Sunday, April 29, 2012




Hunza, from centuries of obscurity, first came to the limelight of the modern history in the later quarter of 19th century. The struggle for political ascendancy between the British and Russian imperialism which took place from the snow capped Caucasus in the West, across the great deserts and mountain ranges of central Asia to Chinese Turkistan and Tibet in the east over the best part of 19th century is given the name of “Great Game”. It all begin in the early years of 19th century when Russian troops started to fight their way southward through the Caucasus towards northern Persia. In 1807, the British got the intelligence on the joint designs of Tsar Alexander‑I of Russia and Napoleon Bonaparte of France to jointly invade India and wrest of the British dominion. Orders were hastily issued to explore and map thoroughly all the routes by which an intruder might reach India so that suitable defense could be planned. As the Russians advances towards Khiva, Bokhara (1866 AD) and Qoqand ( 1876 AD) gathered momentum, the great game intensified. The vast area constituting political no‑man’s land became the adventure playground for ambitious young officers and explorers of both sides as they mapped the passes and deserts across which armies would have to march if war came to the region. Most of the players in the shadowy game struggle were professional Indian Army Officers or political agents. Some amateurs went in disguise, while others in full regimentals. For dangerous areas, Indian Hillman of exceptional intelligence and resources, specially trained in clandestine surveying techniques were dispatched disguised as Muslim holy men or Buddhist pilgrims. Winston Churchill, who served in the North Western Frontier of India, described this category of men playing their part in the ‘Great Game’ in the following words: “Every man is a warrior, a politician and a theologian” (B.3, page 51). “Gilgit Game”, was but a small part of this “Great Game”. The government of British India adopted what is known as “Forward Policy” in this area also. This meant getting there first, either by invasion or by creating compliant “buffer states” or satellites astride the likely invasion routes. In 1873,the second mission headed by Sir Douglas Forsythe to the court of Yaqub Beg at Kashghar, on their way back obtained permission of Amir Yaqub Beg for the travel of a party headed by lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gordon and two other officers with a small escort of the Indian Corps of Guides through a route across the Pamirs. They found that a crucial fifty miles unclaimed gap between Afghanistan and Kashgaria could be easily occupied by the Russians thereby bringing them even closer to the northern India. They also assessed that Baroghal through Chitral and Ishkoman pass through Gilgit could be used to launch attack from Pamir on India. As a result Maharajah of Kashmir was encouraged to extend his political influence northwards to Chitral and Yasin enabling him to exercise some sort of control over these passes. If actual conquest were necessary then the British would be prepared to give him material help. {G.3, Page 356} Arrival of the Tories in 1874 to power in England had facilitated vigorous perusal of aggressive policies by Benjamin Disraeli. In the same context Forsythe proposed appointment of a British agent at Gilgit who without jeopardizing any British life, would use locals to gather information on the Russian designs in the frontier regions and passes. Gilgit was thus considered a watchtower to the defense of Indian subcontinent. In 1876 the British through the Modhupur Settlement allowed Maharajah of Kashmir to gain control over Gilgit and Yasin and establishment of agency in Gilgit. In the same year Captain Biddulph of the Bengal Cavalry and an ADC to Northbrook the Viceroy in India, and a man of considerable experience in the exploratory errands in the Pamirs, Wakhan and Sinkiang, was detailed on a highly confidential mission of establishing the feasibility to extend Kashmir rule right up to the Hindu Kush passes and placing there of the Dogra troops. The secret was known only to the Maharajah himself and his deputy in Gilgit who were sworn to secrecy. On the face of it, he was to cover this espionage through an innocent looking hunting trip but it actually involved survey of the Ishkoman pass from the southern side (G‑2 Page 86). The overall designs of the British in the region can be gauged from the following opinion, expressed in the preface to his book ‘Tribes of Hindu Kush’ by Major J Biddulph, BSC, an active player in the game, published in Calcutta in 1880 AD:  “Apart from political considerations the countries about which I write, possess much of great ethnological interest, and recent events make it probable that opportunities for further and better organized inquiry will soon be afforded.” He further goes on to tell in another passage: “From Gilgit mountain roads radiate into all the surrounding villages and it is easy to see how favorable is its position for the establishment of the head quarters of a confederacy of small states”.
Hunza was not included in the original itinerary, but an invitation from the Mir of Hunza revealed the possibility of a round trip, exploring up the Hunza valley to Wakhan and returning down the Ishkoman. As a safety, the Mir of Hunza was diplomatically asked for placing a hostage in Gilgit, which was arranged by positioning a son of Wazir Asadullah Beg. Biddulph started his journey for Hunza on August 13, 1876. In Hunza Mir Ghazan Khan asked Biddulph to arrange restitution of Chalt and Chaprot, which only one year earlier had treacherously been occupied by the Mir of Nager ‑ on the basis of manipulations by Rajab Beg of Chaprot, his consequent death at the hands of men from Hunza and consequent change in alliance of the people of Chaprot ‑ was put to him as a prerequisite for him to be able to proceed ahead to Wakhan. Biddulph however refused to arrange surrender of Chaprot, and consequently had to return to Gilgit. On his return he recommended that:
