By Ahmed Kamran
In the early decades of the 1900s, the international situation in Europe and the Middle East was getting tense, especially for the Indian Muslims. Their anxiety was increasing with the news of each new development taking place on the borders of a vast Muslim Turkish Empire. While the British Empire was still in ascendency in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Turkish Empire was disintegrating bit by bit. Much of its possessions in the Eastern Europe had already been broken away or annexed by other empires in the last century.
Italy landed its army at Tripoli (in today’s Libya) in 1911, initiating the first War of Tripoli between Turkey and Italy. The Italian invasion of Tripoli was soon followed by the start of Balkan Wars in October 1912. Britain fully supported these European incursions into the areas of Turkish Empire. These invasions and gradual encirclement of the Turkish Empire, the last bastion of the so-called Muslim Khilafat, caused great unrest in the Indian Muslims. Dr Mohammad Iqbal, Shibli Naumani, Abul Kalam Azad, and Maulana Zafar Ali Khan in Punjab wrote fiery articles and poems in support of the Turkish Muslims. Iqbal read his well-known poem Shikwa in a rally outside Mochi Darwaza in Lahore in 1913. Shibli Naumani read his Sheher-Aashoob-e-Islam at Qaisar Bagh in Lukhnow1. Prominent newspapers like Comrade of Maulana Muhammad Ali, Al Hilal of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and Zamindar of Maulana Zafar Ali Khan created a great fervor among Indian Muslims and a longing for going out and participating in the action in support of Turks against flagrant and unjust European invasions.
Apart from their religious affinities, the Indian Muslims also shared a particularly strong bond and heightened feelings of a common cause with Turks because of their own sense of deprivation of their empire in 1857 and colonial oppression of the British occupation in India. But to raise support for Turkey, mainly Muslim’s religious sentiments were whipped up. Weekly Friday prayer leaders in the mosques in every town of India exhorted Muslims to help the Turks by every means, including generously contributing in Turkish Support Funds and physically going to the war front and participating in the holy war against aggressors. Indian Muslims contributed in the Balkan War Fund in a big way, women donating their entire jewelry and dowries.
A Medical Mission, under Dr Mukhtar Ansari was sent to Turkey as a gesture of goodwill and for treating the wounded soldiers. The delegation included Chaudhry Khaliquz Zaman, Shoeb Qureshi, and Dr Naeem Ansari and Abdul Rehman joining the delegation, immediately after returning from England, having completed their education. The fervour for support of Turkey was so much that, according to Maulana Syed Suleman Nadvi’s account, an eminent and highly respected scholar like Shibli Naumani was present at the Railway station at Lukhnow to personally see off the delegation. At the last moment, overwhelmed by his emotions, Shibli moved forward and, while weeping, he kissed the feet of Dr. Ansari that would tread the Turkish land.
By October 1914, Turkey declared joining WW1 against Britain as an ally of Germany and Austria. Turkish Sultan Muhammad V, in his position of Khalifa of Muslims, issued a religious edict (Fatwa) declaring it mandatory for all Muslims of the world to participate in the war against Britain and its allies. A Jamat-e-Mujahidin was also revived, somewhat following the tradition of the failed Jihad carried out by the Mujahidin of Syed Ahmed Barailvi in early 1830s, but this time the Jihad war was to be fought against a foreign power, Great Britain.
Many students discontinued their education and left their homes to join the Turkish war. A common tarana of the youth of that time was
Lutf marnay ka agar chahay tau chal Balqan chal
Who bhi kiya marna keh fitrat khud tujhay day day jawab
[Should you wish to die with some joy, let’s go to Balkans
Dying at the hands of Nature is not worth dying]
A Pledge on Ravi
In a cold misty evening, when the night was falling in Lahore on 16 January 1915, a group of students from few colleges in Lahore secretly gathered on board in a boat on Ravi River to discuss an idea. This was the time when preparation of the mutiny of second Ghadar was secretly underway in Punjab. These young men decided and each took an oath to perform the sacred act of Hijrat to Turkey via Afghanistan for taking part in active Jihad. These brave students included Khushi Muhammad, Rehmat Ali Zakaria, Abdul Majeed, and Shujaullah from the King Edward Medical College, Muhammad Hasan Yaqub from Islamia College, Abdul Bary, Sheikh Abdul Qadir, Abdul Majeed Khan, Sheikh Abdul Rashid, Zafar Hasan Aibak, and Allah Nawaz Khan from the Government College, and Abdul Khaliq from the Aitchison College of Lahore2. The travel and crossing of the Afghan border arrangements were made in secret with the help of Maulvi Fazal Ilahi and Maulvi Bashir of the Jamat-e-Mujahidin. The first batch of these students under the leadership of Khushi Muhammad left Lahore on 5 February, 1915 for Haripur as their first stop. Another group followed the next day. The student volunteers remained hidden in the residence quarter of Abdul Rahim, the Railway station master at Haripur who was sympathetic to the movement. Here they changed their dresses to wear common Pukhtun dresses and Peshwari Chappals. The students left British territory by crossing the Indus River from a small princely state of Amb, in the Hazara district south of Swat valley in present day Pakistan, to enter the buffer zone of the independent Tribal Area between British India and Afghanistan. Staying at some rag tag isolated camps of Jamat Mujahidin at Asmas and Chamarkand in the Pukhtun Tribal Area, these students, swinging in the spirit of Jihad, and now led by Abdul Majeed Khan, entered Afghanistan and arrived in Jalalabad on 29 March 1915. Here this group met with their first rude shock, when they were swiftly detained in their lodging quarters under the orders of a senior Afghan official visiting Jalalabad from Kabul.
