A Short History of Chitral and Kafirstan

by Mohammad Afzal Khan

Little is known of the early history of Chitral and rock inscriptions and early traditions give little evidence on this subject. This mountainous country which was first referred to as Kohistan or land of the mountains was said to be inhabited by a race called "Khows" speaking a separate language Khowar, or language of the Khows. Some people say that it was Khowistan - the abode of the Khows. Separate parts of the country came to be called Torkhow - Upper Khow, Mulkhow - Lower Khow, names which persist to the present day. An early Sanskrit inscription at a village called Barenis (27 miles away from Chitral) of about AD 900 records that the country was Buddhist, under King Jaipal of Kabul. It is believed that Upper Chitral was under Buddhist influence in the past and even today there are a few rocks in Torkhow area known as "Kalandar-i-Bohtni" (Mendicant of Stone). It is a figure of a stupa; the upper part of which has been cut into the figure of Buddha and may be of Chinese origin. No records of this period exist.

Marco Polo, who passed through the Pamirs, referred to the country as Bolor. History relates that first a Chinese army and then an Arab (Mongols?) army invaded Chitral from the north by the Broghal pass when the upper part of the country is said to have been converted to Islam. The southern district remained non-Muslim till very late and were then converted to Islam. A Mongol tribe called Yarkhuns invaded Chitral via the Broghal pass and may have given their name to the Yarkun valley. They were opposed by Somalek, leader of the Khows. Another incursion is attributed to Changez Khan and his Tartars.

In the 16th century, the Shah Rais dynasty ruled Chitral. Shah Rais had an adviser by name of Sangin Ali, who apparently came from Khorasan. On the death of Sangin Ali in 1570, his sons ousted Shah Rais and gained control of the country. It is from the second of these sons that the present royal family of Chitral is descended. The highest class, Adamzadas (Katoras), take their names from Sangin Ali's grandsons. The Katoras are believed to have been descended from Moguls. Headed by Baba Ayub in the middle of the 16th century, they have been ruling the country with varying fortunes for the last 350 years, 350 years of war with the nearby states of Gilgit, Chilas and the Pathans.
Aman-ul-Mulk, Mehtar of Chitral, with some of his many children, in 1890
History books report that Aman-ul-Mulk always had a falcon sitting on his arm. What is that sitting on his left shoulder?

In 1854, the Maharaja of Kashmir made an alliance with Shah Afzal, the Mehtar of Chitral, against the ruler of Yasin and Mastuj (at that time separate from Chitral) who were invading Gilgit, a tributary state of Kashmir. Mehtar Shah Afzal died in 1856 after ruling for 16 years. His eldest son, Mukhtaram Shah II, became the Mehtar. He was a tyrannical ruler and within one year he was removed by his own ministers and advisers. His younger brother, Aman-ul-Mulk, was installed as Mehtar in 1857. Aman-ul-Mulk invaded Gilgit in 1860 because of increasing influence of Maharaja of Kashmir in that area after the death of its ruler, Gohar Aman. His troops clashed with Dogra troops but nothing decisive was achieved and he withdrew his troops from Gilgit. In 1868, Mir Mahmud Shah, the ruler of Badakhshan, invaded Chitral from the north, but his advance was halted by the Chitralis near Durband Pass in Yarkhun Valley. After three days fierce fighting, the ruler of Badakhshan was defeated and he withdrew to his country.

In time of Great Mehtar Aman-ul-Mulk (1857-1892), the state had extended up to Chigha Sarai in Afghanistan and Ghizar and Thui in Gilgit. This great man died suddenly on 30th August 1892 and left the dispute of succession amongst his 16 sons. In a short period of three years, they slaughtered each other to a void throne in his way of rule. Briefly Afzal-ul-Mulk declared himself Mehtar on the death of his father Aman-ul-Mulk. Nizam-ul-Mulk, who was the eldest son and real successor to the throne, was away in Northern Chitral at the time of the death of his father. On hearing the news of his brother declaring himself Mehtar, he proceeded to Gilgit to obtain assistance from the British Agent for installing himself as a Mehtar. In the meanwhile, Mehtar Afzal-ul-Mulk killed his three brothers, Shah Mulk, Wazir-ul-Mulk, Bahram-ul-Mulk and many other leading personalities.