*        Chaprot should be occupied by the Maharajah’s troops, this would effectively save Gilgit from attack on that side.
*        Hunza and Nager should be openly claimed as British territory on the strength of the tribute they pay to the Maharajah.
*        A frontier exploration of the north part of Kanjut (The designation used by Chinese for Hunza) should be insisted on.
The tribute referred to above was of nominal value and paid by all the rulers in the entire area not just to Kashmir but to most of their neighbors including China in return for gifts of considerably higher value. In fact the ruler of Hunza considered these return gifts as an extortion which the Chinese as well as the Maharajah were willing to offer as a means of dissuading the frequent looting raids conducted on the outposts and the hamlets in the border area of these countries by the people of Hunza under his orders. Incidentally this occasion was also used for the slave trade. By the British and the Dogras this ruse was seen as the ideal pretext for advancing their rule, a convenient way of giving some semblance of legality to what was more truthfully, naked aggression (G.2, page 94/95).
The amount of annual tribute sent to Kashmir was 16 Tolas of gold dust (valued at rupees two hundred), a horse, two hunting dogs and a pack of dried fruit through a designated ‘Wakil’. That sent to China through a designated ‘Elchi’ accompanied by 12 men to the ‘AMBAN’ in Yarqand was also 16 Tolas of gold dust (worth about rupees two hundred). The Chinese on their part also claimed suzerainty over ‘Kanjut’ (Hunza) on the basis of the ‘tribute’ which was being sent to them regularly since the agreement made by Mir Khisrow through his son Salim Khan around the year 1722 AD ‑ except for the break of nine years during the reign of Mir Ghazan Khan when Yaqub Beg had established his rule over Xinjiang. Lifan Yuan (or the Court of Colonial Affairs) in Beijing was responsible for the relations with Kanjut and other areas in the Far West outside the Qing (or Ching) Empire. Qing forces garrisoned in Illi Xinjiang (Sinkiang) was given the jurisdiction on the local native rulers and the officials such as ‘TAOTAI’, CHETAI etc. exercised varying degrees of authority (C.1, page 57). The factual situation was, however, that as a result of negotiations extending over several years through TAOTAI of Kashghar and the AMBAN of Yarqand and the representatives of the Mir a formal agreement was drawn up leaving certain specified places in Raskam on lease to the Mir. The boundary generally ran, on the west from Mintaka to Tashkorghan. It ran on the West Bank of Raskam river, Oitughrak, Kaktash, Oprung, Uruklok, Illiksu and on the east bank Azghar and Ursur. The British knew and recognized these arrangements, however, in the years after occupation of Hunza and subsequent restoration of traditional status, they offered to give land to the Mir in Oshikhandas in Gilgit area and increase the annual subsidy by rupees three thousand in return for discontinuation of the gifts to the Chinese court. The Chinese suzerainty claims on Hunza were finally settled on 2nd March 1963 as a result of the treaty between Pakistan and Peoples Republic of China (H.2, page 10). As a result of this treaty an area of about seven hundred square miles of territory under physical control of the Chinese has been handed over to Pakistan.
In 1877 Gilgit Agency was established for the first time and Captain Biddulph posted as the first political agent. In the same year Maharajahs forces helped Nager to occupy Chalt‑Chaprot from the control of Hunza. Eventually, however, in 1886 Colonel Lockhart induced the Nager men to vacate Chalt Fort and got them replaced by Kashmir troops. This he achieved by cashing on the traditional enmity between Nager and Hunza (G.1 Page 8&9). Both the rulers, however, eventually realized this manipulation, who later exchanged promises to unite against the British machinations. In the year 1878 Captain Biddulph conveyed his desire to meet Mir Ghazan Khan who cheerfully consented to the meeting and arranged a party headed by Prince Nazim Khan to proceed to Gilgit as surety for the period of proposed stay in Hunza. The visit however did not materialize that year due to uncertain political conditions in Gilgit and the hostage party returned to Hunza with gifts for the Mir. In 1879, however, then Major Biddulph arrived in Mayun Hunza via Buladas. He was later received in Baltit with great enthusiasm. During the stay in Hunza he exchanged gifts which included two guns, clothes and an oval shaped mirror which is still to be found in the old fort at Baltit. The unwritten agreement included following points: -
         The raids on Leh -Yarqand route would be discontinued.
         Friendly relations and allegiance with the Maharajah and the British would be continued and in return for the same an increase in the annual subsidy to the Mir would be affected.
In 1879, barely two years from the date of establishment, the Gilgit Agency was closed due to administrative difficulties, misunderstanding between the Wizarat and the British Agent, and above all Governor General Lord Rippen’s allergy to the “Forward Policy” (B.1, page-20). It was, however, re-established on 27 July 1889 in the light of following developments: -
         Increased Russian activities in the Pamir under the able direction of Nikolae Petrovsky, the Russian consul for eight years in Sinkiang, and advance of the Russians up to the frontiers of Afghanistan, which necessitated strengthening the line of defense, which included special attention to the Northern passes of the Hindu Kush (M.1, page 119).