By the time orders came to transport the detainees to Kabul after spending over two weeks in confinement without much food and facilities, one of the students, Abdul Majeed Khan fell sick with high fever. Without providing any medicine or care to the sick, the students were put on mules like prisoners and were taken to Kabul, under increasingly hot sun. By the time, the detainees arrived in Kabul around 13 April and were again instantly put into confinement, the health of Abdul Majeed Khan had seriously deteriorated. When the condition of Abdul Majeed Khan worsened, an Indian Doctor, Abdullah Joya, came to see him four days later. Dr Abdullah was also one of those who had in his anti-British spirit migrated to live in an independent Muslim country but was now in total despair. He could not do much for these young men.
Two days later, Abdul Majeed Khan, the 20 year old former student of the Government College of Lahore died during the night of 19 April in Kabul, remembering his mother in his last moments. Abdul Majeed was the only son of his young widowed mother in Lahore, who that night must also be waiting for his son to return home. Zafar Hasan Aibak, the other detainee from the Government College, says in his autobiography that the detainees were shifted to another ‘house’ in Kabul with scant living facilities in June 1915 and there was no hope for their release. Apparently, no one in Kabul was worried or bothered about these ill-fated young men from Lahore.
A Jihad in the Making
This was the time when the first round of Ghadar Party workers arrested in the 19 February police crackdown were being tried and sentenced in Punjab. Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi, as a part of Maulana Mehmudul Hasan’s delegation for organizing Jihad, was preparing to reach Kabul. Together with his colleagues, Abdullah, Fateh Mohammad, and his nephew Mohammad Ali, Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi arrived in Kabul in October 1915.3 Ubaidullah Sindhi, originally born in Sialkot, was a convert from Sikh religion. Graduated from Darul Uloom Deoband, and an energetic student of Maulana Mehmudul Hasan, he went to live in Sukkur and established a religious school at Amrot, and later at Pir Jhanda, in Sindh (hence commonly known as ‘Sindhi’). In 1909, on the behest of Maulana Mehmudul Hasan, he returned to Deoband and, later, established a seminary at Fatehpuri Mosque in Delhi for teaching Arabic and Islamic studies. Maulana Sindhi had an ardent desire to build a movement for revolt against the British rule. With the support of Maulana Mehmudul Hasan, he was quietly working for this mission for some time.4
Finally, as per the agreed plan, a group of key leaders of the Darul Uloom, including Mehmudul Hasan and Ubaidullah Sindhi left India and reached Kabul in Oct 1915.
As many of the Kabul’s influential religious and other leaders were educated at Darul Uloom, Deoband, and had personally known Maulana Mehmudul Hasan and Ubaidullah Sindhi, they were received in Kabul with respect. Meeting highly placed Afghan influential officials and some royal family members, and presenting before them their plan for building a volunteer army in Kabul and invading India to liberate it and set up an Islamic government with an Afghan prince on the throne, Ubaidullah Sindhi won support of some key members of the royal family, including a brother and two sons of Amir Habibullah Khan.
While Maulana Mehmudul Hasan proceeded to Hijaz for performing Haj and meeting Turkish officials for obtaining their support, Ubaidullah Sindhi and some of his colleagues stayed back to make necessary further arrangements. Precisely, this was the time when members of the Berlin Committee and the envoys of Turkish and German governments had also arrived in Kabul and met with each other and joined hands. Getting to know about the unfortunate students from Lahore still held in confinement in Kabul, they approached Afghan officials and eventually had them released after about eight months of confinement.