Umra Khan, the Pathan Chief of Jandul and Dir who had offered to help Afzal-ul-Mulk against Nizam-ul-Mulk, seized the Chitrali fort at Nazrat (or Narai) district (now part of Afghanistan), which gave him command of both banks of the Chitral River between Arandu and Bailam. Afzal-ul-Mulk was about to march against Umra Khan when he heard that his uncle Sher Afzal was advancing from the Dorah Pass and had arrived at Drushp in the Lotkuh Valley. Sher Afzal continued to march to Chitral and attacked the fort and in the fight Afzal-ul-Milk was killed. Sher Afzal proclaimed himself Mehtar. When this news reached Gilgit, Nizam-ul-Mulk was allowed to proceed to Chitral and oust Sher Afzal, if he was able to. A fight occurred between Nizam and Sher Afzal near Drasun in which Sher Afzal was defeated and he fled to Afghanistan. Nizam-ul-Mulk was proclaimed Mehtar. The British government recognized Nizam as Mehtar.

Early in 1893, Amir Abdur Rehman Khan of Afghanistan summoned Sher Afzal to Kabul and placed him under surveillance, while a few months later the Amir gave a written promise to the Government of India that he should not again be permitted to create disturbances in Chitral. At the invitation of Mehtar Nizam-ul-Mulk, the government of India made arrangements to send a Mission to Chitral. The mission reached Chitral on the 25th of January and under its influence the position of affairs improved. In May 1893, the mission returned to Gilgit, but a political officer, Capt. Younghusband, with a small escort, was left in the country for the purpose of supplying the government of India with trustworthy information as to the events on that part of the frontier and giving encouragement to the Mehtar.

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. In 1899, Chitral levies were raised to occupy three posts viz Zairat, Mirkhani and Arandu in defensive role. Consequently, in 1899, the British garrison was reduced to one infantry battalion, two mountain guns, and a company of Sappers and Miners. Shortly after this, Chitral Scouts were raised in 1903 with Mehtar as Honorary Commandant and two British Officers in command. The object of the scouts in those days was to provide a wholly irregular force of cragsmen for defensive role of the whole Chitral Frontier. The corps was never embodied at one time but each company came up in turn for a short period of training each year. The Strength of the Chitral Scouts was 891 and that of the Chitral Levies 100.

In the winter of 1899-1900, Mehtar Shuja-ul-Mulk in company of the chief of the Gilgit Agency visited the Viceroy of India at Calcutta. In May 1902, the Mehtar was present at the Vice-Regal Durbar at Peshawar and on 1st January 1903 he attended the Coronation Durbar at Delhi, when he was made C.I.E. ("Companion of the Indian Empire"). The only event of importance during the period 1902-1914 was the handing over of District Mastuj, including Yarkhun and Laspur, to the Mehtar, who signed an agreement regarding his relations with the inhabitants of those areas. In 1919 during the 3rd Afghan War, the Chitral Scouts and Mehtar's bodyguard cooperated with the British garrison at Drosh in an attack on Afghan regulars and tribesmen who had occupied Arandu (Arnawai) in Chitral limits. The action was most successful and the intruders were disbursed and the Afghan fort of Birkot taken. For his services in this connection, the Mehtar received a grant of 1,00,000 as contribution towards expenses incurred by the state. Later in the year, the Mehtar was granted the title of His Highness with a salute of 11 guns and was created a knight (K.C.I.E.). In 1926, the Mehtar agreed in consideration of a further annual subsidy of Rs. 15,000/- to take steps to prevent the smuggling of the drug Charas into India by way of Dir and Swat states. In 1928, another agreement was concluded with the Mehtar under which he undertook to supply local produce to the British garrison on the raising of his subsidy to Rs. 30,000/- a year.