         Capture of Chaprot and Chalt and siege of Nomal by the combined forces of Hunza and Nager.
         Favorable reception of British Officers by the Mehtar of Chitral and overall favorable conditions in that country.
         Voluntary request for a visit by a British mission from the Mir of Hunza and Nager.
         Change in conditions of the Kashmir government and reorganization of its army (M.1, page 120).
         Afghan intrigues with tribes.
Ever since the sale of Kashmir to Maharajah Ghulab Singh of Jammu on 16 Mar 1846 under the treaty of Amritsar, the British had constantly endeavored to keep the events in the frontier region under their full control and direction. This was formally arranged by placing the first British Resident Colonel Sir O St. John in the ‘Darbar’ of Raja Pratab Singh, who was installed to the throne on 25 September 1885 after the death of Maharajah Ranbir Singh. In fact effective dual control of Kashmir started with this accession. The British had in fact realized their folly in selling Kashmir to Maharajah Ghulab Singh as early as 1848, as such tried to bring it under their sphere of influence by fair or foul means (B‑1 Preface). On 1st April 1889, the British Indian Government instructed Colonel Nisbat the resident in Kashmir from the Viceroy, to appoint a council consisting of Maharajah’s brothers and three of the four officials selected by the Government of India who would exercise the power of administration under the supervision of the resident while the Maharajah was allowed to retain his rank and dignity as Chief of the State. (B‑1 Page 74). The real motive in deposing Raja Pratab Singh in April 1889 for five years, was the annexation of Gilgit (B‑1, Page 79). The strategic step of road building towards this aim had fervently been pursued through participation by British Engineers and monetary contributions. Sturdy Pathans under British Officers were inducted. In theory, British consented to rule of Maharajah over Gilgit (Wizarat) but in practice, Dogra authority never became fully effective, as such it became part of Kashmir in theory only (P‑1 Page 251). Following these development, the British forward policy was continued with greater vigor; Accordingly in 1885, a special mission to Pamir headed by Colonel William Lockhart was dispatched with the mission to carry out military survey of terrain stretching from Chitral to Hunza and beyond in the east comprising a total area of 1200 Square miles (G‑1, Page 87). The Colonel along with 3 officers, 5 native surveyors and a military escort arrived in Hunza in May 1886 (H‑1, Page 298 and T‑1, Page 433). Prior to the departure for Hunza, the authorities in Gilgit had sent Wazir Ghulam Haider to Mir Ghazan Khan of Hunza for necessary sureties for the safe passage through Hunza and asked for hostages to be placed in Gilgit. Accordingly a 16-member team consisting of Prince Mohammed Nazim Khan, Wazirzada Mohammed Raza Beg, Yarpa Mohammed Zamir, Zarparast son of Yarpa Murato etc. was dispatched to Gilgit for the duration of Lockhart’s sojourn through Hunza. Lockhart was received in Hunza warmly and then allowed to proceed to Badakhshan. Ghazan Khan was latter killed by his son Safdar Ali Khan in collaboration with Dara Beg son of Wazir Asadullah Beg and other well wishers in the winter of 1886 and became the ruler of Hunza mainly for the events connected with the visit of Lockhart.
Lockhart in his memorandum to the foreign office dated 27 February 1886 had made several proposals, which included: -
*        Change in old policy with respect to Mehtar of Chitral asking for subsidies from the Government of India.
*        Scheme for acquiring Gilgit from the Kashmir Darbar and erecting a British Cantonment there.
*        Establishing a garrison (Gilgit Guide Corps) of local people.
*        Carrying the district work under the commandants’ orders.
This was followed by the mission given to young lieutenant Francis Younghusband connected with securing Leh ‑Yarqand trade route (YOUTUBE TRAILER). Younghusband commissioned in the Kings Dragoon Guards at age of 19 in the year 1882 started his north ward journey from Leh on 8 August 1889 with a party of 6 Gorkhas and another party of Kashmiris. They crossed Mustagh pass leading over to Karakorams. He was specifically tasked to: -
*        Learn about the where about of the secret pass used by raiders from Hunza (This was actually Shimshal Pass used for the ‘QARATANG’ errands by the raiding parties from Hunza).
*        Visit the Capital (BALTIT) and warn the ruler (Safdar Ali Khan) that the British Government was no longer prepared to tolerate raiding activities against innocent traders, many of whom were the Empress of India’s subjects, carrying British goods.
*        Also to warn him off, of having anything to do with the Russians (T.1, Page‑451).
The spirit did not last long. In 1888 the combined forces of Hunza, headed by Wazir Dadu Dara Beg, and those of Nager by Wazir Shah Murad retook Chalt from the Kashmiri troops and also attacked the contingent in Nomal. Although Colonel Makhan Singh, the force commander there, and a number of his troops were killed and a number of prisoners captured the attacking force could not continue the siege of Nomal Fort and returned to their bases. All the guns located in Chalt were also carried away (page 847, W.I). The prisoners were later exchanged for the prisoners of Hunza captured by Kashmir forces at Matumdas (now Rahimabad), through the services of Prince Ghoritham of Nager. As a part of the same arrangement the Kashmiri contingent at Chalt was also restored. Mother of Ghoritham was rewarded by Maharajah through a life subsidy for the role she played in bringing about the settlement through her son. In the same year Safdar Ali sent his emissaries to the Chinese authorities in Yarqand and Kashghar requesting for help from the Emperor against imminent attack from Maharajah in collaboration of the brothers of Raja Azur Khan of Nager. An official designated as ‘JHANGDARING’ was sent by the Chinese officials to Hunza to ascertain these facts by ‘DOTAI’ of Kashghar (or the ‘AMBAN’ of Yarqand). As a follow up Prince Nazim Khan was sent with the emissary Nazar Ali Shah along with the annual tribute to ‘DOTAI’ and ‘CHETAI’ in Yarqand. This delegation returned to Hunza with two guns and two boxes of ammunition besides the usual return gifts.
Meanwhile Colonel Durand, the British political agent in Gilgit, accompanied by Captain Manner Smith, Doctor Robertson ‑ the two British officers ‑ Raja Akbar Khan of Punial, Raja Bahadur Khan of Astore and Wazir Ghulam Haider of Gilgit, planned a visit to Hunza and Nager. He stayed in Hunza (Baltit) for 3 days. During the parleys with the Mir and the powerful Wazir Dadu Dara Beg following unwritten agreements were made: -
*        Firstly that the Mir would ensure safe passage through Hunza of the British mail meant for the consul general in Kashghar. For this purpose the locals employed as carriers will get monthly salaries.
*        Secondly no friendship will be established with the Russians and if any Russian happens to reach Hunza the British Agent in Gilgit will be informed.
*        Thirdly except for the annual exchange of gifts neither Chinese officials are entertained in Hunza nor any correspondence carried out with the Chinese government without first being shown to the Political Agent in Gilgit.
*        Compliance with these conditions will be rewarded through increase in the annual subsidy of Mir from rupees six hundred a year to rupees three thousand and that of Wazir from one hundred to six hundred. Demands from the Mir for equality with the rates allowed to Mehtar of Chitral would not be possible, as the British government in India has not approved it.

