KARACHI: In the 1960s, Pakistan Army officer Major General Fazal Muqeem Khan made the historically false assertion that “One measure of the lack of British trust in the Muslims was evident in the British Indian Army. While there were several wholly Hindu and Sikh infantry battalions in the army, there was never a single combatant all-Muslim unit. The Muslims were ever mindful of their nobler past, resisted the new Western influence at every turn. Most Hindus had no such scruples”. This is from page nine of Fazal Muqeem’s officially-sponsored book The Story of the Pakistan Army, published in 1961. All of what Major General Fazal Muqeem stated had nothing to do with the truth!
Firstly, Muslims were actually saved by the English East India Company from total political extinction in all parts of India. Delhi, the Muslim capital, was in the hands of Hindu Marathas in 1803 when the English Company captured it. Punjab, whose Muslims later became martial thanks to British policy, was ruled by a Sikh minority. Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu, Nowshera and Dera Ismail Khan were all under Sikh rule. Thus, the mullahs of Peshawar and Bannu hailed the East India Company as liberator of Muslims in their Friday sermons. Sindh was only saved by the Treaty of Amritsar forced on Ranjeet Singh by the English Company in 1809 wherein the Sikh was ordered not to attack and occupy Sindh.
Hindus constituted 80 per cent of the Bengal Army units, which rebelled in 1857, although the leaders of the rebellion were the Hindustani and Ranghar Muslim cavalrymen who constituted just about four per cent of the army.
On the other hand, Muslims from Punjab and the present-day Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province constituted some 40 to 50 per cent of all Indian troops who loyally fought for the British against the Hindu and Muslim rebels of 1857.
As for General Muqeem’s claim, which was picked up without investigation by Stephen Cohen when he wrote his book on the Pakistan Army in the 1980s, it is patently false. The First Bengal Cavalry, also known as ‘Skinners Horse’, was Hindustani Muslim and Ranghar as early as 1857. The 15 Lancers was an all-Muslim regiment from its raising in 1857 till 1916. Also, the 17th Lancers was an all-Muslim unit, till the end of the First World War.
In addition, the Bengal Army had six all-Muslim infantry battalions in 1893: the Fifth, 12th, 17th, 18th, 33rd and the 40th. The Fifth, 12th and 17th Infantries were entirely Hindustani and Ranghar Muslim units. The 18th and 33rd Infantries were 100 per cent Punjabi Muslim units and the 40th Infantry was entirely Pathan Muslim. In addition, there was the 126th Harazra Pioneers, an all Muslim Shia Hazara unit. As late as 1945, there was the Fourth Battalion of the Indian Parachute Regiment, also an all-Muslim unit. The 15th Lancers was only made a mixed regiment after its Pathan Muslim squadrons refused to fight against the Turks in Iraq in 1916. The Fifth Light Infantry was only disbanded after it rebelled under a false impression that it was being sent to fight the Turks and rebelled and captured Singapore for two days in 1915.
After the First World War, all Muslim units were discontinued since troops had bayoneted British officers, defected to German and Turkish lines in actual fighting and refused orders to fight.
What General Muqeem managed to create is quite similar to the myth of the so-called 26 Indian consulates in Afghanistan. This, too, is a distortion of the truth but seems to be widely repeated — and believed — by large parts of Pakistan’s media.
Agha H Amin
Published in The Express Tribune, January 1st, 2013.