. For one thing he had now finally decided to make religion the firs interest of my life. During the lonely months spent amidst the magnificent mountain scenery of upper Chitral the exploring spirit had again come upon him. Reading and meditating, he longed to be free of government service and to devote his life to showing men the way across the spiritual unknown. His mission was still vague, his belief in Providence stills native and his motivation somewhat arrogant. But over the years that led up to his founding of the World Congress of Faiths in 1936 he would become the first to recognize these faults.
Another consoling influence was Curzon himself. Cerebral, incisive, polished, frigid, the guest was everything the host was not. Discussing frontier policy Curzon seemed totally to discount his companion, s experience and to enjoy ridiculing his opinions. Yet this was just the parliamentary habit, for to judge by his later reports in The Times he was lapping up every word Young husband let fall. Unable to compete, but recognizing in one another something each respected, they became the staunchest of friends. Moreover, they found common ground in a deep sense of England's imperial destiny and an equally deep mistrust of Russia. The sort of frontier bullying typified by Algernon Durand they both rejected, but their ideas were no less forward and provocative for that. It was to Young husband that Curzon, as Viceroy, would turn ten years later, and it was while doing Curzon, s work as political officer to the Lhasa expedition, that Young husband would become the scapegoat for a national sense of outrage over the handling of the Tibetans which far exceeded any doubts that were ever voicfed over British policy in Dardistan. To be continued
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The Gilgit Game
The Gilgit Game.
Marty should have taken the hint, not about the knighthood but about his brother, s frame of mind. Algy was again embarking on that vicious psychological see-saw, the higher the high the lower the low. By February he was betraying a sense of unease. A hundred miles away Robertson, finding Nizam both unpopular and unnerved, was getting dangerously embroiled in Chitrali politics. Worse still, seventy miles in the opposite direction, the Chilasis, with reportedly massing for a counter-attack. With troops already committed to Yasin in support of Nizam and others needed to keep an eye on Nagar and Hunza, Durand had few men to spare and no idea which way to send them.
In the event it was Chilas which exploded first. The Indus Valley Rising, which had been anticipated for three months, nevertheless took the garrison in their makeshift fort above Chilas completely by surprise. The town was re-occupied under cover of darkness. When an attempt was made to clear it, a third of the garrison was either killed or wounded and all but one of the officers, including Major Daniel in command, fell. It was probably the most disastrous battle yet fought in Dardistan, had the Chilasis continued to press their attack nothing could have saved the rest of the garrison. But when Robertson had burned the town in November he had also burned the year's grain supply nice move that thought Charlie Townsend who was now on his way back to Gilgit. Without food the attackers dispersed to their villages after twenty-four hours.
News of the disaster reached Durand while he was playing polo of the Gilgit maiden-the leg was at last better. He immediately sent a small detachment to relive the Chilas garrison and calculating that the chilasis would allow a forty days mourning period for the slain, set early May as the deadline for reinforcements. They came news from Robertson in Chitral; from a man who was normally impervious to panic it was serious indeed. We seem to be on a volcano here, he announced. The Pathan, Umra Khan, had already grabbed a corner of the state and was threatening to chase Nizam all the way back to Gilgit. He was also threatening to attack the Kafirs. Supposedly to frustrate any such move but more probably to grab Kafiristan first, the Afghan commander in chief with three thousand troops was poised at Asmar just south of Chitral territory. From Dir in the east a fanatical mullah with a wide following was sending hired assassins against the infidel British emissaries, and, in Chitral itself, popular contempt for Nizam and his reveling was rapidly curdling into an active resentment of his foreign backers. So accustomed was the mission the threats of imminent extinction that when one of their few supporters was shot during the night on their threshold, Roberrrtson scarcely woke to register the news. Nevertheless he was alarmed and urgently requested Durand for more
Troops and for the Agent himself to come to his rescue.