Informed the ruler of Hunza about the probable schedule of arrival of younghusband from Ladakh either through Shimshal or Taghdumbash in November and the promise that the payment of enhanced subsidy will be made after the safe passage through Hunza and arrival in Gilgit. Accordingly the ruler dispatched a team of young men with Hawaso and Sultan Beg, notables from Galmit to Shimshal to receive and accompany Younghusband. (The reader may click on this link to read the accounts on Hunza by Younghusband himsef) 
Durand’s visit ended on a bad note as Mir Safdar Ali took fancy to and forcibly acquired the tent used by Colonel Durand at the time of departure from Hunza. Durand also visited Nager to obtain a first hand assessment of the objective situation vis-a-vis his future designs. During this visit, Durand examined the country very carefully noted possible approaches and made road sketches, as a result of which he concluded, “ a decently armed and led force should not have much difficulty in forcing its way in.” (M.I, page 149). He also concluded that the route through Nager was relatively easier for an attacker.
During his travel in Pamir, Younghusband accidentally met Grombchevsky also at a place called Khaian Aksai. The party reached Galmit in Hunza in November 1889. In Galmit a 13‑gun salute was given. Younghusband, dressed in full regimentals went to meet the ruler, he noticed that there was no chair for him in the marquee. He immediately got the camp chair through one of his Gorkhas and placed it alongside the ruler ‑ to show that he represented the greatest sovereign on earth and is not to be treated lightly. He also arranged a demonstration of firepower. During the discussion, which was nothing but ‘stones and ice’, Younghusband offered subsidy in return for stopping the raids. The party left Hunza on 23 November accompanied by the representatives invited for participation in the annual ‘JALSA’ scheduled at Christmas at Gilgit via Nager where they were joined by the team from Nager headed by Raja Azur Khan and Prince Ghoritham Khan. In the ensuing report, Younghusband recommended military action against Safdar Ali lest he invites Russians (T‑1 Page 461/62). Shortly afterwards a Kashmir detachment was placed at the head of Shimshal Pass, and raids from Hunza were also discontinued.
A few months ahead of arrival of Captain Younghusband, in 1888 Captain Grombtchevsky a Russian explorer, along with a 12 men Cassock escort got to Hunza from Marghlan through Sariqool and met the ruler and other elite, specifically the fearsome and impressive Wazir Dara Beg. He stayed for well over a month and half and during this period he impressed on the elite that: -
*                    He has come to Hunza on behalf of the Tsar because of the news that Hunza has been captured by the British and brought under their control.
*                    If Hunza becomes friendly to Russia and accepts her suzerainty then Russia would give twice the subsidies and even more than what the British can offer because the British are misers while the Russians are generous.
*                    A Russian emissary will be positioned in Hunza and also build a military garrison so that British can not dare harm Hunza.
*                    Large amounts of war material such as guns, cannons etc. will be brought from Russia and fighters of Hunza trained so that British and Dogras do not dare to set their foot on the soil of Hunza.
*                    A delegation may accompany him to Marghlan where he would personally apprise the ‘ERUM BADSHAH’ on the objective conditions of Hunza so that suitable protective measures can be taken.
*                    Attention of Russian government is presently concentrated on building cantonments and forts at Murghab, Qizil Rabat, Aqtash and Taghdumbash. A training center in Hunza will be built after the construction projects at these places are completed. Till that time Hunza should be very careful in dealing with the British (H.1, page 324/25).
To the British, this appeared as the long feared Russian penetration of the passes. Not long afterwards, three travelers believed to be Russian crossed the Baroghal Pass and entered Chitral (they were seized and sent to Simla ‑ where they were recognized to be French Explorers) (T‑1 Page 449). These events and the apparent political penetration in the small northern states in the paths of advance created a feeling of uneasiness in the British minds.
Occupation of Bozai Gumbaz in July 1891 by the Russians caused feverish response. British protests caused withdrawal of Russian troops from the ‘Pamir Gap’ from which Colonel Yanov had earlier expelled Younghusband and Davidson. Incursion by Yanov and his cassocks into Pamir, a short distance from Chitral and Gilgit had given a nasty freight to Defense Chiefs. In 1891 another Russian party reached the summit of the Darkot pass at the head of the Yasin valley. Accordingly the decision to ‘lock the door on our side’ beginning with Hunza ‑ regarded as the most vulnerable small northern state ‑ was made. From that date onward Safdar Ali’s fate was sealed.
In the spring of 1891 Colonel Durand had received the intelligence from the captured spy from Hunza that Hunza is planning to seize the Kashmiri held fort at Chalt. According to this intelligence, the detailed plan for capturing Chalt Fort ran as follows: ‘Men from Hunza carrying loads on their back to look like Coolies from Gilgit, were to seek shelter in the fort for the night. Once inside, they would fall on the unsuspecting defenders, engaging them long enough to allow other warriors concealed nearby to pour in after them.’ Consequently as a precaution the rope bridge on the Hunza side was cut, Kashmiri garrison was fortified and logistic support arrangements were strengthened. Meanwhile following events took place and provided the immediate excuse for the advance on Hunza and Nager: -
         The ruler of Hunza sold a Kashmiri, seized near Chalt to slavery.
         Following withdrawal of the Kashmiri detachment from the head of Shimshal pass for the winters, Hunza resumed raids of Leh‑Yarqand caravan routes and other communities.
         In May 1891, Ghoritham, a British favorite and informer on Hunza and Nager, and his younger brother Ding Malik, got killed at the hands of Raja Azur Khan of Nager, at Gholmet. After these murders, Raja Azur Khan wrote an insolent letter to Colonel Durand announcing what he had done (W.1, page 354).
         Letters meant for Captain Younghusband in Pamir were not allowed to be carried through Hunza (W.1, page 353).

