Anglo-Brusho War 1891 At Nagar and its Conseqeunces
The strategic rivalry between the British empire and the Soviet empire for gaining supremacy in Central Asia was known as the “Great Game”. ANGLO-BRUSHO WAR 1891 AT NAGAR AND ITS CONSEQUENCES. The Russian victories in Central Asia alarmed the Britishers and because of this reason, they sent British officers to Gilgit to report the ground situation. The Britisher’s appreciation was that the Soviets can possibly reach Astor in ten days after crossing the passes of Hindukush and in the next few days they will be at Wuller lake and there will be no British troops in 200 miles of Kashmir to stop them from entering Punjab. In view of this development in 1876 Britishers decided to establish Gilgit as an agency and Major John Biddulph was appointed as OSD in Gilgit.
ANGLO-BRUSHO WAR 1891 AT NAGAR AND ITS CONSEQEUNCES
However, he was recalled in 1881, and the Gilgit agency was closed. In 1889 Colonel Grombchevsky, a Russian military officer visited Hunza and met Mir. He conveyed that the Russian government is interested in providing military assistance to Hunza against a possible British expansionist attack on his state. He also desired Russian intension to establish a military base in Hunza. In 1889 Gilgit Agency was re-established by Britishers and Lieutenant Colonel Algernon Durand was appointed as a political agent. The major reasons for re-establishing Gilgit Agency were, firstly the visit of Russian officers to Hunza and secondly to control the country south of Hindukush in view of Russian advances in Central Asia. The British government also directed Durand to visit Hunza, Nager, and Chitral to take their ruler in confidence and on their side. On assumption of duties, Durand visited Nager and Hunza state.
It was agreed during the meeting with Mir of Hunza that Hunza will ensure the safe passage of British mail from Gilgit to the British counsel general at Kashgar. It was also agreed that Hunza will not establish a friendly with Russians. For British Hunza and Nager states were important as both the states were independent, paid tribute to Kashmir and in case of Hunza, they also recognized the suzerainty of China and also paid a nominal tribute. The two states were divided by the river Hunza and were always at war between themselves but ready to unite against a foreign invader. The State of Hunza was important because of its passes and route to the valley of the Yarkand River. The name of the ruler of Hunza was a terror to the merchants because convoys were looted and Hunza was also centre of the slave trade for merchants of Badakhshan. Upper Hunza (Gojal Valley) inhabited by emigrants from Wakhan and speak Wakhi. The rest of Hunza is inhabited by Yashkun race speaking Brushiski, a common bond with Nager.
Nager was also important for Britisher to take on their side with the aim to prevent them from having good relations with Hunza or allying with Hunza. Another consideration was in case of an operation against Hunza to get unobstructed passage through Nager territory. The people of Nager are the same stock as those of Hunza. Majority of population in Hunza-Nager belongs to Yashkun race followed by Shin and Burushaski is the language spoken by majority. Yashkuns are an important race in Gilgit, Chilas, Yasin, Hunza and Nager. In Hunza and Nager they are known as Boorish, and in Yasin as Burshoo and Warshik. Historically, Hunza and Nager states were formed by the Tarakhan rulers of Gilgit and ruled Hunza and Nager from Gilgit. Hunza and Nager were divided between two brothers prince Grikis and Maghlot.
Because of this reason, both the mir and raja families were related to each other. In 1888 Raja Azur Khan of Nager discussed with the mir of Hunza a possible attack on Chaprot, Chalt and Normal (the border villages with Gilgit) to avert a possible attack from Maharaja forces. Possession of Chaprot was important to Britishers to guard against any Russian attack from the flank and also to take command of route leading to Hunza and Nager. On taking over as a political agent Gilgit in view of the importance of passes originating from Hunza, he started improving the road to Nomal (frontier post of Kashmir) to counter any threat from Hunza and Nager. Durand received the news that the murder of Guari Thum by his brother Raja Azur Khan of Nager and also the news that he is collecting his forces to attack Chalt and Chaprot held by Kashmir troops.
Importance of nagar:
After the murder in Nager, Durand re-established security posts at Chalt and Chaprot. At the same time British mail dispatched to British counsel general at Kashgar was not allowed to pass through Hunza by the mir. In the meantime Hunza sent an envoy to Russia for military support as promised during the visit of Colonel Grombchevsky. The envoy was given some military support however on their return they were intercepted in Chinese terriroty and weapon were ceased because a lead given to Chinese official by political agent Gilgit. Durand immediately moved to Chalt with troops of Kashmir Body Guard Regiment, Gurkha, Dogras and couple of hundred Punial levies under Raja Akber Khan of Punial.