Through their influential contacts, Ubaidullah Sindhi and Barkatullah met with Amir Habibullah Khan and with his consent, it was decided to establish a provisional government of the Independent India based in Kabul in December 1915. As discussed in the previous post, Raja Mehendar Partap Singh was appointed as the President, Maulvi Barkatllah was the Prime Minister while Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi was appointed Interior Minister, and Maulvi Basher of Jamat Mujahidin was appointed the War Minister, Champakiramin Pillai was selected as the Foreign Minister, and Dr Mathra Singh, Khuda Bux, and Muhammad Ali were also appointed as ministers. Freed from confinement and restored to a respectable position in the Indian delegation, Khushi Mohammad, Rehmat Zakaria, Allah Nawaz Khan, Zafar Hasan Aibak, and Abdul Bari from the Lahore student group were also given official responsibilities in the provisional government.
Initially, Germany was scoring quick victories on the western front and did not expect a major threat from a weakened Russia from the east. Turkish army was also scoring initial victories against Britain, greatly raising hopes for its victory in the war. But Russia, in alliance with French, quickly built up its massive army and attacked Germany opening the eastern front.
Ghalib Nama, Golden Letter, and Reshmi Rumal
Meanwhile, in Hijaz, Mehmudul Hasan had succeeded in obtaining letters of support from Ghalib Pasha, the Turkish Governor of Hijaz province that included in addition to the present day Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iraq. It was also discussed that a Muslim army would be raised by Maulana Mehmudul Hasan under his command from Arabia and Turkey, with headquarter at Madina. The Turkish Fatwas and Ghalib Pasha letters asked for a general Jihad against the British and exhorted all Muslims to join war efforts. Copies of ‘Ghalib Nama’ were sent by Mehmudul Hasan by hand with Mohammad Mian Ansari to Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi in Kabul for further building upon it. Copies of these Jihad letters, later more commonly known as ‘Ghalib Nama’, were distributed all over the Muslim lands.
After establishing the Provisional Government and armed with the supporting measures from Germany and Turkey, it was decided to send various delegations to Russia, Iran, and Japan approaching them for support on the assumption that they would be inclined to support an Indian liberation against Britain. Germans, who were abetting the Indian Provisional Government against Britain, did not think it was opportune time for approaching Russia for the support, however, Raja Mehendar Partap did not agree with German ambassador and expecting Russian support he relied mainly on the age old rivalry between Russia and Britain in their ‘Great Game’ for expanding into Asia and controlling India.
The Provisional Govt delegation to Russia included Mehendar Partap, Barkatullah, Dr Mathra Singh, and the Lahore student Khushi Mohamed. The delegation carried a letter to Czar written on a ‘Golden Plate’. But the Indian delegation was prevented from moving forward from Tashkent. The Czarist governor received the ‘golden letter’ with a promise to send it to Czar in Moscow. The delegation was asked to wait at Tashkent for the reply. Months passed and no reply was forthcoming. Eventually the failed delegation was sent back to Kabul in Feb 1916. Meanwhile, Amir Habibullah Khan had quietly informed the British agents about the Indian delegation to Russia. This was to put increased pressure on the British Indian government in his negotiations for more favours and higher ‘subsidies’. As a bribe the British Govt increased Afghan budget ‘subsidies’. The British Indian government was providing Rs. 1.8 million ‘subsidy’ to the Afghan government, most of which was spent on Amir’s extravagance and personal harem of over 100 women. Some spoils were distributed among other members of royal family and key tribal leaders. The Afghan people were living in utter poverty in mud houses, without any civic amenities, roads, schools or hospitals. They were still living in dark ages.
Ironically, on the other hand the Russian Czar was also playing the similar game. Using the Golden Letter as a bargaining chip, he provided its copy to the British ambassador. Panicked at this move, the British government taking France into confidence, immediately sent a high powered joint delegation to Moscow and entered into an agreement with Russia in May 1916 that is known as Sykes-Picot Agreement. In return for its full support, the agreement promised Russia attractive terms and parts of Turkish lands from the spoils of the Great War.
Meanwhile, Ubaidullah Sindhi prepared another detailed letter in the form of a report written on a large piece of Reshmi Rumal (silk cloth) in his own hand and was secretly sent to Sheikh Abdul Rahim at Hyderabad Sindh for arranging to send, or personally carrying it, to Maulana Mehmudul Hasan in Hijaz under the cover of Haj pilgrimage. The courier selected for the job of carrying the silken letter to Hyderabad was Abdul Haq, a trusted man of the Lahore student Allah Nawaz, with letter being stitched inside his jacket. Abdul Haq, later suspected to be on the roll of British secret police, instead of going to Hyderabad, went to Allah Nawaz’s father Khan Bahadur Rab Nawaz Khan in Multan, who happened to be a loyal subject of the British government. In spite of his own son being involved, Rab Nawaz promptly informed the British police and the letter eventually reached in the hands of Michael O’Dyer, the British Governor in Punjab.