In the year 1936, Sir Shuja-ul-Mulk died after 41 years of rule. He was succeeded by his eldest son Sir Nasir-ul-Mulk. Nasir-ul-Mulk was born at Chitral in the year 1898. He was sent to Peshawar for schooling and later did his graduation from Punjab University. He did one year's military training with a British regiment in India. He was an intelligent man with somewhat advanced political ideas.

In 1939, the Mehtar married the daughter of the Nawab of Dir. On the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, he expressed his loyalty and that of his subjects to the British Crown. He instituted an office of propaganda under the Governor of Drosh, Shahzada Hissam-ul-Mulk, to counter anti-British mischievous rumors. He also instructed the mullahs to preach against the enemies of Britain. The Mehtar was granted the rank of Honorary Major in the British Indian Army in late 1939. Sir Nasir-ul-Mulk died in 1943 after a short reign on about seven years. Nasir left no son but only two daughters, so he was consequently succeeded by his brother, Muzaffar-ul-Mulk. Muzaffar-ul-Mulk was married to the daughter of Sayed Lais Shahzada, a refugee from Zebak in Badakhshan, Afghanistan, living in the Arkari valley at a place called Miragram and it was by her that he had his sons, the elder named Saif-ur-Rehman. In the Spring of 1946, Muzaffar-ul-Milk was taken seriously ill and his chances of survival seemed slight. This set those not well disposed towards the Mehtar thinking and the outcome was that many claimed that Hissam-ul-Mulk, then the governor of Drosh and a true son of Shuja-ul-Mulk and brother of Muzaffar-ul-Mulk, should succeed in place of Saif-ur-Rehman on the grounds that the latter was not born from a ruling house on his mother's side. False information was passed to Hissam-ul-Mulk that the Mehtar was already dead. This led Hissam-ul-Mulk to proclaim himself as heir to the throne. When the news reached Chitral, a force of bodyguard was sent to Drosh and Hissam-ul-Mulk surrendered. The Government of India recognized Saif-ur-Rehman as heir and Hissam-ul-Mulk was deported to Loralai in Baluchistan.

The grounds that Saif-ur-Rehman could not succeed do not seem firm in the light of the past history of the state. For instance, during the period after the death of the Great Mehtar Aman-ul-Mulk, four of his sons had possession of the throne at different times and it should be noted that Amir-ul-Mulk and Shuja-ul-Mulk were sons by the daughters of Asmar Khan, an Afghan Prince, whereas Nizam-ul-Mulk and Afzal-ul-Mulk were his sons by a Sayed woman, and finally no mention was made of the non-royal blood being a ban on the right of succession. In the Spring of 1946, Muzaffar-ul-Mulk made a partial recovery. Muzaffar-ul-Mulk declared accession to Pakistan in August 1947. He died in 1948 and his son Saif-ur-Rehman was proclaimed as Mehtar.

The rule of Saif-ur-Rehman was a complex entanglement of different policies. Unrest was in fact brewing since February 1949, when soon after the end of the 40 days of morning for Muzaffar-ul-Mulk (his father), the previous Mehtar of Chitral, various shahzadas and others started hatching their plots too overthrow the young, gentle and inexperienced Mehtar. Khan Bahadur Dilaram Khan, the prime minister, Shahzada Birhan-ud-Din, the Commander in Chief, and Shahzada Siraj-ud-Din, the Chief Secretary, joined hands to upset the administration. The young Mehtar also had his advisors like Jillani, Usman and Pir Salah-ud-Din. The Mehtar's officials and advisers were either immature or had a defective vision to foresee trouble. Due to conflicting policies being pursued by each through the Mehtar, there was chaos and confusion in the state. In April 1949, the arrest of Ataliq Sarfaraz Shah and his relatives and confiscation of their properties aggravated the situation and the government of Pakistan was compelled to intervene. The Political Agent Malakand was sent to Chitral and he remained there during April and May 1949 and a senior civil service officer was posted as Assistant Political Agent at Chitral so as to have effective control over the state administration. Ataliq Sarfaraz Shah and his relatives were released and as many movable properties as could be collected were restored to them. As a result of inquiries made by the political agent, Dilaram Khan and Shahzada Birhan-ud-Din were sent to Haripur Jail in 1949. In September, however, not only Dilaram Khan and Birhan-ud-Din, but also Hissam-ul-Mulk and Mata-ul-Mulk, the uncles of the Mehtar, who had been removed from Chitral earlier, were allowed to return to their homes on giving written undertaking of loyalty. Another reason for this was that the Mehtar wanted to enlist a few supporters and he therefore arranged with the government of Pakistan and got his uncles Hissam-ul-Mulk and Mata-ul-Mulk released from jail.

