Afghan War (Part II)

The battle of Shopian happened between the Sikh Empire and Jabbar Khan, the then governor of the Durrani Empire province of Kashmir on 3rd July 1819.

The Events That Lead To The War

The Sikh Empire was forced to send consecutive disciplinary military mission against the hill states of BhimberRajauriPoonchNurpur, and others. The idea was reduce the rebellions in these states the Sikh Empire was trying to keep control of the routes through the Pir Panjal range and into Kashmir. Durrani Empire kept complete control of the routes through the Pir Panjal range to Kashmir and blocked supplies and fresh troops to the Sikh armies.

  • In 1819, Azim Khan took a force of troops to Kabul and his revenue minister travelled to the capital of Sikh Empire, Lahore and asked Ranjit Singh to take possession of Kashmir from the Durrani Empire. He also gave information on invasion routes into Kashmir.
  • The Sikh army recognized two armouries for the mission at Gujrat and Wazirabad and on 20th of April Ranjit Singh regimented 30,000 men from Lahore to the hill states at the foot hills of Pir Panjal Range.
  • The attack was planned very well with Dewan Mokham Chand commanding the advance force and Kharak Singh commanding the rear guard action.
  • Ranjit Singh commanded the reserve of 10,000 troops protecting the supply train.
  • The army marched to Bhimber and resupplied capturing the fort and on May 1 both the troops of the Sikh Army reached Rajouri but rebelled by Agar Khan, its ruler, and forced a battle.
  • Hari Singh Nalwa overpowered with the help of his army and the enemies had to offer unconditional surrender because of the loss of men and war supplies.
  • Agar Khan tried to escape but was captured and his brother Rahimullah Khan was appointed as the new king of Rajauri.  Mir Mohammad Khanand Mohammad Ali, the kotwal of Poonch and Shopian respectively were defeated and captured and they surrendered to Dewan Mokham Chand on 23rd June 1819.



On 3rd July 1819, the Sikh army tried to march through Shopian to Srinagar but was stopped by the Durrani army headed by Jabbar Khan. This was possible because the Durrani army had brought heavy artillery to attack whereas the Sikhs were underprepared and had brought only light guns. The Sikh army under the leadership of Dewan Mokham Chand attacked the enemies with guns and later with swords and daggers. Durrani force could not handle the attack of the Sikhs and had to retreat and Jabbar Khan was wounded while escaping from the battle field.


  • Both the sides sustained heavy losses and Jabbar Khan and his army fled from Kashmir over the Indus River.
  • The Sikh army after entering the city of Srinagar promised safety of every citizen and made sure that the city was not looted.
  • After taking over the city of Srinagar, the Sikh army did not face any major opposition in conquering Kashmir.
  • Ranjt Singh appointed Moti Ram who was the son of Dewan Mokham Chand as the new governor of Kashmir.
  • He also made sure that large strength of army men accompanied Moti Ram.
  • The invasion of Kashmir was an important addition to the Sikh Empire and it also increased the revenue of the empire.


Battle of Nowshera


The Battle of Nowshera happened in the year 1823 between the forces of Pashtun tribesmen ably supported by Azim Khan Barakzai, the Durrani governor, against the Sikh Khalsa Army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.  Sikh army won the battle emphatically and led to their occupation of the Peshawar valley.



  • Ranjit Singh had activated an aggressive push against the Durranis in 1818 and had defeated Kabul Vizier and Muhammad Azem Khan Barakzai by pushing him as far as Peshawar.
  • Yar Muhammad Khan, the Durrani Governor and Azem Khan’s brother accepted the rule and paid tribute as a vassal.
  • Ranjit Singh withdrew from the Peshawar valley leaving a small barrack in a newly constructed fort at Khairabad, which is the present day Nowshera. Ranjit Singh later captured Kashmir in 1819 from Azem Khan’s brother Jabbar Khan.
  • Azem Khan was angry by these defeats and he captured Peshawar back in 1822 and also called a jihad (a struggle or fight against the enemies of Islam) against the Sikhs and turned to Nowshera.

The Battle

In Nowshera, Muhammad Zaman Khan had already armoured his forces which included General Hari Singh Natwa with support from the Pashtun tribes loyal to Shah Shuja.  Ranjit Singh led his army to the east of Hund on the other bank and a close group of thousands of fighters had started uniting under Syed Ahmad Shah of Buner.  Ranjit Singh crossed the Indus under heavy attacks and the Lashkar withdrew to Pir Sabak hill to concentrate their forces and thinking of getting support from the Durrani forces and their artillery under Azim Khan.  Azim Khan refused to cross the Kabul River to give support to the tribesmen. Ranjit Singh took advantage of the situation and concentrated his artillery and infantry on the Lashkar. Ferocious hand-to-hand fights between the Tribal family and Sikh Khalsa Army happened and after the fourth attack, which was led personally by Ranjit Singh, the hill was captured. Azim Khan had withdrawn by this time and the Lashkar realised it in the evening and under heavy attack from the Sikh army the Lashkar army dispersed in total panic ensuring Sikhs a complete victory.


