The making of myths — and lies — in Pakistan

Published: December 31, 2012

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.


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Reader Comments (16)

  • afzaalkhan
    Dec 31, 2012 - 10:25PM

    So book was published in 1961 and you rebutt it now? ok i get it thanks :p


  • American Desi
    Dec 31, 2012 - 11:09PM

    @afzaalkhan: Truth doesn’t have an expiration date. Another point for you to consider – so many of the advocates (Sir Syed, Sir Iqbal etc.,) of Pakistan (or Muslim supremacy) were awarded Knighthood by the British, why?!


  • Babloo
    Jan 1, 2013 - 1:57AM

    Pakistan history is build on lies and its history sustained by lies. More lies need to be fed to keep the previous lies going.


  • Jan 1, 2013 - 2:01AM

    Agha Amin-
    A very informative blurb. One of the rare pieces I have seen that is backed with data. It would be good to know if you blog somewhere. I have some follow-up questions. The very fact that Muslims were part of British Army in reasonable numbers shows that they were not that politically isolated and were considered trustworthy. Then, why an average Muslim on the street felt alienated and scared about how things will look like in Post-British India, a fear that eventually manifested itself in Pakistan movement?


  • Satish
    Jan 1, 2013 - 9:06AM

    It’s New Year and I want to be polite to all Pakistani friends but you know that we can’t accept things like Two Nation Theory and such stuff. For us it’s a myth and lie. The simplest example I can cite is Jinnah in Bombay. While a lawyer there for around 30 years, his servants in his house, his clerks, his fellow layers, his clients, his friends, his neighbors, were mostly Hindu. Until 1940, how did the Two-Nation Theory manifest itself in Jinnah’s life? In his 1940s speeches, he often used to say “We (Hindus and Muslims) are different in every way…. …We cannot only get together in the ballot box” And yet isn’t that exactly what he did in the 30 years while he was in Bombay, before he started supporting Pakistan in 1940? Contradictions upon contradictions. The Two-Nation Theory is an inhumane, intolerant belief that has the worst implications of all for Pakistani Hindus, and it has no place in 2013.


  • SK
    Jan 1, 2013 - 9:20AM

    “Then, why an average Muslim on the street felt alienated and scared about how things will look like in Post-British India, a fear that eventually manifested itself in Pakistan movement?”

    If I remember right Muslim League, which was advocating two nation theory got only 25% of MUSLIM” vote in the 1938 elections. In 1946 when many secular forces including Badshah Khan’s Khudai Khidmatgar’s had boycotted the elections was finally ML placed in power by the British due to their support during in World War II.

    In fact Punjab and Bengal were already being governed by non ML but Muslim chief minister led governments and they asked how will Muslims gain by partitioning what we already rule!

    The anti-colonial record (ghairat) of two nation theorists is actually quite shameful and is something to introspect. Naturally this continued with subservience to Anglo-American interests post 1947 during the cold war.
    The glorious days of India are those when Hindus and Muslims of different regions and castes fought against imperialism together like under Hyder-Tipu Sultan or under Bahadur Shah Zafar. The record after 1857 is quite sordid accept for revolutionaries like Ghadar Party, Bhagat Singh etc. Congress and League just usurped the fruits of millions of people’s sacrifice in the struggle against British and played their divide and rule game very cynically.


  • Observer
    Jan 1, 2013 - 10:16AM


    “Then, why an average Muslim on the street felt alienated and scared about how things will look like in Post-British India, a fear that eventually manifested itself in Pakistan movement?”

    That was all propaganda by the elite wealthy Muslims who drummed up these lies to protect their wealth and power by creating Pakistan.


  • Another North Indian
    Jan 1, 2013 - 1:40PM


    Express Tribune graduated into another league today by having you on its pages. Here’s wishing you and your family a very happy, peaceful, and prosperous new year.


  • immad
    Jan 1, 2013 - 2:39PM

    Two Nation theory was not a lie but separate state from Muslim on religious lines was a mistake.It proved wrong or at least it seems so now given the state of affairs in Pakistan .Moreover creation of Bengladesh is again a question Mark .There is no denying the fact fact that Muslims and Hindus were /are religiously different but they have similar cultural and social background.


  • afzaalkhan
    Jan 1, 2013 - 8:12PM

    @American Desi

    Mate I didn’t dispute the author just pointing out book was published in 1960 and rebuttal is 50 yrs late. Reading indian comments here proves once again Pakistan was not a mistake :)


  • Javelin
    Jan 1, 2013 - 11:30PM

    “Reading indian comments here proves once again Pakistan was not a mistake”
    I agree with you. It is the best thing that has happened. India would be a mess with another 300 million muslims.


  • John F
    Jan 2, 2013 - 12:18AM

    Division of sub continent was a Hindu plot hatched out by the British and Jinnah was childishly naive and fell into the trap. Only Maulana Azad understood the plot : it was the Muslims who were divided into 3. Nothing much happened to the Hindus. 65 years later India is progressing while I don’t have to say which direction muslims of Pakistan are heading. Muslims divided will never have the clout as they could have had in a united India. Overall, the division of the sub-continent came out as a big advantage for Hindus and Jinnah (in years to come will make clear) did the biggest dis-service to Muslims.
    The way forward is to take the European example and do away with borders, but Im not sure the Hindus will agree to it.


  • Adeel
    Jan 2, 2013 - 6:04PM

    Well researched and well present, Agha. If I am not wrong Fazal Muqeem’s book was published in 1973, not 1961. You might check on that. I don’t think this factor should lead others to question the Two-Nation theory which is an entirely different subject, as some comments show. It should lead to reduction of myth building on either side of the border, as Agha has done. There is enough work to be done without getting into subjects of which many lack the necessary historical background.


  • Sceptic
    Jan 3, 2013 - 12:47PM

    @John F

    ‘Jinnah did (in years to come will make clear) biggest dis-service to Muslims.’

    Very astute and courageous observation. You recommend doing away with the borders, but doubt whether hindus will agree to it. I think the hindus of Pakistan and Bangladesh will agree. But do you think Muslims, especially from Pakistan and Bangladesh would agree?
    Would appreciate your take on this.


  • Jan 5, 2013 - 4:07PM

    Its not a question of Hindus or Muslims; look at the world in the last 20-25 years. More borders have been created than removed. It is not physical borders that should stop nations from building economic and trade ties. Whether Jinnah was right or Azad, ‘Hindsight is an exact science’, and we now have the luxury of advising, Jinnah and Gandhi and Churchill and Alexander on the best course forward. Partition was not a plot, it was a natural outcome of many decades of social, economic and political history. And in History, there are no Rights and Wrongs


  • Ahmed
    Jan 9, 2013 - 6:10PM

    @American Desi:
    Sorry but you like 1000s of others dont know the true history around who advocated pakistan. Sir Syed never advocated Pakistan, neither did Iqbal. Infact, there are documented letters from Iqbal explicitly opposing the Pakistan scheme in the 1930s and mentioning how Pakistan scheme would be a disaster for Punjab.


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