At Chalt, Durand met with envoys of Hunza and Nager and discussed the prevailing situation. He conveyed that any attempt to occupy the out posts or to hold the route between them and China would be taken as an unfriendly act. Durand was instructed from British India to convey to the rulers of Hunza and Nager that it is necessary for their safety and Kashmir that Britishers should be given free access to their state in order to ensure safety of their frontiers. Hunza and Nager were also asked for allegiance and a construction of road through Hunza. The Mir of Hunza was also conveyed if refused the construction of road which they will made at all cost and that their forces will enter his state.
Planning for attack on british forces:
According to Durand he reviewed the news that the states of Hunza and Nager were arming their forces to attack the frontier posts. A spy of Hunza was captured near Nomal who revealed that they are planning an attack on Chaprot, Chalt and besieging Nomal. Durand started planning a attack on Hunza and Nager to control these states. Accordingly 15 young British officers were posted to Gilgit under command Durand. Thousands of mules were used for brining in logistics support from Astor and Bunji. Boatmen and boat builders were called from Punjab to ferry the logistics and ammunition across Indus from Bunji. An ultimatum was sent to the rulers of Hunza and Nager to agree to their demands as conveyed. By end November 1891, British forces moved to Chalt and on 1 December 1891 they crossed Hunza river above Chalt and camped. The forces gathered by Durand in this remote region was unimaginable.
Preparation for ANGLO-BRUSHO WAR:
The strength was 1000 rifles with two artillery guns, 180 soldiers from 5th Gurkhas, 400 Dogras and Gurkha soldiers of Kashmir Body Guard Regiment, 250 Dogras of Kashmir Ragu Pertab Regiment, 150 Punial Levies, a platoon from 20 Punjab Regiment, and personal escort of the political agent. The British force’s initial objective was the fort of Nilt in Nager and fort of Mayun in Hunza. Guns were used initially against the fort of Nilt as shells exploded inside the fort while Nager forces were responding by firing from the loopholes. Subsequently, the gate of the fort was blown and a party entered and there was hand to hand fight. A formal assault on the fort was ordered. The Nager forces fought bravely and pushed back the assault on the first day. On the first day of the assault, the British lost 4 officers and 40 soldiers. Durand got injured and was evacuated to Gilgit.
However, the Nilt fort was occupied after many days of a fierce battle. The Nilt fort withstood the onslaught from a superior army. According to E.F. Knight, the people of Nager fought to the death and a large number were martyred during the battle and 126 were taken, prisoners. After Nilt the defenses at Thol were organized by the people of Nager which were un-assailable however, Britishers only succeeded with the help of insiders and traitors. 19 days were taken to capture the defense of Thol by British forces. After the occupation of Nilt and Thole, next objective was Mayun fort in Hunza and different options were discussed. An attempt was made on Mayun fort by a party under Lieutenant Manner Smith after crossing river Hunza under heavy covering fire. The initial attack on Mayun Fort was repulsed. However, subsequently, Mayun Fort was occupied by British forces. Britisher took six weeks to clear the Nilt and Mayun forts. ANGLO-BRUSHO WAR 1891 AT NAGAR AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
After controlled on three forts:
Mir and Raja fled to China via Kilk Pass to Tashkurgan. On 24 December 1891, the British forces entered Hunza at Baltit. However, on 7 January 1892, they left Hunza after establishing its control by stationing some troops. There were several reasons for the British success in this war mainly due to conspiracies hatched from within Hunza and Nager which led to the defeat of Hunza/Nager forces. Another factor was lack of planning and appreciation of the situation as British forces were given a free run up to Chalt as no action/ambush were laid en route from Normal onwards. Another important factor highlighted by Zafar Iqbal in his book “Diverse and Adventurous History of Hunza”, that people of Hunza had developed sympathies for invading British forces because of a Farman from HH Aga Khan written to Mir and he was asked to extend cooperation to the British government.
This diverted the attention of the people of Hunza therefore they did not participate in the defense of Hunza. Mir Nazim Khan half brother of Mir Safdar was installed as the Mir of Hunza and Raja of Nager was reinstated on making his submission. The British awarded three Victoria Crosses during the campaign to Lieutenant Manner Smith, Captain Aylmer, and Lieutenant Boisragon and a number of orders of merit to others. A mule was also awarded the medal for carrying a gun on its back. The account of events as narrated by Durand is highly exaggerated and biased as he has tried to project British forces in the campaign.
A heroic battle & Brave people of nagar:
The battle for Nilt and Thole was significant for great valour on both sides and this is evident from the Victoria Crosses and order of merit given. Unfortunately wide publicity was given to British forces by foreign media. The people of Nager out numbered in men, weapon and material yet fought a heroic battle. In order to recognize the bravery and sacrifices of people of Nager, on 29 December 2016 a monument of Shuhada-e-Nager of Anglo-Brusho War was inaugurated by Crops Commander Lieutenant General Nadeem Raza at Chalt.
Writer: Masud Ahmed Khan