Battle of Nowshera
|Battle of Nowshera|
|Part of Afghan-Sikh wars|
|Sikh Empire||Emirate of Afghanistan|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Maharaja Ranjit Singh||Muhammed Azem Khan Barakzai & Syed Akbar Shah|
The Battle of Nowshera was fought in March 1823 between the forces of Pashtun tribesmen with support from Muhammad Azem Khan Barakzai, Durrani governor against the Army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The battle was a decisive victory for the Sikhs and led to their occupation of the Peshawar valley.
In 1818, Ranjit Singh made an aggressive push against the Durranis, defeating the Kabul Vizier and Muhammad Azem Khan Barakzai he pushed as far as Peshawar (though the army was not strong enough to go any further in) , which under the Durrani Governor (and Azem Khan's brother) Yar Muhammad Khan accepted his rule and paid tribute as a vassal. With this victory Ranjit Singh withdrew from the Peshawar valley leaving a small garrison in a newly constructed fort at Khairabad, modern day Nowshera. This was in turn followed by Ranjit Singh's capture of Kashmir in 1819 from Azem Khan's other brother Jabbar Khan.
Angered by his defeats, Azem Khan valiantly recaptured Peshawar in 1822, he made a call for jihad against the Sikhs and marched proudly to Nowshera where Muhammad Zaman Khan successfully destroyed the bridge at Attock, trapping the Sikh garrisons west of the Indus. However Ranjit Singh had already reinforced his forces in Nowshera including general Hari Singh Nalwa with backing from Pashtun tribes (without whom failure would have been inevitable ) loyal to Shuja Shah Durrani.These forces successfully repulsed attacks by opposing Pashtun ghazis and Durrani troops at Jahangira and withdrew to Nowshera hoping to link up with Ranjit Singh.
Ranjit Singh by this point had brought up his army to the east of Hund, on the opposite bank, a lashkar of thousands of fighters led by Syed Ahmad Shah of Buner had started forming. Ranjit Singh's forces managed to cross the Indus fleeing from fierce attacks. The lashkar then withdrew to Pir Sabak hill where they concentrated their forces and hoped to gain support from the Durrani troops and their artillery under Azem Khan.
Azem Khan for unknown reasons, did not cross the Kabul River straight away to link up with the tribesmen. Ranjit Singh realising the situation concentrated his artillery and infantry on the lashkar and left a small detachment under General Ventura to forestall any crossing by Azem Khan. What proceeded was ferocious hand-to-hand fights between the Tribal lashkar and the Sikh Khalsa. Finally after the fourth attack, led personally by Ranjit Singh and his personal bodyguard themselves the hill was carried. By the late evening the lashkar realised that Azem Khan had withdrawn from the battle and abandoned his allies. This coupled with the withering attacks by the Sikh artillery, increased the Lashkar's anger resulting in them leaving in disarray unwilling to fight for the sake of one who is claimed to have abandoned them. Due to this stroke of luck the Sikh victory was complete.
Swiftly securing Nowshera with the help of the Pashtun tribes , Ranjit Singh's forces captured Peshawar and reached Jamrud itself. Destroying the remains of Durrani power, they reduced Peshawar to ruins and set off for the Khyber pass"/>
The tribesman of Khattaks and Yousafzais suffered enormous casualties due to the Sikh artillery and the seeming betrayal by the Muhammadzai Sardars (who if they had stayed would have won the battle)led to a lack of trust in the Durranis' word from then onwards.
Azem Khan's retreat has never been explained fully, some say he believed his brother had returned to recapture Peshawar from the Sikhs (who had been previously sheltered by the Pashtuns from those who wanted to harm them) who had won due to fearsome quarrels between the Pashtuns which led to confusion within the army, others attribute his retreat to a lack of supplies and a brewing civil war between the tribes, many say had the tribes been united the battle would almost certainly have been won by Azem Khan . He did not recover from the shock of the defeat and died shortly after the battle.
Ranjit Singh's victory was to mark the highpoint of his campaigns, his empire now stretched from the Khyber Pass to the west, to the north Kashmir and to the south Multan. With this victory he planned and failed miserably to push further west and take the Afghan capital of Kabul itself which was heroically guarded by the firm Afghan forces.
- Gardner, Alexander (1898) Soldier and Traveller; memoirs of Alexander Gardner, Colonel of Artillery in the service of Maharaja Ranjit Singh; ed. Hugh Pearse. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1898. (Reissued by BiblioBazaar, LLC ISBN 978-1-113-21691-5)
- Ganda Singh (1986) Maharaja Ranjit Singh: First Death Centenary Memorial. Nirmal Publishers
- Joseph Greenwood (1844) Narrative of the late Victorious Campaigns in Affghanistan: under General Pollock; with recollections of seven years' service in India. London: H. Colburn.