British Intervention in Chitral 1895

[ 1895 ]

Tribesmen in Chitral (district in northernmost Pakistan) remained hostile to the British, who had entered the area and established an agency (1889). In 1895, a coup d'etat in Chitral cost the life of the ruling chief, and the victors attempted to drive out the British representative, which necessitated the dispatch of a 16,000-man British expedition to reduce the rebels. At the Malakand Pass, on April 3, 1895, the invading troops overwhelmed some 12,000 Chitralis, who lost more than 500 men before giving up control of the pass; on the other side about 70 were killed or wounded. A British garrison was later set up in Chitral, which was annexed to British India. Tribal rebellions occurred, but the British presence eventually brough peace in 1898.


In January 1895, Nizam-ul-Mulk was murdered while out hawking at Broz, at the instigation of his younger half-brother, Amir-ul-Mulk. Amir-ul-Mulk then seized the Chitral fort and sent a deputation to Lieut. Gurdon, assistant political agent at Chitral, demanding his immediate recognition as Mehtar. Lieut. Gordon replied that the orders of the government must be awaited. Amir-ul-Mulk's sister was married to Umra Khan and there is little doubt that the murder of Nizam-ul-Mulk was inspired by Umra Khan in conjunction with the party of Sher Afzal. Amir-ul-Mulk being a tool in the hands of the Pathan Chief, who was used in a similar manner by the Amir of Afghanistan, Umra Khan remained in possession of the Narsat (or Narai) district, and all proposals of Nizam-ul-Mulk to attempt the recovery thereof by force had been discouraged. Shortly after the murder of Nizam, Umra Khan with a force of 1200 fighting men and 1500 coolies crossed the Lowari Pass and occupied Lower Chitral, giving out that he was conducting a religious war against the inhabitants (Kafirs) of the Bashgal area. He asked Amir-ul-Mulk to join him but the latter was both unwilling and unable to comply. Umra Khan accordingly laid siege to Drosh Fort. Meanwhile, the political agent at Gilgit, Surgeon Major George Robertson, had been sent to Chitral by the government to report on the situation with his escort of 400 men, 300 being Kashmir state forces. He occupied Chitral Fort. Robertson had previously demanded an explanation from Umra Khan as to the presence of his forces in Chitral and requested him to immediately withdraw. Umra Khan, however, replied that his aim had been to assist and strengthen Amir-ul-Mulk and combine with him on an attack on the Kafirs. Since Amir-ul-Mulk had refused his friendship and acted in a hostile manner, therefore he, Umra Khan, had no alternative left to him but to act as he had done. Owing to the poor and weak leadership of Amir-ul-Mulk and the treachery of Mehtarjao Kokhan Beg and other influential Chitralis, the resistance by the Chitralis collapsed and on 25th January 1895 they were driven away from their position before Drosh Fort itself until the 9th February when the whole garrison surrendered to Umra Khan. After losing the Drosh Fort, the Chitralis concentrated at Ghairat position.

According to the report of Surgeon Major George Robertson dated 1st February 1895, all was well at Chitral and the Chitralis were cheerful and helpful. He also reported that Ghairat, a strong defensive position 10 miles north of Drosh, was still held and that Umra Khan's followers had deserted him. Suddenly, however, the whole picture changed by the reappearance of Sher Afzal, who was supported by the ruling class of Adamzadas and their adherents. On the 27th of February, Sher Afzal demanded that Robertson along with his troops should withdraw to Mastuj and it became apparent that Sher Afzal and Umra Khan had joined hands to induce the British Officers and their troops to quit Chitral territory, by force if necessary. Having achieved that, the two chiefs would decide who should be the Mehtar. The Adamzadas in the beginning did not side openly with Sher Afzal, but before the end of February they changed their mind and practically joined him in a body along with their followers. Ghairat position was thus denuded of its defenders and was occupied by Sher Afzal's outposts. Mehtar Amir-ul-Mulk now made overtures to Umra Khan. Robertson therefore placed him in custody in the fort and formally recognized Shuja-ul-Mulk, a boy of 14 years old, provisional Mehtar pending orders of the Government of India.

The British garrison at Chitral Fort now amounted to 419 fighting men besides the administrative staff, transport personnel, servants and 52 Chitralis. The strength of Umra Khan's force is not known. It was variously computed at 3000 to 5000 men. On 3rd March, Sher Afzal arrived along with armed men following and took positions on the Chitral plain, mainly in the vicinity of the fort. In order to ascertain the strength of the enemy, the garrison of the fort made an ineffective sortie on the afternoon of 3rd March. They suffered heavy casualties and made a difficult retreat to the fort where they were besieged from 3rd March until 19th April, 1895. During the siege period, Chitralis gained two other successes firstly at Reshun where two British officers were captured, their following destroyed and 40,000 rounds of ammunition taken, secondly the annihilation of about 100 men of the 14th Sikhs under Captain Ross at Kuragh defile.

The British garrison at Chitral Fort held out until the approach of a small force from Gilgit under Colonel Kelly which caused Chitralis to withdraw. The Chitral relief under General Low which had approached from the direction of Malakand and the Lowari pass arrived a week later and took Sher Afzal prisoner, while Umra Khan fled to Afghanistan. Sher Afzal with Amir-ul-Mulk and their leading followers were deported to India on the 1st May and the selection of Shuja-ul-Mulk as Mehtar was conformed. A prominent British garrison was ordered to be located at Chitral and it comprised two infantry battalions, one company of Bengal Sappers and Miners and one section of Mountain Battery with two guns. This garrison was annually relieved.

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