British Counter Moves
By now having successfully neutralizing Afghanistan’s Amir Habibullah and blocking the potential support of the Russian Czar for the Indian provisional government and its plans for rebellion, the British Indian administration came down heavy on the revolutionaries in India and abroad. Widespread arrests were made. Maulvi Khalil Ahmed was arrested upon arrival from Arabia and was interned at Naini Taal. Haji Allah Bux was arrested upon reaching Hyderabad. Hearing of these arrests, Maulvi Masood and Maulvi Wali, about to return to India, stayed back in Arabia. Later, Maulvi Masood was arrested at Bombay, immediately after arriving from Jeddah. Thus the Reshmi Rumal Conspiracy together with the ‘Golden Letter’, and the Ghalib Nama was brought to public in Aug 1916. These were also made part of the notorious Rowlatt Sedition Committee report in 1919. Soon Sharif Hussain of Mecca helped arresting Maulana Mehmudul Hasan and others, including Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madani, in Mecca and handed them over to the British police. Maulana Mehmudul Hasan and others were interned, initially at Cairo, and later, at Malta, earning him the title of Aseer-e-Malta (the Prisoner of Malta), in addition to him being declared the Sheikhul Hind in India.
A second delegation headed towards Japan via Russia included Dr Mathra Singh and a Lahore student Abdul Qadir. Armed with prior information of their movement leaked from Kabul, Russians arrested and handed them over to the British who transported them back to India. Dr Mathra Singh who was already sentenced to death in a Ghadar Party trial in Lahore was immediately hanged. Abdul Qadir was placed in confinement, where he soon died, most likely succumbing to torture. The third delegation comprising of two students Abdul Bary and Shujaullah headed for Iran also met the same fate. They were, arrested at Mashhad in Iran, tortured, and sent back to India to face long terms in jail. The arrests of these delegation members and the hanging of Dr Mathra were, however, kept secret to keep the provisional government in Kabul in the dark and to keep tracking their movements. Amir Habibullah was playing a double game and was waiting to see which side was winning in the WW1. On the one hand, he kept promising the Indian provisional government that he would, in his turn, declare war on India, as soon as the German and Turkish forces reach near Afghanistan in their march to victory, and, on the other hand, he was busy negotiating with the British for additional favours, using the Indian revolutionaries as the bargaining chip.
In the false hopes, the Indian provisional govt members tried to dispatch wireless messages to the Berlin Committee and the German and Turkish Governments to advance their forces via Afghanistan but Germans were too bogged down in Europe to pay attention to these desperate messages from a few Indian revolutionaries in Kabul.
Because of these conspiracy cases instituted in India based on the Ghalib Nama, Golden Letter, and the Reshmi Rumal being widely made public, Ubaidullah Sindhi also faced a difficult situation in Kabul. Together with the Lahore students, he was also interned in Kabul and, later, shifted to a camp at Jabalul Siraj, about 75 Km north of Kabul. Two Indian teachers employed with Habibia School (it was established for the children of Afghan elite) in Kabul, Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri (a Cambridge University graduate and elder brother of NAP leader Mian Mehmud Ali Qasuri and the uncle of Khurshid Qasuri, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan 2002-2007, during General Pervez Musharraf’s reign) and Sheikh Mohammad Ibrahim who were sympathetic to the cause of Indian independence and were popular among Mujahidin were expelled from Kabul in June 1916.5 Both went to the Jamat Mujahidin base camps in the Tribal Area between Afghanistan and British India. Maulvi Bashir of Jamat Mujahidin and the War Minister of the provisional government also returned to the base camp. Sheikh Abdul Rashid of Lahore Government College and Mohammad Hasan Yaqub of Islamia College and few other students also moved to the Mujahidin base camp.
As a reward, Abdul Haq, the courier of Reshmi Rumal letter was formally employed by the British police service, and Khan Bahadur Rab Nawaz, the father of Allah Nawaz, was granted very large tracts of agricultural land as a gift for his loyalty6.
