In 1895, a small Indian Army garrison, commanded by Surgeon-Major Sir George Scott Robertson and Captain Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend, was besieged by a joint Chitrali and Pathan army – under the leadership of Sher Afzul and Umra Khan – at the fort of Chitral. Despite the odds heavily stacked against them, Robertson’s beleaguered little garrison held out for forty-eight days until a relief expedition was able to fight its way through to the rescue. The siege and subsequent relief is a story of valour – including an award of the Victoria Cross – and sheer determination in the face of a stubborn adversary and sometimes extreme weather conditions, all played out on the often mountainous terrain of the north-western border of British India.
Robertson described events in Chitral as a ‘minor siege’. However, the siege and subsequent relief should be viewed as an important episode in Britain’s ‘Great Game’ with Russia, which would have serious consequences for the British several years later. Indeed, the retention of Chitral by the Indian Government would be a contributing factor to the mass uprisings along the North West Frontier of India during late 1897. In reality, it was anything but a minor siege.
Publication Date: June/July 2017
Pathan Rising: Jihad on the North West Frontier of India 1897-1898 tells the story of the large‐scale tribal unrest that erupted along the North West Frontier of India in the late 1890s; a short but sharp period of violence that was initiated by the Pathan tribesmen against the British.
Although the exact causes of the unrest remain unclear, it was likely the result of tribal resentment towards the establishment of the Durand Line and British ‘forward policy’, during the last echoes of the ‘Great Game’, that led the proud tribesmen to take up arms on an unprecedented scale. This resentment was brought to boiling point by a number of fanatical religious leaders, such as the Mad Fakir and the Hadda Mullah, who visited the various Pathan tribes calling for jihad.
By the time the risings ended, eleven Victoria Crosses would be awarded to British troops, which hint at the ferocity and level of bitterness of the fighting. Indeed, although not eligible for the Victoria Cross in 1897, many Indian soldiers would also receive high‐level decorations in recognition of their bravery.
It would be one of the greatest challenges to British authority in Asia during the Victorian era.
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