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Events Sikhs in Iran - The Siege of Herat 1837-1838

Discussion in 'History of Sikhism' started by Admin Singh, Nov 3, 2010.

  1. Admin Singh

    Admin Singh
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    The Siege of Herat 1837-1838
    By: John Carl Nelson, 1976

    Intrigues in Afghanistan 1834 - 1837

    Of all the territories once ruled by Ahmad Shah, by 1835 only Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat remained, each under a different ruler. Economic ruin accompanied anarchy, and the population of Herat and Kandahar declined 60-70% in the years since the fall of Zaman Shah. Kabul was better off but was barely holding its own.[1] The only significant result of Shah Shuja's invasion of 1834 was that it left the Sikhs in control of Peshawar. Ranjit Singh's rule now extended all across the Indus up to the edge of the mountains. He had deprived the Durranis of their richest provinces and the loss was acutely felt. Responsibility for defense against the Sikhs and recovery of lost land now fell on Dost Mohammed. In May 1835, he faced the Sikhs in battle at the mouth of the Khyber pass. Some of his key leaders deserted however, and he retired, defeated, to Kabul.[2] Next Dost Mohammed tried diplomacy. In May 1836, he wrote to the new Governor-General, Lord Auckland, congratulating hin on his appointment and expressing the hope that the British might restrain the aggression of the Sikhs.[3] Auckland replied that it was "not the practice of the British Government to interfere with the affairs of other independent states".[4]

    Getting nothing from the British, Dost began to look elsewhere. Early in 1837 he wrote to Mohammed Shah of Persia complaining about all his troubles and asking for Persian aid. He even made the gesture of admitting Persian sovereignty, and stated that if Persia did not help him he would have to turn to the British. In return for Persian help against the Sikhs he would aid the Shah against Herat.[5] Since there was little that Persia could do to harm the Sikhs at this point, Dost Mohammed was apparently trying to use the threat of turning to Persia to gain help from the British. In the absence of a response from India however, his feelers to the Shah took on more significance.

    While extending these diplomatic feelers, Dost made another try with his army. In April 1837 his son, Mohammed Akbar Khan, led the army out of the Khyber pass and defeated the Sikhs. But he failed to take any of the Sikh forts, much less Peshawar itself. Ranjit Singh poured in reinforcements, determined to hold Peshawar at all costs, and Akbar was forced to retreat.[6] Dost Mohammed was bitter over this frustrating campaign and even more determined to succeed another time. Afghan-Sikh relations were worsening at a most crucial time.

    This conflict upset the calculations of those in charge of the forward policy. For trade to flourish there had to be peace between Afghans and Sikhs. The British were thus confronted with the problem of how to make peace between the two when neither would consider it unless he held Peshawar. At this point Auckland sent Alexander Burnes on another mission to Kabul. This was ostensibly a commercial mission to arrange for trade, but the Peshawar problem was at the heart of the matter since Dost wanted British support on that score before granting any concessions. Burnes' mission also took on another dimension as, while he was making his way to Kabul, the Persians were marching on Herat.[7]

    Herat was almost in ruins at this time. Struggles among the Sadozais, Persian threats and invasions, tribal raids and feuds, and cholera had reduced the population of the city from 100,000 to 40,000 since 1810. The traditional industries collapsed as the people either died off or simply moved away. That Herat had survived at all as an independent principality is a comment on its enemies. Shah Mahmud died in 1829 and Kamran, his son, once he succeeded to the title, abandoned affairs of state to his vizier, Yar Mohammed Khan. Yar Mohammed followed a policy of strengthening Herat while undermining Kamran and he soon had complete control in his own hands.[8]

    Herat would probably have fallen to the Persians in 1833 but for the death of Abbas Mirza. Yar Mohammed made an agreement with Mohammed Mirza to pay tribute but as soon as the Persian army was gone he promptly forgot all about it.[9] During the next few years Yar was busy building up his power. In 1834 he established a measure of control over Seistan, which had gone its own way since the death of Ahmad Shah. This was a direct challenge to both Kandahar and Persia since they both claimed Seistan. Yar was also successful in controlling, or at least gaining the cooperation of the tribes surrounding Herat. He repaired the city walls, built up his army, and conducted purges of possible pro-Persian people in his territory. By 1837 the vizier was in complete control, and Kamran was reduced to a mere puppet, in fear for his own life. Kamran continued to be useful however, as a scapegoat to blame oppression and misfortune on.[10]

    The strengthening of Herat was particularly threatening to Kandahar. Kohendil Khan, who ruled the city after his older brothers died in 1829, was afraid of the Sikhs and jealous of his brother, Dost Mohammed, the British were far away, so the only ones he could turn to for help against Herat were the Persians. In July 1836, Kohendil sent an ambassador to the Shah proposing that Kandahar submit to Persia, retaining only internal autonomy. Kandahar was then to help Persia against Herat in return for aid against Dost Mohammed and the Sikhs. Persia was agreeable because it could use the help against Herat, and also because Kandahar had once belonged to the Safavis and even its nominal submission would be an accomplishment.