Sheikh Ibrahim, together with two Lahore students, went to Russian Turkistan via Badakhshan but all of them were reportedly killed by the British agents on their way and no trace of them was ever found. After spending few more years in trying to organize Mujahidin activities in the Tribal Area, Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri managed to return to India in July 1918 and was pardoned due to influential contacts he and his family had with Sir Sahibzada Abdul Qayum and Sir George Roos-Keppel, the Chief Commissioner of NWFP7. Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri, having married and settled down, entered into business and continued to provide financial support to the Mujahidin. He died in Lahore in 1956.8
At the Tribal Area base camp, the Amir of Jamat Mujahidin was Maulvi Naimatullah who was a highly eccentric, morally and financially corrupt, and autocratic person, ruling as Amirul Momineen over his personal fiefdom at the Mujahidin base camp9. One day, probably after getting frustrated with his own impossible situation and intolerable idiosyncrasies of Maulvi Naimatullah, in a fit of anger, Sheikh Abdul Rashid of Lahore spontaneously killed the Maulvi. The personal guards of slain Maulvi Naimatullah instantly killed Abdul Rashid in vengeance by throwing him alive in a burning oven10. Mohamad Hasan Yaqub, however, continued to stay with the remaining Mujahidin now under Maulvi Fazal Ilahi from Wazirabad at the Chamarkand camp. Yaqub Hasan never returned to Lahore and probably died somewhere in or around the Chamarkand camp.
Mehendra Partap and Maulvi Barkatullah were, however, not arrested in Kabul as their continued presence there was a useful bargaining chip for Amir Habibullah Khan. But, by now realizing its extremely difficult position, owing to the duplicity of Amir Habibullah, the provisional government had considerably scaled down its activities. Ubaidullah Sindhi was finally released, after about a year of confinement, with the help of Afghan General Nadir Khan (he later overthrew the next Amir Amanullah Khan and occupied the Afghan throne) who had some respect for him. But the release order from Amir Habibullah was obtained, only after detainees filing a mercy petition and admission of their mistakes.
By now, totally frustrated with the false hopes of support from the Amir of Afghanistan, the Indian revolutionaries in Kabul started making attempts to slip to Russia where Soviet Revolution under V.I. Lenin had already shaken the world. Lenin had publically rescinded all secret treaties and pacts signed by Czarist Russia with the imperialist powers and made public all secret agreements that the Imperialist powers together with Russia had signed to share the spoils of war. He had declared full support to the national liberation efforts and the wars of independence of all colonial people in the East. Soviet Russia was the first to recognize the national government of Mustafa Kamal in Turkey that was battling against the invading Imperialist armies in their attempt to dismember and divide parts of Turkey among themselves.
Rehmat Ali Zakaria and Abdul Razzaq, two of the Lahore students, were the first to escape from Jabalul Siraj camp in Nov 1917. Crossing over Russian border, they reached Tashkent in early 1918.11
Amir Habibullah Khan was assassinated in Feb 1919, near Jalalabad and his son Amanullah took over after some resistance from his uncle Sardar Nasrullah Khan. For a while, situation again turned favorable for the Indian revolutionaries. Ubaidullah Sindhi was restored and he became a close advisor to the new Amir Amanullah Khan. Other office holders of the Indian Provisional Government including Mehendra Partap, Maulvi Barkatullah, Acharya, and Abdul Rab were also given due respect by the new Amir. Amanullah Khan sent Maulvi Barkatullah as his special envoy to Moscow for negotiating a friendship treaty on behalf of the Afghan government. The visit proved very successful and the relations between Soviet Union and Afghanistan considerably warmed up. Maulvi Barkatullah left Kabul in March 1919 for Tashkent and proceeded to Moscow in May 1919. Mehendra Partap Singh, MPT Acharya and others also reached Moscow. They never returned to Kabul.
- Shaukat Siddiqi, Gumshida Auraq (The Lost Pages), Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011, Pg. 195
- Ibid, Pg.193
- 3. Raees Ahmed Jafri Nadvi, Karwan-e-Gum Gashta (The Lost Caravan)
- Zuber Ahmed Firdausi, Reshmi Rumal Tehreek, Nigarshat Publishers, Lahore, 1988, Pg.43
- Abdullah Malik, Dastan-e Khanwada-e Mian Mehmud Ali Qasuri, Jang Publishers, Lahore, 1995, Pg. 78
- Shaukat Siddiqi, op cited, Pg.235
- Muhammad Ali Qasuri, Mushahidat-e-Kabul-o-Yaghistan, Anjuman Taraqi-e-Urdu, Karachi, 1955, Pg 143-146
- Abdullah Malik, op cited, Pg. 80-81
- Muhammad Ali Qasuri, op cited, 108-110
- Shaukat Siddiqi, op cited, Pg.249
- Ibid, Pg.241
To be continued…