A force consisting of 1000 Gorkhas and Kashmiris of the Imperial Service Troops and several hundred Pathan road building troops were assembled in November 1891 in Gilgit under the Command of Colonel Durand. A battery of mountain artillery, seven engineers and sixteen British officers complemented the force. The contingent of fighting levies from Punial, raised in 1889 by Colonel Durand as the precursor of Gilgit Scouts, was also included in the invasion force. They took more than a week to reach Chalt, the forward base of operation. Then on 1 December 1891, the British force crossed over the improvised bridge on river Hunza to “Harespo Das” on the Nager side (T.I, Page 474). The ensuing battles at Nilt fort and defeat of combined forces of Hunza and Nager at THOL have been described in some detail in the main chapters of the book. The people of Hunza had never known defeat before Colonel Durand’s successful campaign, as such majority of leaders and men were disheartened and shocked. However, the remaining people in Hunza and specially those in the upper tracts of Gujal accepted the defeat with cheery resignation and accepted the British Raj without bearing any ill will for having carried war into the valley. In fact defeat had proved a blessing while victory would have brought no advantage (W.1, Page 497). This event in fact proved a precursor of a new and improved image in the world for the people of Hunza. This can be appreciated by reading typical extracts from passages written on the character of the people of Hunza ‑ first one is by E.F. Knight who took part in the campaign against Hunza ( published -  in 1892), second one by E.O. Lorimer who spent about two years in Hunza in 1934‑35 with her husband for their research, the third is by an American researcher, Ranee Taylor, in 1960 - when she spent considerable time amongst the people of Hunza; Another book “Between The Oxus and the Indus” written by Colonel RCE Shomberg after his extensive travels in 1933-34 and a recent publication appearing “The Discovery of the Hunza River Valley” appearing on the internet: E.F Knight writes: “. Hunzas had for centuries been the terror of all the people between Afghanistan and Yarqand… So great was the dread inspired by these robbers that… But this whole sale brigandage, had as it was, only a minor offense when put by the side of the systematized slave dealing in which these scourges of the frontier have been engaged from time immemorial… and the abominable cruelty with which the Kanjutis treat their prisoners Kashmir sepoys have been surprised and carried off into captivity by these daring ruffians …The rulers of these two states were, ignorant and bloodthirsty scoundrels, faithless to their treaty obligations and incapable of respecting anything but force. … Patricide and fratricide may be said to be hereditary failings of the royal families of Hunza and Nager. The Hunzas and Nagers cordially hate each other  …but the Hunzas have the greater reputation for courage. … Hunzas are of that curious sect known as Maulai and are abhorred as Kafirs by stricter Mohammedan for their wine bibling propensities and their generally irreligious way of living. The Hunzas, indeed, appear to be entirely free from any Mussalman prejudices or bigotry”. : Another writer E.O.Lorimer, who spent considerable time with her husband amongst the people of Hunza for research on Burushaski language, describes the characteristics of the people as follows: “There is something very winning about the complete lack of servility in Hunza. The people are hospitable, courteous, and polite, and too self respecting to omit the deference due to the ‘The Great’, but they own their soil and live their lives and can look the whole world in the face. They serve you faithfully and ungrudgingly and more than earn what you pay, but they are servants of none. For which reason I wish we had some other word for these lovable peasants who worked for us”.
Colonel Shomberg on page 128 of his book writes: “What, then, are the people of Hunza like? I should describe them as fair- skinned, well built and active, of medium height and rather broad.  They are adaptable and responsive and their intellect is above the average of their neighbors.  Perhaps they are chiefly conspicuous for their powers of endurance and physical activity.  They are essentially a manly race, and on the hillside they are unequalled.  They are fine workers, good shikaris, and as tillers of the soil quite in a class apart.  They alone – and this strikes me as truly remarkable –are good craftsmen.  As carpenters and masons, as gunsmiths, ironworkers or even as goldsmiths, as engineers for roads, bridges or canals, the Hunza men are outstanding. Even their home-spun cloth is better than any other and in a dozen ways they show their superior skill. Thus it is that, even apart from their physical differences, their qualities of hand and brain separate them from their neighbors: even as servants or coolies they are preferred before any other race in the Agency. 
One of their bad points is their quarrelsomeness. They are great individualists and do not agree easily, and they are selfish towards their families. A Hunza man will go away from home to earn his living, but will seldom send money or even a letter to his relations. Their besetting sin is avarice. Greed is the curse of the Karakoram, but it is worse in Hunza than anywhere else. Even in 1886, when the country was unknown, Sir William Lockhart complained bitterly of the grasping habits of the people who used to demand a thousand times too much for every article supplied. Nothing, not even the most granting of their most extravagant demands, will satisfy them. There is, too, an effrontery and insensibility in their extortions that is repellent.