    Notes to Chapter 8

    1. Gregorian, pp.52-58.
    2. Sir Olaf Caroe, The Pathans 550 B.C. - A.D. 1957 (London: Macmillan, 1958), pp. 312-314; Ferrier, p. 204<./li>
    3. Correspondence Relating to Persia and Afghanistan, Dost Mohammed to Auckland, May 31, 1836; Auckland to Dost Mohammed, August 22, 1836, pp. 395-397.
    4. Correspondence, Dost Mohammed to Mohammed Shah, pp. 27-28.
    5. Caroe, Pathans, pp. 314-315.
    6. Norris, pp. 90-113, 118-123.
    7. Ferrier, pp. 173-174; Gregorian, pp. 43, 424n.
    8. Correspondence, Ellis to Palmerston, December 30, 1835, p. 6; Ferrier, 175-176.
    9. Correspondence, McNeill to Macnaghten, January 22, 1837, p. 26; Ferrier, pp. 76-77.
    10. Correspondence,Ellis to Palmerston, April 1, 1836, p.11; Ferrier, p. 193.
     
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  3. Chaan Pardesi

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    JC Nelson should know better that HERAT is not in Iran but in western Afghanistan.It is the gateway city into Iran from Afghanistan.The title 'Sikhs in Iran' is misleading and inappropriate.Sikhs in Afghanistan would have been more accurate.

    The author has attempted to link erroneously the Sikh- Persian relationship to be at odds.This was not so.The Sikhs had no advantage to be involved around Herat as it was far removed west from the Khalsa Raj boundaries,towards the east .Rather , it worked to the advantage of the Sikhs if the tribal muslims were kept busy by Persia and others towards the west.The Sikh Forces remained far east of Herat.

    Although, in it's early years some military forays were carried out towards Herat by the forces of Khalsa Raj , without much strategy or long term planning.This was mostly to chase the tribal muslim rebels out from the regions occupied by the Sikhs.

    The historical facts are as the North West Frontier & Afghan Border was restless and fighting the Khalsa Raj forces, trade was comming to the Punjab from the Middle east through Quetta.Both Sikhs and the Persian realised this worked in their favour.Punjab valued the trade from middle east through Persia as much the Persians wanted the trade from India and Punjab.Because of the distance involved between the two, war between the two was never an issue.

    Maharajah Ranjit Singh also knew that almost all the muslim states and tribes to the North West were unsettled and at odds with his Raj, Persia on the other hand was relatively calm and adhered to a much more tolerant islam.Both gained more through friendship, than fighting.

    Maharajah Ranjit Singh also recognised the Persians being shia were not persuaded to the sunni muslim argument that jihad be declared against the Sikhs.

    However, this changed when the British arrived in Sind, and later in Baluchistan.No longer the boundaries of Persia and Sikh Raj met each other thereafter.But trade stil continued between the two now through british occupied territory.This author has attempted to distort Sikh history.
     
  4. Admin Singh

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    Gurfateh Chaan Pardesi Ji,

    Afghanistan formed a part of Iran collectively known as The Greater Iran or The Greater Persia...

    Richard Nelson Frye defines Greater Iran as including "much of the Caucasus, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, with cultural influences extending to China, western India, and the Semitic speaking world." According to Frye, "Iran means all lands and peoples where Iranian languages were and are spoken, and where in the past, multi-faceted Iranian cultures existed."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_Iran
     
  5. Chaan Pardesi

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    Dear Veer Aman Singh Ji,Gurfateh ....

    Richard Nelson Fyre speaks of a different era and one that existed long before 1834,in which the current subject in question occurs.

    The Greater Iran or Persia concept during the late bronze age, is based upon cultural influences; as such present day Punjab could be argued to be part of that concept.But Punjab is not.The core of greater Iranian state included Asia Minor and up to Sind.But based upon cultural traits, Punjab falls within to the outer ring of that defined concept as well.Punjabi language etc. and culture is heavily Persian influenced.

    A smaller number of Persian tribes and traders have gone as far as China and all that Fyre defines, does not necessarily mean Iranians had any political clout to become part of that greater Iran concept.I say, Fyre has misguidedly mixed the islamic influences within his concept esspecially dealing with lands east of the Punjab.

    This concept anyway no longer existed by 1834.It is not a political concept and not within the context of the subject being discussed by John Carl Nelson.In fact the greater iran concept totally or whatever remained of it ended even before the end of Nadir Shah Afshar's rule and the Afsharid empire of Persia, which was ended by Abdul Shah Durrani.Duranni later invaded Punjab.

    Based upon records I hold from the British Library ,Sikhs hardly had much to do with Herat.

    I am sorry to say Fyre's concept holds no water and I reject it as of no academic value.

    It is very much like saying the GREATER Punjab REGION extends to Malaysia and further east to Fiji islands, while in the west it extends to Britain, Europe and the North Americas based upon the cutural practices and language of Punjabis, prevalent in these countries currently!

    I hope, my point is clear.

    Gurfateh.
     
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