It is too much, cried Algy. I have had some anxious times in my life but upon me God, as Curly Stewart says, this about takes the lead. He had just paid a visit to Chilas, and the vulnerability of his Indus valley conquests had suddenly dawned on him. Chilas itself was being properly fortified but, should the next move of attackers decide to mask Chilas and concentrate on its supply line, there was no way he could see of keeping communication open. There was still no news of reinforcements from Kashmir and he had barely two hundred men left to play with. If every one of them was loved into the Indus valley, it was unlikely that the outposts dotted down that now simmering gorge could be protected. I am anxious about Chilas but Chitral is what I am afraid of. Not only were there no more troops to send to Robertson but the Shandur pass was closed, snow blindness and frostbite had got the last consignment. For the next month at least Robertson would be cut off.
All this was written on April 16. Exactly a week later he again wrote to Marty. Now mysteriously, he reserve force numbered three hundred and he was keeping them for Chitral regardless, apparently, of the state of the Shandur. As for Chilas, that was now acknowledged as a heinous mistake, the Indus valley was a death trap and troops should never have been allowed to stay there. In fact the whole game had gone sour at the last throw. His contradictory judgments were symptomatic of a deep disillusionment. Had even Marty deserted him? Not a word, not a line about the desperately needed reinforcements.
I have wished myself dead over this business….If I can live through this fortnight or month I must come down to India and go home. I cannot stand this sort of thing any longer and I will never return to Gilgit again…but I don't think I shall get out of it and I see nothing but smash and despair before me, though I try to look at the best light but it is black…Oh how I wish I had never come to this place.
On each frantically scrawled sheet of paper he was mocked by that fatuous direction, Railway Station, Rawal Pindi. Would he ever see civilization again? He though not and ended with the ominous news that he had just drawn up his will.
Whatever the wild imaginings of his tortured mind, it is pretty clear that the danger was less of defeat than of despair. Gilgit itself was in no immediate peril and his own position was less vulnerable than that of any of his predecessors. The letter was not the composition of one going forth to die for his country but of one in a state on mental collapse. It was a suicide note and probably he was only saved by the arrival of instructions recalling him to India. This time they were not issued on compassionate grounds. Within the Viceroy's Council the outcry over his unauthorized attack on Chilas and support for Nizam had become irresistible. Robertson was again to take over as Agent and Durand would never more sit at the table he so loathed nor walk through the orchard where Hayward lay bride-and where he had so nearly joined him.
14. Finis Dardarum
In the event, none of Algy Durand's gloomy forebodings of April 1893 materialized. The Chilasis did not renew the attack and the Indus Valley remained peaceful, Robertson extricated himself from Chitral, and Nizam-ul-Mulk, though still menaced by Umar Khan, managed to dig in as Mehtar. Furthermore, in November 1893, Mortimer Durand negotiated and agreement with the Amir which, while clearing the air as a prerequisite to the solution of the Pamirs problem, included the question of Kafiristan. In effect the Kafirs were partitioned, the southern valleys, which Robertson and Lockhart had scarcely traveled, went to Afghanistan, but the northern ones, notably the Bash gal river and its tributaries, were declared outside the Amir,s sphere of influence. If the stability of Dardistan could not as yet be guaranteed, the threat of Russian or Afghan intervention was visibly receding and, under the steadier hand of George Robertson, the Gilgit Agency could afford to open its doors a little. In 1893 a stream of privileged sportsmen passed through on their way to stalk on the Pamir and the first mountaineering expeditions began to explore the glaciers and reconnoiter the peaks of the Karakorams.-To be continued
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As inflation has made it almost impossible for the readers especially students to buy books on important subjects including history, Baang News has made arrangements to reproduce some of the writings and research works of historians and scholars concerning Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral. As a first step, we reproduce chapters from John Keay's book The Gilgit Game.(Part-48)
By the time he reached Badakshan, where he was potentially more vulnerable, the dust seemed to be settling. Elias, only a day's journey away, excused his inability to help by explaining that no-one in the country would admit to knowing the mission, s whereabouts or intentions. From this it appeared that Lockhart was to be allowed to slip quietly through. There came also a note in cipher from Durand which confirmed that Anglo-Afghan relations were under strain and advised Lockhart to repay Afghan restraint by slipping quickly away. Above all he must abide by their demand that he refrain from revisiting Kafiristan.
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