The good and bad qualities of Hunza men come from the land in which they live, where there is great congestion, existence is a struggle, and land and water are both inadequate.  Writers have referred to Hunza as a robber state, to the Mir as robber chief, and to the people as bandits: and Knight has been a particular offender in this inaccurate and slovenly description.  The people were accustomed to foray and raid, much as the Pathan is, for both in Hunza and North-West Frontier economic conditions compel them to do so. But it is childish to call these industrious peasants  race of mere robbers. That they never were. ……….
Let me now return to my description of the men of Hunza, for they are an oasis of manliness in a desert of trousered women. ……..
Hunza men are not cruel or vindictive, neither are they great fighters like the Pathan or the Gurkha, in the sense they enjoy a battle. They are hard and enterprising because their rugged land makes them so. Undoubtedly they were fond of their freebooting ways, and derived much pleasure from attacking soft and feckless Nagiris, looting the fat Turkish on their way to Mecca, and plundering the Kirghiz of the Pamirs. Now however, they have fallen on evil days, and the curse of peace in a congested country is rotting them. They are, however, still a fine race, conspicuously the best of all the medley of tribes and mongrels for hundreds of miles around. They themselves admit that they are not what they were – and have no scope for their abilities. They do regret their old lawless life, with its call for quick decision, great hardships and real pluck.”
While the fourth scribe describes the same people in the following passages in her book:“ The stories told by the few doctors and scientists who were privileged to visit in the last sixty years have pictured a Garden of Eden, a paradise on earth. The people of Hunza have become a living legend to the rest of the world. There is no juvenile delinquency in Hunza and divorce is a rarity. There are no jails, police or army, and there is no need for them, as there hasn’t been a crime reported for the last one hundred and thirty years. Most probably, these same people stirred the imagination of James Hilton when he wrote ‘Lost Horizons’. People begin hoping for eternal life and a new name was born a name that symbolizes every one’s deep felt wish for a healthy, happy and long life ‑ Shangri-La. While the rest of the civilized world talks of nuclear destruction and fallout shelters, the people of this remote state of Pakistan live in peace, harmony and brotherly love. Fear, hatred and jealousy do not exist. They are friendly, hospitable and religious people. ... they are people who are thoroughly convinced that only through unity can they prosper. ... their strength and endurance were always superior to many neighboring states. Telling their story, one can not but admire the great inner strength, which enabled these people to change from warlike creatures to peaceful human beings. Hunzukutz were able to conquer anger, hatred, feverish greed and dangerous ambitions and establish a perfect balance of body, mind and spirit. Such men can be regarded with reverence.  This feeling of love and inner peace keeps the Hunza people looking and remaining young”
The author of “The Discovery of the Hunza River Valley” writes: Hunzakuts are known for their folklore and story telling as are most primitive people. After switching from being a warrior people to a peaceful people the Hunzakuts developed a highly over-inflated opinion of themselves. They thought the British soldiers had come to surrender to their leadership. They viewed themselves as living in the land of perfect, and they claimed theirs was the perfect society. They were and continue to be very much in denial of their true situation. This attitude is not uncommon among primitive peoples. Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson reported a very similar attitude among the primitive Eskimos who had never seen a white man. The Eskimos bragged that their Shaman (religious leader) could kill a bear on the other side of the mountain with a bow and arrow, and that he could travel to the Moon, converse with the people living there and return. The Eskimo considered themselves to be far superior to the white man who admitted to having never been to the moon. This was in 1910 before white man did travel to the Moon, walk on the surface and return, although not finding the people whom the Eskimo claimed lived there.
Following the defeat Mir Safdar Ali accompanied by about four hundred men, women and children and Mir of Nager with his companions fled from Hunza towards Chinese territory.
Immediately after the capture of Nager and truce with Hunza ‑ concluded through Mohammed Raza Beg as the de-facto representative of Hunza - as the first measure Lieutenant Townshend was installed as the military governor of Hunza and Nager and a force of six hundred troops of the Imperial force were detailed for control while rest of the force marched to Gilgit on the 7th January. Staff of the Gilgit Agency was enhanced by two political officers and four military officers. They were to serve in Hunza, Nager and Chitral (B1, Page‑95). Two weeks later Captain Stuart was designated as the Assistant Political Agent for Hunza and Nager.  A ‘Munshi’ and a protective detachment of troops were also assigned. In accordance with the policy in vogue, Doctor Rohertson was instructed to accompany a party of natives to be treated as the guests of the Viceroy and taken on a tour through India in order that they may realize the wealth and the military strength of the British Empire and on their return to homes be able to spread a report of what they have experienced. (W.1, page 617). Accordingly, after a month and a half of occupation, Mohammed Raza Beg from Hunza and Sikander Khan son of Zaafar Khan (who had got paralyzed by a stroke) ‑ the de‑facto administrators of Hunza and Nager respectively ‑ along with the notables from each state, were invited for a meeting with the Viceroy in Calcutta. They were joined by the delegation from Punial headed by Raja Akbar Khan. The party consisting of about 50 notables, Doctor Rohertson, the Political Officer and the head of the group, E.F Knight, six Kafirs and coolies bringing the strength up to a figure of 175, started from Gilgit on 23 January 1892, traveled through Indus Valley to Skardu (Baltistan) and thence to the Leh road and across the Zoji La to Srinager, a distance of nearly 400 miles (or about forty marches). Took the train from Rawalpindi on 28 February to Calcutta. During the 13‑day stay in Calcutta they met the Commander‑in‑Chief, the Chief Secretary and the Viceroy and pledged their allegiance with the British government.
