Are Punjabi Muslims martial? Do they have a history of war and conquest or at least of resistance to conquest? I ask because there’s no evidence of their martial character in our history. No general, no subedar, no thanedar, no wazir, no bakhshi of the Mughal empire was a Punjabi Muslim so far as I know.
I might be wrong about this but there are only two Punjabi Muslims named in Mughal texts. The first is Kamaal Khan Gakkhar, who submitted (without fighting) to Akbar in 1576, according to Akbarnama. The second is Jalal Khan Gakkhar, an old man named among the victims by Jahangir in a skirmish with Afghans in 1620. A third reference is indirect, the name of the author of Shah Jahan’s Padishahnama is Shaikh Abdul Hamid “Lahori”. The Ain-e-Akbari has one joint reference to Janjuas and Awans, calling them tribes conquered by Afghans. There are of course Punjabi Hindus (mainly Khatris) who fought for the Mughals with distinction. Like Todar Mal, who led the sapping at the siege of Chittorgarh against the Sisodiya Rajputs, and also settled the revenue system for Akbar. Maathir ul Umara says Todar Mal was born in Lahore, though British scholars thought this was Laharpur in Awadh.
Where are the Punjabi Muslims? The fact is that the Punjabi Muslim is a convert mainly from the peasantry (Jat) which is not martial. General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is Gakkhar, a caste that claims Rajput ancestry. The second Rohtas fort was built by Sher Khan Suri to pacify the Gakkhars. In his Tuzuk, Jahangir makes the remark in passing that the Gakkhars are warlike, but adds that they only fight among themselves. Meanwhile Rajput, Afghan, Maratha, Sikh, Jat (Hindu) and tribal Hindu generals all fought for and against Mughal armies. Rajputs had to be continually submitted by force, except for the loyal Kachwahas of Ambar (Jaipur). Right down to Aurangzeb, according to Maasir-e-Alamgiri, Mewar’s Sisodiyas and Marwar’s Rathors resisted the emperor. I clarify here that Muslims other than Punjabis fought the Mughals, and some very well.
Uttar Pradesh’s Rohilla Afghans were enemies of the Mughals and one of them (Najibud Daulah) ruled from Mughal Delhi for 10 years. Turkish-speaking Turani Sunnis and Farsi-speaking Irani Shias were the most important parties in the Mughal court. The former ranked as better fighters than the latter, who were better administrators. The fiercest Indian-origin Muslims were Shias, the Syeds of Barha (in Uttar Pradesh). The Maratha light cavalry was devastating and ended Muslim rule over India. The Sikhs captured Punjab and raided west up to Kabul and east up to the Doab. The Jats south of Delhi made life miserable for the later Mughals. Even the Baniya general Hemu showed martial character, almost ending Mughal rule before falling at the second battle of Panipat.
What exactly did the Punjabi Muslim do? Invaders who got past Peshawar could then only be stopped at Karnal or Panipat because they went through Punjab undisturbed. It is true that the armies of both Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali were harassed in Punjab on their return with Mughal booty, but their attackers were Sikhs, not Muslims. Punjab was a quiet state. Punjabi Muslims neither rebelled against Mughal Delhi nor fought any invader whether Afghan or Persian. Was this because the Punjabi did not want to fight other Muslims? Not really, because he did not even resist being conquered easily by Sikhs.
It is the Englishman who 150 years ago gave the Punjabi Muslim a rifle and taught him how to use it. But this did not require any martial background. The British Bengal army was full of UP Brahmins (like Mangal Pandey). It is only after this formation of the modern regiments, that Punjabi Muslims are called martial by writers like GF MacMunn. After the English left, the record of Punjabi Muslims at war under their own generals is not sterling. I count one draw and one loss and I’m being charitable. Against the Pashtun Talib the record is not encouraging, despite the thousands of martyrs. Nadir Shah said of Indian Muslims after the battle of Karnal that they “know how to die, but not how to fight”.
This is fine and many states of India are not martial. Few soldiers were produced by Bengal’s Hindus for instance, and not many by Gujarat even today. But they don’t have the militant bombast of the Punjabi Muslim (who apparently equals 10 Hindus). I’m just wondering what this bombast is based on because I cannot figure it out.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 30th, 2012.