After securing Nowshera, Ranjit Singh and his forces captured Peshawar and reached Jamrud. They destroyed the remains of the Durrani Empire and reduced Peshawar to ruins and took control of the Khyber Pass also.  There were much causality in the tribesmen’s army and Ranjit Singh stretched his empire from Khyber Pass to the west, to the north Kashmir and to the south Multan. This also helped Ranjit Singh to eventually push further west and take control of the Afghan capital of Kabul.


First Anglo-Afghan War

The first Anglo-Afghan War was fought between the British Imperial India and the Emirate of Afghanistan between 1839 and 1842. This war is also known as the great disaster. In the beginning the British successfully interfered in the succession dispute between pro-Russian emir Dost Mohammad (Barakzai) and earlier emir Shah Shujah (Durrani) whom they appointed after conquering Kabul in August 1839. In 1841 the Army of Indus suffered a series of defeat at the hands of the Afghan tribesmen even though they had a military strength of between 24,000 and 28,000.


  • The Russian Empire was slowly extending its arms to Central India and the East India Company feared the advancement of Russia into their land.
  • An envoy was sent to the Amir of Afghanistan, Dost Mohammed, to form alliance against Russia.
  • Dost Mohammed was willing but in return he wanted the British to negotiate with Ranjith Singh to give back Peshawar to Afghanistan.
  • The British were not willing to do this for they knew that the Sikh army Dal Khalsa was very strong and well trained by the French. British did not dare to go against them.
  • As a result Dost Mohammed invited the Russian envoy. This was mainly to counter the British refusal. They knew Russians will not be able to defeat Ranjith Singh and his army.
  • The British wanted Shah Shuja, a supporter of the British, to come back to Afghanistan and they wanted to depose Dost Mohammed.
  • The British issued the Simla Declaration that there was unprovoked attack on the Sikh empire, their ally, and that Dost Mohammed should be replaced by Shah Shuja who was exiled but was still popular.
  • The fact was that there was no attack but since the declaration was issued the two armies called the Grand Indus Army, the Sikh army and the British army, marched against Afghanistan on November 25th

The Battle

  • By December 1838 both armies had started their march and by late March 1839 the armies had crossed Bolan pass and had reached Quetta.
  • By April 25th 1839, they had reached Khandhahar. After a month’s rest the army resumed its journey to Ghazni fort
  • They were attacked by the Ghazi forces which were more tribesmen and they were easily defeated. Some prisoners of war were beheaded by Shah Shuja which was not well received by many.
  • Fortress Ghazni was easily captured but there were loses on both the sides. The victory was for the British troops.
  • Dost Mohammed fled to Bhukara and Shah Shuja was made the king in August 1839.
  • While returning from Afghansitan, the Bombay Column of the British Indian Army attacked the tribal fortress of Kalat.
  • This was an act of revenge as these tribes had harassed the British convoys on their onward journey.
  • After enthroning Shah Shuja around 8000 troops stayed back in Afghanistan for they realised that without the British troops Shah Shuja would be dethroned quickly.
  • However the presence of these troops greatly enraged the Afghans. The women were the ones who suffered the most.
  • In a country were premarital sex was forbidden, the British started to have sexual relationships with the beautiful Afghan women and this was outrageous and completely against their religion and culture.
  • Dost Mohammed tried to attack the standing British troops but was shamefully defeated and he exiled to India by late 1840.
  • Over the years, the army was tired, had to move a lot and the weather conditions were also bad. There were signs of weakening.
  • Major General George Keith Elphinstone who arrived in April 1841 was also very sick.
  • There was unrest amongst the ranks of the army.
  • During this time the unaffected tribes of Afghanistan gathered in strength under Akbar Khan, son of Dost Mohammad, and began to attack the cantonments of the British.
  • The British could not retaliate very well. One Englishman was killed and was dragged through the streets; even for this proper action was taken.
  • This laid back attitude of the British encouraged the Afghans to increase their strikes.
  • Meanwhile some from the British army entered into a secret pact with Akbar Khan. In general the purpose was lost within the British army itself.
  • By January 1st 1842 Elphinstone decided to withdraw some troops and within five days the army began to withdraw from Afghanistan.
  • The withdrawing troops and camp followers were attacked by Ghilzai warriors and many were killed, many more captured and wounded. The harsh weather conditions of winter also made things worse for the troops which mostly had Indian contingent.
  • The garrisons which remained in Kabul were also under attack.
  • Lord Ellenborough the last Governor –General to be appointed was given the instruction to completely move the British troops from Afghanistan.
  • However with the withdrawal there were attacks on the Afghans resulting in more deaths.


Akbar Khan was defeated. Dost Mohammed was released and he re-established his authority in Afghanistan. In Britain this war was seen as a senseless and rash war. The forces were completely demoralized. To vent their frustration, they plundered and killed many on their journey. The threat from Russia was impractical was well known to all. It was next to impossible to cross the impassable mountains with their troops to capture Afghanistan. So why was this siege done was totally beyond the understanding of the thinkers and rulers in Britain. When the government changed there, Lord Ellenborough was appointed with immediate orders to vacate. The words of Dost Mohammad sums up the defeated purpose of the war. “I have been struck by the magnitude of your resources, your ships, your arsenals, but what I cannot understand is why the rulers of so vast and flourishing an empire should have gone across the Indus to deprive me of my poor and barren country.”

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