The Maharajah planned that original rulers be restored to their positions in Hunza and Nager accordingly messages to the effect were sent to Safdar Ali and Azur Khan. Safdar Ali, however, feared the revenge from Humayun Beg for the past excesses and did not dare to return to Hunza and sent his half brother Mohammed Nazim Khan to study the situation and report to him. Humayun Beg on his part in Hunza and Prince Sikander in Nager tried their best to prevent restorations in this fashion. Humayun Beg with the help from his sympathizers and Akhund Aman Ali Shah of Sumayar in Nager prepared a fake document to show the hereditary right of Nazim Khan, to the rule of Hunza. The British and Maharajah finally consented to the installation of Nazim Khan as the ruler of Hunza and Zaafar Khan as ruler of Nager and restoration of their powers in majority of matters. Accordingly Mohammed Nazim Khan on the occasion of annual JALSA on 14 April 1892, was formally installed as hereditary Mir and Humayun Beg as hereditary Wazir of Hunza. At the same time Raja Zaafar Khan was accepted as the nominal head of state but Sikander Khan his son was allowed to function as de‑facto Mir of Nager. Sanads to the effect were issued by the Maharajah of Kashmir and the Viceroy approved the status of fully independent states (T.4, Page 59).
The objective situation prevailing in Gilgit in the succeeding period has been described by F.M Hasnain in the following words “Maharajah appeared to be helpless and he was not sure about the boundaries of his state. He knew that Gilgit (and some adjoining areas) belonged to him by conquest, but he also knew that the British Government in India had practically usurped the region, which was now administered by the British Political Agent in Gilgit in the name of the Crown (G‑1, Page 121). On 26 March 1935, the British finally took Gilgit on a sixty years lease from the Maharajah of Kashmir (G‑1, page 140). At the time of partition of India to the two independent states of Pakistan and India in 1947, the British returned the areas taken on lease to Maharajah of Kashmir against the popular will of the population. The British Political Agent withdrew and the Maharajah sent Brigadier Gansara Singh, a Dogra Hindu, as his Governor who reached Gilgit on 01 August 1947 by aircraft and took over from the British. Ian Stephens describes the consequent situation, the man made responsible by President Ayub Khan to compile the official history of Pakistan, as follows: -
“This was not locally liked, but it was tolerated in the belief that, as Kashmir was a Muslim majority state, the Maharajah, despite his personal will, would soon act along the lines of Lord Mountbatton’s advice to the Princes generally in July, and accede to Pakistan. When the startling news came on 26 October of the Maharajah’s accession of Kashmir to India, the locals of Gilgit were outraged and so were the Muslim officers posted to Gilgit scouts and a few to the Maharajah’s army located at Bunji. Mullahs in the villages started preaching ‘JEHAD’ against the Dogra regime. Reports came that the neighboring Princely states of Swat and Chitral, which had joined Pakistan, were about to invade; Muslim soldier in the predominantly Sikh garrison at Bunji, on the far side of Indus, caused a disturbance; on the other hand, local Sikh and Hindu traders in Gilgit Bazaar were known to have arms. By the evening of 31 October, tension locally became such that, in the scout commandant’s view mutiny and slaughter, resulting in general chaos, could only be forestalled by prompt acceptance of what unquestionably was the prevailing popular will. He therefore sent a platoon to request the Hindu Governor to come to the Scout’s lines for protection and simultaneously ordered his colleague (Captain Matheson) detachments from Chilas (headed by Subedar Sher Ali of Yasin), as well as those from Gilgit (headed by Subedar Safiullah Beg) to hold the Indus River Crossings and prevent 6th Kashmir Infantry troops from Bunji getting over to Gilgit and undo the coup.
Some casualties ensued at the crossings and indeed on the Gilgit Residency’s moonlit lawns too, because the governor resisted custody and fired on the scouts and their sympathizers from his windows, killing one soldier from Hunza. But within a few hours, the affair was effectively over; and on 2nd November the Pakistan Flag was run up amidst public acclaims”.
Thus Major Alexander Brown ‑ British commandant of Gilgit Scouts ‑ in the light of popular will of the people in general (and with the help of the dissatisfied group of five junior commissioned officers from Hunza and Nager in particular), compensated for the machinations perpetrated by his fellow British in the past. The officer, for these services, has belatedly been honored by the government of Pakistan after his death, by awarding Sitara‑e‑Pakistan in 1993. Consequently Gilgit acceded to Pakistan and Sardar Alam Khan arrived as the first Political Agent from Pakistan. Chronology of subsequent events leading to the liberation of entire Northern Areas is placed as Appendix-I. The ruler of Hunza also declared accession with Pakistan. In April 1948 Liaqat Ali Khan, invited the rulers of Hunza and Nager and Governor of Punial to Karachi, where they got the assurances for retention of their special status and exercise of traditional powers. In 1974, however, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto the Prime Minister of Pakistan practically, annulled these assurances and abolished the rule by the Mirs in Hunza and Nager. Ever since, these states are functioning as Tehsils of Gilgit District (the Northern Areas).