The eldest daughter of late Sir Nasir-ul-Mulk was engaged to the head of Dir state and it was arranged that she should be sent to Dir on 6th October 1949. Accordingly, the marriage party arrived at Chitral. But the Mehtar declined to abide by the undertaking he had given to the Nawab of Dir, on the plea that he had himself married the girl in June that year but had not made it public until then. This unwise step on the part of the Mehtar seriously strained the relations between Dir and Chitral states and the Nawab of Dir threatened to march into Chitral with a force to avenge this deliberate insult. At this stage, Saif-ur-Rehman sought the help of the Government of Pakistan. He was evacuated to Peshawar by air. In Peshawar, he confessed his folly to the Governor and agreed to go to Pakistan Administrative Services Agency, Lahore, to receive training. He signed a supplementary instrument of accession and accepted a privy purse of Rs. 9500/- per annum and to rule as a constitutional head of state. He signed a farman appointing Shahzada Shahab-ud-Din, Ataliq Sarfaraz Shah and Syed Badin Shah as members of a Board of Administration, with Assistant Political Agent Chitral as its Chairman or chief adviser for Chitral.

The Board of Administration had to face difficulties from the beginning, due to the non-cooperation of those who were jealous of them. The shahzadas, particularly Hissam-ul-Mulk, Governor of Drosh, Khan Bahadur Dilaram Khan, Mata-ul-Mulk, Governor of Lutkoh, and Birhan-ud-Din let loose their wrath on the poor population to force the hands of the government to appoint one of them as Mehtar is place of Saif-ur-Rehman, or Regent in his absence. This unfortunately for them made the public dislike them even more.

From 1949 to 1954, Saif-ur-Rehman virtually remained in exile at Lahore, Peshawar and Abbottabad. He paid a brief visit to Chitral in April of 1954, but returned to Peshawar. In October 1954, he decided to return to Chitral and the Government provided him a Harward aircraft of the Pakistan Air Force for his journey. But the young Saif-ur-Rehman met his tragic end when his aircraft crashed over Lowari Pass.

After his death, his four year old son, Saif-ul-Mulk Nasir, was proclaimed Mehtar of Chitral and recognized by the Government of Pakistan. The Political Agent at Malakand was appointed regent, until the young mehtar became major. Saif-ul-Mulk Nasir was sent to Lahore for schooling.

As mentioned earlier, the state administration was taken over by the government of Pakistan in 1950, which was headed by assistant political agent up to 1966. From 1966, Chitral State became a full-fledged agency and a political agent was posted who was known as Wazir-e-Azam. In August 1969, Chitral became a district and the first Deputy Commissioner was posted. On break-up of one unit in July 1970, Chitral District became a district of the newly created Malakand Division of the North West Frontier Province. The Chitral District Police Force was raised for the first time headed by a Superintendent of Police. Also full time, the Executive Engineer of Public Works Department was posted to look after the communications and buildings. In April 1972, the President of Pakistan through an ordinance abolished the titles, privileges and privy purposes of all the former rulers of the states. Mehtar Saif-ul-Mulk Nasir therefore ceased to be the Mehtar of Chitral.

[From "Chitral and Kafirstan, a personal study" by Mohammad Afzal Khan, pages 12-23, published in Peshawar, Pakistan.]

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