Research Article

The Tributary System in China's Historical Imagination: China and Hunza, ca. 1760–1960*


a1 Hoover Institution, Stanford University

This article examines over 200 years (1761–1963) of China's relations with the Central Asian tribal state of Hunza. Employing a territorial genealogical approach, this research explores how Hunza, not initially recognised during the high Qing as an inner dependency or vassal, was gradually re-conceptualised by the Qing court as a historical tributary protectorate, and then in the Republican and Nationalist eras became known as a ‘lost territory’ ripe for restoration. It will also argue that the tributary system is not a dynastic legacy that ceased to function after 1911; but rather, it was an instrument of political expediency that continued to be used in the post-imperial era. In a sense, this research offers a new thinking about the ‘tribute system’ which might really be a nineteenth and twentieth century reinterpretation of an older form of symbolically asymmetric interstate relations (common in one form or another throughout many parts of Asia); this reinterpretation was strongly informed by English-language terminology and formulations, including ‘suzerainty’ and the mistranslation of ‘gong’ as ‘tribute’ itself, and both Britain and China manipulated the terminology and claimed to further their respective territorial, diplomatic and strategic interests.


* An earlier version of this article was presented at the Institute for Chinese Studies, University of Oxford. I wish to thank the following scholars for their helpful comments, criticism and suggestions: Laura Newby, Rana Mitter, David Faure, Hsin-yi Lin, Hsien-chun Wang, Josh Yiu and Shih-jung Tzeng. My colleagues at Stanford University rendered support and encouragement while this research was undertaken: Richard Sousa, Ramon Myers, Tom Mullaney, Tai-chun Kuo, Duan Ruicong, Luo Min, and Lisa Nguyen. Special thanks also go to Charlotte de Blois and the Royal Asiatic Society for constructive advice and useful guidance.

Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland (Third Series)


Anonymous said...

This is only half truth.

Why does this writing shy from naming the "5 JCOs"? Why only mention Sub. Safi Ullah Baig, a relative?

What about the state of Gilgit that existed from November 1 - November 15, before the arrival of Naib-Tehsildar Alam Khan?

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous:
1. As per your desire I have the pleasure in giving the evidence based names of the 5 Jco's. These are listed in the signed document of the 'Instrument of Commitment and Pledges' - this document coincidentally was drafted and also written in his own hand by 'Jemedar' Safiullah Beg.The names are:
'Jemadar' (later retired as Group Captain) Shah Khan SJ.
'Subedar Major' (later Captain) Baber Khan -late
'Jemedar' (later Subedar) Shah Sultan - late
'Jemedar' (later Subedar) Safiullah Beg - late and
'Jemedar' later 'Subedar Major' Fida Ali - late

2. As for mentioning two names by the author Ian Stephens - that of Subedar Sher Ali and Subedar Safiullah Beg, these are in the context of assigning specific military tasks by the commanders involved on that fateful night. The commandant had given him the task with the stated expectation to repeat the historical act of destruction of the Kashmir State Forces at 'Bhup Singh Parri' only now they were summoned by Ghansara Singh for help and reportedly they were ordered by Col Majid to march from Bunji towards Gilgit.
3. This part of your comment has prompted me to post the contents of a book on this blog on 12 December 2010. Please go through CHAPTER-IV of this book to read full details about the "Provisional Government of United States of Gilgit" and also the "Commander-in Chief" of this government before the arrival of Alam Khan
With wishes for happy reading.

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Anonymous said...

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